DIY Basics: Essential Guide To Stationary Power Saws

Keep on the cutting edge with tools for everything from construction jobs to intricate detail work

DIY Basics: Essential Guide To Stationary Power Saws

Learn about the different stationary power saws on the market and how to use them

Being able to accurately cut various timber shapes and sizes is essential to DIY, and you’ll soon feel the pinch if you’re using an ordinary handsaw.

‘Owning a set of freestanding or bench-mounted saws is like having a stable of thoroughbreds ready to cut to the chase and get
the job done with minimal effort,’ says Handyman contributor Frank Gardner.

And you’ll be rewarded with years of smooth cutting if you buy the best quality you can afford.

‘I have had the same bandsaw for 20 years and it still runs as effortlessly as it ever did,’ says Frank.

What are stationary saws? 

Most DIYers are familiar with a handheld circular saw, but there is some uncertainty about stationary saws.

MITRESAWS can make square and mitred cuts up to 45º, and a compound saw can also tilt to cut bevels up to 45º.

BANDSAWS are ideal for cutting curves and making a board thinner, called re-sawing. They use a blade that is looped around a set of wheels and runs in a continuous circuit. 

TABLESAWS can make cuts along and across the grain, called ripping and crosscutting. The saw is mounted underneath a table with the blade projecting upwards through a slot.

SCROLL SAWS cut intricate shapes. The thin blade is stretched between two arms that oscillate up and down. 

Mitresaws 

Make cuts across the grain, called crosscutting, with this accurate and heavy-duty tool. It is designed for square, mitred or bevelled sawing of door and window trim, roof framing, decking boards and other long pieces of timber.

While tablesaws and bandsaws are often sold with a stand that brings them up to a comfortable operating height, mitresaws are designed to be carried to a worksite, if needed. 

They can then be positioned on the ground for fast, repetitive crosscutting of framing, decking, cladding and similar timber profiles. 

A compound mitresaw has a circular platform that can be turned through 90º relative to the fence where the workpiece is positioned.

The saw itself is mounted on a springloaded arm that can be swung down to cut the timber, with the blade descending into a slot in the mitre platform.

The pivot of the swing arm can also be tilted up to 45º to one or both sides, a feature described as single or double action. 

mitresaw diagram, handyman magazine,
Mitresaws are designed to be carried to a worksite

Let it slide 

While a sliding compound mitresaw is more expensive, it can handle a larger variety of section sizes. 

Its swing arm is mounted on a pair of sliding rails that extend the reach of the saw blade, allowing the tool to handle wider workpieces.

Tilting the blade makes it easier to cut bevelled edges on skirting boards and similar workpieces. 

Turning the mitre platform to an angle other than 90º while also setting a bevel component results in a compound mitre cut, as required for jobs such as cornice installation.

TIP Most mitresaws have bolt lugs to allow them to be bench-mounted.

compound mitresaw, handyman magazine,
Most mitresaws have bolt lugs to allow them to be bench-mounted
 


Checking for precision 

To check that the mitre platform is set to exactly 45º before making a mitre cut, unplug the saw then position a speed square between the blade and the fence.

If your saw doesn’t have a laser guide, you can check exactly where the cut width, called the kerf, will be, before committing to a cut. 

This is particularly useful if you have set up a stop block and will be making repetitive cuts to the same length. 

Switch on the saw and carefully lower it to the workpiece until the teeth just nick the surface. If the kerf is on the waste side of the cut line, complete the cut.

checking for precision, handyman magazine,
To check that the mitre platform is set to exactly 45º before making a mitre cut
 

test nick, handyman magazine,
Switch on the saw and carefully lower it to the workpiece until the teeth just nick the surface

 

Mitresaw safety 

Mitresaws feature a blade guard that is connected to the swing arm pivot by a mechanical linkage. This opens the blade guard automatically as the saw is brought down towards the workpiece and closes it again once the cut is completed. Always unplug the saw before making any adjustments.

Square cuts 

Keeping the mitre platform and the bevel pivot at the default 90º setting, align the timber so the saw blade is on the waste side of the cut line. 

Switch on the saw and let it spool up to full revs, then push it down to the workpiece. If your mitresaw has a slide feature, move the saw forward smoothly and slowly to complete the cut.

TIP Use the integrated clamps, if available, to hold the workpiece you are cutting to length.

mitresaw square cuts, handyman magazine,

Mitres 

Unlock the mitre platform and rotate it so the saw blade is orientated at the required angle, which is indicated on the mitre gauge. 

Tighten the lock knob or quick-release lever, then start the saw and cut the timber.

 

For 45º mitres, first cut test pieces from scrap timber or use a speed square to make sure the mitres will come together precisely at 90º, then adjust the angle of the saw blade by a fraction if necessary.

mitres, handyman magazine,
Unlock the mitre platform and rotate it so the saw blade is orientated at the required angle
 

Compound angles 

When cutting workpieces such as cornices that require a joint involving both a mitre and a bevel, set the mitre angle on the saw first. 

Once the mitre platform is locked in position, release the bevel pivot and set the angle of tilt.

compound angles, handyman magazine,
When cutting workpieces such as cornices that require a joint involving both a mitre and a bevel
 

Bevels 

To tilt the saw blade so a bevelled cut can be made, loosen the pivot lock that holds the slide assembly and swing arm by turning the quick release handle. 

Tilt the slide assembly to the required angle, then tighten the handle to lock the pivot.

Many saws feature a control stop that also lets you adjust the bevel angle very precisely for tight-fitting mitres on skirting and similar workpieces.

bevels, handyman magazine,
To tilt the saw blade so a bevelled cut can be made

Trenching 

Sliding mitresaws normally include a trenching bolt that prevents the swing arm from descending fully into its receiving slot.

This has a similar effect as setting a handheld circular saw so it cuts to a specific depth. This is useful when making rebates and relief cuts for housings or half-lap joints. 

To set the trenching control, flip out the stop plate and wind the bolt in or out until the required depth is achieved, using a scrap of timber to check, then tighten the lock nut.   

trenching, handyman magazine,
Sliding mitresaws normally include a trenching bolt that prevents the swing arm from descending fully into its receiving slot
 

Tablesaws 

Suitable for DIYers of all proficiencies, and capable of handling so much more than only those workpieces that are too large to be comfortably cut using other tools, a tablesaw is a versatile tool that represents a worthwhile investment.

If you’re cutting a lot of timber along the grain, called ripping, then a tablesaw is a smart step up from a handheld circular saw.

Tablesaws are tough, accurate and surprisingly inexpensive, with 1200 to 2000W models able to safely rip hardwoods to about 30mm thick and softwoods to about 50mm. 

They can also cut across the grain, called crosscutting, as well as being able to make accurate mitres, grooves and rebates. 

Cutting full sheets of MDF or particleboard is not recommended, as the tables aren’t big enough to support them safely. 

Tablesaws can generate a large amount of sawdust, so always use a dust mask and connect a workshop vac to the dust extraction port.

tablesaw diagram, handyman magazine,
If you’re cutting a lot of timber along the grain, called ripping, then a tablesaw is a smart step up from a handheld circular saw
 

Features of a tablesaw

THE TABLE is machined flat with one or two slots formed parallel to the blade. These slots are useful when crosscutting with a mitre gauge. 

THE FENCE is used when ripping material parallel to the blade. It should be locked firmly in position and have no lateral movement. The fence is offset from the blade at the required distance using a measurement scale located across the front of the table.

THE BLADE can be tilted to enable angled cuts between 0º and 45º as well as raised or lowered by turning a simple handwheel. This feature is typically used when making housings or trenching cuts.

THE RIVING KNIFE is a flat piece of metal behind the blade. It is vital for safety, as it maintains the separation in the workpiece after the cut is made and prevents it from jamming on the blade and causing kickback.

features of a table saw, handyman magazine,
There are many elements of a tablesaw

features of a tablesaw 2, handymanmagazine,
Tablesaws include a height indicator and a blade tilt indicator 

features of a tablesaw 3, riving knife, handyman magazine,
The riving knife is a flat piece of metal behind the blade

 

Tablesaw safety 

Tablesaw blades are covered by an overhead guard to protect the user from the rotating blade. It is both illegal and dangerous to operate your saw without the blade guard in position.

Familiarise yourself with the user manual and unplug the cord before making any adjustments or changing the blade. Use a push stick instead of your fingers to feed timber through the blade.

Always use safety glasses, a dust mask and hearing protection when operating the saw, and avoid wearing any loose clothing or jewellery that can be caught in the blade.

Tablesaw techniques 

Many DIY projects require long pieces of timber to be cut along the grain or for precise bevels to be made along the edge of a panel. For jobs like these and many others, it’s important to know how to use a tablesaw and the accessories it is sold with efficiently and safely.

Always use push 

A push stick is a device usually supplied with the saw or made from timber or plywood.

Push sticks are designed to help you feed timber through the saw while keeping your fingers well out of the way of the blade. 

They are particularly useful for jobs like cutting thin strips of timber from a larger workpiece. Make sure you have one for each hand and familiarise yourself with using them even when they are not crucial.

use push sticks tablesaws, handyman magazine,
A push stick is a device usually supplied with the saw or made from timber or plywood

Check blade alignment 

Set the saw’s blade angle to 0º, then unplug the cord and open the blade guard. Position a try square with the stock flat against the saw’s tabletop, pushing the square up to the blade.

If there is a gap between the square and the blade, adjust the blade setup until it is square.

check blade alignment, handyman magazine,
Set the saw’s blade angle to 0º, then unplug the cord and open the blade guard
 

Crosscut timber 

Square up the mitre gauge to the saw blade using a set square, then use screws to secure an extension fence to the mitre gauge.

Trim off the extension by pushing it through the blade, then align the cut line on the timber with the end of the extension fence. Start the saw and use the extension fence to push the timber through the blade.

TIP Never use the rip fence for crosscutting, as it greatly increases the risk of kickback. 

crosscut timber, handyman magazine,
Square up the mitre gauge to the saw blade using a set square, then use screws to secure an extension fence to the mitre gauge

Rip timber 

Move the guide fence the required distance from the blade using the graduated measurements across the front edge, then lock it into position.

Make sure the blade is set high enough to cut all the way through the timber, then position the workpiece against the fence.

Push the timber towards the blade and feed it steadily through while keeping it pushed hard against the fence for a perfectly straight cut. 

TIP When ripping long boards, it’s useful to have a roller stand for the timber to rest on as it leaves the saw.
 

rip timber, handyman magazine,
Make sure the blade is set high enough to cut all the way through timber

Make multiple cuts 

Use a stop block for projects that require multiple matching pieces of the same length.

Secure an extension fence to the mitre gauge and trim it to size, then clamp an angled stop block at the required length. Hold each board securely against the stop block to make the cuts.

make multiple cuts, handyman magazine,
Use a stop block for projects that require multiple matching pieces of the same length
 

Bandsaws and scroll saws 

Traditionally the domain of more ambitious DIYers, these power tools are much easier to use than you might think, and can greatly expand your horizons when making anything from furniture to decorative items and toys for children.

While mitresaws and tablesaws are both designed around a circular blade, bandsaws and scroll saws feature a linear blade.

Extremely useful for advanced DIY and precision joinery, bandsaws are less difficult for the beginner to master than many believe. 

Although jigsaws are more popular for cutting curved shapes
in timber, and fitting a circular saw with a guide fence is a familiar way of ripping timber, bandsaws can perform both these tasks.

As with tablesaws, bandsaws can be used to make unique DIY projects that rely on non-standard timber section sizes.

In addition to a fence parallel to the blade, they are normally sold with a sliding mitre gauge for angled cuts, and many models feature
a table that can be tilted up to 45º.

bandsaw diagram, handyman magazine,
While mitresaws and tablesaws are both designed around a circular blade, bandsaws and scroll saws feature a linear blade
 

Setting up a new blade 

As the bandsaw’s teeth are dulled through use, the blade will start to flex unevenly and fail to cut parallel with the fence, indicating that it’s time for a replacement.

TIP Turn the blade loop inside out to reverse the tooth direction, if necessary.

Step 1. Replace old blade 

Open the casing and loosen the blade tensioning system then, wearing work gloves, remove the old blade and fit the new blade over the wheels, ensuring the teeth are orientated in the correct direction.

setting up a new blade, handyman magazine,

Step 2. Set the tension 

 

Turn the top wheel slowly until the blade runs centrally along the tires of each wheel. Increase the tension until the blade is taut but still elastic enough to travel about 10mm to one side when squeezed towards the frame.

set the tensions,

Step 3. Fine-tune the blade path 

Adjust the tracking control to keep the blade centred on the tires. Use an Allen key to set the thrust bearings behind the blade and the blade guides on either side to provide about 0.5mm clearance all round.

fine tune blade path,

 

Scroll saws

These are not tools for heavy-duty DIY jobs, but for extremely fine precision sawing that can give timber an almost laser-cut look. 

Scroll saws are mainly designed for decorative applications, ranging from fretwork to jigsaw puzzles.

They are also invaluable when extremely tight turns or fine details must be negotiated when cutting structural elements.

Scroll saws often feature tool-free blade change, making it easy to cut out shapes that are fully enclosed by surrounding timber by drilling a small starter hole and feeding the blade through it.

Most feature an air blower to keep the cut line visible, and if a workshop vac is also connected, the tool can be nearly dust-free to use. 

The air blower is often mounted on a hold-down shoe similar to that on a sewing machine. The shoe stops the workpiece from catching on the blade and chattering up and down as you work.

TIP Do not touch the blade straight after sawing, as it will be hot enough to cause nasty burns.

scroll saw, handyman magazine,
Scroll saws are mainly designed for decorative applications, ranging from fretwork to jigsaw puzzles
 

Timber art 

Scroll saws can be used to create amazingly intricate timber artworks. 

There are countless scroll saw projects and patterns available in books and online, ranging from geometric fretwork to patterns and pictures, even portraits.

Whether you create standalone artworks, or inlays for furniture and other more conventional DIY projects, a scroll saw will enable you to make ornate embellishments limited only by your imagination.  

timber art, handyman magazine,
Scroll saws can be used to create amazingly intricate timber artworks

Vote It Up: 
Stationary Power Saws

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