Practically any saw will do if you're building a basic birdhouse. But cutting hard or thick lumber and other heavy-duty work demands a saw with speed and power.
Don't cheap out
You can spend $100 for a miter saw. But spending a little more typically buys a saw that's faster and more accurate. Faster sawing and better accuracy mean cleaner cuts and less wasted wood. You're also investing in safety, since you're more likely to push the material with a slow saw, dulling its blade, overheating its motor--and increasing the chance that the wood will jam or kick back.
Buying a saw is also a better bet than renting, even if you won't use it often: At about $50 per day, renting one for three days can cost roughly the same as buying a new one and keeping it for years.
Look beyond the brand
Even big names may perform inconsistently from model to model. Try the saw before buying, if possible. It's the quality of construction that determines how long-lived and trouble-free the saw will be. You may not be able to tell at the store whether a saw has durable bearings. But you can check for motor brushes that are accessible for servicing (easy to see on a miter saw, harder on a table saw). Look for a heavy-duty base and rugged hardware for adjusting the blade depth and cutting angle. And see the Features section for design points that make a saw easier and safer to use.
Our tests have found all of these saws loud enough to warrant hearing protection. And all kicked up lots of chips and dust, so wear safety glasses or goggles.
Table and miter saws cause tens of thousands of hand and finger injuries each year. Table saws made by SawStop include a device that senses contact with flesh and stops the blade in milliseconds, before it can do serious damage. But that technology is neither widespread nor inexpensive.
Copyright © 2006-2012 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc. No reproduction, in whole or in part, without written permission.