Which woodworking saw to use for what operation is a question I sometimes get. To answer it let's start by looking at some of the different styles of power saws. (Handsaws are another matter and deserve their own page.)
A cabinet saw is big and powerful. It is good for cutting through thick timbers, but it also excels at fine cuts. Depending on the model and brand it should be able to give precision cuts both cross cut and rips. It can be fitted with different blades, including datto blades to make it a versatile machine.
The contractors saw is similar to the cabinet saw but is a smaller version. The fence tends to be less precise and they are often less powerful than their larger cousins. It is also possible to buy a portable version to bring to a job site. I've been impressed with the quality the few times I've used one.
Any of these table saws are great for ripping, especially if you need to rip a board at an angle.
Cross cuts are more complicated because they require a jig of some sort. However, once you have a jig, cross cutting is easy.
Check out this link on
for more on why jigs are a good idea.
A miter saw excels at cross cutting. In fact, that's all it can do. But it can cut at various angles. A compound miter saw can cut compound miters (surprise) and a sliding miter saw has a blade that can slide out to cut wider boards. A sliding compound miter saw does it all.
If you have wood that is too large for the miter saw, or if you need something portable, a circular saw is the tool to use. A circular saw is also great at a job site and to use for carpentry projects.
A straightedge clamped to a board turns the circular saw into a ripping tool.
These are the general woodworking saws used for cutting straight lines, both cross cut and ripping. What they can't do is cut curves (actually, it is possible, but it takes fancy jigs and know-how).
If you want to cut curves you should think of either a bandsaw, a scroll saw or a jig saw.
A band saw is a great tool for curves, but it can also be used to re-saw and for long rip cuts. The saw needs to be well tuned to keep the blade from wandering and has to be readjusted after changing the blade.
Once you learn to make the adjustments, however, a band saw is a great tool. It is versatile and easy to use.
I've heard many woodworkers say that if they were to have only one woodworking saw, it would be a bandsaw. I almost agree, but... I like my table saw.
A scroll saw is like a smaller version of the band saw. It is great for marquetry (use the bandsaw to make your own veneer), for making tight curves and for fretwork.
I use a jig saw mostly for cutting curves in sheet goods and hardwoods that are either too wide or otherwise too awkward to cut with the bandsaw. The jigsaw is less precise than the bandsaw (at least for me) unless I use a straightedge. Different blades are available to cut through different materials, including plastic and metal.
Between these different saws there should be something for everyone. Keep in mind, when choosing any tool, what your purpose is. Remember that jigs can make a tool much more useful as well as safer. Make sure and read your manual and know your tools before using them. This is true for all tools, but especially woodworking saws. You want to retire from woodworking with as many figures as you started with.
For more on safety issues check out the links below.