I would like to purchase a power saw for general use (i.e., for various DIY and home improvement projects).

I currently exclusively use a handsaw to cut wood. Even though it is a pull saw (which makes the sawing take less time as compared to a standard carpenter saw), sometimes I wish that I could cut wood even faster. Hence, I am left with only one alternative: a power saw.

There are posts on the internet delving into what type of power saw makes the most sense for one's first saw.

But, I have an admission: I am scared of power saws. This is because I knew someone who lost fingers in a horrible power saw accident, and I have been "scarred" (psychologically) ever since. I don't know what type of power saw was responsible for his injury, but I have had an aversion to any blade that moved by itself ever since. Consequently, I have never used a power saw in my life.

Cutting wood with my trusty handsaw may be slow and laborious, but at least it has about a 0% chance of serious injury.

I understand that there is a whole variety of types of power saws that one can buy. Can you explain which type of power saw is the safest, i.e., has the lowest potential chance of injury and/or the least severe potential injuries? What about its design makes it safer than other types?

Ideally, the safest saw is also fairly versatile (since it will be my only power saw), but that may not be the case. At the end of the day, I value safety over versatility (and power). Obviously, to a point...please don't recommend something like this.

I know that if one is informed and cautious, and uses appropriate guards and guides, the chance of injury with even the most powerful type of saw is still very low. Still, we all have our clumsy or forgetful days; I want the peace of mind of knowing that - worst case scenario - I can't do much damage to myself with whatever type of power saw that I buy.


My question has caused some confusion. I can put my question another way:

  • What power saw would you feel most comfortable giving to a 13-year-old?

I understand that all power saws have some risk and can cause injury if used improperly. I am simply inquiring about which power saws are less capable of doing so. I assume that the risk of using various power saws does differ, based on the wide spectrum of power saw sizes and designs.

  • You should investigate http://www.sawstop.com/. I know they make a variety of table saws, but I don't know about other types. Jan 14, 2017 at 19:29
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    My point was that the least scary saw, and the least safe saw may not be the same saw. Jan 14, 2017 at 23:56
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    You are approaching this question the wrong way. Different power saws perform different tasks, just as different hand saws do. You should define the task you want to do, then find the power saw best suited to the task, then ask if it is safe enough for you. If not, see if there is another power saw that will do the job and ask again. Cutting across a sheet of plywood is a good example. I would claim the best tool is a circular saw, but they are relatively dangerous. A jig saw is a much safer alternative and will do the job, though not as fast. Some would argue for a table saw. Jan 15, 2017 at 6:21
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    Whatever you buy, also get a chainmail glove.
    – joe snyder
    Jan 15, 2017 at 18:46
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    and @joesnyder, those gloves are useful for knife and chisel work. With a power saw, they can help the saw rip your finger right off by getting caught in it (and by making you think your hand is "safe" near the saw blade.)
    – Ecnerwal
    Jan 16, 2017 at 2:14

14 Answers 14


While I appreciate this isn't an answer to the question, I'd like to point out that power tool safety is as much a state of mind as anything. All saws (with the possible exception of the sawstop and similar systems) can bite you, and correspondingly, all saws can be used safely.

So, my advice is to learn from experts how to use your chosen saw. Don't slip into bad habits. If there's a voice at the back of your head telling you that you aren't focused on the task, stop cutting.

  • 4
    True that... though when the voice in the back of your head is telling you that you aren't focused on the task at hand.... because you're to busy focusing on the voice in the back of your head, some more clever solutions may be needed.
    – Cort Ammon
    Jan 14, 2017 at 21:50
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    I will take your advice, but I'm afraid that it does not really help me decide which saw I should purchase! Accordingly, I don't know why this is the top answer. To say, "All saws can bite you," is to diminish the differences in risk between saw types. Some saws "bite harder" than others, and a beginner is more likely to make mistakes with certain saws that have a steeper learning curve; navigating these differences was the aim of my question.
    – Fil
    Jan 14, 2017 at 23:25
  • I'd made the assumption that the other answers covered the core of the question. But, high on my list of "safe-ish" general purpose saws would be a jigsaw, if and only if you clamp the workpiece (as opposed to holding it with your other hand). Jan 15, 2017 at 17:15
  • @CortAmmon I'm in no condition to saw. Wait, I shouldn't listen to myself, I'm drunk!
    – Michael
    Jan 15, 2017 at 19:12

Your revised question deserves a revised answer. What power saw would you feel most comfortable giving to a 13-year-old?

Here are several thoughts on that 1 2 3, and they all agree it's too young for a power saw. Aside from that, I feel nobody should graduate to power tools until they've gotten Popeye arms with the equivalent hand tool. It's for experience: Even driving a screw, they need to learn the feel of bottoming out, hitting a knot, hitting a nail, hitting the metal guard protecting that 12/3 cable run, getting air instead of the stud, cracking the wood, etc.

So I assume he needs a saw not because "first time cutting wood" but because "his projects have gotten so big he spends all his time sawing". The straight answer is ShopBot, no question, because it can be made safe by providing an interlocked "control room", which also obviates the need for other PPE like googles. Cut bigger stuff with a jig (which you make on the ShopBot). It'll fix his efficiency problem. Other reasons it would particularly suit a 13-year-old: unlimited creative power; forcing careful design (no thumb-measurements from top of ladder); and rewarding technology skills.

I don't see a middle ground here. Bring a 13-year-old into a hospital with a power tool injury, you'll be having a conversation with Child Protective Services.

I am not a fan of portable saws either, because I'm often a lone worker.

Reciprocating saws and jigsaws are not too bad.

There are also the handheld vibrating tools.

For table saws, I use a SawStop. Problem solved. The SawStop electrically detects skin contact (like an elevator button) and explosively fires an aluminum brake into the spinning blade, stopping it instantly.

I am also fond of band saws. They come in several packagings now, including replacement for radial arm, and even portable. For the floor variety, it helps a lot to make best use of the blade guard. Snugging it to within 1/8" of the work makes it rather hard to get a finger in there. If you're cutting sheet metal or 1/4" ply, it just can't happen. The blade guard keeps the blade from twisting, which keeps the blade from breaking. Not using the blade guard properly is just asking for it.

A router can do many cutting jobs.

Just the same, don't let the seemingly safer machine make you cocky.

A CNC router like a ShopBot can do the impossible at extreme safety if you even remotely try to be safe: that's why the "run/stop" pendant has a 10' cable on it. At extremes, you can build an operator's cab and attach the pendant so you have to be in there for it to run. Rather than own one (they take as much room as an F250 pickup) I use one at my local maker space.

I can't emphasize enough the value of having access to a maker space - Techshop and FabLab get all the press, but most towns have a less famous one or three. Not least, it's staffed, which means you're not a lone worker.

For woodcutting, I use a pole saw, even though the work is not up in a tree. That is because the blade is 8 feet away from me, and with a proper harness, it is impossible to touch the blade with any part of my body.

For other tools, I move carefully with close attention paid to body parts. I also follow good machine shop hygiene - short sleeve shirts and tie long hair back.

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    My worst saw cut came from a bandsaw. They are non-threatening in appearance, being quiet and free of kickback, but you'll find one in most butchers' shops, too. I have become more careful about where my hands are WRT the blade since that cut - the part I was working on broke and I ended up with a fingertip pushed into the blade.
    – Ecnerwal
    Jan 14, 2017 at 21:06
  • @Ecnerwal Yup, I know that one. Feels safer so you get in close, or you're making a shave cut and the work or a chip gets snagged in the mechanism. I'm talking the fine-tooth slow-like-metal ones. The coarse tooth bandsaws are scary! Anyway you've convinced me to start using pushers. Jan 14, 2017 at 22:13
  • Routers can be super hazardous as well, especially if you are trying to cut with one -- if your goal is cutting a 2x4 (lets say) then a circular saw is orders of magnitude safer.
    – jkf
    Jan 15, 2017 at 0:10
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    When I worked at KFC back in the 70's cutting chicken on a band saw, they provided a chainmail glove.
    – joe snyder
    Jan 15, 2017 at 18:43

Others are bringing up lots of food for thought -- it's tough to really answer this question without knowing more about what sorts of things you will be cutting. The suggestions so far are good for wildly different things, you would not use a bandsaw for the same tasks as a tablesaw. Assuming you are thinking of general light household/woodworking type stuff, I'm going to say you should get something like this:

Makita cordless saw

It's lightweight, quiet (non-scary), and powerful enough for most things that you would do with a handsaw -- but will stall somewhat easily if you overload it. Not quite finger safe, but should minimalize risks from kick-back or throwing chunks of wood around. Not having to worry about where your cord is at is a safety benefit as well as a convenience, and most models have a very effective blade brake, so the blade stops moving as soon as you take your finger off the trigger. This is a great safety feature which is still missing from most corded models.

Nothing is 100% safe, but you would almost need to be trying to cut yourself with one of these.

I have used many, but not all brands, and can say that the Makita pictured above has good build quality and excellent ergonomics, which is an underrated safety factor. I'm sure that other manufacturers are also great -- sometimes home improvement stores have demo days where you can "try before you buy". You should see what works best for you; these saws are one of my favorite things for low production, high mobility tasks as opposed to hauling a heavy corded saw around.


More clarity is needed about what you intend to use this for. Not just 'cutting faster' surely, but some idea of what you intend to cut.

2x4's to make a rough shop bench? Decorative plant stand out of plywood or plain boards? The rough edge around a new deck? All of these have a 'best tool' for the job, and all are somewhat unsafe, depending on how you use them.

First, your Japanese-style pull saw is a great choice and can cut 2x4's in about a minute and can cut a sheet of plywood in half... with some difficulty. Don't take the advice of learning to sharpen these, that is not relevant for these saws. Throw them away when they dull. Harbor Freight has these for about $8.

Second, I have to agree with the recommendation of a portable jig saw. These can cut 2x4s and plywood, and make decorative cuts or curves that are hard with most other saws or even your pull saw. I got my first when I was 12, saving up my own money. It won't seriously cut your finger, but it can give you 4-5 painful jabs if you swing it around while it is still moving.

Handheld circular saws scare me and I have used them for 30 years. They are somewhat limited in what they do for you, but straight cutting plywood is one thing they are excellent for.

As far as immobile shop saws, the Saw-Stop cabinet circular saw is a marvel, but pricey. It is up to you whether it is worthwhile insurance. A light-weight band saw is very useful, and can cut curves or straight, though likely not crosscut plywood. A 'chop saw' (can't think of the more proper name) is handy for decking and framing.

None of these are risk free. Almost certainly your friend lost fingers to a table saw, though routers likely take about as many. It is good advice to take a class or join a tech lab to learn how to use these, and gain experience. Better to not work alone, too.

  • "Chop saw" is the proper name for a circular saw on an arm that goes up and down for e.g. cutting 2x4s in half. If the saw can yaw left to right to make angled cuts (think baseboard trim) then it is a "miter saw." If blade can roll left to right (think crown moulding cuts) then it is a "compound miter saw." Any of these saws can optionally have the arm extend while powered, making it possible to cut across wood wider than the blade size.
    – user4302
    Jan 15, 2017 at 20:00

Step one, either learn to sharpen and set your handsaws or have them sharpened and set - makes a big difference in their performance. Having a frame saw in the quiver armed with a section of sharp bandsaw blade can make some things go very fast (by hand) indeed.

Anything that cuts wood, cuts flesh. Respect that, and you'll go far, still counting to 10 without taking your socks off.

With your pre-existing aversion to power saws and fingers interacting, one approach with no idea of your budget or project types would be a CNC router, where the cutting bit is over here, and your fingers are many feet from it. Kinda pricy but safe as can be if you stay out of the work envelope when things are powered up. Much less of a one-trick pony than the saw-stop®, too. Can cut straight, curves, plane things, etc., etc....

A reciprocating saw (e.g. Sawzall®) is quite finger-safe if you keep both hands on it - but then, so is a common portable circular saw, if you keep both hands on it. If you are not using both hands on the saw, you are doing it wrong. Stop, and set up so you don't "need" to do it wrong, and you'll have better days - if you can't sort out how to do that, stop for the day and come back another day.

As for the 13 year-old, it very much depends on the 13-year old. I'm fairly sure I was using an ordinary 7-1/4" circular saw (as well as a radial arm saw, a crummy tablesaw, and a lathe) by that age, but I also had (still have, and still use) a 26" handsaw as well. I built an entire (smallish, post and beam) building by the age of 16, with minimal adult help. I'd been helping with other building projects for years by then, and that one was "mine." It's still standing.

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    Skin is flexible and elastic. Wood is rather less so. Any saw with a sufficiently short stroke cannot cut skin, despite being able to cut wood. The downside to such a short-stroke tool is that it can't cut wood very fast.
    – Mark
    Jan 15, 2017 at 2:42
  • Funny, I can cut skin perfectly well with a sharp handsaw that's not being stroked at all. This logic actually works (to an extent) for diamond saws used on stone or tile, as skin simply deforms and the diamonds pass, where stone or tile don't deform and is cut. But that type of blade is not at all suitable for cutting wood. I'll stand by my statement.
    – Ecnerwal
    Jan 15, 2017 at 17:29

Unless you have a fabulous saw now you would likely cut quicker with a carpenters saw, simply because of the extra length. Twenty four inches is a common size, and Japanese saws that length are relatively uncommon in the US. Also since most pull saws here are aimed at flush cutting or finish work they tend to be fairly fine toothed.

Talking specifically about handheld power saws and danger though, the most dangerous is obviously the chainsaw. I would guess the leading cause of accidents there is ignorance of how much internal stress would can contain. I mention it because even lumber will occasionally move when cut due to internal stresses, which is a danger with circular and table saws.

The danger with those is kickback, caused by material coming in contact with the non-cutting side of the blade. Table saws will throw the piece back at you at a couple hundred miles an hour, circular saws will throw themselves back at you if the back of the blade is pinched. The circular saw is safer because it's less powerful and help firmly in your hand. The safety factor is greatly improved by not making bone-headed cuts. Sheet goods have little internal stress so with proper support shouldn't ever pinch. Crosscuts are also reasonably safe with the disclaimer that you should avoid anything twisted up like a wizard's staff.

I would be cautious about handing a 13 year old a circular saw, but it is the answer to your first question as it's most generally useful for DIY and home improvement projects and the only power tool faster than a good hand saw for simple cuts. It is also the safest way to deal with sheet goods, which are in common use in those sorts of projects. I'd suggest a 7.25" model though, because it's a useful cut depth and the most common blade size.

[ Just to be clear on this point, I believe the circular saw and good set of sawhorses is going to be the safest suggestion you get for sheet goods, such as plywood. Trying to pass a full sheet through most table saws can charitably be described as an adventure. Good support will also make you feel much safer cutting boards. ]

The jigsaw is definitely the safest of the bunch, since kickback isn't an issue. Honestly you will probably snap the blade before doing anything especially dangerous, and it will most likely stick in or fall though the cut. (Goggles anyway though!) On top of that the blade is clearly visible at all times and they cut at a glacial pace. Which, of course, makes them an awful suggestion for cutting faster. They're blazing fast compared to a coping or fret saw, but slower than a carpenters saw for straight lines. Worse going fast with them tends to deflect the blade a bit and make for wavy cuts. (Probably the only power saw I'd have no reservations about letting a responsible 13 year old use on their own though.)

I would avoid reciprocating saws to start, because many people find them intimidating. On top of that, they generally make poor quality cuts. (Same as a jigsaw, long straight cuts are a problem.) Most damning of all, they're most useful when used freehand in situations like cutting nails with a long blade, or angling the saw so that the blade cuts siding and not studs. A saw that gets used without the foot firmly on the piece being cut so often makes for a lousy starter saw.

Parting thoughts - a bow saw is an excellent choice for fast cuts. They're well out of style in carpentry, but the ones for green wood in the garden center are a fantastic chainsaw alternative if your cutting needs extend to the occasional branch or small tree around the yard.

Also, an electric miter saw is a an option if you only want to do cross cuts. I wouldn't suggest one over a circular saw because you pay more for less utility. (No rips or sheet goods.) On the other hand, the table provides good support for the cut and the fixed saw limits the opportunity for accidents based on ignorance or carelessness.


Sure, something like a Saw-stop table saw guarantees no more than a slight flesh wound or cut, but for most folks the price is prohibitive.

For light wood cutting, I started with a portable jig-saw - the risk of injury is low - and the chances of the a cut reaching the bone, let alone cutting into it, are remote. They are relatively inexpensive and should you decide that you need something heftier and perhaps overcome some of your fear, you will not regret having such a saw available to you. You are not going to be making any precision joints or furniture grade constructions, but it will get done the simple task.

  • I would measure the cost of a SawStop vs the cost of a finger vs other ways to make the cut vs a membership at the local maker-space. TechShops are opening all over, but less well-known maker spaces are everywhere. Jan 14, 2017 at 21:54
  • @Harper OP expressed a desire to purchase a reasonably safe saw, hence an answer to the question rather than a solution to the overlying problem. :)
    – Ast Pace
    Jan 14, 2017 at 22:40
  • Good point... that said, he is also clearly stating that safety is worth money to him. I can't not cheer that! Jan 14, 2017 at 22:50

I think it also needs to be pointed out that the task to be performed has a major impact on which tool is safest at that moment.

Table saws, used incautiously, are arguably most likely to turn hand into hamburger -- unrepairable injury -- as well as having kickback risk. On the other hand, used properly they are arguably the single most useful power tool in a woodworking shop, and historically the risk has been greatest to the most experienced users, who may start taking the machine for granted and take risky shortcuts.

The most versatile power saw might be the saber saw. It cuts more slowly than most of the alternatives, and it makes cutting straight lines harder... but it can cut curves, cut inside a board starting from a drilled hole, and generally make a lot of cuts you might otherwise take to a bandsaw. The slower cutting speed is a safety trade-off; in theory it's harder to do serious damage quickly, but it also may make the user impatient and create risks that way. Not best at anything, but not a bad compromise, especially given your stated constraints.


Here's my advice.

DON'T GET A POWERED SAW while you are "scared" of them. There are many safe options, don't misunderstand. But if your are scared of a powered saw this is almost always a recipe for disaster.

That doesn't mean you should ever use one "casually". You should however learn how to use one correctly.

Take a look at this saw from https://www.lowes.com/pd/DEWALT-20-Volt-Max-6-1-2-in-Cordless-Circular-Saw-Brake/3962443

Dewalt Saw

It's a "cheapy", so don't expect a lot from it (it may also not be the right tool fro the job). But if you notice there are two and holds, and a blade guard. If used properly, you really can't hurt your self with this.

You use clamps to "hold" the wood, then with both hands on the saw, move it (the saw) to make the cut. With the blade guard in place you should have a pretty hard time hurting your self as long as you follow normal safety guidelines.

That said, if you look at many construction sites/worker. You will see them doing downright stupid stuff, like removing the blade guard, or bypassing safety triggers to make sure that both hands are on the saw. Or holding a 2x4 while cutting it, with their hands, in midair, or even cutting wood in their laps instead of a saw horse. That's how you loose body parts.

With other types of saws similar "two hands" safety measures exists. The only one that I can think of that has a higer then normal danger factor is the reciprocating band saw.

Band saw

With proper safety there all well and good, but as your finders usually are close to the blade, and with their ability to "snap" the band when used incorrectly, a lot of people get hurt with these. I would suggest not getting one of these types till you already know how to use them.

Back the the original advise though, you should not buy a saw till you are comfortable using them, and are not scared of them. Many hardware stores will put on "demonstrations" where you can try them out under supervision, and there are many trade shows that offer the same opportunity.

If you look in your area you will also likely find a "shared workshop" where people (mostly hobbiests) can go and use equipment that they just wouldn't have at home. (For example a CNC machine, too expensive to use for just one or two projects, but nearly required for some types of woodworking). These places generally have a "safety instructor" that can help you out.

Short version, saws can be dangerous without instruction and attention, so wait till you have that instruction to make the proper choices.

What power saw would you feel most comfortable giving to a 13-year-old?

Any or none, depends on the 13 year old. I always like telling this story because I'm only 33 and people seem to find it hard to believe. But my High School had a fully working gun range. You were to show up in the morning before class and check your gun in with the sheriffs deputy or ROTC Instructor. Then you could use the range at any time, so long as it was staffed. Taking your gun home meant that you needed to stop after school (even if you left early) and pick it up. The point is this. Dangerous equipment is only dangerous when used incorrectly. When that equipment is common place and well understood, it is far less dangerous. This same school also had a fully working wood shop. The first weeks of which were devoted to safety around the machines. The wood shop was always well staffed, and monitored. The nearby middle school would send students over on occasion. With proper instruction and attentive students, no one ever lost a finger.

  • Meaning of "properly" needs to be WELL understood by the user. I know someone who had a major hand in building their own house. Not a carpenter but became highly capable with power tools. And too familiar. Using a circular saw for multiple cuts in a "Cut, put saw down, ... some action..., pick up saw, cut ... mode". During such an action he put down the saw with the blade at about full revs and the guard jammed open. The saw bit into the floor and ran forwards into and through his foot doing extremely major damage. Took significant surgery and slow recovery. Define properly well!!! Jan 16, 2017 at 2:57

I assume that the risk of using various power saws does differ, based on the wide spectrum of power saw sizes and designs.

This is why your question has generated so much confusion: power saws differ mostly in what jobs they are best at, not so much in their safety characteristics. They're not like cars, where one is a tank and another is a flaming deathtrap. Powersaws are generally very simple machines: a motor with a blade on it, in some configuration. Basic safety features like a blade guard are standard on all. moderate safety features like an electric brake doesn't actually make a power saw all that much safer. The SawStop has an advanced safety feature that has been talked about before, but it's very expensive and it's a table saw, which is good for some kinds of cuts and less good for others.

With power saws, safety comes from the operator, not the tool.

There is no power saw that I would be comfortable giving to an average 13 year-old. However, a 13 year-old who is an apprentice carpenter or construction worker, who has been around power tools for years already... this kid I would feel comfortable giving any power saw to.

All that said, let me echo the recommendation for a jigsaw. Jigsaws are probably harder to accidentally mangle yourself with, and can handle just about any cutting task. The downside is that they can cut slowly, so there may not be much of an advantage over your manual saws if speed is what you're after.


I'd like to know more about the kind of work you're doing, but as an initial suggestion I'd suggest two tools if you don't have them already. Both of these tools will allow all sorts of cuts, but both have the advantage
Your hands are comparitively far from the cutting edges

Once you're more comfortable and confident then you can try something more brutal.

A power drill (battery or mains) with a suitable set of decent bits.

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AND a power jigsaw, again with selection of fittings for cutting wood or metal.

enter image description here

Personally at 40, I still use a bowsaw for pruning rather than a chainsaw, and my sawbench/tablesaw is a tiny thing which runs off a drill and has a table about 250mm square. I use a circular saw and a plunge router sometimes, but hand saw and panel saws and hacksaws work fine too.

I have used a jigsaw and a metal cutting blade to cut corrugated iron/steel sheeting for a roof, and it worked very well. I've also used one for plunge cuts on weatherboard repairs.

  • I own a cordless drill and impact driver. How do you make cuts with a drill? By drilling a series of holes? I would think that this would take longer to complete than using a handsaw to make the cut.
    – Fil
    Jan 15, 2017 at 4:00
  • @Fil well that's certainly possible, but the drill is useful for making starter holes for the jigsaw. Ideal for cuts that don't finish at an edge. A jigsaw by itself might be a bit erratic on a long straight cut, so get a couple of F clamps and a long straight wooden edge and clamp it on as a fence. The whole point of these two tools is they will provide you power tools where the risk of digital subtraction is comparatively low, because they're used with the hands quite a distance from the cutters. Compare that to bandsaw and tablesaw suggestions where you get real close to the blades.
    – Criggie
    Jan 15, 2017 at 8:10

Let's back up and discuss why saws kick in the first place. Saws kick because the cutting blade gets impeded somehow. With your manual saw, this presents itself as the blade not moving, but with a power saw, the results can vary.

Your best bet as a general use saw is a circular saw. These are common, spin freely, and can cut a wide variety of things. But they can kick when cutting boards in two. The weight of the saw can push the boards down, causing the blade to kick. Just pull up on the boards as you near the end of the cut and kicks become pretty uncommon.

Table saws can kick as well, but when they do, it's not the blade that moves, it's the item being cut. My father-in-law (a professional carpenter) has injured himself the most on his table saw (and he has a massive cutting table. Kicks won't generally remove fingers, but it is possible to get gashes when a piece of wood kicks on you. This is not really a beginner tool. If you're not comfortable around circular saws, don't get these.

Reciprocating saws are more of a demolition tool. They're imprecise for most cutting jobs, unless you don't care as much about the final cut looking good.

Jigsaws are good. The blade is very small and doesn't travel very far. Kicks are an order of magnitude smaller and unlikely to remove fingers. The blade size here is the greatest limiter of what you can cut.

Miter saws might be the best bet here, but, of course, they can only miter. It's rare that a miter saw kicks, but when it does, it's going to kick like a table saw, and the item being cut moves.

One other mention here would be a 4.5" circular saw. Less amps on the blade, so smaller kicks. And a smaller blade for greater control.


I'm not sure which is safest but I know radial-arm saws have a bad reputation for a good reason. I watched my cousin almost get bit by one. The saw housing/motor/blade is suspended by and slides along an elevated track. A handle is attached to the motor housing and you pull the housing/motor/blade towards you and across the board which is laid perpendicular to the track. The blade teeth can snag on the wood and kick. The wood can't kick away because it's blocked by the fence behind it so the saw head kicks away and towards you instead. It kind of claws itself over the remaining uncut wood rather than cutting it. It happens without warning and so fast that it's impossible to react fast enough. While you shouldn't have anything in the path of the blade, most people don't expect the saw head to suddenly be a foot or more closer to them and might have a hand within reach of the blade inadvertently.

Like I said, I don't know which is the safest but a lot of times, I've defeated the effectiveness of the guard because of an awkward cut. I've run chop saws without the work clamped because I couldn't clamp close enough to the blade to hold the work. So I used my hands 1" away from the blade while cutting square aluminum tube. I eventually quit the job because I knew it was just a matter of time. Likewise, with circular saws, that guard doesn't slide back very well with some awkward cuts so I've tied it back a time or two, another stupid idea but the alternative is time consuming and tiring. The point is, you might figure out which saw will do the cuts you want without having to modify the guard, assuming any will. Some saws are just worthless for some cuts with the guard on and the manufacturers probably know it but as long as they put a guard on, they're protected in a lawsuit if you take it off and that's all they're really worried about.

One more thing, some chop saws are compound and slide along tubular arms similar to a radial arm saw in addition to being hinged like a ordinary chop saw. I suspect those might have the same danger of kick-towards you that the radial saw has, but not positive. They might even be more dangerous since they aren't permanently mounted a lot of times. On the other hand, a plain chop saw which has the room to clamp your work and is secured to a suitable bench might be the safest because the only hand that needs to be close is on the handle. Letting go will kill power to the saw because the trigger is in the handle and some or maybe all nowdays have a blade brake that automatically kicks in when the blade pivots up. Assuming all those elements, that would be a relatively safe situation. They are loud though so the noise is somewhat intimidating. It would be good for lumber but not for paneling. For that, a panel saw is hard to beat because it's designed specifically for panels. Typically though, panel saws aren't something you would likely use enough around the house to justify the relatively high price tag. Bandsaws are quiet and misleadingly dangerous. I've knicked myself when doing detail work to close to the blade. It's quiet but it'll cut a finger off just like that too. Chainsaws kick up and back at you but most I suspect have a kick-back mechanism nowdays that brakes the blade. Whether it works every time is a different story. I've used a Stihl 24" cutting Ponderosa pine as thick as 4' and didn't have a problem but it's soft wood and Stihl makes a good saw. I'm still not sure the kickback brake would save you in some situations. You can still just drop the thing on your foot. I wouldn't recommend a chain saw for what you're doing. They make too rough a cut for anything you want to look nice besides trees. You can even cut some materials with a zip tool or drill with a zip bit but that wouldn't be suitable for lumber, mostly sheet rock. I almost was cut badly with a dremel tool with a 1/8 drill bit. I had drilled plastic and some had melted onto the bit. I grabbed a double sided carpet knife blade to run up against the bit to cut the plastic lose, the blade got wedged between the knurled housing on the collet and the flange on the motor shaft that the collet screwed up against. It snatched the blade out of my hand while spinning at maybe 4,000 rpm, I'm guessing. It turned the dremel tool into a circular saw. That's why they call them accidents. Never would have expected it in a million years. Still have all my fingers though, whether I deserve them or not.

Finally, a table saw can kick things back at you with a lot of force and speed. They have a guard to protect you hands that works as long as you use a stick to push the work past the blade but that's kind of a pain. They're better for ripping lumber longways which you can't do with a chop saw. Chop saws are better for cutting a long 2x4 into shorter pieces. Table saws are more versatile. You can rip a 2x12 it's entire length and turn it into two 2x6's. They can do crosscuts like the chop saw also but if your making a lot of crosscuts, a chop saw is probably faster They can also cut paneling though it's kind of awkward if you aren't set up with the right supports or have a helper. They also cost more and when they catch a knothole or some other anomaly just right, they can kick a piece of wood at you that will dent or maybe rarely, depending on it's power, go through a sheet rock wall in some cases. In other words, eye protection at a minimum.


I was in exactly your situation; I actually liked to work with hand tools, and had self-imposed security constraints.

After turning more and more from wood to metal working, I got a bandsaw like this:

(source: flex-tools.com)

During operation you stand on the far side. The only thing you need to do is let one hand rest more or less lightly on the big handle to apply a modicum of downward pressure (the little, the better, as with all saws).

Like on some gardening power tools, there are defined places for both of your hands. At no point whatsoever do you need to touch anything remotely close to the moving parts. You do not ever need to apply any sort of pushing force to the machine, there is no way to slip off and ram a finger into the saw band. I must admit that I do not know what would happen if there were some catastrophic failure (i.e., the band snapping), but I would assume that it would simply stop going around. There can be no kick-back, the machine itself can not go jumping, etc.

The one drawback is severe limitations with the size of woods you can cut. Mine has a maximum opening of the jaws of 10cm, also the height of the workpiece is not limitless (like with vertical bandsaws). In a pinch, some (like this one) have a detachable main part so you can wield it without the table for making very, very rough cuts. Even in that mode, I'd regard it pretty secure, although it is pretty unwieldy (sic).

  • Look for a much larger used Johnson. Change the blade to finethread wood and turn off the oil pump. It has enough machine weight that you don't run it attended, and the weight of the machine does the work. Jan 15, 2017 at 21:38
  • @Harper, absolutely, the larger the better. :) It's the principle that counts. I got my portable one because of space constraints, and it can either be stowed away or at least does not take up that much space on my workbench.
    – AnoE
    Jan 16, 2017 at 7:40

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