Table Saw vs Circular Saw: Which is Best and When to Use Each

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Two popular types of power saws are the table saw and the circular saw. Both of these saws can be used in a variety of applications, offering you the ability to cut large and small pieces of material to length.

But, you may be wondering which is the better saw, and when to use each one? We took a look at the table saw vs circular saw and provided our analysis below.

What is a Table Saw?

A table saw has a blade that extends from underneath the surface of a tabletop, similar to a miter saw but more with a general-purpose. Table saws tabletop acts as the support platform to rest the material to be cut on. Table saws blade lifts out above the tabletop, allowing you to move material through the blade as you cut it.

You use table saws by pushing material through the blade, allowing you to control the direction of the cut. Similar to a miter saw, table saws cut exclusively in a straight line. Most table saws have ​an ability to tile the saw blade, relative to the table top, so you can cut miter angles in a straight line.

Table saws are highly accurate, in large part because of the table saws fence that serves as a guide while you work. The accuracy depends on how straight and continuously you push material through the blade. Steady movements produce clean cuts along the wood, and is one of the reasons a table saw is chosen.

​Table Saw Applications

Table saws are best used for making long, straight cuts. For example, if you need to cut ​a series of 2″x4″ in half, a good table saw would be the best tool to use. Because of the table top surface, fence, and blade, you can accurately guide the wood slowly.

These long cuts that separate a piece of wood with the grain are often called rip cuts. Table saws can also perform cross-cuts, which goes perpendicular to the grain of the wood. Most saws can’t perform rip cuts, at least not with much accuracy. Table saws, though, excels at the rip cut.

Anytime that you need a long or wide piece of material cut, a table saw is your go-to saw as you can easily rest these large materials on the tabletop of the saw without issue. This prevents the need to awkwardly hold the material as you try cutting it. You can simply guide the material through the blade to cut it to the straight length or width that you need, and is also very precise.

Table saws can cut ​pieces of plywood as well as both soft wood and hardwoods. You will also see table saws used to cut sheets of plastic, aluminum, and brass.

Table saw vs circular saw cutting a piece of wood

What is a Circular Saw?

A circular saw is a handheld saw using a circular blade. This type of saw can be driven by electricity, gasoline, motor, or battery. Cordless circular saws are also very popular, making them a high-quality option for on the job site as there is no cord to contend with.

As a circular saw’s blade spins, it chips away at the surface it is cutting. You have to move the saw with your hand across the length or width of the material you are cutting. Circular saws come with an electric brake to be safe.

Because using a circular saw relies on you to guide it, with no additional guides to help, the cuts that it produces are not totally precise. If your hand wavers, you will produce inaccurate cuts. But, a circular saw blade is very efficient at cutting quickly – both rip and cross-cuts.

​Circular Saw Applications

A circular saw can be used in a variety of applications, especially with the right type of blade attached. Circular saws are used in a wide array of projects, ranging from home DIY creations all the way to professional construction sites.

From larger, robust circular saws all the way down to a mini circular saw, these power tools are best used to make fast, quick cuts where precision isn’t vital. It isn’t that a circular saw isn’t accurate – it just can’t compete with the precision of table saws.

You can also use a circular saw to cut masonry work such as joints in concrete or through concrete block. Circular saws ​also work for cutting metal when operated at low speeds or for cutting through any type of plastic.

You can easily change out or sharpen a circular saw blade, making this tool very convenient.

​Table Saw vs Circular Saw

Table saws and circular saws share one main similarity – both have circular blades that spin to cut material. When the saw blades cut the material slowly, the blades make a very accurate cut.

While both blades spin as these power tools cut, the table saw extends upward while the circular saw extends downward. Table saw or a circular one, the blades do chip away material as the blades cut, but these power tools require you to guide them through the sawing process.

This is where we start to see the pros and cons and differences in a table saw vs a circular saw.

Table saw vs circular saw on a table blade

Table Saw for Accuracy

With a table saw, you have a stable platform and table saw fence to help stabilize and guide you through the cutting process. The platform, or table, gives you a large resting spot for the material, while the guide provides a mechanism to push the material through the saw. Think of this tool like training wheels for your power saw.

These two safety features make a table saw highly precise and help you make accurate cuts. If you take the time to set up your guide properly, you can make cuts that are precise down the 1/64”. This level of precision can’t be matched by a circular saw.

​Table Saw for Large Projects

When you need to make a lot of the same cuts for a large project, a table saw is a perfect solution. Lets say that you need to cut a 4’x8’ sheet of plywood in half, like we discussed in our previous example. When you use a table saw, you would set your table saw fence for the correct dimension, and use the saw for the cut.

Now that the fence has been set, you can send more pieces of plywood through the saw to make the same cuts, and each subsequent cut takes hardly any time. If you’re working on a large project, a table saw can save you a lot of time.

Circular Saw for Speed

When you need to make a quick cut, nothing beats a good circular saw. Circular Saws feature incredible ease to use to make a quick cut. And, they are very simple to use.

Because circular saws are hand saws, you use your hand to guide the saw through the cut. This means you don’t need to spend any time setting up the saw blade heights and table fences, like you do with a table saw.

Circular saws are also faster because you can bring the saw to the specific job site. A table saw, on the other hand, typically requires you to bring the project to the saw.

​Circular Saw for Cutting Abilities

Another difference between a table saw and a circular saw is its cutting capabilities. Table saws can perform both rip cuts and cross-cuts with accuracy, but can not cut any notches or bends. If you need to make any of these cuts, a circular saw can handle them.

Mind you, a circular saw isn’t best for cutting​ some of these types of cuts in wood. In this case, you would probably want to use a jigsaw, which has a better ease of use for this purpose. However, because of its convenience, a circular saw does have a wider range of cutting capabilities.

Circular Saw for Convenience

Circular saws are lightweight, hand-held, and can be moved from jobsite-to-jobsite with ease. A table saw is heavier and more complex in its set up. Because of its weight and footprint, this tool is more difficult to move these saws around as easily as you are able to do with a circular saw.

They do make portable table saws that you can move to a jobsite, but a circular saw is vastly easier to use than a portable table saw. In simple terms – table saws are big, huge behemoth saws and circular saws are small, handheld saws.

It may be easier to control the steadiness of a circular saw as you cut, as the saw is nimble and easier to control. A table saw is stationary, but the large piece of material that they typically cut offers a challenge in some instances. You may not be able to push the material straight in the blade of your table saw unless, of course, you have a fence.

Table saw vs circular saw sparks flying because of cutting material

Conclusion

While utilizing the same type of circular blade, that is where the similarities stop when looking at the circular saw vs table saw.

A table saw is a large power saw that specializes in high volume rip and cross cuts. A table saw is highly precise but rather inconvenient. This tool allows you to do large and complex woodworking projects around your house

On the other hand, a circular saw is a compact hand saw that is extremely convenient. Many power tools come cordless, allowing you to use them on a variety of DIY projects around your house.

Most beginners don’t have a need for a table saw, but everyone has a need for a circular saw. As you advance and take on larger projects, though, you’ll want to add a table saw to your power tools kit. The specialized cuts that a table saw can make simply can’t be performed by a circular saw.

You can start small, picking up a cheaper table saw at first before needing to buy a more robust option.

If you can only choose one of these power tools for your workshop, we recommend the circular saw as the best option, you’ll get plenty of use out of this lightweight saw.

An expert at home repair, remodel, and DIY projects for nearly 40 years. His first experience came in completely restoring an antique home. Completely redone from the inside out, and restored to its original form, the home is a featured design by renowned Southern California Architect Cliff May, considered to be the father of the California Ranch Home. Now Dennis spends his time on fine woodworking projects and tool comparisons.