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I've got a few cuts to make on some (large) offcuts of 40mm oak worktop. They are all straight, each cut up to 60cm long, from one side of the piece to the other. while this is technically within spec for my jigsaw, there's no way it's up to the job: the top of the cut may look straight but on a board this thick the back wanders all over the place, even if it take it very gently. It would also take forever even with a new blade.

So a shopping trip is in order. I'm a bit short on space, and don't want to spend a fortune on something that will be used rarely at best. I'm considering either:

  • a sabre (reciprocating) saw, which is compact and likely to be quite useful in the future (e.g. with a coarse tree-trimming blade). It might even replace the tired old jigsaw.

  • a circular saw. I haven't needed to use one in 20 years so it's likely to end up sitting in a box for quite some time. I regard it as mainly useful for wood-based sheet material, and not the thin stuff. That doesn't leave much that I actually do.

In theory I could replace/upgrade the jigsaw, but it's fine on thin sheet material and in not convinced a new one would be so much better. I'm not adverse to hiring something, if there's a much better way that's bulky or expensive.

In any case I assume I'd set up a guide fence.

So: is one of my ideas much better for the job in question (straight cuts on 40mm oak)? Which is more generally useful in the future? Or have I missed an important consideration?

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    I'd use a circular saw, myself. When you say it's not useful for "the thin stuff," how thin are you talking? I wouldn't use it to cut, say, veneers, but I have used it for 1/4" (about 6 mm) sheet goods, and it works fine for that, too. I usually do rough cuts with the circular saw and then get it to the length I want with an 80 tooth blade in the table saw. – Charlie Kilian Dec 20 '16 at 19:34
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    If you have a router, I would use the jigsaw to cut it close, and then a straight edge and flush trim bit on the router to get right to the line. This is my preferred method as I do not own a track saw, or the ability to cross cut something that large on my table saw. – Jacob Edmond Dec 20 '16 at 19:36
  • @CharlieKilian by "thin" I'm referring to 6-9mm ply/MDF which I did a lot with a few years ago. So it's good to hear that it will go thinner than I thought. – Chris H Dec 20 '16 at 20:04
  • @JacobEdmond maybe this should be my excuse to buy a router. I was considering it for another bit of the same job. – Chris H Dec 20 '16 at 20:06
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    You can turn a circular saw into something close to a tracksaw by throwing together a straight-edge guide, as discussed previously here. – keshlam Dec 20 '16 at 20:26
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Most of these were in the comments on the original question, but I'll organize them:

  1. Track Saw - This is what I would consider the "best" way to go. Unfortunately, they start at a few hundred dollars US. Since you said that you didn't want to spend a lot I would consider this out.
  2. Circular Saw - You can cut a perfectly straight line by using a straightedge with a circular saw. You'll need to measure the offset between the edge of your saw and the blade, then clamp the straightedge to your workpiece that distance away from your intended cut line. If you're only making a few cuts this is probably the fastest method. Circular saws are fairly inexpensive and useful, so I think this would be a good route
  3. Circular saw with homemade track - If you're going to frequently use the circular saw for precision cuts and don't want to buy a track saw you can make a "track" for a circular saw. Simply attach a straight piece of stock to a piece of 1/4" plywood and trim the plywood to size by running the saw's baseplate against the stock. This reproduces much of the functionality of a track saw at a much lower price.
  4. Jigsaw (or hand saw), then clean up with a Router - make a rough cut close to your intended line with a jigsaw or handsaw, then clamp a straightedge to your workpiece (similar to #2). It should be offset by the distance from the edge of your router to the bit. Then run the base of a router along the straightedge to clean up. This will require a straight bit at least as long as your workpiece. 4cm is a pretty long bit so I might lean against this option. You will want to make multiple shallower passes, increasing the bit depth with each. Also be sure to run the router in the proper direction (from left to right typically.)
  5. Jigsaw (or hand saw), then hand plane - Similar to #4, you can make a rough cut and then plane to your line with a bench plane. A handplane is a surprisingly useful tool to have around, but it does have a bigger learning curve than the circular saw or router.
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    For #4, you can alternatively use a flush trim bit and align your straight edge right on your line instead of offsetting to run you router base against the straight edge. For thicker material, you can take shallow passes, and then once you are deep enough, you can remove the straight edge and let the bearing of the flush trim bit ride against the already routed portion of the cut until you cut through the rest of the material. – Jacob Edmond Dec 21 '16 at 12:47
  • In the end I went for a circular saw for the long cuts (option 2) but there were some smaller diagonal cuts that would have been very tricky to set up a guide so I did those by hand. – Chris H Mar 4 '17 at 19:46
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What is the proper saw is really a wide open question and depends a lot upon the level of quality in the cut piece desired, your future woodworking plans and your budget.

In order of accuracy for straight cuts I would rank hand held tools lower than woodworking shop equipment. In order for poorest to best I would place hand held power tools in this order: chainsaw, sawzall, Jigsaw, circlesaw. Using straight edge guides will always improve the quality of cut for any hand power tool. Circlesaws will also benefit more from using a good quality blade that is designed for the type of wood and finish quality desired. For shop equipment I would order them scrollsaw, bandsaw then tablesaw. Hand saws can be better than any hand held power tools provided they are the right saw and are handled well, but doing so takes more practice/skill than handling a power tool.

If you have no need to keep the tool after this work consider renting a portable contractor's table saw from a big box store for the day.

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So a shopping trip is in order. I'm a bit short on space, and don't want to spend a fortune on something that will be used rarely at best.

You need to give serious consideration to a panel saw since it ticks all of your boxes, in spades.

  • Short on space? I don't think compact even covers it since a hand saw can be hung from a hook on the wall, taking up almost no room at all.

  • Don't want to break the bank? These saws are cheap to very cheap, with perfectly decent ones available for under a tenner.

  • As far as future usefulness goes, one of these could be used for all your major hand cuts in material as thin as 3mm (1/8") all the way up to 15cm (6") slabs and everything in between. You can even use it for cutting dovetails1 if you're brave! How's that for versatile? Note: although these saws will generally perform better across the grain they will do both rip and cross cuts.

There are many types of panel saw available now from various makers, almost all having impulse-hardened teeth2 and many will also feature modern tooth geometries (some resembling the way Asian crosscut saws are sharpened). Despite purists hating these teeth for both reasons they can make for a saw that cuts very well, fast and straight with relatively little fatigue.

After sawing
You will of course need to clean up the cut edge and if you don't have a jointer a hand plane is probably the best way to do that, it's certainly the fastest. While a router jockey is still fiddling about with a wrench the hand plane guy is already making shavings and he could be done before the first (of many) shallow passes are cut with the router. It literally is that fast at best.

If you don't own a hand plane a no. 5 (AKA a jack plane) would make an excellent starting point. Many users consider this the most useful size of bench plane and numerous books recommend jacks for new users. You might be lucky enough to live somewhere where there is a good market for secondhand tools, in which case a decent user can be had for not much money at all (less than the price of a cup of coffee in some cases).


1See We Don't Need No Stinkin' Backsaws on Lost Art Press.

2These are basically unsharpenable, however this is nearly a non-issue since few leisure woodworkers will cut enough in their lifetime to wear one out — some users report ten years plus without any apparent change in cutting performance. Even if you do manage to wear one out they're so inexpensive they can be considered disposable, which is what they're priced to be.

But don't just throw one away if it gets blunt or kinked, retain the saw plate for its steel which can be used to make scrapers of all kinds, and other shop tools only limited by your imagination and inventiveness. (Good thing to remember here: this is air-hardening steel.)

  • I'm better equipped for hand tools than power tools, so have both a couple of panel saws and a rather neglected plane. I have my doubts about the total length of the cuts but I might be able to start on the smaller pieces as a test. – Chris H Dec 21 '16 at 6:57
  • Practice is the only way to get better (duh, like with anything) so it's well worth the time to get good with one, it is a key skill after all. Sawing square I had the most trouble with (I think most do) while sawing straight you can adjust more easily because you can see the line. There are various aids to sawing, including sawing along a clamped batten, but I think the ideal help if you're doing deep cuts is to knife a very pronounced line around all four sides. Major tip: take your time! More screw ups in sawing have occurred because of rushing than anything else. [contd] – Graphus supports Monica Dec 21 '16 at 11:16
  • Another option worth mentioning is to use a kerfing plane, but that's more for resawing. Re. your neglected plane, is it in need of some rehab or just hasn't been used much? – Graphus supports Monica Dec 21 '16 at 11:18
  • You've got the measure of my sawing -- square is a bit of an issue, straight is fine. The plane has mainly been used for doors (where the endgrain wasn't an easy job but I always felt like I hadn't adjusted it properly). Most other uses have been along the grain of softwood so not exactly a challenge. I know it needs a good sharpen at least. – Chris H Dec 22 '16 at 15:41
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    Yes using a normal bench plane you need the iron as sharp as you can make it. In fact it's an acid test of your sharpening ability whether you can take end-grain shavings at all with a normal plane. Also the projection of the irons need to be adjusted to take a very fine shaving usually, even in softwoods. – Graphus supports Monica Dec 23 '16 at 9:45

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