September 27, 2020

What Is a Chop Saw? A Quick Intro To This Heavy-Duty Tool

In this article, I’m gonna explain to you what a chop saw is and what you can use it for. I’m also going to give you some safety tips and maintenance advice (in particular, I’m going to teach you how to sharpen a chop saw blade).

This saw is often confused with her close relative, the miter saw. So I thought it would be a good idea to talk more about chop saws to give them some justice. If you are a beginner in the DIY word, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with all these pieces of equipment and you might get analysis paralysis when it’s time to get one.

Hopefully, this post is going to clear your mind and make you a little bit more knowledgeable about the matter.

Chop Saw Definition

what is a chop saw
Photo: flikandcompany.com

A chop saw, also known as cut-off saw, is a stationary saw which is primarily used to get through hard materials like metal (we are going to talk more about the chop saw uses in the next paragraph). It is a straightforward tool made of two main parts: a metal base that functions as a worktop, and a spinning blade on top of it. The worktop comes with a fence on it to lock the working material in place; the blade is mounted on a fixed head placed on a spring-loaded pivot arm. The thing that made this tool popular is its portability. A lot of jobs previously performed in workshops using other types of heavy, stationary saws can be done on-site now.

The tool is designed is such a way that it can only make straight cuts. That’s the reason why they came up with the miter saw, which is basically an evolution of the chop saw. A miter saw has a rotating head which allows you to make angled cuts. These come handy, especially in woodworking.

What Is a Chop Saw Used For?

As I said before, chop saws are mainly used for metal cutting in construction and carpentry industries. They are used to cut rebar, tubing, metal pipes, light gauge metal studs, and more. Freehand cut-off saws are also used on concrete, asphalt, and tiles. In this field, the cut-off saws are appreciated for their power and precision. The lack of versatility isn’t a problem here. They need to get one job done, and they can do it in a fast and precise way.

You can also use your chop saw for woodworking stuff. However, you need to get an appropriate blade: chop saws usually come out of the box with a general-purpose, abrasive blade, which isn’t good for wood (it will burn the cutting surface most likely). If you are planning on getting a saw for woodworking exclusively, you should probably consider a miter saw instead. It will allow you to cut bevels, while a cut-off saw only lets you cut up and down. For square crosscutting only, a chop saw is enough.

Another thing you can do with chop saws is cutting PVC pipes. An abrasive cut-off wheel will do the job here. When doing this, don’t tighten the clamp too much, or you will crack the pipe.

When using a chop saw on materials that are softer than metal, try to drive the blade really slowly onto the working piece. These are very powerful saws, and you don’t want them to rip the cutting surface off.

If you want to see a chop saw in action, check the following video:

How To Use a Chop Saw

These saws are very simple tools. There aren’t a lot of adjustments to make or things to consider to get the job done well. However, if you are new to this kind of tool, here you have some easy steps to follow to get started:

  • Adjust the cutting fence to your preferred angle (commonly, up to 45° right or left), if you need it.
  • Lock the cutting piece in place. This is important for two reasons. First, your own safety: you don’t want the saw to kick the cutting piece in your direction: holding the part with your hand while driving the blade with the other to save some time is a terrible idea. The vice adjustment is there for a reason. Second, you will get a much cleaner cut than what you would get otherwise. Some chop saws provide a v-shaped clamp that you can use for square steel tubes. By cutting it on the edge you will extend the blade’s life.
  • Drive the blade down onto your working piece. You don’t need to apply much force on it, be patient, and let the saw do the job. Your blades will last longer this way and you will get a much cleaner looking cut.
  • Move the blade up and remove the piece. If you need to readjust the working piece under the blade, wait until the blade stopped entirely before doing it.

Chop Saw Safety

As always, when using a saw, it’s essential to operate in the safest way possible. One single mistake can cost you dearly. To avoid it, below I listed some safety tips related to chop saws that you might want to check out.

  • Always wear safety gear when operating. This includes earplugs (cut-off saws can get quite noisy), glasses (even if your saw has a spark guard, an additional layer of security for your eyes is always better), and gloves. Fresh cut metal is very sharp and can easily cut your hands.
  • When doing maintenance, remember to unplug the power source. Even if the power button is off, you could accidentally hit it and turn the saw on. Better safe than sorry I would say.
  • As I said in the previous paragraph, always lock the piece in place before cutting. You will get a cleaner cut and most importantly, you will avoid accidents.
  • Wait until the blade stopped completely before removing or readjusting your working piece. This is particularly important when you place your hand directly under the blade. It’s probably better to unplug the power source in that case.

Lastly, the most significant tip. When operating with a chop saw, completely focus on the current task. It’s easy to get lost in thought nowadays; make sure that’s not the case while using a saw.

How to Sharpen a Chop Saw Blade

how to sharpen a chop saw blade
Photo: carbideprocessors.com

If you use your cut-off saw for woodworking, you might need to sharpen its blade at some point. Follow these easy steps to do it.

  • What I said about maintenance when speaking about safety also applies here. Unplug the power source before you start working on the saw.
  • Put the saw head up, and remove the blade. Some chop saws come with a spindle lock for easy removal.
  • Firmly clamp the blade on your workbench. That’s the reason why you removed it from the saw in the first place. It would be impossible to sharpen it properly while on the cut-off saw because it would keep moving.
  • Mark one tooth with a marker to identify a starting point and avoiding sharpening the same tooth two times.
  • Now it’s time to do the sharpening. You need a diamond file with a flat face for this step. Place it at the bottom of the tooth and move it forward and upward along the surface. Once the surface is nice and flat, move onto the upper face of the teeth and repeat the process. Your goal here is to straighten the tip of the tooth. If you don’t know how much metal to remove, a good starting point would be to continue until the surface looks clean.
  • Repeat the step below for all the teeth, until you reach the marked one.
  • Put the blade back on the chop saw and do a test cut. Use a piece of scrap wood to do this. Repeat the sharpening process if the result doesn’t satisfy you.

Learning how to sharpen a blade can be a difficult process, and it might take some trial and error. You can easily get the angle wrong. If you don’t want to risk ruining your blade, contact a professional to do the job for you.

Conclusions

If you come this far in the article, you should have a clearer idea of what a chop saw is and what are its uses now. It’s a pretty heavy-duty tool, mainly used by professionals for a bunch of specific jobs.

As it came out, the chop saw isn’t the most versatile tool out there. If you are a professional, this isn’t necessarily a problem. On the other hand, if you are a DIYer and you are mainly focused on woodworking, it’s probably better for you to get a miter saw, which has many more applications than a cut-off saw.