The Invention of Circular Saw

A circular saw is a power-saw using a toothed or abrasive disc or blade to cut different materials using a rotary motion spinning around an arbor. It was invented in the 19th century.

A modern circular saw

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A circular saw is a tool for cutting many materials such as wood, masonry, plastic, or metal and may be hand-held or mounted to a machine. In woodworking the term “circular saw” refers specifically to the hand-held type and the table saw and chop saw are other common forms of circular saws.

The invention of the circular saw

It’s commonly told that Samuel Miller was awarded British Patent #1152 in 1777 for what is considered the first circular saw machine. Some assert that the wording in his patent indicates the circular blade itself was in common use by that time — it was the sawing machine itself that Miller had invented.

One of the first models of circular saw

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Like many inventions of the time, the circular saw was a concept developed similarly and independently throughout parts of the developing world. All these stories of the circular saw’s rise in Europe seem completely separate from its emergence in America — or, at least, from American legends. In the U.S. — more specifically in Harvard, Massachusetts — a Shaker woman named Tabitha Babbitt is said to have also invented a circular saw entirely of her own volition and design in 1810.

The spinning wheel’s influence

The spinning wheel was an early machine used to transform natural fibers into spinning thread or yarn. It was composed of a drive wheel, table, treadle and legs as well as parts that held the fibers. A weaver by trade, Babbitt noticed that the drive wheel spun in a continual circular motion and didn’t need to be continually reset like the inefficient pit saw. By carving a circular saw blade and attaching it to her spinning wheel, every movement of the disk made a cut.

A wood model of a spinning wheel

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When attached to a table, the circular saw acts much like the wheel on a spinning wheel, paying homage to Babbitt’s original prototype. Both the saw and its alleged ancestor work in a continual circular motion to produce consistent results without the need to stop and reposition the machine.

Early versions and evolution

As with the spinning wheel, early prototypes of the circular table saw were powered by a treadle — a pump on the floor that was pushed by foot to make the saw spin. Saws during this time were not mechanical, nor were they portable. These early models of the circular saw table were used in America throughout the 1800s.

Old photographie of a circular saw

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In 1922, the first circular saw attached to a radial arm was created by Raymond Dewalt, allowing for greater control of cutting depth and direction than ever before. Since then, both portable and table circular saws have continued to evolve in technological advances. Today’s portable circular saws use a lightweight universal motor that can run off either AC or DC electric power, while table saws typically feature a heavier induction motor.

The circular saw today

Since its invention, the circular saw has been used in numerous commercial and personal applications. Small handheld saws can be used for household or construction projects, while larger versions of the table circular saw and blade can cut with extreme precision in sawmills, lumber yards and timber processing. Many novices and professionals alike enjoy the circular saw for its enhanced versatility, as it can easily cut both wood and harder materials like plastic and stone. On wood, the saw is used to crosscut, rip and make angle cuts.

A modern circular saw

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When the York Saw Works started in 1906, our focus included machine knives, but it was saw blades that took the lead in popularity. It makes sense, though. In addition to its history of woodcrafts & industrial ingenuity, Pennsylvania was a timber industry powerhouse at the turn of the last century. Indeed, this was true of much of the Northeastern US at the time. Without the keen eye and inventive contributions of people like Samuel Miller or Tabitha Babbitt, who knows where we’d be today?

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