The Death Saw is presented as an escape gone wrong. Its best known performer is David Copperfield. The performer is secured to a table beneath a large buzzsaw or blade, which is set to descend upon them under the control of a timing mechanism. After being secured with various manacles the performer is enclosed in a box. The saw is then set going. After a while the sides of the box fall away to reveal the performer struggling to escape the manacles. Finally the saw drops before the performer has time to escape. The blade slices right through the performer's body. The two halves of the table are rolled apart so that the performer is clearly separated into two sections. The performer then appears to command the whole process to reverse: The body halves go back together, the saw rises, the box closes. Finally the performer emerges unharmed from the box.
Copperfield has claimed exclusive rights to this illusion, however others, including Tennessee-based illusion builder Jeff Davis, have asserted that the method and effect were previously published in two magazine articles during the 1960s. The March 1965 edition of The Linking Ring contains text and diagrams from an Indian author called B. Rakshit giving the basic sawing method. An article in the September 1969 Genii Magazine outlines the routine including the idea of the saw descending a tower.