Circular saws are a workshop
saws are useful for cutting lumber, plywood, posts, or even metal. They are
versatile, as well. With a circular saw you can make beveled cuts as you could
with a compound miter saw, and with the addition of guide rails, it's possible
to make long straight cuts that would otherwise require a table saw.
(ConsumerSearch has separate reports on miter saws and table saws.)
Types of Circular Saws
Sidewinder Circular Saws
Most circular saws are "sidewinder" models, which have the motor mounted perpendicular to the blade. This design places the motor and handle assembly to one side of the blade – usually the right side, but some saws have it on the left.Cordless Circular Saws
Sidewinder saws can be corded or cordless. Because it's not tethered to a power outlet, a cordless circular saw is more versatile, allowing you to take the tool to the job instead of the other way around. For example, trimming the deck of a tree house with a cordless circular saw is a far easier job than trying to drag an extension cord up the tree, and no matter where you are working, you don't have to worry about cutting the cord.Worm-Drive Circular Saws
Unlike sidewinders, in-line saws place the motor and handle in line with the blade. They're often known as worm-drive saws, because they typically use worm gears – toothed wheels worked by a short, threaded cylinder, or "worm" -- to drive the blade. However, some in-line circular saws are driven by hypoid gears, a complex type of spiral bevel gear, and are known as hypoid saws.
Choosing a circular saw
type of circular saw has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. Corded sidewinder
circular saws are more compact than worm-drive saws, and they're also lighter,
ranging from 8 to 11 pounds. Many users, including This Old House master
carpenter Norm Abram, find them better balanced and more maneuverable. And
they're generally less expensive, usually costing between $100 and $150.
saws, by contrast, are typically heavier – between 12 and 15 pounds
– and pack more power. Professional framer Tim
Uhler, writing for the Journal of Light Construction, says he prefers this type
of saw because it's "more durable and less likely to bog down in heavy
cutting." Worm-drive saws are also a bit more expensive, ranging from $140
to $200. Which type is better for you depends on your strength, your work
style, and how much heavy-duty cutting you need to do.
circular saws have improved dramatically in the last several years. They've
grown both larger and more powerful, and lightweight and long-running
lithium-ion batteries have taken the place of the heavier nickel-cadmium type.
However, cordless circular saws still can't quite match the power of their
corded cousins, and although battery life has improved, they still have limited
run times. A cordless circular saw can also cost more than a corded saw because
you have to invest in the battery and charger, which adds anywhere from $100 to
$250 to the price of the tool. However, if you already own a cordless tool from
the same manufacturer, you can purchase the "bare tool" for use with
your existing batteries and charger at about the same price as you'd pay for a
corded circular saw.
Finding The Best Circular Saws
To find the best circular
saws, we consulted professional comparison tests in tool-centric publications
such as Fine Homebuilding, the Journal of Light Construction, FamilyHandyman.com,
and Popular Mechanics. These tests evaluate circular saws' cutting power,
accuracy, features, and ease of use, as well as battery life for cordless
models. Owner reviews from retail sites like Amazon.com and HomeDepot.com help
fill in the blanks as to how typical users view their saws, sometimes after
months -- or more -- of use. These real-world reviews address things that
sometimes crop up only after the kind of extended use that's beyond the scope
of most expert evaluations. Based on these sources, we've named our top picks
for corded and cordless sidewinder circular saws and worm-drive saws, with
recommendations for any type of user, job, and budget.
Best corded circular saws
Most corded circular saws are
"right-bladed" sidewinder types, meaning that the motor is mounted to
the left of the blade. This keeps the handle and heavy motor on the supported
part of the board, but it also partially obstructs your view of the cutting
line. "Left-bladed" circular saws usually give a clearer sightline
(and are better for left-handed users), but they can be more awkward to handle,
since there's nothing to support the heavier part of the saw on the cutoff side
of the piece. They also expose a right-handed user to sawdust thrown off by the
In both professional
comparison tests and user reviews, the Makita 5007MG (Est. $150) consistently
receives high marks. This 10.6-pound, right-bladed saw has a 7.25-inch blade
and a 15-amp motor that whips through wood at 5,800 rpm. However, what really
impresses reviewers is the saw's construction. Its magnesium base plate slides
smoothly, and its large, rubber-coated handles and levers are comfortable to
use. It also comes with a few handy extras, such as a built-in LED work light,
dust blower, rip fence, and carrying case.
FamilyHandyman.com names this Makita saw as the best of
the13 sidewinder circular saws it tested. Editors rave about its clear,
easy-to-see cutting-depth gauge and its "ingenious" bevel stop
setting, which lets you set a positive stop by rotating the knob to either 22.5
or 45 degrees but can also override to as much as 56 degrees. They say the
bevel detents are dead-on, and the depth-of-cut scale is easy to read.
User reviews of the Makita 5007MG.com are overwhelmingly
positive; it earns a rating of 4.7 stars out of 5 at Amazon.com, and 4.8 stars
at HomeDepot.com. Users say the saw is powerful, lightweight, sturdy, and well
balanced, and it cuts accurately and smoothly without binding up. They
particularly like its easy-to-read scales and the LED work light that
illuminates the blade. The main negative users note is that the
lower-than-average blade guard has a slight tendency to stick, particularly
when making angled cuts.
The Makita 5007MGA (Est. $170)
is similar to the 5007MG, but with the addition of an electric brake to bring
the saw blade to a nearly instantaneous stop. Michael Springer of Fine
Homebuilding likes its comfortable, rubber-coated grips, the dual LED
headlight, and the flat, stable base plate, but he also complains that the
blade guard tends to stick. And while reviewers at FamilyHandyman.com called
the bevel detents on the 5007MG "perfect," Springer says the stops on
the 5007MGA have a little too much "slop" for his taste. Users at
Amazon.com give the 5007MGA similar overall ratings to the 5007MG, praising its
electric brake and sturdy, lightweight construction.
If these Makita saws are a
little out of your price range, the Skilsaw SPT67WM (Est. $100) offers a
good, low-budget alternative. This 7.25-inch, right-bladed saw weighs just 8.8
pounds, yet packs a surprising wallop for its size. It has a maximum speed of
5,300 rpm and can cut boards up to 2.4 inches straight-on and 1.9 inches on a
bevel. Its bevel range is 56 degrees, with stops at 0 and 45 degrees.
Experts describe the Skilsaw
SPT67WM as a great value. Richard Romanski of Popular Mechanics awards it 4.5
stars out of 5, saying it combines "professional power and dead-on accuracy." Editors at FamilyHandyman.com
praise the saw's light weight and easy-to-read markings. They also note that
it's one of the few saws they tested on which the blade guard always retracted
smoothly, even when making compound miter cuts.
This Skilsaw doesn't receive
as much feedback from users as other saws. However, the 50-plus reviews we
found at HomeDepot.com are generally positive, with more than nine out of ten
owners saying they'd recommend the saw. Owners say its all-magnesium body is
sturdy, yet lightweight and well-balanced, and the powerful motor delivers
smooth cuts. Most also say it's very accurate, but a few owners complain that
there's too much "play" in the blade.