Most corded sidewinder circular saws are "right-bladed" -- 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 gives less 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.
Reviews consistently give Milwaukee circular saws top ranking in reviews, finding them comfortable and well balanced. The most recent circular saw review, at Tools of the Trade Online, chooses the Milwaukee 6394-21 (*Est. $160) as the best out of 18 circular saws. It's also the top choice at Popular Mechanics and at the Journal of Light Construction. Reviews say the saw is well built, with a solid base and easy bevel adjustment and blade changes. The bevel adjusts beyond 45 degrees, and the blade guard works well - both crucial factors for circular saws. A front handle and adjustable rear handle make the saw easy to control, and the saw carries a five-year warranty.
The less expensive version, the Milwaukee 6390-21 (*Est. $135) circular saw is also well recommended in reviews, but lacks two features that make the Milwaukee 6394-21 a better choice: onboard storage for the blade-changing wrench, plus an electric blade brake. The brake stops the blade within seconds after the trigger is released - an important safety factor.
Most owner-written reviews of the Milwaukee circular saws are very positive, but a few complaints surface that don't show up in the professional reviews. Some owners complain that the base plate doesn't stay flat or, on the other hand, that it's so flat that it can slip when used with a flat guide rail. A few owners find that the Milwaukee circular saw throws sawdust up toward the face - very annoying. At over ten pounds, both Milwaukee saws are also fairly heavy.
The left-bladed Porter-Cable 423MAG (*Est. $140) lacks a blade brake but weighs less because of its magnesium base plate. The MAG saws come with an adjustable dust port to direct sawdust where you want it - or into a shop vac or optional dust bag (*est. $13). Many owners are happy with the dust collection, but the Journal of Light Construction finds that it clogs easily. The tool-free blade changing also gets mixed reviews, and the Porter-Cable saws are extremely loud (117 decibels). The MAG saws come in four versions - left and right-bladed, with and without a blade brake. The main drawback is that owners report quality control problems, and the Porter-Cable warranty is for only one year.
The well-recommended DeWalt DW369CSK (*Est. $130) is quieter, reasonably light, has a blade brake and carries a three-year warranty. The Journal of Light Construction praises its balance and easy adjustments, noting that though testers dropped it several times, the composite base came through just fine. Experts say that circular saws inevitably get dropped, so a sturdy base is important. Owners reviewing the DeWalt 369 at Amazon.com note some quality control problems, with two complaints about base and blade alignment, but the recent Popular Mechanics review finds the alignment fine. This circular saw ranks second at Tools of the Trade Online, with praise for its "virtually indestructible" composite base.
Ridgid circular saws carry a lifetime warranty (once ownership is registered with the company), and the Ridgid R3200 - now the R3201 (*est. $100) - gets good marks for power and speed. It's often recommended as a budget choice, but is noisy and -- more important -- lacks a blade brake. Owners give it reasonably high ratings at The Home Depot, but complain about some vibration, and one professional review finds too much base-plate flex. The recent review at Tools of the Trade Online praises the blade guard, but testers find the adjustments inconvenient and rank it toward the bottom. Fine Homebuilding notes poor sawdust control.
Reviews recommend less expensive circular saws only for rough cuts and infrequent use. It's much harder to make accurate cuts with them. Visibility of the cutting line can be a problem, and the base plates - usually stamped steel - can get bent or misaligned with the first accidental fall. Although homeowners are more apt to get hurt by a circular saw than professionals who get used to strict safety procedures, none of the budget sidewinder saws come with a blade brake. The recent Tools of the Trade Online review finds it too easy to accidentally start both the Firestorm FS1500CSL (*est. $70) and the Worx WT431K (*Est. $120).
The Popular Mechanics review includes budget circular saws by Ryobi, Black & Decker, Firestorm and Skil -- all priced around $70 to $80. Though none of these circular saws wins any praise for accuracy, editors prefer the 13-amp Skil 5755-01 (*Est. $80) for its adjustable twin-laser guide that shows both sides of the kerf (or width of the saw cut). Despite its less powerful motor, the Skil cut a bit faster than the other budget circular saws tested there. However, it only bevels to 45 degrees, and other drawbacks include a short six-foot cord and relatively heavy 12-pound weight.
Owners reviewing circular saws at Sears.com give above-average ratings to two Craftsman budget circular saws: the 14-amp Craftsman 10870 and the 13-amp Craftsman 10871 (*Est. $70), each of which comes with a laser guide. Both sidewinder saws bevel beyond 45 degrees, include an LED light, and use levers for adjustments. As with other budget circular saws, however, they lack blade brakes. They're reasonable budget choices, but unless you only want to make rough cuts, reviews recommend spending more for a better circular saw if you can possibly afford it.