If you have big construction jobs to do, or lots of plywood to cut, you might consider an in-line circular saw -- worm-drive or hypoid -- for more power and faster cutting. With the motor mounted behind the blade, worm-drive and hypoid circular saws are driven by oiled gears that deliver more power than a sidewinder's side-mounted motor. Worm-drive saws need regular oil changes, but the newer hypoid saws have sealed gearboxes, with no oil changes needed.
Worm-drive and hypoid saws are heavier than sidewinders, so they're more tiring to use. However, the longer reach these saws provide is useful for cutting plywood and other sheet stock, as well as when reaching down to the floor or up overhead. ThisOldHouse.com notes that since the handle is further from the blade, you get a little more margin of safety from kickback. Also, most worm-drive saws come with convenient rafter hooks for hanging.
In tests of in-line saws at the Journal of Light Construction, the DeWalt DWS535 (Est. $180) leads the pack. This 7.25-inch, 15-amp worm-drive saw is lighter than most in-line saws at 13.8 pounds -- although that's still considerably heavier than a sidewinder. It has a bevel capacity of 53 degrees, with detents at 22.5 and 45 degrees, and a sturdy cast-magnesium foot plate that owners describe as very sturdy. Reviewer Tim Uhler calls the blade guard "exceptional," saying it never snagged even on the trickiest of compound cuts. He also likes the saw's clearly marked bevel and depth guides and its reinforced cord, which resists damage from being jerked.
Both Uhler and owners at Amazon.com really like the accessories that come with the DWS535. For instance, its well-designed rafter hook is wide enough at the opening to slip over a 3-inch board, but then it narrows to fit over a standard 2-inch board. The optional DeWalt DWS5100 rip guide (Est. $45) also gets high marks for its generous proportions and sturdy build. A few users at Amazon.com report problems with sparking from the motor, but fortunately, DeWalt's 3-year warranty and 1-year service contract cover the damage.
Another worm-drive saw that owners really like is the Skilsaw SPT77WM (Est. $190). This 7.25-inch saw is even lighter than the DeWalt, at just 12.5 pounds, and its 5,300-rpm speed tops the DeWalt's 4,800. On the downside, it has only a 1-year warranty. It's not included in any professional tests, but more than 125 owners at Amazon.com award it 4.6 stars out of 5. They say this saw is light and well-balanced, with comfortable grips, and it never bogs down when cutting. Although most users praise the saw's sturdy construction, some say it feels flimsy to them, and several wish it came with a bigger bottle of lubricant.
For those who really dislike changing the oil on a saw, the Makita 5377MG (Est. $160) is a hypoid saw that gets generally good reviews. Like the other saws in Uhler's test, it has a 7.25-inch blade and a 15-amp motor, and at 13.2 pounds, it's very light and compact for an in-line saw. Uhler also says its hypoid gears run "exceptionally smoothly." Both Uhler and reviewers at Amazon.com describe this saw as very ergonomic, with grips that fit nicely in the hand. However, Uhler complains that the blade guard tends to snag during compound miter cuts – a problem most home users didn't encounter, but one that can be a serious annoyance for professionals. Owners also note that the blade kicks powerfully when it's started up, and they have some durability complaints, including bent base plates and having all the oil drain out of the supposedly sealed gear housing.
The Makita 5477NB (Est. $140) is similar to the 5377MG, but without the lightweight magnesium components. This change makes it slightly cheaper than the 5377MG, but also a full pound heavier – and according to users, that extra pound makes a difference. Although owners at Amazon.com describe the saw as powerful, sturdy, and accurate, most reviews note that its fairly heavy weight can make it tiring to use. Also, like the lighter Makita, it has a lot of torque when starting up.