Expert Circular Saws Buying Guide

Reviewers say a rafter hook is apt to be handier than you might think, as are canvas bags instead of hard-shell cases, because they're easier to pack. An LED light can illuminate a cutting line, but laser guides get mixed reviews. These are all conveniences, while reviews recommend the following features as most important:

  • The blade guard must work smoothly, every time. This is a crucial safety factor. Even when the bevel is set to an acute angle or when trimming wood just a tiny bit, the blade guard should operate smoothly. Most safety recalls have been for sticking blade guards.
  • An electric brake, spindle lock, and safety switch are also important. The brake stops the blade quickly when the trigger is released; otherwise it keeps spinning. The spindle lock keeps the blade from moving while you switch blades, and a safety switch (sometimes called a "lockout switch") prevents accidental starts.
  • Consider weight and balance. A circular saw that feels light enough when held for a few minutes can cause a lot of fatigue after hours of use. However, reviews say that balance is even more important than weight. If you wear gloves, make sure the trigger has plenty of space for them. Also, be sure to consider the positions in which you'll most often use the saw; the most comfortable handles for overhead work may not be best for long cuts across plywood.
  • A stable, sturdy base plate should be truly parallel with the blade. This is essential for making accurate cuts. Aircraft aluminum and magnesium base plates get the best reviews, and rolled edges not only add strength but also make it easier to use a guide rail. Stamped steel base plates are okay for occasional use, but they're less durable since they bend and get out of alignment more easily. Experts say all circular saws get dropped sooner or later.
  • A bevel adjustment beyond 45 degrees is important. A bevel stop (detent) at 45 degrees is convenient, but it's best if you can also adjust the bevel further. Scales with one-degree markings make it easier to make precise adjustments without having to make test cuts.
  • For cordless saws and kits, lithium-ion or NiMH batteries are preferable to NiCd. Lithium-ion batteries are best for the environment. They're also compact and lightweight, run at least twice as long as NiCads, last longer in storage, can withstand many more recharging cycles and keep the tool running at full power even as the batteries start to run down. Second best are NiMH batteries -- better for the environment than NiCad (which contain toxic cadmium.)
  • Register your saw. Experts recommend registering any power tool with the manufacturer right away so you'll be notified promptly about any problems or recalls. (In some cases, as with Ridgid, this also gives you a longer warranty.) For information on recalls, see the Consumer Products Safety Commission website.

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