Of all power tools in your arsenal, it is a circular saw that seems to work the hardest for prolonged hours. It is a heavy-duty unit that is known to make fast, straight, and accurate cuts on any wood surface, especially on heavy-duty sheet and timber stuff. These power tools are versatile enough to encompass an assortment of blades that can cut through almost anything, right from concrete blocks to nail-embedded wood. This guide will help you find the best circular saw for you. We have also provided 5 short, circular saw reviews towards the end of this buying guide.
via Mark Hunter
- 1 Overview of Circular Saws
- 2 Working
- 3 Different Motor Designs
- 4 Types and Brands
- 5 Choosing the Best Circular Saw
- 6 What to Look for
- 6.1 Factor 1: Dimensions
- 6.2 Factor 2: Blade Type
- 6.3 Factor 3: Blade Capacity
- 6.4 Factor 4: Blade Teeth
- 6.5 Factor 5: Power, Speed, and Control
- 6.6 Factor 6: Cutting Depth and Bevels
- 6.7 Factor 7: Handles
- 6.8 Factor 8: Electric Brakes
- 6.9 Factor 9: Parallel Guide
- 6.10 Factor 10: Dust Extraction
- 6.11 Factor 11: Safety
- 7 5 Best Circular Saws of 2016
- 8 Conclusion
Overview of Circular Saws
This power tool is ideal for having both straight and beveled (angled) cuts in a material ranging from plywood of .25 inches to oak planks measuring 2 x 6 inches. Because of its versatility, a circular saw is used almost by all personnel in the construction field, right from carpenters to roofing contractors. It is also famous among handymen and Do-It-Yourselfers (DIYs) who need fast straight or rip (lengthwise) cuts for quick home repairs. This is regardless of the amount of woodworking such people needs to do.
Such a power tool works in the same way as its name indicates. It features a round blade rotating in an anti-clock motion as the material is being cut. This motion aids you to keep the tool securely on the table or working surface. The blade is thick enough to cut dense materials. On the bottom, a base plate rests on the cutting material.
Regardless of the type or design, a circular blade has a few standard components namely, a blade guard, a foot plate, a depth adjustment, and bevel adjustment. A blade guard wraps the blade when the tool is not at work as well as retracts the blade to expose it while at work. Also known as the shoe, a foot plate stables the unit against the work piece. A depth adjustment accommodates work pieces of varying thicknesses, while a bevel adjustment enables the shoe to tilt with respect to the blade for making angled or bevel cuts.
Many models also come with dust blowers to keep the surface and unit free from dust for clearly watching the cutting line as well as laser guides to align the blade occasionally with the precise cutting line for more accuracy.
Different Motor Designs
The drive type or the manner in which the motor is positioned categories all circular saws into three groups namely, worm drive, sidewinder, and trim. Each of these three circular saw designs comes with its own pros and cons. Further, each group works best for a few types of jobs, which means that you need to choose the design as per the upcoming potential projects.
- Worm Drive Saws: Come with motors located at 90 degrees behind the blade. The term ‘worm-drive’ points to the inner drive system that is shaped as a spiral. Such a design is strong and powerful, and is better for making easier plunge cuts. Its additional length also contributes to proper cutting of wide lumber stacks. The heft is also such that the unit can more easily deal with sawhorse projects than projects that need it to run for prolonged periods. For the latter, these models prove to be quite heavy with 13 to 15 pounds of weight. The motor requires gears to boost the transmitted torque to the blade, making the unit ideal for heavy-duty use such as cutting thicker materials. The gears also control strain for boosted longevity of the motor. Worm drive saws are quieter and kickback less than the sidewinder models. Usually, professionals prefer this design for very large projects. They are also ideal for cutting wet wood and concrete.
- Sidewinder or Inline Saws: These are the most popular models with the blade affixed directly to the motor’s left or right side. This means that they are ideal for both left- and right-handed people. If the blades are on left, it is more convenient for a right-hander to use, as the cutting view is clear. The same is applicable for left-handers when the blades are on right. The blade position is such that your hands remain at a safe distance from the cutting section. A shaft directly runs from the motor for powering the blade. These models are lighter with just 6 to 10 pounds of weight and more compact than worm drive saws. As a result, these models are ideal for even overhead cutting apart from other circular saw tasks. They are suitable for DIY projects, medium tasks, and for cutting plywood, wet lumber, studs and even concrete. However, side-mounted motor can block the cutting view.
- Trim Saws: These models are not so commonly used but they are ideal for small tasks and infrequent jobs with lighter weight of 4 to 7 pounds and easy control. These models are primarily preferred for finish carpentry work or dealing with very thin materials. Beginners usually can start with such a circular saw.
All three have specific purpose but several professional circular saw reviews recommend a sidewinder for the first time buyers. This is perhaps because of the fact that a sidewinder is the most useful model that can serve the widest variety of purposes.
Types and Brands
In woodworking, a circular saw is usually refers to a hand-held, electric model engineered for cutting wood although it can even cut other materials by using other blades. These models can be left or right-handed, as per the blade side where the motor resides. A left-handed one is easier to operate if clutched in the right hand, while a right-handed saw is easier to run if hold in the left hand. This is because you need not lean crosswise to view the cutting line.
Hand-held circular saws perform what no other saw can, including the contradictory table mounted models. Due to their high portability, you can easily carry the unit to the wood instead of carrying the wood to the saw. As a result, it is ideal for cutting lumber or plywood for making a backyard tool shed at your home. A handheld saw is portable and needs only hands for it to run. It can be operated manually or can be powered, of which the powered ones are relatively riskier.
Handheld, portable saws are available in different sizes, ranging from big to small ones. However, your project requirements and the blade determine the best handheld, portable, electric model for you.
Smaller circular saws are popular as 3.5 and 4.5 inch models among professionals. These are usually cordless ones and are ideal for cutting lighter portions of thin wood, plywood, and lumber of within half-inches of thickness.
With these models, cutting 1/4-inch piece or a composite material like light, insulation panels and hardboard is a breeze. The cordless models also cut more precisely with less noise as well as without chipping that is found in larger 6 and 7.5-inch saws. They also are ideal for cutting in narrow spaces due to their less weight and smaller size coupled with more maneuverability than bigger counterparts.
You will also find portable circular saws that are commonly known as Skil saws such as Skil 77. The company Skilsaw Inc. was found with the sole aim of manufacturing the worm-drive portable circular saw model originally invented in 1923 and today is a subsidiary of Bosch. Worm-drive models are heavy duty versions of portable circular saws.
To bypass the Skil patents, Porter Cable came up with direct-drive sidewinder models. Today, its small cordless models have gained much popularity. Portable electric circular saws usually are identified by the diameter of the largest possible blade that they can employ. These are chiefly the 7.25- and 8.25-inch saws. A portable circular saw is capable of cutting sheets of plywood to give you a feasibly workable size, making plunge cuts in large materials, and cutting lumber for construction.
Worm drive saws are available only as corded models, while the sidewinder ones are available as both cordless and corded ones. The leading brands for these circular saws are Makita, Bosch, Hitachi, Milwaukee, DeWalt, Porter Cable, Metabo, and Ridgid.
For small sidewinders, Makita seem to win the race. The popular brands that offer left-handed saws are Porter Cable, Makita, and Ridgid, while right-handed saws are popular from Bosch, Milwaukee, Rockwell, and Makita.
The place of use and the way you will be using your circular saw decide the required power supply. This gives you two options as follows:
Corded Circular Saws: These models get electric power from the nearby wall outlet they do not need batteries to run. As a result, they are considered powerful enough for tough or power-demanding cutting tasks such as incessant woodcutting, steel cutting, or masonry ripping. They are more powerful than cordless models. They demand an apt extension cord, in case the outlet is a bit far away from the working area. Although this encourages you to take proper safety measures and see not to accidentally cut the cord because of more torque, these models are suggested for harder jobs. However, the bonus point is that there is no need to worry about the loss of power as there are no dying batteries, provided there are no frequent power shortages. If you have more of heavy-duty projects, experts recommend a corded model as the best circular saw. However, you need to choose between worm-drive and sidewinder models. For choosing between the two, you need to know the types of jobs as well as their frequency. Top brands for corded models are:
- DeWalt: Is famous for its small corded models and lightweight models, both being quieter, easily adjustable, great compact design, ease of handling, and great features. It is known for durable and aesthetically models.
- Portable Cable: Is famous for portable and economical models for left-handed users, with not much frills but yet enough features to get the job done with weight lighter than a few Bosch models.
- Makita: Is famous for offering models with highest possible power and maximum bevel capacity. These models come with superb combination of ease of use, durability, and power.
- Bosch: Offers worm-drive models that tend to last for long and have comfortable grip, medium weight, and strong performance.
- Milwaukee: Rates top for its both costly and economical sidewinder models having well-balanced design, good power, and comfortable work experience.
- Rockwell: Offers small circular saws with high power motor, high speed, maximum cutting depth, and most lightweight design.
- Skil: Is famous for its affordable worm-drive saws for right-handed users. Although less powerful, they work faster than most budget options.
Cordless Circular Saws: These models come with the major draw of convenience of being able to carry them anywhere for performing the desired cut. Yes, they are not that powerful as corded ones due to which they may not perform ideally for large and heavy jobs. However, they are ideal for small jobs that do not demand an incessant or prolonged usage. A few popular uses of these models are roofing, exterior trim, tile work, interior trim carpentry, and plumbing. Their power range is from usually 14.4v to 24v or 8 to 15 amps, and weigh between 7.5 and 10 Ibs. The cordless models need battery for being powered. While the former batteries used to add up to the overall weight, the latest ones (lithium ion) make the units lighter although they also add to the cost. However, these batteries tend to last longer than the traditional ones. This also adds to the convenience of working in places where extension cords cannot prove useful. As all of them are smaller than a majority of corded saws, they can fit even in narrow and confined areas. They are best for wood and wood items due to battery restrictions. However, they can easily handle tough materials although the extra power required for such tasks quickly drains the batteries. These models are also less intimidating and quieter than corded ones. Their main con at present is their higher price. However, they are more economical when bought in the form of a cordless tool kit. Consider a cordless one if convenience is your priority and wish to do home repairs and tasks such as cutting doors to size and building shelves. As a tip, ensure to have a model operating with at least 18v batteries. Top brands for corded models are:
- Bosch: Is famous for offering the most powerful units (36v) offering fastest motors, comfortable usage, safety, and versatility for professionals and serious hobbyists.
- Black & Decker: Is famous for small, compact, and lightweight designs packing in high power and desired features, all available at a more affordable price range.
- Metabo: Offers models with advanced battery technology for longer lasting saws and speedy charging.
- DeWalt: Offers professional, lasting tools that weigh as well as cost less.
- Makita: Offers compact, lightweight circular saws with more power, double safety features, and comfortable soft grip.
- Hitachi: Offers models encompassing a great mix of features and weight with lifetime warranty.
Choosing the Best Circular Saw
There is no single circular saw that is best for all users. In fact, the best circular saw is the one that proves to be the most suitable to fulfill your own requirements. In many situations, you will find that a smaller saw with just an inch of cutting depth proves to be ideal. These saws are lighter and easier to use for making straighter cuts at less tiredness. For bigger jobs, you seriously need a bigger one.
Apart from the size, you also need to consider many other factors or features. Before doing so, you need to answer the following questions that make you know your needs:
- For which materials or applications will you use the saw?
- How frequently will you use the saw?
- Will you be making slow and precise, or rough and fast cuts?
Once you answer these queries, you can easily assess the following factors or features.
What to Look for
Factor 1: Dimensions
Well, to choose the right-sized circular saw, you need to keep three dimensions in mind namely, the diameter, kerf, and arbor size. Blade diameter and arbor size are dimensions that the saw itself determines. The blade diameters start at 3-3/8-inches but the usual diameters are 6.5 to 8.5 inches for worn-drive, 5 to 10+ inches for sidewinder, 5 to 7.25 inches for cordless, and 3.5 to 4.5 inches for trim models. Sizes of 5.5 to 7.25 inches are more common.
The arbor size usually falls in the range of half to one inch. To know the exact blade size and thickness, you need to refer to the saw’s manual. Kerf refers to how thick a specific blade is. Thick-kerf blades tend to last longer and are capable of being re-sharpened, due to which they are costlier. They hold up to nails more nicely and are resistant to wobbling. On the other hand, thin-kerf blades are faster and sharper in the beginning but may dull quickly. They also discard less material.
Factor 2: Blade Type
A blade is the major part of the saw but it needs to be compatible with your model. Different types of blades are available for diverse applications and different materials. The costlier blades have both better performance and boosted durability, unlike inexpensive ones that tend to dull faster. Depending upon the construction material and material to be cut, circular saw blades are of the following types:
- Steel: Are economical and perform smoothly for cutting softwood but dull swiftly when used to cut hardwood. They are ideal for more occasional tasks.
- High-speed Steel: Are tougher and retain sharpness longer than steel ones.
- Carbide-tipped: Feature carbide tips in teeth and are costlier and more durable than other blades. They also remain sharp for longer time than high-speed steel and steel ones. They need less frequent sharpening and last up to 10 times higher than steel blades.
- Tile-cutting: Are designed for ripping ceramic tiles. Those with diamond tips are better for cutting tiles and masonry.
- Masonry: Are exclusively made to cut masonry stuff ranging right from concrete to cinder block and are composed of abrasive material.
- Crosscut: Are for cutting across the grain (only wood).
- Ripping: Are for cutting lengthwise (not for plywood).
- Combination: Are for all purpose wood cutting jobs.
- Finish/Paneling: Are for cutting light-gauge items such as laminates, veneer, plywood, Paneling, and plastics.
- Fine–toothed: Are for great smooth cuts.
- Nail–cutting: Are for cutting wood having nails.
- Metal: Are for cutting metal sheets and pipes.
- Abrasive Wheel: Are for cutting metals and masonry items.
- Dry–Diamond: Are for cutting tiles and masonry faster than abrasive wheels without heating the cutting material.
Factor 3: Blade Capacity
This term indicates how large a blade a given tool can use. Circular saws tend to employ blades smaller than their overall blade capacity. As a rule of thumb, the larger the blade is; the deeper is the cut. Nevertheless, for safety purpose, it is not recommended using the biggest blade too frequently. According to circular saw reviews, consider a blade whose teeth go beyond the cut’s bottom, and not the blade itself.
Another rule is that a unit with smaller blade capacity is easier to control as well as weighs less. Most units with capacity of six inches or more tend to cut a two-inch lumber in a single pass at a 45 degree angle. The same lumber can be cut in two passes at 45 degrees by a 5-3/8-inch saw. The same tool needs one pass to make this cut but at 90 degrees angle.
Factor 4: Blade Teeth
As a rule of thumb, the more the teeth are; the cleaner and smoother shall be the cut. Similarly, the fewer teeth are; the faster shall be cut although the outcome shall have rougher edges and may result in splintering while handling softwoods. Depending on how you wish to use the saw, blade teeth will affect the result. For instance, for a cross cut, a small gullet size is ideal due to which more teeth are required. Similarly, for ripping boards lengthwise, fewer teeth shall leave more gullets as well as discard more material. However, it also minimizes clogging, which is a major requirement for lengthwise cuts.
You should always consider the number of teeth with respect to the blade’s diameter. There are three more factors that affect the cut quality along with suggested applications and blade longevity, which are hook, grind, and shape. The hook is the tooth’s attack angle that can be neutral, negative, or positive. An aggressive positive hook gives quicker cuts but increases chances of tear out. Moreover, fine-cut blades having more number of teeth ensure cuts of high quality as well as thinner outcome.
Factor 5: Power, Speed, and Control
The motor power is important. Usually, it is believed that the more the power, the better it is. A 1500W motor results in fastest blade rotation, giving highest Rotations Per Minute (RPM). The more the RPM is, the better is the cut, more is the control, and better is the ability to handle tougher stuff. It also gets you the freedom to use bigger blades for maximum cut dept of around 65mm. So, do focus on the blade speed while selecting the best circular saw. Look for volts on cordless saws and amps on corded saws for knowing the power.
Factor 6: Cutting Depth and Bevels
While selecting a circular saw, consider having maximum cutting depth at zero degrees. It marks how deep the unit can cut while the unit is not used for a bevel cut. For a bevel or angled cut, consider the maximum depth cut at 45 degrees.
If you wish to cut mitres for cutting bevels, it is essential to adjust the base plate. Consider the amount of adjustment, which should be typically 45° and 90°. Adjustable base plate is required so that you can tilt it for making angled cuts. For a range of mitres, ensure to have a cutting ability of 0 to 45 degrees.
Do also consider having a depth adjuster for altering the depth of cut quite easily as well as precisely. Through this feature, you only change the saw’s height with respect to the base plate, which is essential for cutting items of different thickness.
Some more related features to look for are:
- Shaft locks or spindle for easier blade change
- Bevel capacity showing the maximum bevel cut and bevel stop presets for making swift
- Laser guides for boosting cutting accuracy by throwing a light beam toward the work piece
Factor 7: Handles
The unit you select should have front and rear handles such that you get a secure grip for controlled and cozy cutting. Consider having soft, anti-slippery handles.
Factor 8: Electric Brakes
Having such brakes reverse the electrical flow in the motor for halting the blade’s momentum swiftly, in just two seconds. This is much faster than those units without this feature.
Factor 9: Parallel Guide
This guide is usually affixed to the base plate and is ideal for accurate straight cuts at a predetermined distance from the edge.
Factor 10: Dust Extraction
This is essential to have if you do not like a workspace full of saw dust. Usually most circular saws come with a dust bag or a dust port for connecting to a vacuum cleaner.
Factor 11: Safety
Look for a model that comes with a lock off button or safety switch that prevents accidental startup, a soft start switch for starting the blade at a slower speed for making initial cuts easily, and blade guard for blade protection.
5 Best Circular Saws of 2016
This one is the lightest weighing tool encompassing a 5-amp motor power and 4.5-inch blade, which is enough to replace those jumbo 7.25-inch saws. It is compact in size but superb in terms of portability and control. The blade is smaller and thinner blade giving less strain, but full-size speed and performance. The tool features easy depth-gauge lever, cut depth adjustments up to 2-Inch, and ability to make plunge cuts.
Carefulshopper: “I’ve used a larger 7 1/2 inch Dewalt circular saw for years. But now it’s getting cobwebs because of this Rockwell RK3441K compact saw.”
This one is known for high-performing motor at 5,250 RPM and lightweight magnesium shoe for durability, control, and accuracy. The tool also features 050 degree bevel capacity, 6-1/2″ carbide tipped blade, 5/8-inch arbor size, and 1-5/8-inch cut depth at 45 degrees for aggressive bevel cuts.
Dan Needham: “Works as good as a corded one.”
This one is truly for contractors, builders, and masons due to heat-treated, high quality hypoid gears and oil bath technology. While the gears ensure more power and higher surface contact than the traditional worm drive gears, the technology ensures more productivity and less maintenance. The unit also has ergonomically designed rubber grip, 7.25-inch blade diameter, 4,500 RPM, cutting Depth at 90 inches, 0 to 51.5 degree bevel capacity for rafter cuts, and arbor size of 5/8 inches.
Hootenanny: “I bought this to replace an older Craftsman Saw. This is the best priced hypoid/worm drive circular saw out there.”
This one is the latest SKILSAW for DIYers. It comes with a 51 degree bevel at 45 degrees for more accurate as well as types of cuts, laser guide, wide foot plate for stability, power-on indicator, anti-slag guard, and safety lock/guarded trigger.
Diane Holm: “58 year old grandma, intermediate DIY experience.”
This lightweight model comes packed with power and durability guaranteed by advanced lubrication system, magnesium body, and high torque. The unit also comes with saw hook for convenient storage, 53 degree bevel ability, soft grip handle, and a multi-function wrench for blade change and lever adjustments.
William Dwayne DelGrande: “This is a wonderful saw, heavy duty and tough, built for lots of work.”
So, have you found your best circular saw? Well, if not, you can go through some more circular saw reviews on our site. We strongly recommend comparing the different models as per your needs for choosing the most suitable one.