How to Find the Best Circular Saw

By Rich Alandar

Circular saws are very popular tools for do-it-yourselfers. They enable you to take on carpentry projects that you would normally have to pay a professional to do. And let’s face it – like all power tools – they are loud and powerful and can be a lot of fun to use.

The purpose of this article is to help you find the best circular saw for you and the type of projects you will be doing. I’m going to focus on corded, 7 ¼ inch circular saws. The idea here is to help you select a saw that will last you for decades and which you will enjoy using every time.

This article will cover two main areas:

So, let’s get started!

Two Main Types of Circular Saws

Circular saws are divided into two main types: worm drive saws and sidewinders.

The Worm Drive Circular Saw

Milwaukee 6577-20 Worm Drive Circular Saw

A Typical Worm Drive Saw - the Miwaukee 6577-20

The worm drive saw get its name from the fact that the motor transfers power to the blade by use of a

Worm gear drive

A worm gear drive. The motor powers the top worm gear, which, in turn, powers the gear below.

worm gear. See the gear image to the right. This arrangement increases the torque or spinning force

on the blade and gives the saw more cutting power. Given the right blade, a worm drive can cut through just about any material. They are also relatively heavy, weighing 14-16 pounds. Worm drives are generally used by professionals who do a lot of construction cutting.

Also included in this class is the hypoid drive saw. The hypoid saw is a form of worm drive that enables the saw to be a bit smaller and lighter than the traditional worm drive saw.

The Sidewinder Circular Saw

This is a sidewinder made by Skil.

The sidewinder was designed to be lighter than its worm drive counterpart. It gets its power directly from the motor and weights from 10-12 pounds. The sidewinder is also less expensive and – because it is lighter – it is easier to handle and causes less user fatigue.

 

 

Which Type of Saw is Best for You?

The sidewinder will likely be the best circular saw for most people. Unless you are planning on doing a lot of construction and heavy duty cutting, you won’t need a worm drive. This is particularly true if the saw will be your first one. The sidewinders are lighter, less expensive and a good one can give you decades of service. You should plan to spend somewhere between $100 and $150. If you decide the worm gear is for you, plan to spend $150 to $200.

Eight Key Features to Look for in a Circular Saw

Feature #1: Sidewinder – I’m making this recommendation based on the discussion above. Here are seven more key features you should look for.

Accuracy Features
These features that help make your cuts straight and true every time.

Feature #2: Left-Hand Blade – The overwhelming majority of right-handed circular saw users find that a saw with the blade on the left makes it much easier to see the blade while cutting. This, in turns, makes it easier to follow the cutline. In fact, users rave about the feature, noting that the difference in cut visibility is night and day. Of course, if you’re left-handed, the opposite would hold true and you should consider a saw with a right-hand blade.

Interestingly enough, it’s hard to find a sidewinder with a left hand blade. However, you’re in luck because I’ve found two of them that get very high marks from consumers and professionals alike. More on this in a bit.

Feature #3: Accurately Aligned Base Plate (also known as the “foot” or “shoe”) – The base of a circular saw is that rectangular piece of flat, smooth metal that rests against the surface of whatever is being cut.

The base must be both parallel and perpendicular to the blade in order for your cuts to be straight. If the base is not parallel to the blade, you will not be able to follow a cutline accurately. If the base is not at a 90 degree angle to the blade, your cuts will not be straight vertically, but will be cut at a slight angle.

If that didn’t make sense to you, don’t worry about. The important thing is to keep an eye out for consumer complaints. If saw owners consistently complain that the saw won’t cut straight, run away screaming. On the other hand, if they rave about how straight the saw cuts, you have a potential winner.

Ease-of-use and Convenience Features

Feature #4: Easy-to-change Depth and Angle Adjustments – This is a convenience feature. Ideally you want the saw to have levers or knobs that enable you to quickly make depth and angle changes.

Feature #5: Easy-to-read Cutting Depth and Angle Marks – These are the guide marks that are used to adjust the depth of the cut and the angle of the cut respectively. You want these to be clear and easy-to-read so you can make needed adjustments quickly and accurately.

Feature #6: Bevel Adjustments that Go Past 45 Degrees – This expands the spectrum of bevel cuts you are able to make.

Feature #7: Spindle Lock – This is a convenience feature that helps make changing blades faster and easier. It is usually a button you push to lock the blade in place while you loosen the blade’s retaining bolt with a wrench.

Feature #8: Ball Bearing Motor – A quality saw will have a motor with ball bearings instead of bushings. This makes for less friction, quieter operation and longer motor life. For a quick understanding of the difference between ball bearings and bushings, watch this short YouTube video.

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