- Best Corded Circular Saw
- Best Budget Corded Circular Saw
- Best Worm Drive Circular Saw
- Best Cordless Circular Saw
- Best Budget Cordless Circular Saw
Best Circular Saw
Whether ripping a sheet of plywood is the task of the day or cutting the studs to build a wall, the handheld circular saw is the tool to use. This is the most basic saw for most handymen, do-it-yourselfers and professionals alike. If one is only going to have one power saw, the circular saw is the one to have.
Circular saws come in both corded and cordless models. At first, the cordless models were something of a joke, as they didn't have enough power to cut sheet goods or dimensional lumber. But today's cordless saws are much more powerful, making them an extremely convenient option for the professional and the handyman.
Most circular saw blades today are carbide tipped, allowing them to last longer. Even so, the constant use of the tool is hard on the blades, forcing replacement. A saw with a dull blade will work harder, bog down more and make a rougher cut. A sharp blade helps the saw to function efficiently and cut smoother.
If you want to know more information about how to select a circular saw, take a look at our buyer's guide listed below.
Best Corded Circular Saw:
Other than drills, circular saws are the most common power tool to find in a handymans toolbox. Thats because of its versatility. While you cant use circular saws for cutting our circles and squiggles, when you need to cut construction dimensional lumber, plywood or particle board, a circular saw is the most likely saw to grab.
There are two basic styles of circular saws. The more common type has the blade mounted to the motor shaft via a planetary gear. These are referred to as sidewinder saws. The other type, which are larger and heavier, have a gearbox mounted at right angles to the motor. These saws are known as worm drive circular saws. This gearbox allows the saw to produce much more torque than the standard circular saw. Since the motor is turning on a different plane than the blade, it acts as a gyro, stabilizing the saw. That makes worm drive saws much easier to control, even though they weigh more.
The problem most handymen have with buying a worm drive saw is that they are typically more expensive than comparable sidewinder saws. In reality, theyre making a false comparison; because theyre usually comparing the price of a worm drive saw to a discount sidewinder. Thats an unfair comparison. As you can see from our list here, worm drive saws really arent much more expensive than quality sidewinders.
So, what makes one circular saw better than another? The big thing is power. More than anything, a circular saw has to be able to cut through dimensional lumber, without slowing down. When you consider pressure treated lumber or green lumber as part of that equation, you can see how power can be such an issue.
Having a circular saw which bogs down in the middle of a cut is almost as bad as not having one at all. So, if youre going to be doing a lot of cutting, or youre going to be cutting wood thats likely to cause a saw problem, youre better off buying a high quality circular saw, possibly even a worm drive.
When circular saws bog down in a cut, the chance of kickback is greatly increased. Thats a safety hazard that nobody needs. On top of that, the blade will probably get hotter and dull faster. In the long run, youre better off having more power than you need, instead of having problems because you dont have enough power.
The other thing I look for in a circular saw is the additional features which make it easy to use. Cutting a lot of material can really wear your arms out; so, soft handles, lighter weight and conveniently located controls are an issue.
One last detail Id like to mention about circular saws. That is, about how most people use them improperly. These saws all have adjustable depth of cut. Ideally, this should be set so that the blade only protrudes 1/2 out the other side of the material you are cutting. Leaving the depth of cut at its maximum increases friction, wear on blades, heat generated and chance of kickback. Youre better off lowering the depth of cut, and saving yourself from all those potential problems.
For best overall, I've got to go with Bosch's 15-amp worm drive. More than anything, this saw is built to be a workhorse. With a magnesium housing and shoe, as well as a ball bearing motor, this one should last for years. Read Full Review
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For the price, it's hard to beat Skil's worm drive saw. The anti-snag lower guard is a nice feature, helping ensure that narrow cuts don't cause problems. Read Full Review
What makes this saw stand out is Milwaukee's patented Tilt-Lok handle, which allows the user to adjust the handle position to the most comfortable spot. Add that to the 15-amp, 3 hp motor, and all you need is some wood to cut. Read Full Review
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Makita has put a nice set of features together in this saw, making it comfortable and easy to work with. Coupled with a 15-amp motor with electric brake, it's a contender for anyone's tool box. Read Full Review
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Best Budget Corded Circular Saw:
While cordless circular saws are rapidly gaining popularity, there are three disadvantages that may make you decide to go with a corded unit, instead of that glitzy cordless one. Basically, corded circular saws still way outperform cordless ones for sheer power; they can definitely beat their cordless cousins for price; and you dont have to worry about the battery going dead on a corded tool thats sitting on the shelf or in the toolbox.
Given all that, I dont think were going to see corded circular saws go the way of the dinosaur anytime soon. Of all the portable power tools, the only thing that would beat out a circular saw for overall utility is an electric drill.
If you are going to have only one power saw, a corded circular saw is what you want to have. While it cannot cut curves well, for overall material cutting, this is the most versatile power saw around. Whether you are ripping or crosscutting, in dimensional lumber or sheet goods, a corded circular saw will quickly get through your material.
The biggest issue when looking at circular saws of any type is power. Typically, these are used for cutting dimensional lumber and sheet goods (plywood). Power is important in both cases, as it is easy for the saws to get bogged down in the cut, mostly from friction.
Once you get past the power issue, the next thing to look for is convenience. Things like rubber overmolded handles and weight make a huge difference in operator comfort. Does the unit have require tools to change the blade depth and angle or is it done with tool-free levers? Are the brushes easily replaceable? All of this makes a huge difference in how easy a tool is to work with.
Another important consideration is the life expectancy of the tool. Granted, these are budget saws, so it wouldnt be fair to expect the same sort of life expectancy out of them as out of tools that cost three times as much. Even so, the last thing you need is to have your tools die right in the middle of a project. A lot of what youre paying for when you buy name brand tools is their life expectancy.
Since we are only talking about budget circular saws on this list, Ive avoided all worm-drive units. Ive also limited myself to saws that could be bought with a street price of less than $60.00; even though this meant I had to leave a lot of really good tools out of the list. Some of the units have built-in lasers, which are a nice option to have, especially for the unskilled user.
Porter-Cable is normally considered a contractor's brand, for professionals who need rugged tools which will last. They surprised me by producing this low-cost saw, which provides incredible quality for the money. Read Full Review
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Skil has to rate high on our list, because they invented the circular saw. This one has a couple of nice features; including an "anti-snag" lower guard, the only one on the market. Read Full Review
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Although some people malign Craftsman's power tools, I've always had great results from them. This is part of their "Evolv" line, which is their "good" brand of tools. There is no one thing that makes this saw stand out, but overall it has a nice combination of features. Read Full Review
To find a low-dollar circular saw with a built-in laser is a rarity; however this Chicago unit has one. The laser is a great improvement over the old "notch on the baseplate" method of lining up for straight cuts. Read Full Review
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Best Worm Drive Circular Saw:
While circular saws are the most common hand-held power saws around, worm drive circular saws aren't really all that well known outside of professional carpentry circles. The reason is that most do-it-yourselfers aren't looking for the most expensive tool around, theyre looking for the best bargain for their money.
Worm Drive saws aren't a bargain, until you really start looking at what you get for the money. What makes these saws different from other circular saws is the gearbox. A regular circular saw has the saw blade mounted directly to the end of the motor shaft. Thats called direct drive. While it works fine for most applications, it is possible to stall the motor, if the material being cut by the blade is too dense or the blade jams on something.
Worm drive saws have a gearbox between the motor and the blade. This isn't just any gearbox though, its a worm drive gearbox. If you've ever taken a good look at a hose clamp, you know what a worm gear looks like. When you turn the worm gear with the screwdriver, it has a lot of effect on the band. However, because the band is at a right angle to the screws of the worm gear, no matter how much you try and pull on the band, it has almost no effect on the worm gear.
Okay, now lets replace the screwdriver with a motor and the band with a saw blade. The same principle applies, while the motor has a lot of effect on the blade, the blade has almost no effect on the motor. So, when these saws run into knotholes, nails or whatever, it really cant stop the motor. If you run into a steel rod inside of a 2 x 4 youre cutting, youre more likely to have the saw jerked out of your hand by the torque, than you are of having the saw slow down.
Thats the main reason why professional carpenters like worm drive circular saws. They need to be able to cut material quickly, without having their saw bog down; and thats what worm drive circular saws are best at.
Thats not the only advantage a worm drive saw provides though. Because the motor is turning on a different plane than the blade, it acts as a gyroscope, providing a lot of stability. That actually makes it easier to cut a straight line with a worm drive saw than with a shaft-mounted circular saw. Yep, even though its about 70% heavier, its actually easier to control a worm drive saw, making straighter cuts.
To be honest with you, its really hard to rate these saws; all of them are excellent. The differences between one worm drive saw and another are actually rather minimal. They all have magnesium cases, ball bearing construction and are real workhorses, made for rough use and long life. So, any of these saws would be a great addition to your toolbox.
One thing you need to know about worm drive saws before you buy one. You have to keep oil in the gearbox. If you dont then the gears will get chewed up and destroyed. Some have a site glass for viewing the oil level, while others only have a dipstick. Either way, you want to check it regularly.
The best of the best is this Bosch worm drive saw. It's got all the features that the others have, plus a magnesium foot for extra strength and light weight. They've also included soft-grip handles, a rather unusual feature to find on worm drive saws. Read Full Review
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Milwaukee has a great reputation for heavy-duty tools. They don't let anyone down with this one. The exclusive oil sight glass makes it easy to keep track of oil levels. The composite shoe is specially developed to prevent warping and bending. Read Full Review
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We can't leave the Skilsaw off this list. Skil has included their anti-snag lower blade guard and a spindle lock to make this saw easier to work with. Read Full Review
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Makita doesn't make a worm gear saw, but rather a hypoid geared one. This doesn't fight the back pressure from the blade as well as a worm gear does. However, this is a really great saw for finish work. Read Full Review
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DeWalts worm drive saw uses magnesium for both the case and the foot. The top accessible spindle lock makes blade changes much easier. Read Full Review
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Best Cordless Circular Saw:
As battery technology has improved, rechargeable batteries have become more powerful in both capacity and voltage. This has allowed tool manufacturers to create cordless versions of power tools that never existed before. Among these newer, more powerful cordless tools we find circular saws.
Manufacturers are also getting more creative in their use of batteries, starting to use two Lithium-Ion batteries in a tool, rather than one. This one move doubles the available power, without having to come out with a whole new line of batteries and tools to go with them. The same 18 volt batteries that are used on other tools in the manufacturers lineup can be used on these 36 volt tools.
Cordless circular saws existed before, back when batteries for cordless tools were 9.6 volt Ni-Cads. But, those saws sported only a 3-1/2 inch blade, only enough to cut through plywood; not dimensional lumber. Most of the newer circular saws come built for a 6-1/2 inch blade and even a few with a 6-7/8 or 7-1/4 inch blade, finally catching up with their corded cousins. These saws are big enough to cut not only plywood, but standard dimensional lumber for construction.
As with any cordless power tool, the big consideration for these tools is battery power. Lithium-Ion batteries provide the best power of any rechargeable batteries used in power tools. These batteries not only provide the greatest charge capacity, but also have a quick charge capacity, allowing you to get back on the job quickly. Even so, it is highly recommended that you have two batteries. Not all of these cordless saws come with two batteries, so I've been careful to note how they are sold. Since Li-Ion batteries are still higher in price than their Ni-Cad cousins, keep the number of batteries in mind while doing cost comparisons.
One nice thing about Li-Ion batteries in a circular saw is that the battery voltage doesn't taper off like it does with Ni-Cad batteries. That means that the tool will retain full power and speed, all the way up until the battery dies. Of course, that means you wont get any warning that the battery is about to die, but at least youll be able to keep the tool working at peak performance up to that point.
Other than battery power, the biggest factors in picking a circular saw are the human factors. How comfortable is the saw to hold on to? How heavy is it? Are the controls conveniently located? Are there any extras built into the tool to make it more convenient to use? Well take a look at all of these.
For professional-grade cordless tools, Makitas hard to beat. Theyve done it again with this Li-Ion circular saw, by giving it the largest blade in this class. Read Full Review
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This incredible saw is running on a 36 volt battery; the most power ever put into a cordless saw. Bosch has come in with an incredibly comfortable to use saw, with one of the fastest motors ever put into a cordless tool. A very versatile, very capable tool for the professional or serious hobbyist. Read Full Review
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Like all Milwaukees tools, this circular saw packs quite a wallop. Theyre great at paying special attention to whats needed to make the tool last, even under rugged professional use. Read Full Review
DeWalts done a lot to come back as a professional line of tools. The magnesium shoe and upper guard on this saw do a lot for making it rugged, while keeping the weight down. Read Full Review
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Best Budget Cordless Circular Saw:
It seems that the demand for cordless tools and the desire of manufacturers to provide those cordless tools are running neck and neck in the race to fill the marketplace. While only a few short years ago it was only possible to find low power cordless drills and screwdrivers; today virtually all handheld power tools can be found in cordless versions.
As with any cordless tool, cordless circular saws are designed for user convenience. One can quickly get at the job at hand, without the need for running power cords all over the place. The challenge for cordless tools always has been in having enough battery power to last through till the end of the job. If anything, this problem is amplified with cordless circular saws, due to the higher amperage motors necessary to provide enough horsepower to get through standard dimensional lumber.
One of the ways that manufacturers deal with this problem is by making cordless circular saws smaller than their corded cousins. While most corded circular saws have a 7-1/4" blade; cordless circular saws typically have a 6-1/2" one, or even smaller. This reduces the amount of friction on the blade, which in turn reduces motor power requirements.
For the sake of this review, I have looked for saws that meet the following requirements:
- All of the units use 18 volt batteries. As with any cordless tool, the greater the voltage, the greater torque the motor can produce. Although there are a few manufacturers who produce cordless circular saws with higher battery voltages, the price keeps them out of the "budget" category.
- All but one of the units has a 6-1/2" blade. This blade size allows for a cutting depth of 2-1/8" more than enough for cutting standard dimensional lumber. With a 5-1/2" blade, the cutting depth is 1-1/2" and while it is possible to cut dimensional lumber with this depth of cut, it is marginal.
- Whenever possible, I have selected cordless circular saws with built-in lasers. This makes for much better and much easier cutting accuracy.
- I have listed only manufacturers who have a reputation for long battery life. Since this is the most critical specification for any cordless tool, it is essential. Generally speaking "discount" cordless tools start their discounting with the battery quality. You will pay for that in the long run.
Remember, we're talking about cordless circular saws here. If you buy one, and expect it to cut through a house full of 2 x 4s without recharging, you're going to be highly disappointed. Cordless tools are great for small projects, or for places where you can't use a corded tool. However, they aren't as powerful as their corded cousins, so don't expect them to be.
Since this is a listing of budget cordless circular saws, I have limited the price to a maximum of $100.00; with a couple of the units coming in under half of that limit. Ive cheated a little here, picking units that come without battery and charger. However, if you already have cordless tools from the same company, you can use the batteries interchangeably, saving yourself money. As with all cordless tools, I recommend having more than one battery.
I really like the grips on this Porter-Cable saw. They give you comfort and security in holding onto the tool. Porter-Cable has put a really nice set of options together on this unit. Read Full Review
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Although this saw doesnt come with a laser, it does come with a spotlight; the only one in this price range that does. The spotlight eliminates error, by making it easier to see your workpiece, especially in a poorly lit work area. Read Full Review
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You really don't expect high-end tools like Makita to show up on a "budget" list like this, but this Makita saw makes the cut, as long as you buy it without batteries. It's the same saw that most pay higher price for by buying the whole package. But if you're already using Makita tools, you can save a bundle on this one. Read Full Review
It's surprising to find a budget saw with magnesium parts, considering the high cost of magnesium. Nevertheless, this saw has a mag shoe and upper blade guard, adding durability and reducing weight. Read Full Review
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Circular Saw Buyer's Guide
Of all the various electric saws on the market, the common circular saw is probably the simplest. If one doesn't buy an electric drill as their first power tool, it is most likely a circular saw will be. These saws are very useful for cutting both sheet goods like plywood and dimensional lumber for construction. You can pretty much frame an entire house with a circular saw, ignoring all other power tools.
The common size for a circular saw is one using a 7-1/4" blade. However, they range from small cordless saws with a 3-1/2" blade all the way up to units with a 10" blade. As the blade is center mounted on an arbor, the cutting depth of the blade is a little less than half the diameter of the blade. This means that a 7-1/4" blade diameter will comfortably cut through dimensional lumber for construction, even with the blade angled. But to cut through a 4"x 4" post, a 10" blade is needed.
One of the biggest mistakes most users make with a circular saw is to not set the depth of cut. Instead, they cut everything with the blade fully extended which increases the friction/heat and makes it harder for the saw to cut. This not only burns the wood being cut but also warps the blade as well. Ideally, the blade should only stick through the wood about one-quarter inch.
Types of Circular Saws
Basic Circular Saw
Circular saws have been on the market long enough that there are a considerable number of models to choose from. The simple design allows for a wide range of budget models as well, even budget cordless models (which sounds like a contradiction). The typical circular saw uses a planetary gear between the motor and the arbor.
Worm Drive Saw
There are also worm drive saws, which have the motor mounted at a 90 degree angle to the blade and use a worm gear to transfer the power from the motor to the arbor. These worm drive saws provide much more torque as the gearbox absorbs much of the strain of the cut, preventing it from bogging down the motor. While heavier, the worm drive saws are excellent for use by seasoned professionals.
Corded or Cordless?
The decision between corded and cordless models can be a bit difficult for these tools. Modern battery operated ones are much more powerful than the earlier models and the Lithium-Ion batteries allow for much more cutting before recharging. Nevertheless, corded models are still more powerful than their cordless cousins.
A lot depends on which is more convenient for you as the user. If you will be using the saw in places where it's difficult to get power routed, a cordless circular saw will provide a definite advantage. However, if you have to do a lot of heavy cutting, the corded models are better.
Options to Consider in a Circular Saw
The keys to an effective circular saw are power coupled with a good blade. Even though many circular saws come equipped with carbide tipped blades, you’re probably going to want to replace the factory-equipped blade if you’re a serious user.
The most important thing to consider when looking at a circular saw is the saw's power. Low power saws can bog down in the wood you're cutting, even when cutting plywood. Bog-downs can be worse with thicker material such as dimensional lumber.
LED Work Lights and Laser Guides
Some saws now come with LED work lights or lasers for alignment. These aid in cutting straight which is the biggest challenge when using a circular saw, especially when cutting sheet goods. While not a necessity, having one of these could make the difference between choosing one saw over another when two saws are otherwise exactly alike.
In addition to making it easier to cut straight with a circular saw, manufacturers have been putting a lot of effort in to making them more comfortable to work with. Overmolded rubber handles and lower weight cut operator fatigue to make cutting easier, even when you’ve been working all day long.
The weight of the saw, as well as whether the handle is overmolded with rubber, can affect the level of operator fatigue. The handles of some saws are also more comfortable due to their placement and angle.
For the best straight cutting in sheet goods, it's best to use a circular saw with a fence. There are a couple of circular saws on the market which come with their own fence; however, they're quite expensive. Another option is to buy a fence that clamps to the wood and run the saw alongside it. This option is much cheaper and can provide the same benefit as having a built-in fence on the circular saw.