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Tools

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.

Bosch CSW41 7-1/4-Inch Worm Drive Circular Saw

The editor of Fine Homebuilding called the predecessor to this Bosch “the best saw I’ve ever used.” It's not surprising that Bosch built this saw based on the Skilsaw as they own Skil. It features a 15 amp motor, all ball-bearing drive and a diamond arbor for positive engagement between the saw and blade. An all magnesium housing and foot keeps the weight down to 13.2 pounds. This makes it almost a pound lighter than its predecessor, the major difference between the two. The same anti-snag lower blade guard that's found on the Skilsaw avoids hangups, even with narrow cuts. Bosch has given this one a saw hook and large adjustment levers for ease of adjustment without tools. This is one of the few worm drive saws around with soft grip handles, something I really appreciate.

Milwaukee 6577-20 7-1/4-Inch Worm Drive Circular Saw with Twist Plug

I've always been impressed with the ruggedness of Milwaukee tools. They always seem to get a little bit more out of their motors than anyone else does. This magnesium housed saw has a composite shoe, making the total weight 14.3 pounds. A little more than one pound over the weight of the Bosch. This one also has a diamond arbor. That composite shoe is supposed to be a real winner that can't warp, bend or kick up a splinter. Other than that, it's pretty comparable. They have put an oil site glass on the saw, making it easy to keep track of oil levels. This one also has a twist-lock plug, which is becoming a safety requirement on many construction sites. Besides helping with safety, the plug prevents the saw from becoming unhooked right in the middle of a cut, which makes it worth having to me.

Skil SHD77M-73, 7-1/4 Inch Worm Drive Skilsaw with Twist Lock Plug

Skil has to be on this list, as they are the ones who invented the circular saw and the worm drive saw. This one doesn't let you down with everything you'd expect from a worm drive saw. When they redesigned this saw, they cut a full three pounds out of it. Like the others, this saw is made with a magnesium housing, as well as a magnesium foot, keeping the weight down to 12.45 pounds making it the lightest saw on this list. A built in oil indicator level and relief bellows help ensure long life. Skil has also included their anti-snag lower blade guard, great protection when cutting narrow cuts. A diamond shaped arbor and push button spindle lock for easy blade changes rounds this saw out nicely. This one also comes with a twist-lock safety plug.

Makita 5477NB 15 Amp 7-1/4-Inch Hypoid Saw

Makita has chosen not to build a worm gear saw; instead they build a hypoid geared saw. The hypoid is basically a ring gear and pinion setup. This is the same gear system used in a rear wheel drive vehicle's differential. While a great way of transferring power, it isn't as immune to the blade pushing back against the motor as a worm gear is. For this reason, some think that this saw is better suited to finish work than heavy cutting. The arbor is 5/8", rather than the diamond shape that the other saws have. This saw comes equipped with detents at both 22.5 and 45 degrees.

DEWALT DWS535T 7-1/4-Inch Worm Drive Circular Saw with Twistlock Plug

DeWalt’s worm drive saw has both a magnesium case and foot, keeping its weight down to 13.8 pounds. The foot will bevel up to 53 degrees, with bevel detents at both 22.5 and 45 degrees, like the Makita. There is a top accessible spindle lock for blade changes. This is nice, as it keeps you from having to go hunting for it. The saw is also a little bit faster than the others on our list, with a speed of 4,800 RPM. That should make for slightly faster and smoother cuts.

Makita BSS610 18-Volt LXT Lithium-Ion Cordless 6-1/2-Inch Circular Saw Kit

Makita has long been a supplier of high quality cordless tools, having been one of the earliest companies to build contractor grade cordless tools. Their LTX series of Li-Ion power tools contains over 35 different tools, making it one of the biggest sets of cordless tools on the market. This particular LTX tool uses two 18 volt batteries, making it a 36-volt saw. The dual batteries give this tool much more torque than its 18 volt predecessor. While that means you need more batteries on hand, in order to handle the change outs, you get 2.5 times more cuts out of a charge than you do on the single battery model. Coupled with a 7-1/4” blade, there’s not much a corded circular saw can do that this one won’t. Makita has also made it easier for the operator by putting LED battery and temperature indicators on the tool, as well as a LED headlight to light the cut line. It also has an integral dust blower to clear sawdust away from the cut line. This saw will cut 2-5/8” deep at 90 degrees and bevels up to 50 degrees. All in all, this tool has earned the top slot on this list.

Bosch 1671K 36-Volt 6-1/2-inch Circular Saw Kit

Yes, the title is right, this is a 36 volt cordless saw. Bosch’s cordless Li-Ion saw is designed to be comfortable to use. It combines great balance with a cushioned grip on both the main handle and the fore-handle. There’s a good site line to the cut. The 4,000 rpm motor has enough power to plunge cut into a 4 x 4, something that not all circular saws can do. Bosch provides an anti-snag guard for those times when you have to cut narrow pieces of material. If you’ve ever tried this with a circular saw, you know the value of this guard. The saw is capable of 50 degree cuts, a little more than the other ones we’ve reviewed. They’ve installed a rafter hook, so that you can hang it up between cuts; the only saw on our list that has that feature. However, it only comes with one battery, so if you’re going to use it a lot, you’d better count on having to invest in another battery.

Milwaukee M28 Cordless Lithium-Ion 6-1/2” Circular Saw Kit 0740-22

Milwaukee M28 Cordless Lithium-Ion 6-1/2” Circular Saw Kit 0740-22

I’ve always liked Milwaukee’s power tool for both ruggedness and pure power. They definitely know how to get the most umph out of their tools, so that I don’t have to do so much work. This saw is made of a mixture of aluminum and magnesium, giving the saw a final weight of 9.4 pounds. Both the top and bottom blade guards are Magnesium for added ruggedness. This saw also includes a fence, something rarely seen with a circular saw. Milwaukee takes operator comfort into account, providing a large cushioned handle and knob. The batteries have a built-in “fuel gauge” to let you know how much charge is left. This saw runs at 4,200 RPM for extra cutting power. The saw also has in integral blade brake for safety. The saw will cut 2-1/8” deep at 90 degrees and 1-5/8” deep at 45 degrees. Two batteries and the charger are included in the kit.

DeWalt DCS391L1 20-Volt MAX Li-Ion 3.0 Ah Circular Saw Kit

DeWalt’s entry into the competition is from their new Max series. This sturdy unit comes with a magnesium shoe and upper guard to help keep the weight down to only 8.0 pounds. Like the Bosch, this tool is capable of cuts up to 50 degrees, however it’s a little bit slower at 3700 RPM. It can cut up to 2-1/4” deep at 90 degrees and 1-5/8” at a 45 degree angle. Like the Bosch, this tool only comes with one battery. So, if you’re planning on doing a lot of cutting, you’d better plan on buying another battery.

Hitachi C18DL 18 Volt Li-Ion Circular Saw Kit

Ever since Hitachi has hit the power tool market, they've been coming out with a string of quality tools. This circular saw is no exception. The fan cooled 3.0 Ah motor provides plenty of power in a low weight 7.1 lb. package. Hitachi’s done some nice things with this saw, like putting in a spotlight for lighting your workpiece, providing a universal charger, and making the saw totally backwards compatible with all their rechargeable batteries; Li-Ion, NiCd and NiMH. All this and Hitachi’s lifetime Lithium Ion tool warranty. Well worth the price.

Bosch CSW41 7-1/4-Inch Worm Drive Circular Saw

The editor of Fine Homebuilding called the predecessor to this Bosch “the best saw I’ve ever used.” It's not surprising that Bosch built this saw based on the Skilsaw as they own Skil. It features a 15 amp motor, all ball-bearing drive and a diamond arbor for positive engagement between the saw and blade. An all magnesium housing and foot keeps the weight down to 13.2 pounds. This makes it almost a pound lighter than its predecessor, the major difference between the two. The same anti-snag lower blade guard that's found on the Skilsaw avoids hangups, even with narrow cuts. Bosch has given this one a saw hook and large adjustment levers for ease of adjustment without tools. This is one of the few worm drive saws around with soft grip handles, something I really appreciate.

Skil MAG77LT, 15 Amp 7-1/4 Inch Mag Worm Drive Circular Saw

Skil has to be on this list, because they're the ones who invented the original circular saw or SkilSaw. Their quality hasn't dropped, still being right up there with the other top contenders. They manage this, while still keeping their prices reasonable. This saw is made with an all magnesium housing and foot, helping to save weight. This saw is a full four pounds lighter than the original SHD77, weighing in at 11.5 pounds, even lighter than the Bosch. The 15-amp motor gives it plenty of power for the heavy jobs.

This saw also has a soft grip handle, along with some other nice features. There is a push button spindle lock for easy blade changing, along with easy access brushes for servicing. Skil has designed an anti-snag lower blade guard to reduce the change of snags when making narrow cuts. There is also an oil level indicator on the gearbox for long life.

Milwaukee 6470-21, 10-1/4” Circular Saw

For rugged tools, it's hard to beat Milwaukee. Although this is a sidewinder, it still has a 15 amp motor, producing 3 horsepower. Somehow, Milwaukee always seems to get more horses out of their tools. That motor is controlled by a power assisted electric brake, to stop the blade in seconds. The truly unique thing about this saw is that it has a 10-1/4” blade, which means that its big enough to cut through a standard 4”x 4” fencepost with one sweep. Even when the blade is tilted to 60 degrees (much more than most blades will tilt) you can still get 1-3/4” depth of cut. Blade adjustment is tool-free, and it has a built-in spindle lock makes it easy to replace blades.

Makita 5007MGA Magnesium 7-1/4-Inch Circular Saw with Electric Brake

Makita made this saw to be easy to work with. The 15-amp motor runs at 5,800 RPM for fast, accurate cuts. Like the Milwaukee, there is an electric brake for faster, safer stops. Magnesium components make it lighter weight, with improved balance. Not only are the handles rubber coated for comfort, but the adjustment levers as well. The foot has positive stops for bevel cutting at both 22.5 and 45 degrees. Two LED work lights and a blower make it easier to see the cut line.

Festool TS 55 EQ Plunge Cut Circular Saw

Rounding out the top 5 is an unusual circular saw. Festool actually calls this a track saw, rather than a circular saw, because it is really intended for use with the track, allowing straight cuts, just as if you had a panel saw. The Festool TS 55 REQ plunge-cut circular saw and guide rail system are not like your traditional pendulum-cover circular saws. This circular saw provides the most accurate straight cut out there making a novice look like a professional. The plunge-cut design allows the user to begin and end the cut wherever they need to. Another really nice feature is the optional CT Vacuum package which collects all the dust as you cut. This is really a top-notch circular saw, but that quality and ingenuity comes with a price. If you have the money to spend on this don’t hesitate. Get it and enjoy it.

Porter-Cable Bare-Tool PC18CSL 18-Volt Cordless 6-1/2-Inch Circular-Saw with Laser Guide

Porter-Cable has been producing professional grade power tools for the construction and manufacturing industries for over 100 years. I've picked this Porter-Cable unit as my number one because of the great combination of features that they've packed into this saw. This cordless circular saw meets all of the requirements I've listed above. Additionally, it has an electronic blade brake, for improved control and safety when ending your cuts. Rubberized grips help the operator maintain positive control of the tool. All this, and a great price too.

Hitachi C18DLP4 18-Volt Lithium Ion 6-1/2-Inch Circular Saw

This unit is unique in this list in that instead of having a laser for guiding the operator, it comes with a spotlight. Other than that, it has all of the features on my original list; and an electronic blade brake. While I have not had the opportunity to use this specific saw, I can see where that spotlight would be a wonderful addition. I can't remember how many times I've messed up a cut, just because of lack of adequate lighting. Hitachi has solved this problem for all of us who feel like we're working in the dark.

Makita BSS611Z, 18 Volt LTX Li-Ion Cordless 6-1/2 Inch Circular Saw

As usual, Makita does a great job with their cordless tools. This 6-1/2 inch circular saw is another quality product, designed to give you long life. The motor delivers 3,700 RPM, allowing for faster crosscuts and ripping. The higher speed also helps to make tooth marks smaller than you would have with a slower blade. At only 6.9 pounds, it is comfortable to work with, especially considering that both handles are rubber overmolded. The foot is machined, guaranteeing flatness and smoothnes for accurate cutting. Makita is the leader in cordless technology, with the fastest recharge rates and more lifetime cycles on their batteries.

DeWalt DC390B, 6-1/2 Inch 18 Volt Cordless Circular Saw

Although very reasonably priced, this saw from DeWalt has a magnesium shoe and upper guard. That helps keep the weight down to 7.7 pounds, while ensuring great durability. Like the Makita, the motor turns the blade at 3,700 RPM for cutting speed and smoothness. The motor is fan cooled for long life and comes with replaceable brushes for durability. It can cut 2-1/4” thick material at 90 degrees and 1-5/8” thick material at 45 degrees.

Black & Decker BDCCS20B, 20 Volt Max Circular Saw

Black & Decker’s low-end cordless circular saw is the least expensive on this list, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not a good saw. More compact than the others, this one will get into tighter places. The 5-1/2 inch blade isn’t quite as large as the others, but still big enough to allow cutting dimensional lumber at 90 degrees. Depth of cut and bevel adjustments are tool-free and the bevel has detents at both 45 and 90 degrees.

Porter-Cable 7-1/4 Circular Saw w/ Laser PC13CSL

I was a bit surprised to find a quality brand like Porter-Cable with a circular saw at this price. I guess that just goes to show that quality and low prices aren’t mutually exclusive. This saw comes with a 13 amp motor. By comparison, the higher priced ones have a 15 amp motor. The motor uses ball bearings, rather than sleeve bearings for longer tool life. It also has a laser guide, which I really like. Trying to cut a straight line with a circular saw that doesn’t have a laser guide is not my personal strong point. The handles are soft grip for comfort. The bevel adjustment requires a wrench, but it is stored onboard for convenience.

Skil 7-1/4-Inch Circular Saw 5480

It was a bit of a rough decision between this one and the Porter-Cable for number one. The Porter-Cable won out because it has a laser and this one doesn’t. However, Skil has to have a place on our list, as their founder invented the original circular saw in 1924. Of all the circular saws I’ve rated, this one is the lightest at only 9.1 pounds; that’s 1/4 lighter than any other circular saw I’ve seen. It also has an “anti-snag” lower guard, the only one on the market. If you’ve ever used a circular saw to cut sheet goods, you would appreciate this lower guard.

Craftsman 18780 Evolv 12 Amp Corded 7-in Circular Saw

The Craftsman “Evolv” line is Craftsman’s relatively new (since 2008) “good” brand of tools (Craftsman is their “better” brand and Craftsman Professional their “best” brand). Since coming on the scene, Evolv has gained a reputation for high quality as a consumer level brand. The warranty is similar to Craftsman tools, only requiring that the purchaser produce a receipt for purchase.

With this kind of reputation and this kind of pricing, this tool is a winner. There is no one thing that makes it outstanding, more than the Craftsman name and warranty, but overall, it is a high quality tool. Although it is listed as a 7” saw, the blades in the pictures of the unit are all 7-1/4”.

Chicago 69078, 7-1/4” Circular Saw with Laser

I picked this model for the laser, which is rare to find on a low-dollar unit. This is a great improvement over previous versions of the venerable circular saw, which used a notch on the baseplate; which is often hard to see. Typically, circular saws with built-in lasers go for much higher prices than this unit, which is why I’ve included it in this listing. It’s not quite as powerful as the others I’ve chosen, with a 10 amp motor. However, its’ still a 7-1/4” blade, turning at 5500 RPM. Like everything from Harbor Freight, a great bargain for the do-it-yourselfer.

Power Glide 60109407 Circular Saw With Laser

An almost identical unit to the Chicago unit I rated as #3, but from a different manufacturer. Although Power Glide isn't a well known manufacturer, I don't think we should hold that against them. What makes this unit outstanding is the laser, an option normally found only on much higher priced units. With the laser, an experienced user can make much straighter cuts, especially in sheet goods. If you are looking for a bargain, this saw definitely qualifies.

Buyer's Guide

 

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.

Power
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.

Operator Comfort
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.

Fence
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.

Rich the Tool Man

Before embarking on the current stage of my life, I spent 15 years as a Manufacturing Engineer in both the medical equipment field (medical electronics) and automotive engineering (city transit buses). After that, I owned a small construction company, mostly doing residential remodeling and commercial tenant finishes. I am no longer in either of these fields, but still get my hands plenty dirty as a consummate do-it-yourselfer; working on everything from remodeling my own home to rebuilding my car’s engines. My hobby (when I can find the time) is woodworking; making everything from toilet paper holders, to shelves, to music stands for my own home. My wife long ago gave up the idea that a two car garage is for parking two cars; it is my workshop.

While I cannot claim to having worked professionally with all types of tools, I have worked professionally with some. This comes from my previous careers, where I had to specify, buy and at times live with those decisions. Additionally, I would have to say that my engineering background has given me a thorough understanding of the construction of such tools. So, while I may not have used a particular type of tool personally, I have the knowledge to cut through all the advertising hype and statistics; in order to get at the truth of how well a tool will operate and last.

In my current career as a writer, I've written over 90 books. This includes my own titles and those I've written on contract. I've also written a complete website on how to build your own home.

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