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A good circular saw is an indispensable tool for DIYers and professional craftsmen alike. On the surface, this tool seems quite uncomplicated. But our in-depth research of the circular saw market has revealed a multitude of options — and the potential for uninformed consumers to make expensive mistakes. The challenge you face is choosing the right circular saw for your needs. That's where the BestReviews team can help.
We buy every tool on our test list to guarantee there's no bias. We push them hard in our test lab (though not too hard; we like our products to be in working order when we finish so we can donate them to charity). The result is a selection of the best circular saws on today’s market. The five recommended saws in our matrix, above, meet or exceed our stringent criteria. We're happy to recommend them.
For a more comprehensive look at the options available to you, we've also compiled the information below:
Circular saws are available in four types. We concentrate on the three most common types in this shopping guide: the sidewinder, worm drive, and hypoid. (The fourth type is the trim saw, which is really only of interest to specialist tradespeople.)
This tool is also known as an in-line saw. It’s the type of circular saw most people recognize on sight. The sidewinder’s combination of power and price makes it the most popular circular saw among homeowners.
The motor sits alongside the shaft of the blade and aligns with it. As such, it’s a fairly compact tool. Blade speed is fast, though torque does not quite approach that of other circular saw types.
These lightweight tools are great for general use and favored by carpenters who have to work overhead.
Most homeowners looking to do occasional DIY around the house and garden will find a sidewinder saw to be a satisfactory choice.
A worm drive saw’s motor sits behind the blade shaft; worm drive gears connect the two. Gears of this type are more durable and efficient than toothed gears, delivering more torque and making for a more powerful saw. Because of the motor position, they offer a clearer view of the cut line, too.
The downside to worm drive saws is that they're considerably larger than sidewinders. Heavier, too. Where a typical sidewinder weighs six or seven pounds, a worm drive saw easily clocks in at twelve pounds or more. That’s a bit hefty for all-day work.
Hypoid circular saws are similar to their worm drive counterparts, but the gear differs in shape and is encased in an oil bath to extend working life and reduce the need for maintenance.
Top-shelf hypoid saws offer a few advantages over worm gear saws. They are very powerful and, thanks to premium materials like magnesium, quite lightweight. These saws also tend to cost a lot, but the market is a competitive one, and you can usually find a good deal.
Worm drive and hypoid saws are big, powerful tools. They’re a delight to own and use. In most cases, they are the professional's tools of choice, though it's fair to say that many carpenters and site workers use sidewinders, too.
A circular saw's capacities are measured in two ways: depth of cut and bevel (or miter) angle.
Circular saws of high quality usually sport large knobs or levers for the speedy setting of depths and angles. This becomes more important if you're working in the cold and wearing gloves.
A flat shoe (also called a base plate) is extremely important to the accuracy of your circular saw. Three possible materials comprise the shoe: steel, aluminum, and magnesium.
The cheapest way to make a shoe is with a stamped steel plate. The disadvantage is that they are easily bent or broken if dropped. (And in all likelihood, you will probably drop your saw at some point.) Minor damage can be repaired, but if the shoe gets twisted, it will need to be replaced.
Some aluminum base plates are pressed in the same manner as steel, but most are cast. These are thicker and, though softer than steel, more resistant to damage and flexing. Aluminum is also much lighter than steel.
This material is both lighter and stronger than aluminum. It’s also more expensive. Most high-end saws have magnesium alloy shoes.
Good guards are vital for safe circular saw work. Quality saws feature a prominent, curved lip on the front of the guard below the shoe. This allows it to ride up easily as you start to cut.
As with most modern tools, you can choose between a corded or cordless circular saw. The best corded circular saws sport 15-amp motors that deliver plenty of torque for effortless cutting.
Cordless tools may quote similar blade RPM figures, but these are "no load" speeds. (In other words, the saw isn’t actually cutting.) Cordless circular saws rarely quote torque figures — and torque is where the real power lies.
Corded circular saws have the advantage of delivering power with no drop-off. The best cordless circular saw would struggle to deliver the same level of torque as a corded model, even with a fresh battery. What’s more, a cordless saw’s torque declines as the battery drains. If you plan to work a cordless circular saw for long periods, a second battery is a must.
But the portability of cordless circular saw offers a huge benefit to some people, and high-end cordless saws deliver ample power for the majority of consumers.
The blade is a vital component of any circular saw. A worn blade hinders cutting performance and can create ragged, inaccurately measured edges. A cracked blade should never be used, as it poses a major safety threat.
To get the best out of your circular saw, choose the right blade for the material you plan to cut.
Cheap circular saws often feature plain steel blades. These blades can be thin and prone to flexing (making the blade wander). They dull quickly, too. This type of blade is fine for a small softwood job, but few would recommend it on the merit of its quality alone.
High speed steel (HSS) blades are hardened for a longer working life. They cost more than plain steel blades, but the edge is more efficient, and they’re almost always more economical in the long run.
Carbide tipped blades are HSS discs with tungsten or titanium carbide teeth brazed on. These extremely hard materials maintain a sharp edge considerably longer than plain HSS blades. In our opinion, this type of blade is a must if you’re cutting hardwood.
You can find specialist blades on the market for cutting tile, brick, concrete, and other aggregate blocks. Most specialist blades have aluminum oxide tips and are extremely abrasive. Others — tile cutters in particular — have diamond-tipped teeth.
When possible, use a tall fence rather than a thin strip. It's more stable, and it inhibits the saw’s tendency to “climb” over the guide.
You may notice that many circular saw blades have slots in them. These are expansion slots so the blade doesn't warp from the heat generated by continuous cutting.
The following extras are not found on all circular saws, but their availability may affect your purchasing decision. They are convenient but by no means essential.
Poor build quality often results in a poor finished job. As such, we advise against buying a cheap circular saw. Fortunately, the market boasts some great models from well-respected manufacturers that are not expensive. There’s no need to cut corners.
Keeping your circular saw in top condition is mostly a matter of common sense. Manufacturers provide instructions for a reason; following them will make your saw cut better and extend its working life.
Never try to back out of a cut with the saw running, as it could kick back and throw the saw. Always move the blade forward.
Plenty of other useful circular saw tips can be found online at useful sites like The Family Handyman.