History of the Circular Saw
Today we’d like to pay some well-earned honor to one of the most important inventions in our industry (particularly the lumber-processing part of it): the circular saw. Like many products of the industrial revolution, the history of the circular saw is a story founded on legend as much as fact — both of which are equally as interesting.
What Is A Circular Saw?
The circular saw is perhaps the most commonly used saw today, used extensively in both professional construction projects and DIY home improvement. This power tool uses a round metal blade edged with sharp teeth to cut an array of material such as woods, metals, cement block, brick, fiberglass, plastics and slate.
The blade in a circular saw spins around mechanically to provide a clean cut to the material and can either mount to a table or be used in left-handed or right-handed handheld equipment. Various blades are used to cut different types of material most effectively.
Using a circular saw is quick and effective. Simply adjust the saw for the proper height and depth, line it up to where you want to make a cut and push it with enough force to glide it across the material but without pushing too hard. This ease of use is what has made the circular saw popular in numerous applications since its invention in the 1700s.
Inventing the Circular Saw: A Brief History
It’s commonly told that Samuel Miller was awarded British Patent #1152 in 1777 for what is considered the first circular saw machine. Some assert that the wording in his patent indicates the circular blade itself was in common use by that time — it was the sawing machine itself that Miller had invented.
As with many inventions, accounts of the circular saw’s early history are conflicting. Some evidence shows that Gervinus of Germany built something similar in 1780, while others claim it was the Dutch who invented the device some hundred or so years earlier.
A little while later, we hear about a man named Walter Taylor who supplied the Royal Navy with high-quality rigging blocks into the early 19th century. Taylor was responsible for a variety of patents centered on wood processing, although none on the machine itself. But, history has proven he used circular saw blades in his mills.
Like many inventions of the time, the circular saw was a concept developed similarly and independently throughout parts of the developing world. All these stories of the circular saw’s rise in Europe seem completely separate from its emergence in America — or, at least, from American legends.
In the U.S. — more specifically in Harvard, Massachusetts — a Shaker woman named Tabitha Babbitt is said to have also invented a circular saw entirely of her own volition and design in 1810. As legend has it, she got the idea while watching two Shaker men struggling with a pit saw. At the time, these saws could only cut in one direction, making ripping logs a horribly tedious task.
The lumbermen would waste half their energy moving their saw back and forth, only cutting on the forward stroke. Babbitt noticed the inefficiency of this method and set out to make a saw that would waste less time and effort. She created a notched tin disk and rigged it to spin with the pedal push of her spinning wheel. With this simple invention, wood could be cut with a fraction of the time and effort it took using the old pit saw.
Her basic idea was used to create a much larger device for use in the sawmill, and the circle saw quickly caught on as the wood processing tool of choice. While Babbitt’s design was similar to Miller’s or Taylor’s, hers appeared to be much larger and more useful on a larger scale — modifications which differentiated her design from the rest.
The Spinning Wheel’s Influence
The spinning wheel was an early machine used to transform natural fibers into spinning thread or yarn. It was composed of a drive wheel, table, treadle and legs as well as parts that held the fibers. A weaver by trade, Babbitt noticed that the drive wheel spun in a continual circular motion and didn’t need to be continually reset like the inefficient pit saw. By carving a circular saw blade and attaching it to her spinning wheel, every movement of the disk made a cut.
As a Shaker, Babbitt’s religious beliefs prevented her from receiving a patent. While members of the religion were widely admired for their inventiveness and hard work, they believed in sharing ideas freely and leaving their inventions unpatented. But, fortunately, history has remembered her yet.
When attached to a table, the circular saw acts much like the wheel on a spinning wheel, paying homage to Babbitt’s original prototype. Both the saw and its alleged ancestor work in a continual circular motion to produce consistent results without the need to stop and reposition the machine.
Early Versions and Evolution
As with the spinning wheel, early prototypes of the circular table saw were powered by a treadle — a pump on the floor that was pushed by foot to make the saw spin. Saws during this time were not mechanical, nor were they portable. These early models of the circular saw table were used in America throughout the 1800s.
In 1922, the first circular saw attached to a radial arm was created by Raymond DeWALT, allowing for greater control of cutting depth and direction than ever before. However, it wasn’t until 1929 that inventor Art Emmons created the first handheld circular saw.
Emmons’ helical-drive saw featured an electronic motor that was lightweight enough for easy portability. This design became the basis for all portable circular saws used today and remains the most widely used circular saw design.
Since then, both portable and table circular saws have continued to evolve in technological advances. Today’s portable circular saws use a lightweight universal motor that can run off either AC or DC electric power, while table saws typically feature a heavier induction motor.
Safety advances like springs and feeder wheels have been added to prevent users from getting their fingers too close to the blade. Some advanced saws can even sense a change in electric current when a hand comes near the blade and will switch off automatically, making these modern saws safer than ever.
The Circular Saw Today
Since its invention, the circular saw has been used in numerous commercial and personal applications. Small handheld saws can be used for household or construction projects, while larger versions of the table circular saw and blade can cut with extreme precision in sawmills, lumber yards and timber processing. Many novices and professionals alike enjoy the circular saw for its enhanced versatility, as it can easily cut both wood and harder materials like plastic and stone. On wood, the saw is used to crosscut, rip and make angle cuts.
When the York Saw Works started in 1906, our FOCUS included machine knives, but it was saw blades that took the lead in popularity. It makes sense, though. In addition to its history of woodcrafts industrial ingenuity, Pennsylvania was a timber industry powerhouse at the turn of the last century. Indeed, this was true of much of the Northeastern US at the time. Without the keen eye and inventive contributions of people like Samuel Miller or Tabitha Babbitt, who knows where we’d be today?
From the invention of Miller’s first circular saw machine and the legend of Babbitt’s spinning wheel saw to the versatility of DeWALT’s radial arm attachment and Emmons’ handheld invention, the circular saw has a long and fascinating history. We hope we’ve given you a greater appreciation of this rich and versatile tool.
To learn more about the history of the circular saw, check out the resources below. Contact us today for additional questions or order your circular saw blades online!
Circular power saw
For many amateurs, a saw is a saw as long as it can slice. But, technically, there are several types of saws out there, like circular saws. In this article we will cover everything about circular saws and how they work, it will be the perfect start for the beginners.
What is a circular saw used for?
A circular saw is a portable mechanical tool used in DIY jobs to cut large pieces of wood, plastic, metals, concrete and other materials like tiles and bricks. It can make curvilinear and straight cuts. It is very popular among DIY enthusiasts and professionals for its high sawing capacity and high precision. Whether in a workshop or in a construction site, it is an effective instrument for carrying out various tasks.
Circular saws use a round blade that is lined with sharp metal teeth. The blade rotates to cut the wood smoothly. Circular saws also have a handle with a trigger switch, a nut to hold the blade in place, and a guard for safety purposes.
One thing is certain: the circular saw is a real easy solution for almost all the works you intend to undertake and requiring sawing materials. Depending on your objectives, it adapts perfectly from small jobs to large construction sites. We explain everything you can learn from it.
A circular saw can be manual or electric. But no one is using the manual one, everything is now automated and electrical. Electric circular saws are more complex, the main components are the blade, the motor, the outer frame and the dust blower. Compared to a manual saw, circular saws are more pleasant to use and offer extremely precise cutting and sawing
Even if your carpentry tasks are limited to a casual project this weekend, you may need to cut a narrow piece from a long board or sheet of plywood. Sawing long boards is easy if you have a table saw. But you can also do it precisely with a good circular saw. In fact, it is usually easier to cut long pieces of plywood with a circular saw.
A circular saw will not cut as easily as a table saw, but with a few techniques, a little finesse and a little practice; you can cut almost as accurately as a table saw. We will show you how to use a circular saw to quickly and accurately cut long boards and plywood, and we will give you blueprints for a handy cutting guide for your saw.
How to choose a circular saw?
Choosing your circular saw is an easy process, you can do it yourself, but it is necessary to know these few characteristics concerning that choice like: its power, its use as well as its accessories. Above all, it is important not to rush to purchase such a device and think carefully about why you want to use a circular saw!
The criteria for choosing a circular saw:
The power: for small carpentry work in the house, a power of 900 Watts should be enough for you. Beyond 1,700 Watts, the circular saw will allow you to cut firewood or other large material like concrete and metals.
The frequency of use is an essential criterion when choosing your saw. There is no need to choose a high end saw if you use the saw infrequently. But for an expert carpenter the choice of the circular saw must be done according to the desired work.
The brake system: There are two types of brake systems, the manual system and the electric brake system. Before we dive into the difference between these two types, I have to say that they are both safe and secure.
The electric brake system uses the electric current that is being supplied to your saw to stop the blade, the blade will be stopped just in 2 seconds, while the manual system doesn’t use the current to stop the blade, it only leaves the blade to stop by itself and it takes about 5 to 7 seconds to stop.
This video will show you the difference between the electric brakes and the non electric brakes and how they stop. The video is provided by the famous power too brand DeWALT
In my personal opinion, the only advantage for the electric brake system is that it makes your maneuverability more flexible so you can go from a cut to another quickly.
Other accessories such as blades should be also taken into account when making your choice. You have to choose the blade according to the material you are going to cut, for example: if you are planning to cut wood pieces you can use a carbide blade, but if you want cut concrete parts, tiles or even bricks, then you have to choose diamond-tipped circular blades.
So, it will be important that you take the time to study the various security features and read reviews. Even if you are perfectly comfortable with your choice, it is essential that the model you choose can be used without any danger.
Finally, to choose a circular saw, it is also important to know about how easy it is to do other stuff like changing the blade or replacing a part because some devices are incredibly easy to use and the blades can be changed in a few seconds, while others are unfortunately much more complex, which could have a real impact on your final satisfaction.
Types of circular saws
Actually, there are two main types of circular saws, the sidewinder circular saws and the worm drive circular saws.
The main difference between these models is the place of the motor relative to the blade and the gear.
Sidewinder circular saw
The worm drive circular saw has its motor in the rear of its blade and the rotating power of the motor is transmitted to the blade by a set of gears. This has its advantages and disadvantages, it decreases the speed of the blade, so it may reach a top speed of 4500 RPM but on the other hand, it increases the torque. Nearly all the worm drive circular saw has its blade on the left side. In addition, it is a little bit heavier than the sidewinder circular saw, and the shoe is thicker. If you are living in the west coast, you will probably see that kind more often than the other one.
The sidewinder circular saw uses a motor technically called “a spur gear” meaning that the motor is inline with the blade as you see in the picture, this delivers very strong power to the blade up to 6000 RPM. Also the sidewinder circular saw has its blade on the right side. The sidewinder circular saw may have its blade on the right side or on the left side, so it depends on your preference.
The position of the blade whether it is on the right or the left will affect your performance depending on being a right handed or left handed because sidewinder circular saws
It’s all about the blade
The blades are differentiated by their teeth and their diameter. You choose the blade to be mounted on the axis depending on the material that you will cut, knowing that the more the teeth the blade will have, the more the cut will be precise and fine, it will be perfect for finishing, but the cutting process will be slower.
On the other hand, the blades with less number of teeth, lets say 24 carbide teeth, will give you a much rougher cuts but you will feel that you are cutting through the material more quicker. The diameter of the blade is also important because it affects the depth of cut. To create rough cuts quickly, a blade of 24 carbide tipped teeth will be good whereas to saw a melamine board, a blade of 48 teeth will not be too much. In general, tungsten carbide blades between 12 and 48 teeth are a good for sawing most surfaces and materials.
The most common blade size is the 7 ¼ inches circular blade, but when you use a cordless circular saw, you will find other blades of sizes like 5 and 6 ½ inches. There are also bigger diameters like 8, 10 and 12 inches out in the market.
Finally, it is important to say that there are saws that are designed for specific type of work. So it is important to choose a circular saw blade according to the job that you are working on.
How to Buy a Circular Saw
Kamron Sanders is a home improvement expert and writer with over 15 years of hands-on construction, remodeling, woodworking, home repair, and landscaping experience. He has also written for HGTV. Kamron’s expertise ranges from troubleshooting saws and lawnmowers to painting kitchen cabinets.
Deane Biermeier is an expert contractor with nearly 30 years of experience in all types of home repair, maintenance, and remodeling. He is a certified lead carpenter and also holds a certification from the EPA. Deane is a member of The Spruce’s Home Improvement Review Board.
A circular saw is a must-have tool for anyone from professional contractors to DIY enthusiasts. Available in multiple sizes, with corded or cordless power, and as a sidewinder or worm drive, it can be hard to narrow down which circular saw is best for you. To help you decide, we’ve broken down the ins and outs of each type of circular saw and what you can expect from your purchase.
What Is a Circular Saw?
A circular saw is a handheld power saw with a motor that drives a circular blade protruding from the bottom of the saw.
Before Replacing Your Circular Saw
Say you already have a circular saw, but you’re simply unsure if it’s the best saw for you and your applications. Because circular saws are so widely used and available in different models suited for a variety of specific applications (with some overlap), replacing an existing circular saw can be overwhelming. Unless your saw is outright broken, it can be hard to determine if a new or additional circular saw will truly benefit you.
While it’s likely that you’ll be able to find a saw that covers most of your uses sufficiently, some users will find that they’re better off owning two saws with vastly different abilities. For example, a house framer would benefit from having a powerful corded saw for heavy-duty use as well as a cordless saw for quick cuts in hard-to-access areas. While many cordless saws won’t likely keep up with the demands of day-to-day house framing, they absolutely have their place on the job site.
Buying Considerations for a Circular Saw
There are a few specifications to consider when purchasing a circular saw. This breakdown will help you determine the best saw for your needs, ensuring you get the most bang for your buck.
Circular saws come in a range of sizes. The main size specifications you should be concerned with are the blade size (diameter) and the motor’s output. The most common and most popular blade size amongst professionals and DIYers alike is 7-1/4 inches. This is because it’s a versatile size with a cutting depth that covers a wide variety of tasks. However, there are saws with blade sizes that are intended for more specific uses, such as beam saws with blades larger than 16 inches in diameter to mini circular saws with blades around 4 inches.
For corded circular saws, the power rating is generally expressed in amperage. Today, 15-amp saws are the standard; 10- or 12-amp saws are appropriate only for infrequent use. The price difference just isn’t that significant for a purchase you can expect to use for many years. The higher the amperage, the more cutting power the saw will have.
Cordless, battery-powered circulars are typically rated by the voltage of their batteries. Virtually all cordless saws now use lithium-ion battery systems. There are many 18-volt saws available, but there are also more powerful 20-volt and even 60-volt cordless saws offered. As well as voltage, an amp-hour rating will also be listed, which indicates how long you can use the saw before the battery dies. The amp-hour ratings generally range from about 5 hours to 9 hours.
Corded vs. Cordless
As previously mentioned, corded saws are typically better suited for jobs that require non-stop use with major power demands, such as framing a house. This is because, in an application where power is readily available and you’re working primarily on sawhorses, the pros of a cordless saw do not outweigh the cons. This is exaggerated once you start performing rip cuts (cutting down the length of a board), as this requires an immense amount of cutting power.
However, cordless saws absolutely have their place—even in a professional setting. They’re extremely versatile, perfect for cutting in hard-to-reach areas, and can perform regardless of if there is power available at your job site. For DIYers, a high-quality cordless saw is likely the best bang for your buck. With a sharp blade, it will rise to nearly any DIY task. Plus, should there come a time where you absolutely have to use a corded saw, renting one is always a viable option.
Generally speaking, most circular saws with sufficient power and a sharp, high-quality blade will suffice for all users. But for long-term satisfaction, you may want to look for these features:
- Saw foot made from cast magnesium rather than pressed steel
- Power brake to stop the blade quickly
- Preset bevel stops on the saw foot (22 1/2 and 45 degrees are most useful)
- A spindle lock to simplify changing blades
- Built-in work lights to illuminate the workpiece
- Laser guide line to aid in keeping the saw on the cut line
A good carbide-tipped blade might be the only blade you ever need, but there are many other types of blades available for special purposes. You can buy blades for cutting wood, metal, tile, and concrete. If you plan to do a lot of work requiring clean cuts, consider buying a blade with a higher TPI (teeth per inch). On most saws, changing blades takes just a few moments.
Types of Circular Saws
Circular saws have long been available in two styles: sidewinders and worm-drive. Sidewinders are the most recognizable style to most of us. The handle is set higher over the blade, and the blade has traditionally been located on the right side of the D-shaped handle, although left-handed saws are increasingly available. They are lighter and less expensive than worm drives, and the blade, which is driven directly by the motor spindle, spins faster than on worm-drive saws. A good sidewinder is the best choice for the home workshop since it is light and maneuverable.
Worm-drive saws are short and long, with the handle positioned behind the blade. The blade is located on the left, making it visible to right-handed users. They tend to be heavier, since they require a gear system to convert the motor action into blade spin, and they have more torque than sidewinders. Worm-drives are preferred by some construction pros for heavy-duty work.
Mini Circular Saw
A fairly recent innovation, mini (or compact) circular saws are elongated saws with a small blade and handle positioned at opposing ends. The unique shape and size of these saws make them perfect for ripping OSB and plywood. However, the small blade size does severely limit their cutting depth.
Corded saws are more than just the older, outdated sibling of cordless saws. In fact, these saws may be your best best for sustained high-power performance. You don’t have to worry about dying batteries, buying extra batteries that can be extremely expensive, or power loss during difficult rip cuts. Generally speaking, corded saws will perform at a high level time and time again.
Since their introduction, cordless power saws have had an obvious pro: no cord. This makes them incredibly versatile, maneuverable, and useful in spots where power is nowhere to be found. However, this obvious pro has come with an unfortunate con: lack of power. Cordless saws have simply not been able to keep up with the power output of a corded saw. That is, until recent years, since new innovations in battery technology have reduced the performance gap between corded and cordless models. Nowadays, cordless saws can compete with corded in many tasks and are a serious contender.
As far as power tools are concerned, you can get your hands on a circular saw for a surprisingly reasonable price.
Corded Saw Pricing
For pricing sake, let’s consider you’re buying a 15-amp corded saw with a 7-1/4-inch blade, as this is a fairly standard choice. You can expect to pay anywhere from 50 to 200. This price range is wide because there are quite a few factors at play that affect the price. A better, reputable brand, special features, and the inclusion of a hard case are obviously going to drive the price of the saw up, but there is a less obvious factor to consider.
While every circular saw will likely come with a new blade, the quality and type of blade are worth noting. If the saw comes equipped with a simple high-speed stainless steel blade, its low price might not be such a bargain, as you’ll probably want to replace it with a more expensive carbide-tipped blade almost immediately. This new blade can run anywhere from 15 to 30.
Cordless Saw Pricing
On average, cordless saws are much more expensive than corded saws, especially when you consider purchasing batteries. For pricing, let’s use an 18-volt cordless saw with a 7-1/4-inch blade from a reputable brand. This saw will cost you around 180 to 250, and this price doesn’t include a battery, which will be an additional cost of around 150.
The good news is, if you’re reading this article, you more than likely already own cordless power tools. Nearly every major brand utilizes the same battery across their line of cordless tools, so adding a cordless circular saw to your toolbox won’t require you to buy additional batteries.
How to Choose a Circular Saw
Ultimately, deciding which circular saw to purchase should solely be based on how you’ll be using it. While cost is a factor, as your budget may be limited, you shouldn’t be afraid of spending more money on a better saw if you can afford to. A good, high-quality saw from a reputable brand will last for years on end if taken care of. Here are a few things to consider.
If the majority of materials you’ll be cutting are less than 1-1/2 inches thick, a 7-1/4-inch blade may be overkill. While it won’t negatively affect you, saws with smaller blades are generally lighter and less expensive. If you regularly cut thin material, you may even consider a mini circular saw.
Corded vs. Cordless
Deciding between these two options comes down to two factors: cost and versatility. If you need the versatility of a cordless saw and can’t justify buying both corded and cordless, opt for a cordless saw with at least an 18- to 20-volt battery. However, if you need sustained power for long periods of time, a cordless saw may better serve you.
Should you decide on the corded route, you’re still faced with the decision of sidewinder or worm-drive. For nearly everyone, a sidewinder will do everything needed. However, for immense power needs, a worm drive will deliver but at a higher price point.
Where to Shop
These days, there are plenty of places to buy a circular saw. From specialty tool shops to online retailers to your local hardware store, it’s easy to find what you’re looking for.
The perk of buying in-store is the ability to get up close and personal with multiple different saws. This will allow you to compare their differences and better assess which is best for you. From a distance, every sidewinder circular saw looks pretty much the same, except for the color. Up close, though, they can feel much different in the hand. The only way to experience that difference is to head to your local tool supplier and test them for yourself. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Does the handle fit your hand?
- Does the saw feel well balanced and the right weight for you?
- Are you comfortable with the visibility of the blade and the adjustment components?
A well-shaped handle and good balance can go a long way toward making a saw more comfortable and efficient to use, so don’t overlook these features when choosing a circular saw.
Nowadays, anything can be purchased online—even power saws. The two main perks of shopping online is the ability to compare from a multitude of retailers as well as the availability of many different saws that you may not find in stores. However, keep in mind that buying a saw that is readily available in stores may increase the likelihood of parts and repair services being available when needed.
Where to Buy a Circular Saw
Once you’ve narrowed down which circular saw is the best for you, it’s time to buy. With comparable pricing between retailers, there’s no wrong place to buy a circular saw. Simply buy from the retailer that is most convenient for you.
The best time to buy a circular saw is whenever you need one. However, if you can wait until the the holidays, hardware stores and online retailers often have great sales on tools.
A track saw is very similar to a circular saw as far as looks and use. The main difference is that a track saw is designed to ride on a track for perfectly straight cuts, whereas a circular saw would need a cutting guide.
If at any point your circular saw malfunctions in a way that poses a risk to your safety or the safety of others, it is worth replacing or repairing. This includes but is not limited to electrical and mechanical malfunctions.
The 4 Best Cordless Circular Saws of 2023
The circular saw is a staple of any woodshop, and to find the very best cordless circular saws on the market, we bought 13 of the most popular models for side-by-side testing. We focused on battery-powered direct-drive saws that range from 7 1/4″ framing saws to 5 1/2″ trim saws. Our team of experts subjected each of these saws to an identical series of tests, focusing on ease of use, cutting power, and of course, battery life. Whether you’re in the market for a professional-grade saw or a price-point model for the occasional project around the house, our in-depth review offers expert recommendations based on value and performance. We organize our data so that you can easily compare models to find the best cordless circular saw for your needs and budget.
From the woodshop to the garden, our tech experts are always on the lookout for the best tools for their next DIY project. From the best chainsaws to impact drivers, we have in-depth reviews covering various hand tools on the market.
Editor’s Note: We updated this cordless circular saw review on January 25, 2023, to share our test results for our newest saws, the DeWALT DCS391B and the Milwaukee M18 Fuel 2732-20.
Best Overall Circular Saw
Milwaukee M18 Fuel 2732-20
The Milwaukee M18 Fuel 2732-20 is a high-powered saw with incredible cutting performance. During testing, this saw cut through wood like butter, with deeper depth cuts than any other saw in our lineup. It also had the fastest cross-cut time of any previously tested saw. This saw had incredible performance across the board with exceptional cutting capabilities. It also had an attached rafter hook which will come in handy when working on a project. This saw receives the best overall award because of its incredible cutting capabilities and above-average ease of use and battery life.
The incredible cutting power of Milwaukee M18 Fuel does come at a cost. This saw is one of the highest-priced saws tested. While its overall performance is superior, the higher price is something to consider. This saw is also quite heavy. At 8.9 lbs, it can be alot to push and lug around. Depending on how you plan to use the saw this may be an important detail to know.
Milwaukee M18 2631-20
The Milwaukee M18 is a cordless circular saw for those who want high-end results. This saw impressed all as it makes full-depth cross-cuts without any sign of difficulty. The shoe and its components have clearly marked depth and degree indicators that make setting the saw up for a cut easy and accurate. The action of all the adjustments is smooth, and they are locked in place with levers — a much better option than knobs. The 90˚ and 45˚ sightlines at the front of the shoe are spot-on as well. Collectively, these features set you up to make precision cuts.
Despite all the praise we’ve heaped on the Milwaukee M18, there are a few absent features that we’d like to see on this saw. For one, the bevel lacks positive stops at common angle settings. Additionally, blade changes could be smoother. Specifically, the blade lock is a bit of a pain to catch and hold. Admittedly, these are minor complaints, and the fact remains that if you want a top-quality brushless circular saw, the M18 is the obvious choice.
The power and precise cuts that the Milwaukee M18 offers puts it on par with any professional-grade corded model we’ve ever used.
Best Mid-Sized Saw
Kobalt KCS 6524B-03
We think the Kobalt KCS is one of the best of the mid-sized saws because it leaves little to be desired. This saw can cut both soft and hardwood across the grain at full depth with little difficulty. The shoe adjustment levers for depth and bevel are easy to operate. Even more impressive, Kobalt distinguishes itself with unrivaled battery life. No other saw we reviewed even came close.
Although you’re more likely to wear out before this saw’s battery dies, it does suffer a bit in some aspects of ease of use. Sightlines on the leading edge of the shoe are off, which can lead to short cuts. Also, the bevel lacks positive stops, which requires attention because the bevel extends all the way to 50˚. Despite these shortcomings, this is still a super effective saw.
Best Bang for Your Buck
The SKIL CR540601 has great features and surprisingly good performance for the price. It’s certainly not a professional-level tool, but it will work well for most DIY tasks. It lacks a few convenience features, but its sightlines are quite accurate, making it an excellent choice for light woodworking and weekend work around the house. over, the SKIL has a long battery life, so you can be confident that it will be ready to rip whenever you reach for it.
Given its affordable price, you might suspect that some corners were cut in the design, and you wouldn’t be wrong. The SKIL CR540601 has a stamped sheet metal shoe with twist knobs to make adjustments. The knobs aren’t the easiest to use, and the markings are hard to see. The blade changing procedure is a little contrived as well, which is mostly the result of an awkwardly placed blade lock button. Its motor isn’t the most powerful, either. Despite these limitations, this tool is quite a bit better than a hand saw and better than some of the other saws in this review. Yet, you can get your hands on one for a modest price.
Why You Should Trust Us
Senior research analyst Austin Palmer has been testing electronics — and cordless tools specifically — for several years. His experience installing and maintaining derricks in the Texas oil fields yields a callused-hands approach to tool testing. He’s also a homeowner who always has a project to test a tool on. Complementing his expertise is Senior Review Editor Nick Miley, who has a background in custom finish carpentry. He has also built two wooden canoes and maintained countless more wooden boats.
As a team, they ripped through more than 2,300 linear feet of 3/4″ plywood to test battery life. They also made countless full-depth cross-cuts on both soft and hardwood lumber. They carefully inspected all of the features of the saws that contribute to ease of use, precision cuts, and maintenance. In total, they logged more than 150 hours of testing, analyzed, and compared these machines side-by-side.
Analysis and Test Results
This review used a series of systematic tests to allow for direct comparison across a diverse class of cordless circular saws. To do this, we designed evaluations to isolate specific aspects of normal saw use into categories that we call metrics. These metrics are weighted by their impact on user experience and product performance. These metrics are ease of use, cutting, and battery performance. The following is a rundown on the observations in each of these metrics and what we felt made one saw better than another.
For many people, value is subconsciously calculated before and after every purchase. Often value is simply the feeling people get when they are satisfied with a purchase. However, we try to estimate value through an analytical process wherein products that perform similarly are compared by their price, and products within a similar price range are compared by their performance.
For example, the Bosch CCS180 circular saw has slightly above-average cutting power on sheets of wood and a pretty decent performing battery. These stats place the Bosch in the middle of the pack overall, yet the product is priced significantly below average. With a price-to-performance ratio like that, the Bosch is perfect for those tackling weekend projects because it is affordable with adequate performance for light-duty tasks.
Conversely, the Milwaukee M18 Fuel is one of the more expensive machines in the product category. Its performance, however, is head and shoulders above the competition. For the professional user or woodworking enthusiast, this saw still provides great value because it can perform as needed for both frequent and demanding tasks.
It might seem curious that we gave cutting only 30% weight in the overall score when it’s clearly the critical function of any saw. This weight, however, was used because our cutting tests are concise and focused on the saw’s power when making three basic cuts. These cuts are full-blade depth cross cuts in hard and soft wood, as well as ripping a softwood plank. The saws that were able to make the three test cuts the fastest have the most powerful motors and thus received the highest scores.
The Milwaukee M18 Fuel performed the best overall in the cutting evaluation. This 7 1/4″ saw can make full-depth cross-cuts on a 6×12″ header in 4 seconds and can rip 10′ off 2×12 in just 35 seconds. Hardwood cuts posed no problems either. The 7 ¼” DeWALT 20V is on the Milwaukee’s heels making cross-cuts in 6 seconds and rips in 46 seconds. The DeWALT DCS391B made a notable showing here as well. This 6 ½” saw punched above its weight, throwing down softwood cross-cut times as good or better than the 7 1/4″ saws and proving that you don’t necessarily need a framing saw to cut dense LVL lumber.
Not surprisingly, the cut test results group by blade size. The best results come from the 7 1/4″ models, the poorest from the mousy 5 1/2″ BlackDecker BDCCS20B. The exception to this relationship is the Ridgid R8653B, which, despite its 7 1/4″ blade, performed more like a 6 1/2″ saw.
Ease of Use
The ease of use metric accounts for 50% of a product’s final score and does so for good reasons. This metric is broad and incorporates all the aspects of saw use outside of cut and battery performance. This metric assesses how the user interacts with the saw and rates how easy it is to get the saw to perform the tasks for which it was designed.
Specifically, we make a close inspection of the saw shoe. How deep can the blade penetrate at full depth? What is the range of bevel angles? Is the bevel well marked so that it’s easy to read when dusty? Does the bevel have positive stops that ensure accuracy on standard angles? We also measure the marked angles for accuracy as well as assess the accuracy of the sightlines. Finally, we weigh the saw and determine the difficulty in changing the blades. This is not a nitpicky survey of each model. Instead, this is an investigation into the aspects of saw use that will make a big difference in the user experience and the quality of work being done.
Given the long list of features that we take into account in this metric, it’s no wonder that many saws fall into the middle rankings because most saws have a mix of good and bad characteristics. That said, the Milwaukee M18 Fuel outshines the rest of the class because it has an easy-to-change blade, spot-on sightlines, and positive stops at common bevel angles. The Ryobi P507, and DeWALT 20V are just a step behind.
The depth and angle adjustments on the Milwaukee M18 and DeWALT 20V are really easy to release, place, and secure, while the Ryobi P507’s sightlines are on par with the Ridgid R8653B. The Makita XSS02 (though it didn’t do so well overall in this metric) and the DeWALT both have no-fuss blade swapping systems. Their blade locks are easy to depress while providing a good grip on the saw to loosen the bolt clamp. The blade guards offer ample room for a blade to slide in and out. Additionally, both models have good storage for the wrench. The big difference here is that the DeWALT uses a more powerful box wrench rather than an Allen key, and the DeWALT’s battery must be removed to access the wrench. This last feature provides an extra layer of safety while also preventing the tool from accidentally falling out of its storage slot.
Those models that did poorly in this evaluation have poor craftsmanship or lack attention to detail in the shoe. In such cases, adjustment knobs are hard to access, sightlines are inaccurate, and blades are hard to swap. The Porter-Cable PCC660 is an example of a saw that failed to impress in these evaluations because it has all these problems plus a flimsy shoe that’s prone to bending. While the DeWALT DCS391B has good cutting performance, the narrow trigger area made this saw more difficult to use.
It should be noted that while we test all the saws in our review in precisely the same way, there are differences in amp-hours ratings that skew the results. That said, greater amp-hours don’t always correlate with longer battery life. Such is the case with the Kobalt KCS, which was tested with a 4 amp-hour battery that significantly outperformed the 5 amp-hour models. The Kobalt nearly wore out our tester because it took 360 linear feet of plywood to drain its battery!
Other notable models are the SKIL CR540601, the Milwaukee M18, and the Milwaukee M18 Fuel (our favorite 7 ¼” saw). These models ran on 5 amp-hour batteries, but the former model ripped 324 linear feet of ¾ inch plywood and the latter 298. Not too bad. To put this into a broader context, the BlackDecker BDCCS20B ran on a 1.5 amp-hour battery and ripped a mere 52 linear feet. All of the models tested will continue to cut right up to the end of their battery life — a nice feature, to be sure.
There is a lot to consider when shopping for a cordless circular saw. This review highlights outstanding saws that merit acknowledgment for performance and value. These honors were given based on each model’s rankings in three test metrics: ease of use, cutting, and battery. Making up each of these metrics are tests that analyze the performance of the saw. These tests allow for direct comparisons of the most popular models on the market. We have made all the information from our testing available to you so that you can evaluate each saw for yourself and make an informed selection.