A Makita circular saw; photo courtesy Kelly R. Smith
This article was updated on 07/14/20.
The decision on which brand, model, and type to buy when shopping for any tool depends on a number of factors. In this case, these include overall circular saw options and features as well as how often it will be used, how tough your construction tasks will be, reliability of the power tool manufacturer, and of course, price.
Corded or Cordless Saws?
Well, this is a good question and one often debated in the woodworking community so I'll just give you my opinion; take it with a grain of salt. I have no dog in this fight. I own both kinds. The image at the top of this page is my Makita corded which I used for about 20 years as a journeyman carpenter. I have still been using it for the past 10 years around the house For the past couple of years I have also used a Ryobi cordless because of convenience.
Batteries for Cordless Power Tools
Not so long ago, the only cordless power tools were little more than toys. The main reason, like with cell phones, was the limitation posed by battery technology. The capacity just wasn't there. The earliest (and weakest) batteries for battery-powered circular saws were Nickel-Cadmium Ni-Cd batteries. Today these are most likely to be found only on mini circular saws or trim saws.
A better power pack is the Ni-MH Nickel Metal Hydride which offers 50% more service life and is sufficient for most household DIY projects. Better still is the Li-Ion Lithium Ion technology. The benefits include no battery memory effect when charging, 5X more charges, and 2X longer run-time. They are suitable for heavy-duty use. I even use them in my Ryobi 20 in. 40-Volt mower.
Saw Types with Respect to Saw Guards
There are two basic types. They relate to both safety and functionality.
Pendulum Guard. This is the most dangerous and most common of the two. The blade guard extends below the foot plate. A lever is attached to the guard to allow the user to draw the guard up into the housing.
Plunge Cut Guard. This type is much safer since the entire blade is covered by the guard. Without the lever, one hand can be used on the trigger and the other to stabilize the cut. These are used with guide rail systems like the DeWalt Track Saw. Festool Power Tool Company from Germany competes with DeWalt in this market but are more expensive. In my opinion it's a question of brand loyalty.
Sidewinder vs Worm-Drive Saws
These distinctions refer to how the circular saw blade is aligned with the motor. Sidewinders are the type used by most craftsmen because they are less expensive and are up to almost all tasks.
The motor is simply attached to the blade at a 90 degree angle. The simple construction is one of the factors that keeps the price down on these models. It's most likely what you will find in a DIYer's woodshop. Go here for some of my top woodworking tips.
Worm-drive saws cost more and are heavier, but are the most powerful and long-lasting. Journeyman carpenters that use them every day have a saying, Youll only have to buy one. You've got to have something in your will for your offspring, yes?
Popular Circular Saw Manufacturers
Ironically, although the name Skil® is synonymous with circular, its a brand thats really considered an entry level tool by many professional tradesmen, bit it is suitable for occasional tasks.
For a saw that will really last, without developing wobbles and overheating while working hard, its best to go with a more professional model.
DeWalt ranks high (disclaimer: its one of my favorite brands) and offers both conventional and the DeWalt track saw models. Festool does as well, but is more expensive.
Bosch is also a very dependable power tool manufacturer. Makita and Ryobi both have solid reputations and tend to be a bit less expensive. Finally, Black and Decker strikes a good balance between quality and price for most homeowners.
So that's the scoop on circular saw options and features in a nutshell. The choices are numerous.
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About the Author:
Kelly R. Smith was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelors Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation and financial and energy trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.