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Imagine being able to cut boards without having to be tethered to a power outlet and you can appreciate the sheer convenience of a good battery-powered circular saw. Most builders, however, have both a cordless, and a corded circular saw for different jobs.
What is the best cordless circular saw? Before you choose a cordless circular saw, make sure you understand the difference between the brushed and brushless motor, being that a brush-less motor doesn’t require brushes to be replaced. Brush-less motors also provide more power and consume less battery power.
Why opt for a magnesium base? You want to choose a magnesium base over others as they are stronger and glide over timber more easily than a steel base.
Make sure you can easily set angle cuts. Getting a cordless circular saw that can’t set angels easily or accurately is really annoying, make sure there is a big easy to read dial for setting angles.
Best brushless cordless circular saw
#3 Best brushless Milwaukee circular saw
Milwaukee 2730-20 M18 fuel 6 1/2″ brushless circular saw
#4 Best brushless Dewalt cordless circular saw
Dewalt DCS570B 7-1/4″ 20v circular saw with brake
The best cordless circular saws (Brushed)
#3 Best cordless DIY circular saw
SKIL 20V 6-1/2 inch circular saw, kit with 5.0ah
#4 Best Milwaukee cordless circular saw
Milwaukee 2731-20 M18 fuel 7-1/4″ circular saw
#5 Best Bosch cordless circular saw
Bosch CCS180B 18-Volt Lithium-Ion Circular Saw
#6 Best Hitachi cordless circular saw
Hitachi C18DGLP4 18v lithium-ion circular saw
Circular saws are motor-equipped tools that enable you to cut through wooden boards quickly. They are especially effective at making “crosscuts” across boards and rip cuts along the length of timber lengths. They are also quite effective at bevel cuts, making them some of the most versatile power tools you can have in your arsenal.
Circular saws come in two types: sidewinder (or inline saws) and worm drive saws. Most circular saws you will see in woodworking shops and DIY workshops are the sidewinder varieties.
With these types of saws, the motor is set along the blade’s axis, hence the term “inline” saws. These designs are usually pretty compact, lightweight, and can handle a variety of cutting tasks.
In worm drive saws, the motors are set at a right angle relative to the blade.
The gears driving the blade mechanism results in considerably more torque, making these saws suitable for heavy-duty tasks. Most worm drive saws are longer than sidewinder saws and usually run more quietly.
Also known as skill saws, electric saws can cut timber in the most portable way, and through aluminum with a fine-tooth blade. Circular saws come in a few different design variations, but most will have the following components:
What sized blade to get?
The size of your circular saw determines the depth of the cuts you will be able to make. Blades range in size from 5” to 12”. Most compact circular saws will accommodate only 7.25” blades. In general, cordless saws use smaller blades than corded models.
A blade size of 7.25” should be sufficient for most tasks, but if you need to make deeper cuts, you will need to buy a circular saw that accommodates a bigger blade.
If you frequently need to make deep cuts, you might be better off with a table saw, a radial arm saw, or a compound miter saw, all of which will let you make deeper cuts than most mini circular saws.
You should be able to find information on what size of blades your saw will be able to accommodate in the manual or on the package. You should never use a blade that is larger or smaller in size than what the manufacturer recommends. Doing so could result in injury or damage to the circular saw.
While the size of the blade determines the depth of the cuts you can make, it is the number of teeth that determines the type of material you can cut through. Blades may have anywhere from 14 to 24 teeth.
Blades with more teeth are generally able to make smoother cuts, while blades with fewer teeth cut faster and are more efficient at removing material.
Makita vs Dewalt vs Milwaukee circular saws
When shopping for a circular saw, you will likely come across brands intended for the DIY market such as Ryobi, Black and Decker, Porter-Cable, and Craftsman.
Circular saws from Makita, Milwaukee, and DeWalt are generally better made, more durable, and more effective at a wider variety of cutting tasks.
With these brands, you will essentially be getting pro-quality tools for not much more money than a DIY model. As with all power tools, it is always a good idea to spend a little more for a tool that will better serve you in the long run.
A note on “skill saws”: You may also read or hear woodworkers and DIY’ers refer to circular saws as “skill saws”.
The term comes from “Skilsaw”, which is the first commercially available portable saw. Since 1924, Skilsaw has become virtually synonymous with circular saws, so much so that circular saws are still called “skill saws” to this day.
Circulars saw expected life
Durability is an especially important concern when choosing a circular saw.
Wood is a relatively soft material that most circular saws should be able to handle fairly easily. But you do have to consider the implications of using your saw to cut through boards regularly for weeks at a time.
Add to that the occasional need to cut through boards of a harder material than usual, and a less durable saw might break down over time. A circular saw should, therefore, be able to handle the demands of a typical woodworker’s workshop as well as normal stresses and strains.
A circular saw can last close to a lifetime with care, in even a full-time construction environment.
Brushed or brushless circular saw motor?
Traditionally, circular saws and other power tools had brushed motors consisting of carbon brushes, magnets arranged in a ring, a commutator, and an armature.
The commutator and armature rotate around the shaft of the motor, while the magnets and brushes remain in a fixed position.
In a brushless motor, the placement of the windings and the magnets are reversed. There are also no brushes and no commutator. Instead, there is a small circuit board that provides power to the windings.
Because the electronic circuitry communicates with the windings directly, brushless circular saws can adjust automatically to the task at hand. For this reason, many brushless saws are known as “smart” tools.
The differences in the way that brushed and brushless circular saws work affects their performance as well as their efficiency. Because brushless motors draw only as much power as they need for a given task, cordless models last longer on a single charge.
Many brushless circular saws are more powerful than brushed models as well. Because the windings are outside the motor, there is more space to accommodate larger windings.
The absence of a brush that causes friction and voltage drops results in a more powerful and efficient motor overall. The result is a longer-lasting saw that requires less maintenance. With cordless designs, you get a circular saw that lasts longer between charges.
For occasional DIY you don’t have to worry about replacing the brushes anyway with a brushed model as they take a long time to wear out. The best benefit of a brush-less motor is power and battery efficiency.
How much power should you want?
There are a few factors to consider when assessing the cutting power of a circular saw:
- Rotations per minute (RPM)
Taking note of the wattage is the most direct way to assess the power requirements of a circular saw. Most saws require a starting wattage of 2,400 watts, simply to start the mechanism.
For actual operation, a running wattage of 1,200 watts may be necessary, although most commercially available circular saws run at only 900 watts.
“Amperage” refers to the amount of electricity that the circuitry draws. Saws rated at 1,440 watts typically pull 15 amps. Some models can pull as little as 14 or even 13 amps with no noticeable decrease in performance.
The power that a circular saw draws drives the rotation of the blade. It is therefore important to note how the power requirement of a particular saw translates into “torque”, which is the blade’s circular force measured in rotations per minute (RPM).
Saws with higher RPMs generally cut through wood faster.
Circular saw blade depth
The size of the blade determines how deep you can cut into a given piece of material. Most corded saws have 7.5” blades that can make sufficiently deep cuts into most types of boards.
In contrast, cordless saws typically have smaller blades, which tend to limit the depth at which they could cut.
Don’t think that you can increase the depth capability of your current saw simply by swapping out the blade for a bigger one.
Remember that specific circular saws are designed to accommodate only blades of a specific size. If you need to make deeper cuts than what your current saw is capable of, a much safer solution is to get a saw that can accommodate a bigger blade.
Corded vs. Cordless circular saws
The best corded circular saw will cut through the toughest materials with ease, and you never have to worry about the batteries running out.
But they aren’t always as convenient, as you have to make sure you have a lead and a power outlet nearby. Having a cord to deal with restricts your movements somewhat as the cord can get in the way.
Modern cordless circular saws can be a good alternative to corded models for most crosscutting jobs. Brushless models are quite powerful and are usable pretty much for all cutting jobs. The smaller size also makes them more suitable for working in tight spots and confined spaces.
As for power concerns, many cordless models last a long time between charges if you keep your blade sharp. Look into lithium-ion batteries that have a 4, 5, or 6 amp-hour capacity for longer performance.
Skill saw lasers vs. Lights
Some DIY circular saws have built-in laser lights, but this isn’t always a necessary or a useful feature.
An improperly calibrated laser light may result in less accurate cuts, due to the line position being off. There are also models wherein the width of the laser line doesn’t match up with the thickness of your blade, again resulting in inaccurate cuts.
In most cases, a standard light attachment is a more useful feature to have in a circular saw.
This feature enables you to see your pencil line easily, helping you keep your saw straight and centered.
Aligning your saw is often a matter of cutting along the shadow cast by the light. And because the width of the shadow is dependent on the thickness of the blade, you can make accurate cuts even if you swap out your current blade for a thicker or thinner one.
In circular saws, the handle and motor connect to a base plate or “shoe”. It is the connecting pivot point that makes it possible to adjust the angle of the bevel or the cut depth.
Base plates are usually made of stainless steel, aluminum, or–my personal preference–magnesium.
Base plates made of stainless steel tend to be quite flimsy and can bend out of shape when the saw is dropped. Cast aluminum or cast magnesium plates may crack too if they are dropped from a significant height, although they tend to be more robust than stainless steel plates.
A magnesium base can be identified by this light grey color like the example above. Otherwise, a steel base plate is generally painted black to stop rust build-up
Good angle adjustment is important
Adjustable base plates are necessary for making bevel cuts into the wood. Keep in mind that some saws that cut 45° bevels effectively may not be able to make very deep cuts at 0°.
When choosing a circular saw, you should decide if cutting bevels is more important than making deep cuts and vice versa.
That said, some saws can cut 90° bevels, yet are still able to make sufficiently deep cuts for most applications.
It is especially important to choose a saw that enables you to set angles easily. The best models have easy-to-read gauges that allow you to set angles at one-degree increments.
In contrast, many cheaper circular saws are very inaccurate, requiring the use of a protractor and a separate bevel to set angles manually.
So do yourself a favor and get a circular saw that allows you to cut accurate angles without the need for other measuring tools.
Best builders and DIY’ers cordless saw
Circular saws for builders is of-course an everyday tool. Cordless saws are most useful for tight spots, or for climbing up on to a roof without having to worry about a power lead.
With different blade options, you can cut through a variety of building materials easily, making them perfectly suited for heavy-duty and light-duty cutting work.
Most builders use standard blades that can do crosscuts and ripping, although there are blades that have even more teeth for finishing work.
You could even swap out the blade for one that can cut aluminum, which essentially gives you a very capable metal cutting circular saw.
The Makita XSH03T is light powerful and easy to use and hard to beat when it comes to cordless circular saws.
Features to consider
Magnesium vs. steel base
Magnesium base plates are generally more robust and durable than steel base plates.
They are more resistant to damage when dropped from a height, and they are less likely to get bent out of shape as well.
Circular saws with brush-less motors are more energy-efficient than saws with brushed motors.
With brushed motor models, the brushes rub against the mechanism, causing friction. The result is a considerable loss of energy during operation.
Bigger motors generally provide more power and better performance. You are therefore able to cut thicker boards and get more work done in a shorter amount of time.
Bigger blades enable you to make deeper cuts into the material. You should always use only the blade size recommended by the manufacturer for your specific circular saw.
Using a blade that is larger than recommended may cause injury or damage to the saw.
Bigger motors add considerable weight to a circular saw.
Although you do tend to get more power and better performance with a large motor, the resulting weight might make the saw more difficult to handle.
When choosing a circular saw, it would be best to get a model that provides the power you need at a weight that is light enough for you to handle safely.
Brands such as Makita, Milwaukee, and DeWalt sell professional-level equipment that can handle a wide variety of tasks with ease.
Other brands tend to be under-powered and break easily, requiring more frequent replacement.
It is always better to get a professional circular saw that can easily handle DIY tasks as well, instead of a model marketed for the DIY or hobbyist markets.
A good circular saw should be able to handle even the most demanding jobs without issues.
They should be able to cut through the hardest materials with ease, and consistently make smooth and even cuts, even when regularly used day in and day out.
Circular saws are used frequently in harsh and unforgiving environments, so they should be able to withstand bumps and scrapes–and even dropping–without breaking down.
As with all power tools, quality often comes at a price as far as circular saws are concerned. Going for the cheapest model is rarely a good idea, and you could end up spending more money on repairs and replacements with a substandard model.
As always, my advice is to get the best possible model you can afford in your budget range. Doing so gives you a better performing and longer-lasting unit that provides better overall value for your money.
Comparing cordless circular saws
|Makita XSH03T||Makita XSR01Z||Milwaukee 2730-20||DEWALT DCS391B||Makita XSS02Z||DEWALT DCS570B||SKIL 20V||Milwaukee 2731-20||Hitachi C18DGLP4||Bosch CCS180B|
|Weight||8 lbs||12.4 lbs||8.46 lbs||7.1 lbs||7.5 lbs||7.5 lbs||8.42 lbs||8.5 lbs||6.2 lbs||10.5 lbs|
Tips for using a circular saw
For using a circular saw it is important to have some trigger clamps on hand ready to secure your work or to secure a straight-edge guide. And for heavy amounts of ripping timber use a more powerful corded circular saw.
For ripping timber thicker than just plywood you need to stick to a corded circular saw.
But for most DIY and building jobs, a small circular saw of the cordless variety can be quicker and easier to use.
They cost about the same and some of the best cordless models even do a cut close to matching a corded model.
It’s also good to take the right action on a job that could be done more efficiently and accurately by using a hybrid table saw instead securely resting on a Makita or Dewalt table saw stand.
For portable cutting metals like steel you would use a Makita or Dewalt angle grinder. With both, a had-held grinder and an electric saw you can cut both lumber and metal.
For information on how to use a circular saw safely and avoid kickback have a read of my circular saw guide.
Try and stick to the same brand for all cordless tools if you can. Just like all “battery” tools you want to stick to the same brand so you can interchange the batteries. Don’t get stuck with an average brand from the beginning.
Of course, the most important reason to go for a cordless model is convenience. And Makita is my recommendation for the best brand to stick with.