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How to Choose a Circular Saw

Updated on September 25, 2013

Choosing a Circular Saw

A circular saw is one of the first power tools that most people buy, there is a good reason for this it, it is one of the most useful. There is not a lot that you can't do with a circular saw.

If you are buying one for the first time it can be a bit confusing as there are bewildering array of options. Fortunately there are really only a few things that you really have to look at when you are choosing a circular saw to make sure that you get a good one.

It is wise to invest in a good quality saw right from the start. This should cost you about a hundred dollars but can go up considerably higher for a top of the line worm drive circular saw. Not only will a good saw last longer but it will also be easier to use and safer.

Cordless or Not?

The first thing that you have to ask yourself when you are considering a circular saw is whether to go with a cordless circular saw or one that has a cord. The advantage of using a cordless is that it allows you to use your saw wherever you want to without having to worry about where you are going to get power.

There is of course a major disadvantage to a cordless circular saw and that is that it does not have nearly the power that a corded saw has. Most users will find that they are better off going with a corded circular saw because of the extra power. A cordless is really only necessary if you are going to be doing regular work where you know that you are not going to have access to electricity.

Worm Drive Circular Saw
Worm Drive Circular Saw

Sidewinder or Worm Drive?

If you decide to go with a corded saw there are two types that you can choose from. The first is the traditional sidewinder the second is a worm drive circular saw. The worm drive uses a system of gears to turn the blade rather than a direct drive.

The advantage that a worm drive circular saw has is that it has quite a bit more torque than a sidewinder. It also tends to last longer. One other reason that a lot of people like them is that the blade is on the left making it easier to line up the cut if you are right handed.

There are however some serious disadvantages to a worm drive that need to be considered before you buy one. The first is that they are very heavy compared to a sidewinder and because the blade is on the left it is over the cutoff piece which means you have to support the whole weight of the saw. A worm drive is also quite a bit more expensive than a sidewinder and requires more maintenance.

In general most people are better off with a sidewinder type circular saw, a worm drive is ideally suited for framing work but for most other jobs the disadvantages outweigh the advantages.


When you are considering a circular saw one of the most important considerations is power, you want to make sure that you get a saw that can cut through wood easily. You do have to be careful when it comes to assessing power however as it can be somewhat confusing.

Most circular saw manufacturers talk about how many Amps the saw draws. This does not actually tell you how much power the saw has, just how much electricity it draws, what you really want to know is how much of that power gets transferred to the blade.

Horsepower is a much better indication of a saws power as it tells you how much torque the saw has which is what really matters. Even here however you have to be careful as what is usually listed is the no load torque. What you are really interested in is how much torque the saw has while under load, that is while cutting. You usually have to dig pretty deep into the saws specifications to find this number.

Cordless Circular Saw
Cordless Circular Saw


How you plan to use your saw is going to be a factor in determining the size of the saw that you buy. When we talk about size we are talking about the diameter of the blade. Most corded circular saws have a 7 1/4 inch blade while most cordless saws have a 6 1/2 inch blade. These are ideal for general use and probably the best option for most people.

If you are going to be doing a lot of trim work however you may want to get a saw that is designed for this. Generally these saws have blades that are 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 inches. This allows for finer cuts.

If you are going to be doing a lot of framing work you may want to go the other way and get a larger saw. You can get them up to 14 inches but that is bit impractical for most people. An 8-1/4 inch saw is usually the standard size for framers.

Other Considerations

There are a few other things that you are going to want to look at when you are choosing a circular saw. This will include things like durability, you want a saw that is well built and will last. It is generally best to avoid the cheap saws, the price may be tempting but you will go through them so fast that in the long run you would have saved money by investing in a good one from the start.

You are also going to want to make sure that the saw is easy to adjust, it is very easy to change the bevels or blade depth on some saws and surprisingly difficult on others. You are also going to want to make sure that the blade is easy to change, if you use your saw on a regular basis you will be doing this a lot.

Lastly you want to make sure that the saw is comfortable to use. This tends to be personal things, a saw that feels comfortable in one person's hands may not in another person's. The best thing to do here is to try out several saws before you make your choice to see which one you are most comfortable with.


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