The Complete Circular Saw Buying Guide

circular saw buying guide

A Cut Above the Rest – Circular Saw Tool Guide for Newbies

I am sure that by now, you know what a circular saw is. It is a common cutting tool that was designed to split different materials such as; wood, steel, masonry etc. with precision and accuracy. The problem is that when people hear about circular saws, they associate the terminology with a toothed blade, which is only made to serve the needs of wood workers.

As ironic as the concept may sound, the modern circular saw is a beast of a tool. Ever since their inception, circular saws can chew a lot more than what they were originally made for.

This article gives an in depth insight on circular saws; how they were invented, nitty gritties and the entire Oshkosh Bigosh. I am not trying to make this thing look like a research paper on saws, but I see a lot of ill-informed readers who could get by with a bit of knowledge and fun facts.

More importantly, the appended info was written in an attempt to help people buy the best circular saw in the market. It is an important decision for DIY-ers, wood workers and especially professionals who make a living out of such products.

A Brief Introduction to Circular Saws:

Remember the story of Samuel Miller, the person who was awarded the first ever patent for inventing a circular saw machine? Maybe you don’t, but if you happen to find any information on British Patent 1152 and 1777, take it all in with a grain of salt. Most of it is lies anyway.

It was a Woman!

circular saw buying guide

Believe it or not, the earliest working model of a circular saw was invented by a Shaker woman, known as Tabitha Babbitt. Rumor has it that Shaker folks in the year 1780 were slightly skeptic about anything that closely resembled a machine. They interpreted science as witchcraft and poor Tabitha had to go through extreme lengths to release her very first circular blade saw.

The sad thing is that while Tabitha’s work was not patented, she did however gain recognition for her invention. Obviously, some bright headed individuals claimed her idea, got it accredited and released a reiteration of the basic circular saw. The latter models were released in Germany, and even supplied to the gallant men of the U.S. Navy.

But it all started from Tabitha’s circular saw… Here’s how

Shaker people might be superstitious, but when it came to lumbermen, there were many hurdles that receded the overall output. Woodcutters spent more time on cutting the logs because they used a long pit saw blade.

The idea was simple; two people used to operate the pit saw while standing at each end. It was a push and pull mechanism which only worked in ONE friggin’ direction. The guys would always bicker about not pushing or pulling enough, but the problem began to pose a threat when the entire Shaker community had enough of economic endurance.

Eventually, Tabitha Babbitt designed and manufactured a pedal powered giant circular saw blade. The interesting thing is that she created a miniature tin disk and tested it to cut a few thin pieces of various materials. When she was entirely satisfied with the concept, she released the circular saw. Her husband pinned the blade to a spinning mechanism.

It was the same time when Shaker people bid farewell to pit saws and incorporated the first ever “industrial” circular saw on job sites. As time went by, various other communities around the U.S. adapted the circular saw model for both private and commercial use. Things were legitimized around the 1800s and patents were created to manufacture circular saws throughout the processing plants in the U.S.

What You Need to Know about Circular Saws?

Regardless of their design, the modern version of circular saws share a lot of similarities. This guide will help you to understand a few things about basics of circular saws, straight cuts and other things that constitute the perfect finished project.

Corded Circular Saws:

As the name suggests, corded circular saws don’t have any battery. They are powered via a wall socket, or any other convenient mode of electricity dispensers. While corded circular saw cripple mobility to some extent, their benefits outweigh cordless saws’.

circular saw

Corded models are robust, relentless and can carve through a variety of materials. You can read my Bosch CSW41 corded circular saw review. It is priced at $200+ and comes with nifty perks such as bevel cuts, ball bearing motor and a versatile carbide circular blade.

An added benefit of corded circular saws is that their features are not capped due to the battery powered limitation. With cords, there is a “no holds” concept in imbuing technology and powerful features in circular saws. If you think wood is the only material that corded circular saws are capable of cutting, do some research on industrial models. The latter are made to cut ice blocks, metal sheets, thick wood panels and all kinds of rough n’ tough stuff that you can think of.

Cordless  Circular Saws:

The biggest advantage of cordless circular saw is raw power and mobility. These saws offer high RPM blade rotation and come without a cord. The entire system is usually handheld, and backed up by a pack of Li-Ion batteries.

Although it’s another thing that some of the cheap cordless circular saw models are undermined due to sloppy battery performance, these setbacks can be replaced with the help of add-on accessories. If you’re a DIY woodworking enthusiast, or someone who’s working in the back of a garage/ confined space, then a cordless circular saw is your thing.

Freedom of Choice: According to a rough estimate, cordless circular saw manufacturers comparatively release products with more abundance and variety. These saws are not only compact, but also maintain a lightweight and easy-to-carry design.

Obviously both cordless and corded circular saws have their own advantages and disadvantages. In a specific situation, you might deem a cordless power tool as an ideal companion over its corded counterparts. The same concept applies to rest of the product categories in the entire power tools industry.

Basic Things to Look for in Corded Vs. Cordless Circular Saws

circular saw tool guide

Whether you are considering buying a corded circular saw, or a cordless one, there are a few similarities in both products. Obviously, they need a blade, a housing, some kind of motor and a grip .What else is there to look out for? Take a look below:

Bevel Cuts: 

I am sure you have either heard about bevel cuts, or read about them on the circular saw box packaging. These cuts are special angle cuts that help refine the material’s visual appeal. At times, bevel/ angled cuts are essential to a project’s ergonomics and working mechanism. Think about angle cut hinges on a cabinet, exterior overhead design and other things.

corded circular saw

Blade Guard Vs. Housing:

A blade guard is the protective cover over the circular saw blade. It comes in both circular and semi circular shape. You can remove it completely or slide it to one side – it depends on the saw’s design. The purpose of the blade guard is to protect you and the blade when it is not in use.

You need limb safety, right? I don’t imagine you working without a hand on your next project because the last circular saw came without a blade guard. It is that important! As far as blade safety is concerned, this comes within the ordinance of product maintenance. Since cordless circular saws are handheld, there is a risk of dropping them accidentally on the floor.

The blade is very sensitive to shocks and direct contact with hardened material. Therefore, whenever the saw is not in use, keep it covered. Worst case scenario, if it topples over or falls down, the blade will remain intact and unharmed. You won’t believe it, but some of the expensive circular saw blades go to the north of $60 - $100. Professionals use them mostly, and they treat them like a baby.

Housing, on the other hand, is an entirely different thing. It is the actual body of the circular saw. The concept applies to both models; cordless and corded circular saw in the same way.

Saw Shoe/ Foot Plate:

A circular saw shoe is the structure underneath the saw. Some people call it the base plate, while others use more technical jargons such as; shoe or whatever. The point is that this little fella’ matters a lot when it comes to circular saws’ stability factor.

A lot of cheap cordless circular saws come with a stainless steel base plate and shoe. It is true that steel is a naturally reinforced material, it has a lot of weight as well. Now we don’t want our cordless circular saws to be heavy, do we? Of course we don’t; who’d wish for a case of carpal tunnel half way through a project.

magnesium blade

If you read my review for the Bare-Tool Milwaukee 2630-30 18 Volt cordless circular saw, you might as well recall that it comes with a magnesium base plate/ housing. Interesting thing about magnesium is that it is not only lightweight, but it’s super strong as well. As that guy from the Fiber Fix tape commercial likes to put it, magnesium is ‘strong as steel’ in case of circular saws. He focuses on the tape, but the concept applies evenly on magnesium made tools.

Moving on, whenever you are out there looking for cordless vs. corded circular saw, make sure you are buying a model with magnesium plating. Another cool thing about a magnesium base in circular saws is that you can put half your body’s weight easily on it. The plate will help you to chisel through all kinds of dense material without bending or breaking.

Depth Adjustment:

circular saw straight cuts

This is where you get to adjust the depth of the cut. Some circular saws grind to a halt when they’re pushed through thick material. Keep an eye out for the depth figure in inches that’s written on the circular saw packaging. For instance, a DeWalt 7.25 Inch circular saw is capable of going to a depth of up to 8 inches.

Note on Bevel Cuts:

Since bevel cuts are angled, some circular saws grant the convenience of tilt motion – that’s when you tilt the saw to a side for cleaner cuts. Most of the circular saws are classified as per their blade diameter size. As I mentioned earlier, 7.25 circular saw blade will go to a depth of 8 inches in some cases, but there is no guarantee of making bevel cuts the deeper you go into a mat!

Side Winder Circular Saw Vs. Worm Drive Circular Saw:

Starting with a worm drive circular saw, these bad boys have their motor located at the right side of the blade. You may have noticed that some saws house the motor assembly on the same axis as the blade. This latter type is called side winder/ inline circular saws. These saws are compact, but so is their capability.

A worm drive saw is meant to take on bigger and tougher projects. The Bosch CSW41 model is a worm drive category circular saw. The company also implemented a ball bearing mechanism; it used to be part of old school circular saws in the market. Ball bearings heat rather quickly, but also at the same time, they allow for fast blade movement – hence granting precise execution through any range of materials.

All worm drive circular saws with ball bearing mechanism have a heat dissipation system in them. Usually it is a copper heat sink. If a heat sink is not there, then with these saws there has to be an alternative solution. Not to forget the fact that ball bearings create friction, which requires for the saw owner to oil the worm drive circular saw after every 10 hours or so.

What Are Amp Hours in Cordless Circular Saws?

Here’s to putting it in a clear and simple way: amps are for corded circular saws, and Volts are for cordless circular saws. Ideally, an 18V to 22V cordless circular saw is best for home based projects. Higher voltage output yields more blade RPM. But at the same time, it is not a derivative of a circular saw’s success rate.

I have seen many circular saws that have a high RPM, but they fail to cut through anything other than plywood. A fine example would be the Porter Cable PCC660B 20V circular saw. The company did not impress a lot of potential customers because of flaws in the saw’s durability and a lack of core features. The Porter Cable PCC660BV model comes with a 20V battery. It is recommended to small scale DIY project enthusiasts; people who are beginning to learn the basics about wood working.

Electric Brake:

circular saw safety mechanism

Last but not the least, the electric brake counts as a safety mechanism in circular saws. It is a common observation that cheap models lean on the absence of an electric brake system. However, you should realize that this safety feature holds the potential of mattering as in a life and death scenario.

Circular saws can inflict serious limb injury at any given day. Saw owners literally put their lives at risk when they are busy creating wonderful products for people all over the world. Electric brakes serve to stop the circular saw blade immediately. At max, the blade will rev 5 – 10 rotations, but it’ll immediately stop.

As far as cheap cordless circular saws are concerned, they have a trigger release safety mechanism. The moment you’ll lift your finger off the trigger, the blade will stop gradually. You should know that in case of a trigger release safety system, the blade will take its own time to come to a full stop. This can be a bit risky, considering that the blade has already made contact with the skin!

Does Blade Type Matter In Circular Saws?

You bet your bippy it does! There are different kinds of circular saw blades. Some of them are attached permanently to the saw, while others come as an add-on accessory. As a matter of fact, all those circular saws which mention the word: “bare” in product name, they usually don’t come with a blade or a battery. The latter two components have to be bought seperately if you want to get anywhere close to making your first cut.

The popular blade types range over different types which help to cut through masonry, steel, wood and other kinds of materials. The most in-demand blades are carbide circular saw blades. They are tough and resilient enough to withstand a bit of a beating. Masonry blades are manufactured for tile cutting – so on and so forth. I don’t suspect that you will be using a masonry blade, but if you ever feel the need to split a brick in equal halves, this blade type is to be used.

Some Popular Circular Saw Brands to Consider:

The market is littered with all kinds of circular saws these days. However, there are only a handful of companies that are worth giving a shot.

SKIL

SKIL is a subsidiary of Bosch. We have all tried Bosch Electronics’ products since the company’s inception. SKIL and Bosch both release their own respective versions of circular saws. The companies have a habit of reviewing competitor products before unleashing their own reiteration of an “ideal” circular saw.

The unique thing about Bosh and SKIL circular saws is the products demonstrate a huge variance in terms of feature to price ratio. Bosch saws are a bit pricey, but SKIL has a habit of releasing affordable models sans a few perks here n’ there.

Ryobi

Ryobi circular saws are more of a hybrid between a corded and cordless design. The company does not release its models in huge frequency, but whenever they do, they try to do things a little different. Ryobi is a trusted brand of choice among entry level enthusiasts.

Dewalt

Dewalt circular saws are among the finest in its category and are easy-to-operate. For every proud construction worker who relies on the comfort and convenience of his power tools, Dewalt might just be the solution to all your cutting needs. Their products are top notch, but they maintain a strong presence among beginner level users.

Makita

Spick n’ span, Makita cordless and corded circular saws are a household brand among woodworkers. The business has maintained a separate line of circular saws for the benefit of industrial and private sector users. Care to use a Makita saw as an aspiring Do-It-Yourself professional? Makita’s your best bet.

The business has also manufactured specialized equipment for table saw owners. Quality wise, Makita saws are a blend of excellence and long lasting performance.

How to Avoid Bad Tear Outs With Your Trusty Circular Saw?

Tear outs are those freaky cuts that happen all of a sudden. They look ugly. One moment the blade is going in an accurate straight line, and the next moment it tilts on its side. If this happens with your circular saw, maybe the fault lies in how you’re using the poor thing.

circular saw cutting depth

A circular saw blade always rotates in upward direction. It means that it’ll ply your face with tons of sawdust to make you look manly! What matters more is that you need to keep an eye out for tear outs.

If the top surface of your cut material sheet has already suffered a tear cut, then you can flip over to the other side. While installing the material, make sure that the affected side is positioned on the back.

If the tear cut is so bad that it hurts everyone’s eyes, then you need to restart all over. I am sorry; what’s done is done. For future reference, avoiding tear cuts is possible with the help  of a laser guided circular saw. Fortunately, some expensive models of both corded and cordless designs come with a LED projector. It projects a single line beam in whichever direction you like.

Speaking of laser LED, the Black & Decker BDECS300C might just be the model you need. It is affordable, and helps to prevent bad tear outs and accidental gashes easily. Just let the laser guide your way. If you are not able to afford a cordless circular saw with an LED pointer, then use a pencil. It’s your last bet.

Maintenance Factor:

Power tool aficionados know that a little bit of maintenance goes a long way. Circular saws are sensitive to humidity; the blade can get rusty over time. Also, you should know how to disassemble and re-assemble your circular saw if you plan on getting a lifetime of 5 – 10 years of unparalleled performance.

Sawdust, and dust particles can clog the mechanism inside the saw. Manufacturers make sure that residual waste material does not accumulate inside or around any of the key components of the circular saw, but dust can access even the tiniest little holes that are not generally visible to the naked eye.

You should give your circular saw a good cleaning after every few months. When not in use, keep the blade covered and secured via the blade guard. By the way, circular saws also require good oiling. Some companies provide a small bottle of standard quality machine oil with each brand new purchase of a cordless/ corded circular saw.

Other companies don’t add the machine oil because they fear that it might leak and stain the entire packaging. Whatever the reasons might be, don’t forget to fetch a bottle of machine oil from your nearest retailer.

Conclusion:

The internet is lined up with all kinds of circular saw cutting guides. You will learn plenty of cool new tricks. Who knows, you might end up with some original tricks of your own. It doesn’t matter whether you are using a cordless or a corded circular saw; it depends on how you use it. Your skill will matter a lot in determining the final looks of a project.

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