Corded Circular Saws - Canadian Woodworking Magazine

Shop Tools


Corded Circular Saws

Photos courtesy of manufacturer

While I use a table saw for most accurate crosscuts and rips, you can't beat the convenience of a circular saw for some of those rougher cuts, like when cutting a small piece off the end of a long board. Cutting full sheets of plywood on the table saw isn't easy, so I also use a circular saw to cut sheets down into slightly oversized panels, ready to be trimmed to final sizes on the table saw later. And of course, there is the inevitable on-site work where a circular saw is vital. This tool excels on the job site for all kinds of tasks like framing, building decks and so on. Here are some of the features you should consider when looking to purchase a circular saw.
Weight and Power
Sometimes power comes at a price – increased weight. Unless you're cutting through a lot of hardwood or really thick timbers, power might not be so important. Still, getting the most powerful saw in a lightweight package is always an advantage. Among the most common entry level corded models, amperage can vary from as little as 10 amps right on up through 15 amps. You can't get higher than 15 amps on a regular 120 volt plug, so that is where these machines top out. As for weight, they can vary from 9½ lbs. up to almost 20 lbs. An average weight at the 15 amp level is about 10 lbs., which isn't bad for the average woodworker. Depending on your size and strength, you might not mind a heavier model.
Bevel Capacity and Stops
While circular saws are most often used at 90º, angled cuts do come up from time to time. The ability to angle the blade to 45º or more is important. Having pre-set stops for common angles is handy to prevent guesswork, although I wouldn't expect stops to be perfectly accurate. Most entry models will bevel to 45º. Some bevel to 50º or 51.5º, and I've seen models that tilt up to 56º. Stops are most common for 0º (vertical) and 45º, but some models also have a stop for 22.5º. Many models have no stops at all, so you'll need to use some form of an angle-finding tool to set the blade angle.
Depth of Cut
If you need to cut through thicker boards, having a large depth of cut capacity is important. The most common blade size has a 7 ¼" diameter, but maximum cut depth varies from one model to another. This varies depending on whether the blade is set vertically (90º) or at 45º. Of the different models I looked at, the maximum depth of cut at 90º varied from about 2 ¼" to 2 ½". At 45º, maximum cutting depth varied from about 1 ⅝" to 115⁄16". You aren’t likely to need the full capacity very often, but it’s great to know you have it when you need it. Sometimes a really thick beam can be cut by cutting half-way through from both sides, which might require the full depth of cut. On the downside, you can expect a fair bit of blade flex from the typically thin 7 1/4" blades at full cutting depth, especially with hardwoods.
RPMs and Noise
Motor RPMs vary a fair bit from one model to another. In reviewing a number of models, I saw RPM ratings from about 4,600 to 6,000. Higher RPMs might help you hog through those difficult boards, giving the tool more momentum before bogging down. But some of those higher RPM models can let out a high-pitched scream. Manufacturers should be able to provide you with decibel ratings at a specific distance. In any event, wear hearing protection with these power tools. Remember your safety glasses too.
Left or Right Blade
Most circular saws have the blade on the right and are designed for a right-handed person. This makes it handy for smaller crosscuts where the tool should ride on the board, not the off-cut. The off-cut falls away to the right of the blade. The right-handed circular saw, though, can sometimes be awkward for ripping on wide panels. In order to push the tool over the main panel, not the off-cut, one has to reach a lot further and can't always get a good look at the cut line. Some manufacturers are now making circular saws with the blade on the left and marketing them as having a clearer sight-line even for right-handers. I'm not sure if I would want that design for crosscutting, though, and that happens more often on the job site. Whenever I can't reach any further across a wide panel, I go around to the other side and pull the saw. It might seem awkward, but most saws have two handles and it is just as easy to pull the saw on longer cuts.
Ease of Blade Changes
Everyone wants a tool with convenient features, and blade changes are just one of them. The least convenient type of blade change systems requires two wrenches – one to lock the spindle and a second one to loosen the nut. The more convenient system has a spindle lock, which is usually a button or lever that locks the spindle in one place. In that case, only one wrench is required. At least one manufacturer has now come out with a completely keyless blade change. This will probably become more common in future. But until then, keep the wrench close to the machine so that you don't lose it.
Cord Length
It seems basic, but a long cord saves you from needing an extension cord every time. Some manufacturers, however, have taken a different view. Some believe that an extension cord is inevitable. So rather than having a medium length cord on the machine plus an extension cord, they simply provide the tool with no cord at all. The extension cord plugs directly into the tool so that you aren't dragging a large plug around with you, which is likely to snag on something and pull the cord apart. This is an interesting viewpoint that is getting more popular in the construction trade.
Edge Guides
Some circular saws come with an edge guide which allows you to make straight cuts by following along an existing edge. You will also see such a feature with some jig saws. Often these 'add-on' jigs are pretty light-duty and don't work very well. But if you find one that has some weight to it and a good sized span, it could come in handy. Remember that circular saws aren't just for through cuts. They can also be used to cut a dado or groove. Cutting a groove parallel to an existing edge is something for which an edge guide would be very useful. If an edge guide isn't available, a straight edge clamped to your work piece works very well. Make your own with a piece of wood or look at the many commercial straight edges available. These are great for routers, circular saws and other power tools.


Other Features
There are a few other features you might find on some circular saw models. For example, an electric brake will stop the spinning blade quickly after making a cut, making the tool a little safer. However, you aren't likely to find this feature on an entry level model. Yet another feature some models advertise is a powerful blower that blasts air through the cutting area, giving you a clearer view of the cut line. In general, many manufacturers are now designing circular saws with an improved sight-line to the cutting action.

Before buying a circular saw, give it a test run if you can. At the very least, hold it in your hands to see if it has a comfortable feel. See if its weight seems reasonable compared to others. Can you see the cutting area clearly? Sometimes the best tool is simply the one that just feels right.

Note: Prices listed in this review were correct at time of printing, but may not reflect current prices. See links/retailer for updated prices.

7 1/4" Corded Circular Saws
Black and Decker CS1030L
Bosch CS20
DeWalt DW368
Hitachi C7SB2
King 8307L
Makita 5007FAK
Milwaukee 6375-21
Porter Cable 325MAG
Ridgid_R3203(6 1_2" model)
Ridgid R3203 (6 1/2" model)
Ryobi CSB141LZK
Craftsman 10860
Skil 5450-01

Looking for tools for your shop? Watch for upcoming reviews on:
• Jig Saws
• Belt Sanders
• Drill-Drivers
• Grinders

Hendrik Varju