The Best Circular Saws for DIYers and Pros
Get the speed and accuracy your projects require with a top-rated circular saw that truly makes the cut.
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- BEST OVERALLMakita 5007MG 7 1/4" Circular SawCheck Latest Price
- BEST CORDLESSDEWALT 20V 7 1/4" Circular SawCheck Latest Price
- BEST FOR HEAVY DUTYSKILSAW SAWSQUATCH 10 1/4" Circular SawCheck Latest Price
The words “versatile” and “tool” are used together so often these days, it’s hard to tell whether it’s the truth or just marketing. Take a quick tour through a construction site, though, and you’ll see that the circular saw—a handheld electric saw that uses a circular, spinning blade to cut—is the real deal when it comes to versatility.
A good home workshop also warrants a reliable, powerful saw that can make short work of a variety of tasks, from breaking down a sheet of plywood to making quick, repetitive cuts on a stack of framing lumber. Circular saws, when set up correctly, can even cut grooves and dados.
Almost every power tool company sells a circular saw, so choosing the right one for your workshop can be challenging. Whether you’re a DIYer seeking a lightweight cordless option or a pro in the market for a feature-loaded model, this guide will help you get a handle on what to look for. Plus, we’ll tip you off as to which of the best circular saw options top our list of recommendations.
- BEST OVERALL: Makita 7-1/4-Inch Circular Saw
- BEST CORDLESS: DEWALT 7-1/4-Inch Circular Saw
- BEST FOR HEAVY DUTY: SKILSAW 10-1/4-Inch SAWSQUATCH Circular Saw
- BEST VALUE: CRAFTSMAN 7-1/4-Inch Circular Saw
- BEST FOR PROS: SKILSAW 7-1/4-Inch Lightweight Circular Saw
Motor alignment, run speed, amperage, and blade types are all essential aspects of a circular saw. Here’s a quick primer to get you started.
Sidewinder vs. Worm Drive
Nope, it’s not a professional wrestling bout! Sidewinder and worm drive refer to motor alignment and position on a circular saw. Sidewinder models’ motors are installed in line with the blade, enabling them to run at high speeds in a compact footprint. Worm drive models have a motor in the rear of the saw and use a set of worm gears (so-called because of their spiraling worm shape) by the blade. Worm drive saws, which are usually longer, larger, and heavier than sidewinders, tend to reduce speed but increase torque. They also require oil to lubricate the gears, so users should check their oil level daily.
Bottom line: For speed, size, and ease of maintenance, a sidewinder model is the way to go; for power and torque, worm drive saws reign supreme.
Blade Size and Types
One obvious difference between circular saws is the size of their blades. Each uses a particular size blade, from as small as 1/2-inch to as large as 16-5/16 inches. The range is pretty extensive, but the average person can get most framing and construction jobs done with a 7-1/4-inch model.
Popular blade types include all-purpose, framing, finish, and plywood blades. The tooth-count, or the amount of teeth around a blade, is the determining factor to what projects a blade works best for. The lower the tooth-count, the rougher the cut will be, making these blades suitable for framing or demolition. Higher-count blades should be used for cabinetmaking, plywood, and finish work.
Pro tip: Circular saws cut on the “upswing,” meaning the cutting half of the blade (the part under the shoe) spins towards the front of the saw. This will inevitably cause tiny slivers of wood to “tear out” of the wood—particularly when cutting plywood—creating noticeably rough edges that detract from the quality of work. To minimize tear-out, lay a piece of painters’ tape over your cutline to hold these fibers in place. You can also cut wood face-side down to eliminate tear-out concerns on the face of the wood.
Amperage and Speed
Amperage refers to the amount of electrical power a motor can withstand without its inner components failing. In the past, electric motors were weaker and not as capable, so amperage was an important specification to tout. Listing amperage has become somewhat of a tradition, as it’s still emblazoned across most circular saws’ packaging, even though these days, nearly all electric circular saws use 15 amp motors.
A saw’s speed, however, can be a consideration, since the faster the blade spins, the quicker it can cut through a material. But speeds tend to be relative, because a 15-amp motor can spin a 7-1/4-inch blade faster than it can spin a 10-1/4-inch blade. Generally speaking, when it comes to 7-1/4-inch saws, speeds between 5,000 and 5,500 RPMs are common and should be adequate for fast, accurate results.
Keep in mind that blade speed has nothing to do with the density of material a saw can cut. This is largely dependent on the blade type and quality.
Corded vs. Battery Power
As with any power tool, corded circular saws tie you to the power source (i.e., an electric socket) whereas battery-operated models can go anywhere. On most professional job sites, cordless circular saws are shunned in favor of corded units—and there’s historical basis for this bias. When battery-powered circular saws hit the market, they were far inferior to a good corded option in both power and speed. They also went through battery life very quickly and would jam as soon as the blade felt any resistance.
Today’s battery-operated models, however, have much more power and far longer battery life. Much of this improvement is due to the adoption of brushless motors (the latest, most efficient technology that’s also maintenance-free) and lithium-ion batteries. For a DIYer who tends to tackle projects outside of the shop, a new battery-powered option can’t be beat. But corded models still rule if you’ll be using the saw all day long. After all, an extension cord is always available, and there’ll be no downtime for charging batteries.
Ease of Adjustment
Certain materials, such as plywood and other sheet goods, require a shallow blade depth while others (framing applications, 4×4 posts, etc.) demand the full depth a saw can muster. So for true versatility, a circular saw should allow you to easily make quick and accurate depth adjustments. Look for a saw that uses a lever instead of a knob for depth adjustment. Levers release quickly and tighten easily, and their holding power tends to be better than knobs.
Almost all models use knobs to adjust the blade angle, however. Knobs tend to be more accurate at dialing in the perfect angle, although they’re a bit of a hassle to loosen and tighten when wearing work gloves. The most important consideration when it comes to blade angle adjustment is an easily accessible knob. Some manufacturers put these knobs in the strangest of places—for instance, the rear of the saw between the handle and blade guard—but an angle-adjustment knob in front of the motor where it’s easy to access is the smartest design.
The base plate that rides on the material is known as a shoe, which will generally be made of one of three materials:
- Steel, though once popular, is hardly ever used today by reputable saw-makers. Steel is inexpensive and sturdy, but also very heavy.
- Aluminum is far lighter than steel, but more expensive and not as tough.
- Magnesium, which is about 30 percent of the weight-per-volume of aluminum, is the high-tech metal of choice for circular saw shoes. Magnesium is stronger than aluminum (and even steel in some applications) and easier to manufacture, but considerably more expensive.
1. BEST OVERALL: Makita 7-1/4-Inch Circular Saw
For all-around capability, performance, and features, the Makita 7-1/4-Inch Circular Saw is a great choice. This powerful corded model uses a 15-amp motor and runs at speeds up to 5,800 RPMs, making it the fastest model on the list. The 5007MG uses two built-in LED lights and a built-in dust blower, so it’s easy to keep your eyes on the cutline. The saw also weighs in at only a little over 10 pounds, thanks to the use of lightweight magnesium on the shoe, blade guard, and other components. The retractable blade guard is unfortunately clunky and tends to hang up when you start cutting. To compensate for this, you can use your free hand to hold the guard back a bit, but that’s no easy feat if you’re not working on a bench or set of sawhorses.
2. BEST CORDLESS: DEWALT 7-1/4-Inch Circular Saw
DEWALT was at the forefront of brushless technology and lithium-ion battery technology—and the company’s 20V 7-1/4-inch circular saw has secured its spot as best battery-powered model. It uses the same 20V battery that most of the DEWALT line-up now uses (so those invested in the 20V line of products will have a host of compatible batteries), and its run speed of 5,200 RPMs lets it keep up with some of the burliest corded options. The saw is on the high end price-wise, and some users complain of blade wobbling that creates a wider and less accurate cut; this makes the saw better suited for framing than cabinet-grade work.
3. BEST FOR HEAVY DUTY: SKILSAW 10-1/4-Inch SAWSQUATCH Circular Saw
SKIL is such a well-known saw maker, many people call all circular saws “Skilsaws”—and believe it or not, the company’s SAWSQUATCH is its mid-sized model at 10-1/4 inches. This worm drive saw can cut both framing materials and sheet goods, and also handle thick timbers. Deck builders and timber framers will appreciate the quick and accurate cuts the SAWSQUATCH can make in one pass. It uses a 15-amp motor and runs at a top speed of 4,600 RPMs with plenty of torque. Only trouble is its large size and weight: At 16 pounds, this burly saw can tire out a DIYer pretty quickly.
4. BEST VALUE: CRAFTSMAN 7-1/4-Inch Circular Saw
Not everyone needs all of the features of a top-of-the-line battery saw, or the heavy-duty capability of a timber-framing model. If your projects include an occasional small framing job or breaking down plywood sheets, and saving money is a priority, the affordable CRAFTSMAN 7-1/4-Inch Circular Saw is a fine choice. This 15-amp model runs at 5,500 RPMs, and features a magnesium shoe for reduced weight. However, plastic parts like the depth and angle adjustments account for most of the weight savings, which means this 11-pound model might not be the most durable saw in the long run.
5. BEST FOR PROS: SKILSAW 7-1/4-Inch Lightweight Circular Saw
This SKILSAW 7-1/4-Inch Lightweight Circular Saw is the go-to model on most construction sites nationwide. This unit is perfect for framing, carpentry, and even cutting sheet goods. It’s strong, torque-y, and boasts a long shoe that easily makes straight cuts across several boards. Despite using worm drive, this model barely sacrifices any speed, running at 5,300 RPMs. The trade-off is size and weight—a hefty 11-1/2 pounds. Though probably overkill for a DIYer, a pro will appreciate the capability and versatility.