It used to be the only cordless circular saws out there were mini saws with small 4¼-inch blades. If you wanted to cut through plywood, MDF, and 2x4s, you would need a corded circular saw. Those days are gone.
Advancements in battery technology have paved the way for a whole new crop of powerful cordless circular saws, some of which can even handle the same 7¼-inch blades that their corded brethren use.
There are many great reasons to own a cordless circular saw. Freed from the constraints of a cord, a cordless circular saw can operate at most job sites without the need for generators or 100-foot power cords. Cordless circular saws also eliminate tripping hazards and cord snags that can cause hitches in a cut.
This article covers some of the main features you should consider when shopping for the best circular saw. The list below features cordless circular saws that make the cut when it comes to performance and value.
- BEST OVERALL: Makita XSS02Z 18V LXT Cordless 6-1/2″ Circular Saw
- RUNNER-UP: Bosch Bare-Tool CCS180B 18-Volt Circular Saw
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: PORTER-CABLE 20V MAX 6-1/2-Inch Cordless Circular Saw
- BEST SMALL SIZE: BLACK+DECKER 20V MAX 5-1/2-Inch Cordless Circular Saw
- BEST SIDEWINDER: DeWalt 20V Max 7-14-Inch Circular Saw
- BEST WORM DRIVE: Makita XSR01PT 18V Rear Handle Circular Saw
- BEST LIGHTWEIGHT: EnerTwist 20V Max 4-1/2” Cordless Circular Saw
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Cordless Circular Saw
A few things to consider when shopping for a cordless circular saw include style, power output, blade size, and features.
Sidewinder vs. Worm Drive
Sidewinder versus worm drive is one of the most hotly debated topics in the world of woodworking. Let’s take a closer look.
Worm-drive circular saws and sidewinder saws differ mainly in the placement of the motor. A worm drive’s motor attaches to the back of the saw and engages with the blade via two gears—the spiral “worm” gear and another gear—which transfers the motor’s energy to the blade. Because this setup is less direct, most worm-driven blades do not spin as fast as sidewinder blades, hitting maximum speeds of only around 4,500 rpm. A worm drive saw uses larger gears, which gives it more torque than a sidewinder, allowing it to absorb shock better and take on tougher cutting jobs.
Worm drives have a longer and narrower profile than sidewinder circular saws, which extends the operator’s reach and allows access to tighter spaces. This makes them ideal for jobs like remodeling and framing.
Sidewinder saws have their motors on the saw side, which makes their profile wider, shorter, and lighter than a worm drive saw. This compact shape makes the saw easier to handle and better-suited for inexperienced users. Sidewinder saws use a spur-gear to turn the blade at speeds close to 6,000 rpm.
It used to be that cordless circular saws were less powerful than corded varieties. Thanks to advancements in battery technology, the power gap has closed dramatically. In fact, many cordless circular saws are more powerful than corded circular saws.
Circular saws’ power rating is measured in rotations per minute (rpm). Most cordless circular saws have 4,000 rpm, with higher-end saws boasting 5,000 rpm or more. The higher the rpms, the better the cutting power. Keep in mind that rpms are not necessarily a good indication of torque. Though a worm drive saw may have lower rpm than a sidewinder saw, its design gives it more torque.
Given the substantial power requirements of a circular saw, cordless circular saws feature a rechargeable 18-volt or 20-volt lithium-ion battery that attaches to the saw. Many manufacturers design their batteries to work interchangeably with their entire cordless power tools lineup, including cordless circular saws.
Because cordless circular saws usually don’t have as much power as corded saws, most can’t handle a full 7¼-inch blade. While smaller blades will produce more torque because they are easier for the motor to turn, they are limited in cutting depth.
The majority of cordless circular saws feature 6½-inch blades, although a few high-end saws use 7¼-inch blades. A 6½-inch blade offers a maximum cutting depth of 2⅛ inches, while a larger 7¼-inch blade can cut to a depth of 2-7/16 inches. Smaller cordless circular saws will feature both 5½-inch blades and even 4½-inch blades.
Brushed vs. Brushless Motor
The main difference between brushed and brushless motors has to do with friction. Without going into the mechanics of how each motor works, a brushless motor produces less friction, resulting in an efficiency rating of between 85 and 90 percent. In comparison, brushed motors lose more energy to friction, resulting in 75 to 80 percent efficiency.
While this difference may not amount to much for corded circular saws that have access to a limitless supply of 110-volt power, it has a significant impact on cordless saws. The higher the efficiency rating, the less energy is lost to friction, which means more of the battery’s power goes toward turning the saw blade. This equates to more cuts before the battery loses its charge.
A higher efficiency rating also means a 20-volt battery can dedicate more power to turning the blade, resulting in more torque and higher maximum rpm. The most powerful cordless circular saws, including those capable of turning 7¼-inch blades, use brushless motors.
Also, because they produce less friction, brushless motors create less heat, which reduces the likelihood of overheating that could damage the motor.
Cordless circular saws feature similar safety features to corded saws, including retracting blade guards and blade locks that immediately stop the blade once the trigger switch is released.
Cordless circular saws also use trigger safeties to prevent accidental start-ups. Other safety features include molded handles with rubberized grips that prevent the tool from slipping out of the operator’s hands.
In addition to standard features such as bevel and depth adjustments, cordless circular saws also offer new technologies designed to extend the saw’s life. Some saws will shut off if the saw is overheating or if the battery is close to overloading. Higher-end saws have waterproof seals that resist water and dust, allowing them to withstand the harsh environment of an outdoor worksite. Some saws will even automatically adjust torque and speed based on the workload to optimize performance.
Our Top Picks
The saws below are made by some of the most respected and well-established power tool manufacturers in the world. They feature powerful motors and cutting-edge cordless technology.
With a powerful motor that delivers 5,000 rpm, the Makita brushless cordless 6½-inch circular saw is at the top of its class. While there are other saws on the market that are just as powerful, Makita’s use of cutting-edge technology raises this model to a higher level. This includes its automatic speed technology, which makes automatic adjustments to the saw’s speed and torque to optimize performance based on what is being cut.
Makita also equips this saw with a brushless motor, which reduces friction, leading to longer run times before recharging is needed. This saw is built to endure the rigors of a work site with a series of seals that protect the motor from water and dust, making it an excellent option for outdoor use. Helping extend its life is a technology that allows the battery to communicate with the motor to prevent overheating and overloading.
One of the challenges with a cordless power tool is its battery, which after just a couple of years begins a slow march to death with ever-shortening usage times between recharges. Bosch uses a protection system that prevents the battery from overloading, extending its life. The same technology also prevents the motor from overheating, ensuring that it will also be around for a long time. Be sure to take advantage of every single one of the 4,000 rpm of power this saw puts out—enough to cut through up to 2-inch thick wood.
Other features include a 50 percent bevel for a wide range of angled cuts and an electronic brake stop that ensures you won’t have to stand by idly after each cut, waiting for the blade to wind down.
If you thought you had to pay a lot for a quality cordless circular saw, think again. Longtime tool manufacturer Porter Cable’s cordless saw offers exceptional value without cutting corners. There’s no compromise with power here as this 20-volt saw puts out an impressive 4,000 rpm of cutting force, allowing it to cut wood up to 2-inches thick.
That said, there are some trade-offs when it comes to price. It does lack the battery- and motor-saving technologies of higher-end saws. And some of its construction isn’t as durable, with a plastic cover versus a longer-lasting metal one. While this circular saw may not offer enough durability for pros, its power and affordability make it a good option for a home DIYer.
Though not as powerful as its larger cousins, this compact cordless circular saw packs a punch in a compact and easy-to-transport form. This cordless saw uses a smaller 5½-inch blade, limiting its cutting ability but giving it excellent torque, allowing it to cut through tougher materials. And with its lighter weight, it’s easy to handle, not only making it easy to transport to the work site but also great for above-the-head use and other awkward cuts.
Other features include a bevel adjustment for angled cuts and a tool-free depth adjuster. This saw is an excellent option for occasional home use or for DIYers who want a saw that’s easier to handle.
DeWalt has a reputation for making powerful cordless tools, and this cordless circular saw is no exception. While it may lack some of the cutting-edge technology of other high-end cordless circular saws, it’s one of the only ones that feature a 7¼-inch blade. That’s because most cordless saws can’t supply the torque needed to power such a blade.
With its 5,200-rpm brushless motor, this circular saw doesn’t have that problem. The added size allows for cuts up to 2-9/16-inches deep. The DeWalt 20V Max doesn’t disappoint with battery life either. It can make up to 330 crosscuts on a single charge. Other features include a 57- degree range for bevel cuts, an LED light for added visibility during cuts, and an electronic brake.
It’s tough to beat the power and technology packed into this formidable worm-drive saw from Makita. A powerful 5,100-rpm motor puts it on par with many corded circular saws. That’s enough juice to drive a full-size 7¼-inch blade, which gives it a 2-9/16-inch maximum cutting depth.
Makita is known for its advancements in battery and motor-saving technologies, and those are on full display with this saw. Brushless technology allows the saw to operate 50 percent longer on a single charge while reducing heat from friction, ensuring that the motor will last a long time. Automatic speed change technology adjusts speed and torque while in use to optimize performance. And, if that’s not enough, Makita’s Star Protection Technology protects against battery overload.
Designed to be wielded with only one hand, the EnerTwist’s diminutive size and light weight makes it one of the more versatile cordless circular saws you can buy. Make overhead cuts, cuts on vertical surfaces, in hard-to-reach areas, and in small places with this mini circular saw, which weighs in at just 4.5 lbs. and features a 4½-inch blade.
This saw can cut to a depth of up to 1-11/16 inches, just enough to get through a standard 2×4 and make bevel cuts up to 45 degrees. Features include a laser guide and a side guide for accuracy. A large handle is easy to grip while soft padding adds comfort, making controlling this saw with one hand a relative breeze.
How to Use a Cordless Circular Saw
A cordless circular saw is an invaluable tool for jobs that take you away from the workshop. With recent developments in technology, cordless circular saws are closing the gap with their corded cousins. More powerful batteries and brushless motors mean cordless saws can operate the same 7¼-inch blades as corded circular saws. Because a cordless circular has its own power source, it’s free to go wherever it’s needed.
To get the best performance out of a cordless circular saw, it’s essential to follow some important safety and operation guidelines.
- Choose the right blade. This goes beyond just selecting the appropriate size for your cordless circular saw. There are many different types of blades designed to cut different materials, from rip blades to cross-cut blades to general purpose blades. Choosing the right blade is key to making successful cuts.
- Install the blade correctly. Once you’ve selected the proper blade, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for proper blade installation. This typically involves removing the ⅝-inch bolt holding the blade to the drive with a wrench. Make sure the blade is facing the right direction. Most blades have an arrow printed on them, delineating its proper rotation direction.
- Calibrate the proper depth and bevel angle. Cordless circular saws feature depth gauges and bevel adjustments. Make sure to calibrate these features for the cut you’re making.
- Wear the proper safety gear. Before operating a cordless circular saw, make sure you have the proper safety gear, including safety glasses.
- Operate the saw safely. Except for smaller 4½-inch cordless circular saws, most cordless circular saws require two hands for safe use: a handle that includes the trigger and a knob-like grip toward the front of the unit. This allows for optimal control of the saw while preventing fingers from getting in the blade’s path. Finally, make sure the retractable guard is in place before cutting.
FAQs About Your New Cordless Circular Saw
Below we’ll address some of the most commonly asked questions about cordless circular saws.
Q. How do cordless circular saws work?
As with a corded circular saw, a cordless saw works using a small motor to power a circular blade. While a corded saw is powered by direct current electricity from a standard electrical outlet, a cordless circular saw uses an 18- or 20-volt battery attached to the saw.
Q. How long does a cordless circular saw last?
Manufacturers rate saws by the number of cuts they can make before needing a recharge. While this is difficult to measure, given that different materials and different cuts demand different amounts of power, a standard cordless circular saw can make as many as 300 cuts on a single charge.
Q. Why are most cordless saws left-handed?
Most cordless circular saws have left-side blades, which means the motor and the bulk of the weight are on the right side. Because of this configuration, the trigger handle is held with the left hand and the stabilizing knob on the front of the saw is held with the right hand. This design maximizes visibility, allowing the operator to get a clear view of the cut line.