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May 10, 2016

The best circular saw

by John_A

By Doug Mahoney

This post was done in partnership with The Sweethome, a buyer’s guide to the best things for your home. Read the full article here.

After thoroughly vetting over 35 circular saws and testing four, we feel the best one for most people is the SKILSAW SPT67WM-22. It excels at every task a good circular saw should and has great features we didn’t see on the rest of the saws we tried.

How we picked and tested

The tested saws. Photo: Doug Mahoney

After reading everything we could on the topic of circular saws and tapping into our own construction experience, we feel that the best saw for most people is one that has a direct drive motor and a blade-right orientation. Most saws manufactured today follow this pattern, and we didn’t feel it necessary to deviate from these norms. For specific features within this framework, we looked for saws with either an aluminum or magnesium baseplate, a bevel that goes beyond 45 degrees, an easy-to-use depth-of-cut adjustment, and a relatively light weight (below 10 pounds).

We found that the sweet spot for pricing is between $85 and $130. In this range are saws from respected manufacturers that meet our criteria. Circular saws priced lower than our range all have steel baseplates, which bend easily when dropped. The ones priced above our range really get into contractor pricing.

For testing, we outfitted each tool with a Freud Diablo 24-tooth framing blade and started cuttin’. Over the course of three days, we cut everything from dense pressure-treated wood to 2-by-10s to delicate birch veneer plywood. While using the saws, we looked at ease of adjustments, sight lines, and the accuracy of the cut-line indicators. We examined how easy each saw was to adjust and the sturdiness of the connection between the saw and the baseplate. We knew that handling and ergonomics would be a big piece of the puzzle, so we kept a close eye on handle design, balance, and overall feel.

Our pick

With more power and better features than its competitors, the SKILSAW is an easy-to-use circular saw that we’d recommend to most buyers. Photo: Doug Mahoney

The circular saw we’d get is the SKILSAW SPT67WM-22. In our tests, it had the power to cut through dense, wet pressure-treated wood and thick slabs of engineered lumber, but it also had enough precision to take on more delicate finish work. For added safety and control, the handle of the saw is set lower than on other models, putting the pushing force behind the saw rather than above it. One standout feature you see on top-quality saws like this one is a magnesium footplate and motor housing, which make it durable and lightweight—it’s 9½ pounds, compared with the 10-plus pounds some other circular saws weigh. The depth-of-cut gauge is marked according to common lumber thicknesses rather than a straight imperial scale like on the other saws, making accurate depth adjustments on this tool faster and simpler. Its easy-to-read bevel gauge can angle the blade to an extra-steep 56 degrees (others stop at 45), and accurate cut-line indicators are at the front and back of the baseplate. It also has convenient onboard wrench storage for changing the blade.

Runner-up: Decent saw, great price

The RIDGID isn’t as full-featured as our pick, but its lighter weight and great ergonomics make it a pleasant, easy saw to use—and it’s often sold at a lower price than our pick, too. Photo: Doug Mahoney

If the SKILSAW isn’t available or you’re looking to make less of an investment, we also like the RIDGID Fuego 6½-Inch Compact Framing Circular Saw. This was by far the lightest saw we tested and that, combined with the great handle design, made it an easy tool to hold and maneuver. It doesn’t have the overwhelming power or the innovative features of our main pick, but it cut everything we threw at it.

What about cordless circular saws and worm drives?

Worm drives, like the DeWalt DWS535 (left) are extremely powerful, but they’re much larger, weigh a lot more, and are simply too much saw for the non-pro. Photo: Doug Mahoney

Cordless circular saws are convenient, but, for most, they’re not worth the added cost. If you already have a collection of cordless tools (and their batteries), getting a cordless saw may make sense, although even buying one without a battery comes at a cost premium. Unless you really need the mobility and quick setup of a cordless, a quality corded tool will be a better fit because you won’t have to worry about battery life or the tool not being powerful enough for the task.

The other style of saw, aside from direct drives, are the worm drives, or hypoid saws. These larger saws are geared down to exchange blade speed for torque. Because of their unstoppable power, they’re popular among tradesmen, specifically framers who need the ability to make quick, repeated cuts through thick pieces of dense engineered lumber. For the casual user and even the heavy DIYer, a worm drive is simply too much saw.

Still, if a cordless circular saw or worm drive is what you’re after, we have some recommendations in our full guide.

Blades

Blades make a big difference with a saw. Even the best saw in the world won’t perform well with a dull blade. For around-the-house weekend work, a good blade, if taken care of, can last years.

Eventually, the blade will dull or a tooth will break. Often, blades suffer from a buildup of gunk around the teeth, which can be cleaned. Cleaning is often a time-consuming task, however, and at $10 for a decent Freud blade, preserving a blade may not be worth your time. Many local hardware stores also offer sharpening services for a few bucks a blade.

As for the specifics of buying blades, a part-time user can get by with a 24-tooth framing blade for rough work and a 60-tooth blade for fine finish work. The more teeth the blade has, the less likely there will be blow-out at the cut, which is important for veneered surfaces like birch plywood.

This guide may have been updated by The Sweethome. To see the current recommendation, please go here.

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