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Help Me Find the Right Hand-Held Circular Saw for Me

2/5/2011 10:23:34 AM

Tags: saws, tools, power tools, circular saws, diy, steve maxwell, Steve Maxwell

I want to buy a hand-held circular saw for the upcoming building season, but I’m confused by all the choices. What do you recommend? 

If you think a circular saw has a place in your life, then make the commitment to get a good one. Here’s the essentials you need to know.

Basic Saw Design 

There are two basic circular saw designs in the world:

  1. worm-drive
  2. sidewinder

Figuring out which type suits you best is your first job. To see what they look like side-by-side, check out my circular saw video tour.

Blade Size and Quality 

Most circular saws spin 7 1/4-inch diameter blades, and this is a good choice for serious homestead use. Many cordless saws often come with 6 1/2-inch blades which are fine for many jobs, though you will occasionally miss the extra depth of cut. Far more carbide circular sawimportant than blade size, however, is blade quality. It’s a strange fact that many top-quality power tools come from the factory with second-rate blades. Circular saws are no exception. To get the most out of your saw you’ll need to upgrade to a carbide blade made to last. The word carbide refers to hard, visibly-distinct alloy inserts that form the teeth of the blade. Expect to pay $15 to $35 for a good 7 1/4-inch carbide blade. Today’s best carbide blades are even designed to slice through the odd nail without complaining. Where regular carbide saw blades might chip a tooth on an unseen nail, nail-friendly blades are a renovator’s best buddy.

Amperage Draw 

Circular saws are often required to do heavy work, like cutting 1 1/2-inch thick framing lumber along the grain, or slicing 3/4-inch thick plywood. If you feel the need to own a circular saw, then be sure you get one that has the power to do all the usual construction site work. One measure of tool power on corded models is amperage draw, a figure you’ll find stamped on the nameplate of every power tool. If I were recommending a saw to a friend, I’d choose from machines that draw at least 10 amps of current, and preferably closer to 15. Anything weaker is only suited to light-duty specialty work. You might as well use a handsaw. As for corded saws, you’ll find 18-volt models are lightweight and deliver good service for light and medium-duty jobs. 24-, 28- and 36-volt cordless saws are able to handle most work that corded models can.

nails cut circular sawBrush Access 

Electric motors used for circular saws have components called brushes. These deliver electricity to the rotating parts of the motor, and during the course of their function they eventually wear out. This is normal. If you discover a nearly worn out set of brushes and replace them before they go completely, you’ll get many hundreds more hours of use out of the tool. If, on the other hand, the brushes wear our completely before replacement, they can damage the motor irreparably. Good circular saws have external brush access ports that make it easy to inspect brushes periodically and change them when needed. These ports usually appear as pairs of circular depressions, often equipped with a screwdriver slot to untwist them. Saws without brush access ports make it difficult to do the regular maintenance that long tool life demands. Brush inspection on these saws requires major exploratory surgery.

Assorted Goodies 

Another nice feature to look for in a good circular saw is a shaft locking mechanism. This is usually a button near the blade shaft that locks rotation during blade changes. Saws without a shaft lock require you to fumble with a second wrench, or somehow hold the blade with your hand while removing and replacing the nut that holds the blade on.

A growing number of circular saws also include an electric brake that slows the rotation of the blade very quickly after the on/off trigger has been released. It’s a useful safety feature that reduces the chance of accidents after each cut.

Steve Maxwell, Canada's Handiest Man, has shared his DIY tips, how-to videos and product reviews since 1988. Visit him at www.SteveMaxwell.ca, Facebook or @Maxwells_Tips on Twitter. 

Photos: Steve Maxwell 



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Post a comment below.

 

John Yahootas
9/7/2011 4:06:32 PM
I've had a Makita worm drive saw for about 10 years, much better than my old DeWalt sidewinder, and better than others I've used. Heavier than some others, but great balance. Make sure you buy your saw from a good lumberyard, and not home depot or lowe's. The brand may be the same, but these stores have manufacturers make them a cheaper grade that won't last half as long!

larry mathews
9/7/2011 1:52:27 PM
for my use a left handed circular saw is best; the blade is located on the left side of the motor like a worm saw. Even though I'm right handed the LHS is easier to use because you can view your cut line without leaning over the saw.Using the LHS in the right hand all you have to do is look down at the cut line and not around or over the saw it self to follow the cut line.

craiginoxford
9/7/2011 8:13:13 AM
... also, before I forget... always be sure your blade is sharp get the right blade for the right job.. it pays to use the correct blade and a sharp one too!

craiginoxford
9/7/2011 8:11:14 AM
wow steve, thats a very scarey situation... I am so used to the blade being on the left of the saw its not a problem at all... plus I have a habit of watching the blade on the line instead of lining up the guide mark on the plate with my cut line... witht he blade on the left of the saw, its easier for me to see the line. I think a good point to make to circ saw newbies is to:A) be sure and either clamp your workpiece to the saw horses or if you dont have clamps, handy, do what i do, if a small hole in your work piece isnt going to hurt it, I drive a screw through it into the saw horse. B) use a straight edge guide for a nice, safe straight cut. Esp if you are ripping sheet goods to size. A big help for ripping plywood is to lay out your horses, lay two 8 foot 2 x 4s across them from one horse to the other so you have a sort of, table frame look. then lay two more 8 foot 2 x 4s across but in the opposite direction so now you have a sort of tic tac toe grid happening.now lay two more 8 foot 2x4's the same as the second set was but one on each side of your cut line. now you can safely rip the plywood without it binding the saw or falling off and onto the ground after you cut it. also, instead of 2 x 4, you can use 1 x 3 or any other 8 foot long, reasonably sturdy timber. be sure and set your saws cut depth to just over the size of the wood your are cutting. And wear goggles!!!!

steve_67
3/13/2011 4:44:44 AM
I have been using circular saws for 30+ years and have not had any trouble using one until I tried a cordless one. For what ever reasons they seem to put the blade on the oposite side on them. (Like a worm saw). I was trying to cut the end off of a board and trying to rest most of the saw on the board ( the guide side of the saw) well the board started to move ,my natural instinct was to grab the board but the blade is on the left and I am holding the saw with my right hand. I grabed ahold of the blade and almost cut all my fingers off. Good thing I adjusted the blade to the proper depth, also the saw had a brake. I cut half way through into the bone and lost most of the feeling in all 4 fingers. These little cordless saws they came out with are very dangerous. Make sure you find one that is the proper hand. They do make them right handed. And pay attention to what your doing!







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