A Guide to Buying a Circular Saw

MOTHER'S Handtool Handbook: a guide to buying the circular saw, a versatile, useful power tool, including eyeing manufacturer offerings, and what to look for when buying this portable power tool.

| January/February 1987

MOTHER'S Handtool Handbook: buying a circular saw shouldn't be a shot in the dark. 

A Guide to Buying a Circular Saw

A portable electric circular saw can't do everything, but it comes close. The "side-winder" has become a mainstay in the home shop and the building trades alike. Its use is so common in construction that many call it a contractor's saw, though among do-it-yourselfers, it's still a "skilsaw," after the popular brand-name tool.

This workhorse is flexible enough to be one of the first choices a first-time buyer should consider. Far from being limited to cutting a straight line, the circular saw can slice out notches and pockets, make holes in the center of sheathing, cut bevels in rough and trim work, gouge recesses or channels in lumber, and custom-fit framing members in place on-site. When fitted with special blades, it can also trim out curves and circles, gnaw through brick and block, and rip into lightweight sheet metal. Mounted blade-up beneath a platform, it even makes a fair table saw in a pinch.

Eyeing the Circular Saw Offerings

When it comes to buying a circular saw, identifying your garden-variety circular saw is a cinch. Its most prominent feature is the large blade mounted to one side of the tool, shrouded at its circumference with a protective guard. The cylindrical motor extends from the opposite side, positioned with its shaft parallel to the blade's arbor, or axle. A handle and built-in trigger switch sit midway between the two, cocked slightly toward the rear to provide a natural grip. The whole shebang is set upon a metal plate, or shoe, that pivots to one side to allow the blade to cut at an angle.

Now for the exception: Professionals lean more toward worm-drive circular saws, which differ from their sidewinder cousins in that they have right-angle gear-reduction drives, which offer greater durability and torque than conventional spur-gear drives. This arrangement puts the motor behind the blade and parallel to it.

Worm-drive saws are heavy (about 15 pounds or so versus the sidewinder's 10 or 11) and require specific cutting techniques, but they offer a safe and unimpeded view of the blade and the work.

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