Next to the trusty electric drill, a good handheld circular saw is the must-have tool for the pro handyman and DIY homeowner alike. No other saw can perform as many cutting tasks in such an affordable and storage-friendly package. From ripping, cross-cutting, plunge-cutting and more, circ saws can cut partial kerfs, beveled edges and compound angles. Today’s next-generation saws have evolved into wood-shredding beasts that offer more power and performance in smaller packages. This article will review a handful of circ-saw fundamentals for smart and safe usage, as well as highlight some of the latest models available at the hardware store.
Brush Up on the Basics
Anyone using a powered circular saw should have the following fundamentals committed to memory, but when it comes to respecting those spinning metal teeth, everyone can use a refresher course.
Blade Depth—To avoid kickback and binding the blade in the kerf, set the blade of the saw so that only three teeth protrude beyond the bottom surface of the material being cut.
Start Blade before Cutting—To avoid chipping the material being cut, bring the saw blade up to full speed before it contacts the cutting stock. If the blade is already touching the material when the saw starts, the teeth will often knock out a large chunk of material.
Leave Stock Free on One End—Clamp the work-piece to a table or sawhorses when cutting so that the cut-off section can fall away freely. Do not support the work-piece on both ends, such as cutting in the middle of two sawhorses, because the stock will bow when cutting, which can bind the blade and cause a dangerous kickback (and ugly cut).
Support Sheet Goods—Plywood, paneling, lattice and other sheet goods are often large, unwieldy and easily bow. When cutting, support the sheet with enough 2X4 scrap blocking to keep it flat and treat the 2X4 as waste material that your blade can pass through. Support the sheet throughout its entire length so the cutoff piece does not fall away near the end of the cut and tear out the material.
Accessories Can Help—Long free-hand cuts with a circular saw can take a lot of practice to master. For ripping boards to width consider using an accessory rip gauge that guides the saw’s footplate to help keep the blade in a straight line. For cutting sheet material, consider making your own cross-cut jig.
Ridgid & Ryobi. Ridgid offers a full line of contractor-tough saws available at The Home Depot.
The Ridgid R32022 is a 7-1/4-in. framer featuring a powerful 15-amp motor, ratcheting lock levers, full-length front and rear kerf indicators, an integrated dust blower and a 0-56 deg. bevel scale. Our testers liked the new “Hex-Grip” handle surface that provides extra tack for slinging the saw around the job site.
The Ridgid R32103 is the company’s worm-drive entry into the saw lineup. The heavy-duty worm gear construction provides higher torque and power for tough, everyday framing on the construction site. The 15-amp motor delivers plenty of power, and the saw features a handy Skyhook to hang on framing material when not in use. The externally accessible brushes are convenient for on-the-job replacement.
The 13-amp Ridgid Fuego is a compact 6-1/2-in. saw that’s billed as the “fastest and lightest” framer on the market. And it lives up to the claim, as our tests proved the Fuego to be a big beast in a small package, zipping through 2x framing lumber with speed and zeal unmatched by the competitors. It’s easy to see why the Fuegos have grown so popular among pro framers.
My only caveat is that I’m not a pro framer, and I’ve developed the habit of using my Speed Square as a cutting guide for my circ saw. However, the Fuego motor sits so close to the baseplate that it catches the ridge of the Speed Square during cutting and can’t be used with such an accessory.
Ryobi offers the cordless P506 for trim carpentry applications. This 5-1/2-in. compact trim saw is a featherweight contender at only 4.7 lbs., but its easy maneuverability and 18V power make it a handy choice for light-duty cutting chores. The P506 is part of the Ryobi One+ Battery Program in which the lithium-ion power supply is interchangeable among many different tools. Visit http://www.ridgid.com and http://www.ryobitools.com.
Hilti. Hilti manufactures top-quality professional construction equipment for many arenas of the global industry. The two saws we tested are the SCW 18-A and its metal-cutting companion, the SCM 18-A, each with 6-1/2-in. blades. Well-balanced and solidly built, both cordless saws whip through their respective material with speed and precision. Designed for work with wood and plastic, the SCW18-A cuts smoothly and easily when ripping a full sheet of 3/4-in. plywood. And we were particularly impressed with the unflinching cutting action of the SCM18-A as we fed it 5/8-in. rebar. Plus, both saws offer plenty of working time per charge with the 18V, 2.6-Ah Li-Ion batteries.
Another notable feature of the Hilti brand is the confidence the company shows in the quality of its tools, as seen with its lifetime manufacturer’s warranty. “Hilti repairs or replaces, at no cost, damage due to defects in materials or workmanship.” Visit http://www.hilti.com.
Hitachi Power Tools. Over the last few years Hitachi Power Tools has adopted a sporty new look that definitely sets them apart from competitive tools with more traditional designs. The 7-1/4-in. C7ST has a powerful 15-amp motor but remains lightweight and easy to handle at only 9.4 lbs. It has an increased depth of cut compared to its predecessor—1-7/8-in. at 45 deg.; 2-7/16-in. at 90 deg. The C7ST is backed by a 5-year warranty, comes with a hard carrying case and is priced less than the competition.
We also tested the cordless Hitachi C18DSL, a spunky 18V 6-1/2-in. saw with an LED work light, aluminum base and electric brake. This was the only 18V saw we tested that came with a rip gauge. Visit www.hitachipowertools.com.
DeWalt.As far as corded power, the prize for the most compact, lightweight and thus most maneuverable saw that we tested is a tie between the DeWalt DWE575 and the Skil HD-5687M. The Skil was slightly lighter, but the DeWalt was slightly smaller.
The DWE575 7-1/4-in. contractor-grade framer has plenty of firepower thanks to its 15-amp motor, and it offers a leading 0-57 deg. on the bevel scale. With so much muscle in such a small package (8.8 lbs.), I can see why many pro framers in our area are partial to the yellow saws. The DWE575 has cast aluminum shoe and guards, it’s easy to adjust, comes with a canvas carrying bag and is competitively priced—recommended for both pros and serious DIY’ers. Visit http://www.dewalt.com.
Skil.Skil offers three classes of saws for three different users. For everyday use on heavy-duty jobsites, the company has updated its original Skilsaw with the new Mag77-LT, which is the lightest worm-drive saw ever.
We see mostly sidewinders (direct-drive) saws here in the Southeast, but the worm-drive saws house the motor behind the blade, transmitting power to the blade at 90 degrees. The gearing-down action causes the blade to spin more slowly with a worm-drive than a sidewinder, which translates into more blade torque—great for tougher cuts. The new Mag77-LT is 4 lbs. lighter than its predecessor, and it’s a perfect saw for the worker who spends all day cutting through concrete-spattered plywood and chewing through framing lumber.
For the mid-grade pro who wants a reliable saw at a reasonable price, the new Skil HD-5687M is the most lightweight saw in the 7-1/4-in. pro class market at 8.7 lbs. For both big jobs and small, the saw is equipped with a 15-amp motor, anti-snag lower guard and tough magnesium construction.
For the DIY homeowner, The Skil 5680-02 is a 2.5 HP 7-1/4-in. corded saw that makes a reliable choice for the weekend warrior, featuring tough magnesium guards, a “power on” light and a laser site line that helps the user closely follow the cutline when working. Visit http://www.skil.com.
Bosch.The EHT staff has used Bosch tools for many years, and the company’s C21 model has long been our go-to circ saw. The company’s new CS5 model features an unusual design for corded “sidewinder” style circ saws: The Blade is positioned to the left side of the motor. This means that if you cut with your right hand, then you have a direct line of sight to the blade, giving you the ability to make cuts with more accuracy and confidence. This is a big help for making “surgical cuts that require dead-on precision. The CS5 is a pro-grade 7-1/4-in. saw with a 15-amp motor and Bosch’s reputation for quality.
One note about the left-blade saw: As a right hander, I hold the work-piece with my left hand and control the saw with my right. With the blade on the left, the motor and baseplate are on the right, which is where the majority of its weight rests. In a situation where I’m only trimming off a few inches or less, this puts the brunt of the saw’s weight overhanging the end of the work-piece and “floating” in mid-air. To keep the saw square to the wood during such a cut requires some extra grip and muscular control since the saw is otherwise unsupported—just something to consider before purchasing.
Bosch also offers the cordless 18V CCS180. With this 6-1/2-in. saw you get exceptional balance, “anti-snag” aluminum guards and baseplate, 50-deg. bevel and an easy-to-read depth gauge. The tool is powered by Bosch’s time-tested lithium-ion batteries which have proven reliability and take only 30 minutes to charge. Visit http://www.skil.com and http://www.boschtools.com.
Rotosaw+. RotoZip now offers the Rotosaw+, which utilizes spiral-saw technology to power circular blades that cut the most difficult building materials, including hardwood, rebar and granite. The Rotosaw+ can be used as a cut-out tool, a cutoff grinder, a flush-cut saw and a hole saw. When equipped with the right accessory the Rotosaw+ works like a tile-cutting wet saw, jigsaw or power shears (for sheet metal). The Rotosaw+’s 6.0A motor easily powers through dense, difficult materials with variable speed ranging from 30,000 RPM to 15,000 RPM. Visit www.rotozip.com.
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