A Basic Must-Have: The Best Circular Saw
Whether ripping a sheet of plywood is the task of the day or cutting the studs to build a wall, the handheld best circular saws in 2021 is the tool to use. This is the most basic saw for most handymen, do-it-yourselfers and professionals alike. If one is only going to have one power saw, the circular saw is the one to have.
Circular saws come in both corded and cordless models. At first, the cordless models were something of a joke, as they didn't have enough power to cut sheet goods or dimensional lumber. But today's cordless saws are much more powerful, making them an extremely convenient option for the professional and the handyman.
Most circular saw blades today are carbide tipped, allowing them to last longer. Even so, the constant use of the tool is hard on the blades, forcing replacement. A saw with a dull blade will work harder, bog down more and make a rougher cut. A sharp blade helps the saw to function efficiently and cut smoother.
If you want to know more information about how to select a circular saw, take a look at our buyer's guide listed below.
Bosch CSW41 7-1/4-Inch Worm Drive Circular Saw
Makita 5477NB 15 Amp 7-1/4-Inch Hypoid Circular Saw
Milwaukee Cordless Lithium-Ion 6-1/2” Circular Saw
CRAFTSMAN 7-1/4-Inch Circular Saw
Chicago 69078, 7-1/4” Circular Saw with Laser
The Best Circular Saw Models of 2021 in Detail
The editor of Fine Homebuilding called the predecessor to this Bosch “the best saw I’ve ever used.” It's not surprising that Bosch built this saw based on the Skilsaw as they own Skil. It features a 15 amp motor, all ball-bearing drive and a diamond arbor for positive engagement between the saw and blade. An all magnesium housing and foot keeps the weight down to 13.2 pounds. This makes it almost a pound lighter than its predecessor, the major difference between the two. The same anti-snag lower blade guard that's found on the Skilsaw avoids hangups, even with narrow cuts. Bosch has given this one a saw hook and large adjustment levers for ease of adjustment without tools. This is one of the few worm drive saws around with soft grip handles, something I really appreciate.
Makita has chosen not to build a worm gear saw; instead they build a hypoid geared saw. The hypoid is basically a ring gear and pinion setup. This is the same gear system used in a rear wheel drive vehicle's differential. While a great way of transferring power, it isn't as immune to the blade pushing back against the motor as a worm gear is. For this reason, some think that this saw is better suited to finish work than heavy cutting. The arbor is 5/8", rather than the diamond shape that the other saws have. This saw comes equipped with detents at both 22.5 and 45 degrees.
Milwaukee Cordless Lithium-Ion 6-1/2” Circular Saw
I’ve always liked Milwaukee’s power tool for both ruggedness and pure power. They definitely know how to get the most umph out of their tools, so that I don’t have to do so much work. This saw is made of a mixture of aluminum and magnesium, giving the saw a final weight of 9.4 pounds. Both the top and bottom blade guards are Magnesium for added ruggedness. This saw also includes a fence, something rarely seen with a circular saw. Milwaukee takes operator comfort into account, providing a large cushioned handle and knob. The batteries have a built-in “fuel gauge” to let you know how much charge is left. This saw runs at 4,200 RPM for extra cutting power. The saw also has in integral blade brake for safety. The saw will cut 2-1/8” deep at 90 degrees and 1-5/8” deep at 45 degrees. Two batteries and the charger are included in the kit.
The Craftsman “Evolv” line is Craftsman’s relatively new (since 2008) “good” brand of tools (Craftsman is their “better” brand and Craftsman Professional their “best” brand). Since coming on the scene, Evolv has gained a reputation for high quality as a consumer level brand. The warranty is similar to Craftsman tools, only requiring that the purchaser produce a receipt for purchase.
With this kind of reputation and this kind of pricing, this tool is a winner. There is no one thing that makes it outstanding, more than the Craftsman name and warranty, but overall, it is a high quality tool. Although it is listed as a 7” saw, the blades in the pictures of the unit are all 7-1/4”.
I picked this model for the laser, which is rare to find on a low-dollar unit. This is a great improvement over previous versions of the venerable circular saw, which used a notch on the baseplate; which is often hard to see. Typically, circular saws with built-in lasers go for much higher prices than this unit, which is why I’ve included it in this listing. It’s not quite as powerful as the others I’ve chosen, with a 10 amp motor. However, its’ still a 7-1/4” blade, turning at 5500 RPM. Like everything from Harbor Freight, a great bargain for the do-it-yourselfer.
Of all the various electric saws on the market, the common circular saw is probably the simplest. If one doesn't buy an electric drill as their first power tool, it is most likely a circular saw will be. These saws are very useful for cutting both sheet goods like plywood and dimensional lumber for construction. You can pretty much frame an entire house with a circular saw, ignoring all other power tools.
The common size for a circular saw is one using a 7-1/4" blade. However, they range from small cordless saws with a 3-1/2" blade all the way up to units with a 10" blade. As the blade is center mounted on an arbor, the cutting depth of the blade is a little less than half the diameter of the blade. This means that a 7-1/4" blade diameter will comfortably cut through dimensional lumber for construction, even with the blade angled. But to cut through a 4"x 4" post, a 10" blade is needed.
One of the biggest mistakes most users make with a circular saw is to not set the depth of cut. Instead, they cut everything with the blade fully extended which increases the friction/heat and makes it harder for the saw to cut. This not only burns the wood being cut but also warps the blade as well. Ideally, the blade should only stick through the wood about one-quarter inch.
Types of Circular Saws
Basic Circular Saw
Circular saws have been on the market long enough that there are a considerable number of models to choose from. The simple design allows for a wide range of budget models as well, even budget cordless models (which sounds like a contradiction). The typical circular saw uses a planetary gear between the motor and the arbor.
Worm Drive Saw
There are also worm drive saws, which have the motor mounted at a 90 degree angle to the blade and use a worm gear to transfer the power from the motor to the arbor. These worm drive saws provide much more torque as the gearbox absorbs much of the strain of the cut, preventing it from bogging down the motor. While heavier, the worm drive saws are excellent for use by seasoned professionals.
Corded or Cordless?
The decision between corded and cordless models can be a bit difficult for these tools. Modern battery operated ones are much more powerful than the earlier models and the Lithium-Ion batteries allow for much more cutting before recharging. Nevertheless, corded models are still more powerful than their cordless cousins.
A lot depends on which is more convenient for you as the user. If you will be using the saw in places where it's difficult to get power routed, a cordless circular saw will provide a definite advantage. However, if you have to do a lot of heavy cutting, the corded models are better.
Options to Consider in a Circular Saw
The keys to an effective circular saw are power coupled with a good blade. Even though many circular saws come equipped with carbide tipped blades, you’re probably going to want to replace the factory-equipped blade if you’re a serious user.
The most important thing to consider when looking at a circular saw is the saw's power. Low power saws can bog down in the wood you're cutting, even when cutting plywood. Bog-downs can be worse with thicker material such as dimensional lumber.
LED Work Lights and Laser Guides
Some saws now come with LED work lights or lasers for alignment. These aid in cutting straight which is the biggest challenge when using a circular saw, especially when cutting sheet goods. While not a necessity, having one of these could make the difference between choosing one saw over another when two saws are otherwise exactly alike.
In addition to making it easier to cut straight with a circular saw, manufacturers have been putting a lot of effort in to making them more comfortable to work with. Overmolded rubber handles and lower weight cut operator fatigue to make cutting easier, even when you’ve been working all day long.
The weight of the saw, as well as whether the handle is overmolded with rubber, can affect the level of operator fatigue. The handles of some saws are also more comfortable due to their placement and angle.
For the best straight cutting in sheet goods, it's best to use a circular saw with a fence. There are a couple of circular saws on the market which come with their own fence; however, they're quite expensive. Another option is to buy a fence that clamps to the wood and run the saw alongside it. This option is much cheaper and can provide the same benefit as having a built-in fence on the circular saw.