How to Choose the Right Circular Saw

Close up detail of circular saw
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A portable circular saw (along with a cordless power drill) is one of the must-have tools for the DIYer's home workshop. Buy a good circular saw now, and you can expect to be still using it in 10 or 20 years. Here are a few things to keep in mind when you shop for your circular saw.

Sidewinder circular saw
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Before You Buy A Circular Saw

You're getting ready to do a project in your home that requires a circular saw, but what type of one will you need? The many options available can overwhelm you, so it's best to do a bit of research and understand what functionality each of these brings to the table before going shopping.

Buying Considerations for a Circular Saw

Corded vs. Cordless

As is true of most power tools, circular saws come in both corded plug-in models and cordless models powered by batteries. Until recently, corded models were far better for sustained, heavy-duty cutting, but recent innovations in battery technology have reduced the performance gap between corded and cordless models. Still, a DIYer who owns only one circular saw will likely want a plug-in corded model, which will offer more sustained power. But for DIYers who can afford two saws, adding a cordless saw will let you work where there is no plug-in outlet available.

Many tool manufacturers now offer sets of power tools that use the same batteries, and if you already own several tools by one manufacturer, adding a cordless circular saw that uses the same batteries is an affordable option.

Power Rating

For corded circular saws, the power rating is generally expressed in amperage. Today, 15-amp saws are the standard; 10- or 12-amp saws are appropriate only for infrequent use. The price difference just isn't that significant for a purchase you can expect to use for many years. The higher the amperage, the more cutting power the saw will have.

Cordless, battery-powered circulars are typically rated by the voltage of their batteries. Virtually all cordless saws now use lithium-ion battery systems. There are many 18-volt saws available, but there are also more powerful 20-volt cordless saws offered. As well as voltage, an amp-hour rating will also be listed, which indicates how long you can use the saw before the battery dies. The amp-hour ratings range from about 5 hours to 9 hours.

Blade Size

Circular saws are categorized by the diameter of the blade they take. The most common and useful size for DIYers is 7 1/4 inches. Saws this size will cut through material more than 3-inches thick, and they also offer the widest variety of blade choices for cutting substances other than wood. In the general-use category, there are also 6 1/2-inch and 8 1/4-inch saws, for lighter-duty and heavier-duty use.

Much smaller specialty trim saws are also available, with blades only about 4 1/4 or 4 1/2 inches in diameter. These tools are used mostly for cutting paneling and other thin materials, but some can also cut dimension lumber.


From a distance, every sidewinder circular saw looks pretty much the same, except for the color. Up close, though, they can feel much different in the hand and when you use them. The only way to experience that difference is to head to your local tool supplier and test them for yourself. Does the handle fit your hand? Does the saw feel well balanced and the right weight for you? Are you comfortable with the visibility of the blade and the adjustment components?

A well-shaped handle and good balance can go a long way toward making a saw more comfortable and efficient to use, so don't overlook these features when choosing a circular saw.

Additional Features

Most any circular saw with sufficient power, and fitted with a good blade will do adequate cutting, but for long-term satisfaction, you may want to look for these features:

  • Saw foot made from cast magnesium rather than pressed steel
  • Power brake to stop the blade quickly
  • Preset bevel stops on the saw foot (22 1/2 and 45 degrees are most useful)
  • A spindle lock to simplify changing blades
  • Built-in work lights to illuminate the workpiece
  • Laser guideline to help keep saw aligned


Most new saws come with a carbide-tipped all-purpose wood-cutting blade. If the saw comes equipped with a simple high-speed stainless steel blade, its low price might not be such a bargain; you probably will want to replace it with a more expensive carbide-tipped blade almost immediately.

A good carbide-tipped blade might be the only blade you ever need, but there are many other types of blades available for special purposes. You can buy blades for cutting wood, metal, tile, and concrete. If you plan to do a lot of work requiring clean cuts, consider buying a blade with a higher number of teeth. Changing blades takes just a few moments.

Types of Circular Saws

Circular saws have long been available in two styles: sidewinders and worm-drive. But there are other kinds of circular saws on the market that are worth considering as you shop for a circular saw. Check out the different types of circular saws:


Sidewinders are the most recognizable style to most of us. The handle is set higher over the blade, and the blade has traditionally been located on the right side of the D-shaped handle, although left-handed saws are increasingly available. They are lighter and less expensive than worm drives, and the blade, which is driven directly by the motor spindle, spins faster than on worm-drive saws. A good sidewinder is the best choice for the home workshop since it is light and maneuverable.

Worm Drive

Worm-drive saws are short and long, with the handle positioned behind the blade. The blade is located on the left, making it visible to right-handed users. They tend to be heavier, since they require a gear system to convert the motor action into blade spin, and they have more torque than sidewinders. Worm-drives are preferred by some construction pros for heavy-duty work.


Hypoid circular saws are homogeneous to worm drive saws and sometimes are mistaken for this type of saw. The hypoid saw does have its motor mounted behind the saw's blade, but unlike the worm drive, it has an enclosed engine and doesn't need to be oiled. Hypoid saws are good for large tasks and heavy-duty work.


An abrasive circular saw, aka chop saw, is handy to have around to cut hard materials, such as metal. They can either be handheld or have the saw attached to a radial arm and base. These types of saws have a flat blade and no teeth, making their cuts using friction. Chop saws are used to cut through pipes, tile, metal, concrete, etc. Opt for more expensive blades when using an abrasive saw, as you'll go through cheap ones quicker. That being said, abrasive circular saws come with a high price tag.


This version of a circular saw is very versatile in what it can do, and because of this, are very popular. Miter saws have the saw attached to a swinging radial arm which can be raised up and down. It can be used to perform many types of cuts, including both straight and angled: cross cuts, miter cuts, bevel cuts, and more. Miter saws are portable, easy to use, and cut through pieces of wood quickly, but have a higher price tag in comparison to other circular saws.


Concrete circular saws are also called slab saws. These circular saws look similar to the abrasive (chop) saw and are made to cut through concrete. They are very powerful and heat up quickly. The blades are typically diamond blades, and tend to wear out fast due to what they're cutting.


The table saw—just the name of this circular saw type brings a self-explanatory visual to mind—has a circular blade mounted into a slot in a workbench type table. The blade is adjustable in height and rips boards quickly and easily. A table saw is nice to have on hand if you work a lot on home projects.


The price of a circular saw all depends on the type of saw you choose to buy. They can run anywhere from $50 up to $900 or more. For instance, a sidewinder circular saw costs around $50 to $250, while a worm-drive circular saw can run about $60 to $380 in price. Depending on the features and options, a miter saw with a base runs around $150 to $400, and a table saw can cost anywhere from $150 up to $900, and even higher.

Watch for the sales around Labor Day and Black Friday, as power tools typically are some of the products available at a discounted price. Father's Day is also a popular time to check for deals on circular saws.

How to Choose a Circular Saw

When it comes to circular saws, there are several options on hand from which you can choose. Find the one that will do the job you need to be done, be useful for other projects, and fits within your budget. This can be a bit challenging as some of these saws can be quite expensive. It also comes down to personal preference. But to help you start figuring out what will work for you, take a moment to ask yourself:

What Will You Be Using the Circular Saw for?

Determine how and what project you need the circular saw for, which will help you decide the type of saw you need to purchase. Will it be used simply for one project? Or will you be able to use it for other home improvement projects? What type of material will the saw be cutting? Do you need special angle cuts? What type of blade do you need?


Safety First!

  • You should always wear eye and hearing protection when using any type of power saw or tool.
  • Do not wear loose-fitting clothing, and keep your hair tied back to keep anything from getting caught in the blade. 
  • Never put your hands or fingers in front of a blade that is running. Make sure that it is fully stopped its motion.

Where to Shop

Circular saws can be found in home improvement stores, hardware stores, supercenters, and online retailers. You might prefer to see this tool in person before purchasing. It could be beneficial to hold it in your hand to feel how heavy it is, see if you like how it's made, and view the different models and brands available. Browse online, see what is offered, and compare the prices between online retailers and the stores you've visited to ensure you're getting the best price available. Take time to make sure you are buying the right type of circular saw for your home projects. 

  • How long do circular saws last?

    A good circular saw can last you for 10 to 20 years depending on the amount of use and how you maintain it.

  • How do you maintain a circular saw?

    It is easy to maintain a circular saw. Simply clean it after each use, use the proper blades, oil it if it is the type of saw that needs oiling, and store it in a dry place. Always check the manufacturer's instructions on the proper use and maintenance.

  • When do you replace a circular saw blade?

    Before each use, check the teeth of the blade for wear, chipping, or breakage. Or the blade is not cutting as well and has dulled from use. These are typical indications that you should replace the blade.