Every workshop needs a circular saw for cutting up lumber and sheet goods. But, because you won’t use one every day, you might be tempted to buy a low-dough model. Don’t. The saws we tested cost a few bucks more, but reward you with robust 15-amp motors, heavy-duty footplates, and other features that help them significantly outperform their lesser siblings. And because they’re built to withstand job-site use, any of these should last a decade or longer in your shop.
Power and accuracy abound
To test the saws for power, we outfitted each with a new Freud Diablo 24-tooth blade and ran them through a series of demanding cuts, ripping 11⁄2 "-thick red oak and treated pine, and making full-depth rip cuts—all have the capacity to cut at least 25⁄16 " deep at 90°—in 4×4 treated pine. Each saw powered through all cuts with ease. So power won’t be a concern with any of them.
Next, we tested the reliability of each saw’s cutline indicators (one for 90° cuts and the other for 45° bevels (photos below). We found all of the indicators spot-on for aligning the blade to a cutline when free-handing a cut. But visibility may become an issue, depending on how you use the saw.
The Craftsman 27311, Makita 5007MGA, DeWalt DWE575SB, and Milwaukee 6394-21 saws provide the clearest sight lines to the cutline indicators, whether you’re operating the saw from the right or left side, using one hand or two. (See the chart for cutline-visibility ratings on each saw.)
Because circular saws cut on the upstroke, sawdust inevitably spews onto the cutline, often obscuring it. All the saws but the Kobalt K15CS-06AB, Milwaukee, and Ridgid R3205 have a built-in blower or direct the airstream coming off the blade to clear the cutline. And LED lights on the Craftsman, Makita, and Kobalt saws help illuminate the cutline. We did not, however, find the Craftsman’s laser reliable or useful, and simply turned it off.
On solid footing
Low-priced, entry-level circ saws typically have small, thin stamped-steel footplates that can bend easily if dropped, and often have rolled-up edges that can ride up over a straightedge guide. The saws we tested have larger, thicker footplates made of lightweight aluminum or magnesium, and crisp 90° edges that butt nicely against a straightedge guide for greater accuracy. The Hitachi C7BMR’s footplate, though, had sharp edges as well as a rough bottom that created drag on workpieces. We resolved this by smoothing the footplate with 220-grit sandpaper.
Changing the depth of cut on these saws requires loosening a lever lock at the rear of the saw and adjusting the footplate to the desired level. All the locks held solidly, but we prefer those mounted on the left side of the handle assembly (above) because they provide better access than those pinched between the handle and blade shroud (DeWalt, Hitachi, Skil Sidewinder). All but the Hitachi have cut-depth scales on the blade cover, either in inches or nominal board thicknesses (2×, 3⁄4 , etc.). We found the scales on the Bosch, Makita, and Skilsaw easiest to read.
Each saw’s footplate also tilts to at least 55° for bevel-cutting. All use a lever to secure this setting except the Craftsman, which has a fussier wing nut. Each lock held without issues. All models have a 45° stop, except Kobalt and Milwaukee, which have no stops other than 0° and 56°. See the chart for a complete list of tilt angles and stops.
Get a grip
Each saw’s handle has some rubber overmold for better grip; DeWalt, Hitachi, and Makita are our favorites. All have a single trigger—no safety release, a feature more common to DIY-level models—to power the saw. All the handle/trigger assemblies work well, but the small Ridgid handle opening could be awkward for large hands. Milwaukee’s multiposition handle (shown below) is nice, and its front bale sits on the tilting mechanism rather than the saw body, keeping open sightlines to the cutline indicators.
More saw-buying factors
• Blades. All the saws come with a blade best suited for ripping lumber (16–24 teeth). Of these, the Makita and Skilsaw blades cut with the least amount of tear-out.
To change blades, you depress an arbor lock and loosen the bolt with a wrench. This wrench comes with each saw, but the Bosch CS10, Craftsman, Hitachi, and Porter-Cable PC15TCSM do not have on-board storage for the wrench.
• Blade guards. Kobalt’s blade guard hangs up slightly at the start of a full-depth cut, but works acceptably otherwise. The guards on the other saws worked well without issue.
• Electric cords. All saws but the Craftsman have supple rubber power cords that measure 8' or longer. That length proves especially helpful when ripping full sheets of plywood. Milwaukee’s cord detaches for easy storage in its plastic case, or replacement should it get damaged.
• Blade brakes. DeWalt, Hitachi, Kobalt, Makita, and Milwaukee equip their saws with automatic brakes that stop the blade in about two seconds or less after you release the trigger. The others coast to a stop, taking nearly eight seconds for some.
• Noise levels. These saws are all so loud (at least 93 decibels under no load) that you need to wear hearing protection when using any of them. The Skilsaw measured loudest at an ear-piercing 103 dB.
Let’s cut to the chase
The Ridgid R3205, selling for $60 less, cuts well, adjusts easily, and comes with a 3-year warranty as well as Ridgid’s opt-in Lifetime Service Agreement. These attributes earn it our Top Value award.
Makita 5007MGA, $160
Ridgid R3205, $100
Bosch CS10, $130
Craftsman 27311, $125
DeWalt DWE575SB, $140
Hitachi C7BMR, $130
Kobalt K15CS-06AB, $90
Milwaukee 6394-21, $160
Porter-Cable PC15TCSM, $80
Skilsaw Sidewinder SPT 67 WM-22, $130