Cordless Circ Saws
Just as a mobile phone frees you from being tethered to the wall during a call, a cordless circular saw liberates you from the length limitations of a power cord. Because many of today's battery-powered circ saws have enough power and runtime to perform capably on construction sites, handling all your cutting needs in a workshop will be a piece of cake.
Although you can find cordless saws with smaller blades, the vast majority of them use either 61⁄2 " or 71⁄4 " blades. So we gathered up 16 models in these two sizes and tested them head-to-head. (Because these saws use model numbers that can get confusing, for clarity in this article we refer to brands with multiple models by their blade size whenever possible.) Here's what we found.
How you'll buy them at retail
Almost every cordless drill comes in a kit with one or two battery packs, a charger, and often a storage case or bag. But that's not always the case with these saws: Only nine of the saws we tested sell in a kit with at least one battery and charger, and that's how we list them in this article. However, you can buy all the test models as "bare" tools (without battery or charger). If you already own tools that use the same batteries, buying a bare tool saves you money. And a bare tool allows you to pair the saw with your choice of battery packs and charger.
For the saws sold only as bare tools, we used battery packs rated at 4.0, 5.0, or 6.0 amp-hours (Ah), depending on which each manufacturer offers. (Unfortunately, not all brands offer packs with the same amp-hour rating.) Two 61⁄2 " kits, the compact Makita XSH04RB and Worx Exactrack WX530L, come with 2.0-Ah batteries.
Cordless doesn't mean gutless
To see what these saws are capable of, we tasked each one with the challenge of cutting through three layers of 3⁄4 " oriented-strand board (OSB) without stalling. We timed the 48"-long cuts, and then averaged the results to arrive at a "power" rating for each saw.
All of the saws proved capable of making this cut, but five outperformed the pack: the 61⁄2 " Makita XSH03T and the 71⁄4 " Bosch, Craftsman, DeWalt, and Ridgid. (Download the full chart for ratings on all models.) We also made repeated test cuts in red oak and pine lumber, and the power performance tracked similarly.
Although the compact Makita XSH04RB lacked the power of most other saws in the test when using the supplied 2-Ah battery pack, it had no difficulty cutting 3⁄4 " lumber and plywood. Then, when we tested it with its optional 5-Ah pack, we found this saw cut with notably more power. Likewise, the Worx saw also performed better with an optional 6-Ah pack.
Runtime shouldn't be an issue
To evaluate each saw's runtime per battery charge, we made cuts from the same stacked-OSB setup until the battery was exhausted. All but two cut at least 29', with the test-best Bosch cutting more than 21⁄2 times that length. So if you're cutting 3⁄4 " stock, you should be able to cut 3–4 times as much before the battery gives out.
Cordless cutting: bigger battery, brushless motor matter
We made 4' crosscuts in a 3-layer stack of 3⁄4 " oriented-strand board (OSB), resting after every five cuts, until the battery could no longer power the saw. The numbers below represent the average total linear feet cut per charge.
For a fair comparison, we separated the saws' output in the chart by battery amp-hour rating. Higher Ah-rated packs not only provide more runtime, but also perform more efficiently—especially in high-demand tasks—because they can spread the workload among the additional cells. Just as in the power test, when we swapped out the 2-Ah packs in the Makita and Worx saws with their high-Ah packs, run time increased significantly. And we noted that brushless-motor saws outperformed their brushed-motor counterparts in nearly every case.
Today's high-tech chargers know that hot batteries don't charge efficiently, so they will wait for the battery to cool before charging, which adds to your wait if you have only one battery. (The charge times shown in our downloadable full chart reflect room-temperature battery packs.)
We give credit to Metabo HPT for charging its 5-Ah packs in just 33 minutes. That's nearly as fast as the Makita 2-Ah packs, at 24 minutes. (See the sidebar below for a better understanding of battery chargers.)
Get amped up to recharge your batteries faster
A battery charger can all too often become the forgotten or taken-for-granted accessory when it comes to battery-powered tools. Smaller amp-hour (Ah) packs charge faster than larger ones on the same charger because they have fewer cells. But not all chargers perform equally, even within the same brand. A charger's output is expressed in amps: The higher the output, the faster it typically charges. For example, Ryobi's 2-amp compact charger took just under two hours to charge a 4.0-Ah pack. When we switched to a 3-amp stand charger, it shaved 30 minutes off the charge time.
But a lot of cordless-tool kits come with a low-output (read: inexpensive) charger to make kit prices more attractive. (Download our full comparison chart for charge times and charger output ratings for each tested saw.)
Let the shoe be your guide
If you're cutting along a marked line—without a straightedge guide—it's best to use the cutline notch on the shoe to track the blade along that line, rather than trying to eyeball the line at the point of cut.
Each test saw has indicators or notches similar for cutting with the blade perpendicular to the workpiece (0°) and when tilted to 45°. Most notches were reliably accurate, but on four of the tested saws, the 0° notch—the most commonly used—was out of alignment with the blade by as much as 1⁄16 ", with no adjustment to correct it. These saws were: Craftsman and Porter-Cable in 61⁄2 " and Bosch and Ridgid in 71⁄4 ".
You set cutting depth by raising or lowering the shoe. Each of the saws in the test cuts at least 2" deep, with the Ridgid cutting deepest at 25⁄8 ". The Metabo HPT—with a 61⁄2 " blade—cut a second-best 29⁄16 ", bettering five 71⁄4 " saws.
The shoe on the Worx Exactrack saw has a hinged portion that lifts out of the way to make a zero-offset cut. We found it clumsy to use, and after repeated cuts using the same wood straightedge, we discovered that the blade had shaved away part of the straightedge, rendering it useless. Overall, it's not a feature worth targeting.
Right blade or left?
Nine of the 16 test saws have their blades located on the right side of the tool, as viewed from the operator position (the rear of the saw); the remainder are on the left. Why the difference? No manufacturer could give us a definitive reason, so it really just comes down to your preference. Although you might prefer to operate the saw with your dominant hand on the trigger, that might mean for some cuts the motor side of the saw—the heaviest—will rest on the offcut. Inevitably, you'll have to use your less-dominant hand for some cuts.
Circ saw snippets
■ Blade brake. All the test models—except the 61⁄2 " Ryobi—have a built-in blade brake, an important safety feature. Most of these stop the blade almost instantly. Although Ryobi's 71⁄4 " saw has a brake, it takes nearly three times as long as the other saws to stop the blade.
■ Ergonomics. Each saw has a two-trigger power switch, another important safety feature, considering that with a battery installed, the saw is always "hot." The thumb switch on the Worx saw is located only on the left side; easy to activate when using your right hand, but nearly impossible with your left. The other saws have thumb switches on both sides of the trigger.
■ Light 'em up. Although 11 of the 16 saws have a built-in LED to illuminate the cutline, we found the benefit negligible once the blade starts kicking dust into its path. The Bosch and Makita saws' LEDs blink when the battery's charge level gets near zero, and some models' do the same to indicate when a cut overloads the saw. We found these notifications easy to miss when cutting outdoors in bright sunlight.
■ Multiple blade speeds. The Bosch saw has seven electronically controlled blade speeds, and the Metabo HPT has two; we found no meaningful benefit with either saw.
■ Dust collection. Without dust collection, most of the debris blows out the side and up into your face when you're standing on the blade side of the saw. The Bosch, Ridgid, Skil, and Worx saws come with dust ports that connect to a vacuum hose. Others offer one as an optional accessory.
■ Storage. Six saws come with either a plastic case or fabric bag for storage; all of these sell as kits with battery packs and charger.
Best of the battery saws
If you already own a battery-powered tool or two, it makes sense to buy a saw that shares those batteries. We don't think you'll be disappointed in any of these models. But if you're willing to invest in a new battery platform to get a top performer, go with the 71⁄4 " right-blade DeWalt DCS570P1, or the 61⁄2 " left-blade Makita XSH03T. These two saws share Top Tool honors.
Download the full comparison chart for our Cordless Circ Saws.
How we chose the field
In order to be included in our test group, each circular saw had to meet the following criteria:
■ powered by a single 18- or 20-volt rechargeable lithium-ion battery (included or optional);
■ uses either a 61⁄2 " or 71⁄4 " blade—the most widely available sizes.