For home and industrial use, circular power saws are an essential power tool for efficiently cutting wood, ceramics and metals. Choosing the best circular saw for the task is a complex decision and should be based upon much more than the lowest price. High-speed power tools can maim or kill, so buying a flimsy machine, without sturdy safety guards, is simply not an option.
Circular power saws are extremely versatile and better quality models are adjustable, allowing the operator to vary the depth and angle of the cut, easily and accurately. The speed, efficiency and the ease of cutting straight lines makes these tools one of the workhorses of the construction industry, where high quality and durability are the main concerns.
There are two major types of circular power saw, the portable cordless circular saw and the traditional corded type. Cordless circular power saws have gained a notorious reputation for being underpowered, but improvements in rechargeable battery technology have ensured that they are now suitable for all but the heaviest tasks. For carpenters without easy access to a power supply, they are an excellent addition to the armory.
For cordless circular saws, buying one with less than an 18-volt battery is false economy as it will be woefully underpowered for most tasks. 24V and 28V are preferable for heavy use, and the best batteries are lithium ion or nickel-hydride. For corded varieties, 13 Amps is sufficient for most household tasks and cutting wood, but professional carpenters, tilers and metalworkers generally prefer the extra speed and power given by a 15 amp corded circular saw.
Buying an underpowered machine often leads to the operator trying to ‘push’ the saw instead of letting the blade do the work. This can lead to undue stress and strain upon the blade and it can shatter, resulting in high velocity shrapnel scattering outwards. This is not a good thing – saving a few bucks on blades often results in high medical bills and time off work.
To deliver power from the motor to the blade, there are two main methods, in-line and worm drive. The simpler in-line circular saw has the motor situated perpendicular to the blade, and the shaft runs directly from the circular saw blade to the motor. These traditional circular saws are the most common, and in-line saws are cheap, efficient and suitable for most tasks.
Worm drive circular power saws are more complex and have the motor mounted at right angles to the blade, with a worm-drive transferring velocity and power to the blade. This type produces more torque, giving the brute force and high-speed to cut through metal and steel. In addition, worm drive circular saws are usually fitted with gears, giving finesses, especially when cutting harder substrates than wood. The disadvantage is the cost; because they are much more complex than traditional circular power saws, they are more prone to mechanical problems, so buying a high-quality brand is essential. For many contractors, worm drive circular saws are the tool of choice.
Other Important Factors to Consider When Buying Circular Power Saws
There are a number of other factors involved in buying a circular power saw, which will ensure that you do not waste your money on a saw that is inadequate for your particular needs.
- Ergonomics: A circular power saw should be comfortable to use for extended periods.
- Sightlines: Especially for inexperienced users, the circular power saw should have sightlines incorporated into the base plate, allowing the operator to cut straight and true
- Depth and Bevel: The depth and bevel settings should be easy and instinctive to use.
- Baseplate: The baseplate should be sturdy and solid; a poor quality plate can warp and affect the accuracy of the cut
- Diameter: For occasional use, a 6” blade may be sufficient, allowing a cut of 2” depth, but it is usually preferable to buy a circular saw with a blade of 7” or 7.5”. However, larger blades will require more power to ensure that the blade reaches the required cutting speed, so large diameter circular power saws are usually more expensive.
Circular Saws and Safety
Circular powers saws are one of the most dangerous power tools available and can cause injury very quickly. Needless to say, safety is by far the most important factor when investing in any circular saw, so never be tempted to try to save a few dollars by going for the cheaper option: it is false economy.
- Sturdiness: A circular power saw should be sturdy and robust. Ask to see an unboxed model and reject any that feel flimsy or insubstantial. Look for a metal or sturdy plastic casing and a solid baseplate.
- Safety Guards: Check that the safety guards covering the blades operate smoothly – faulty blade guards are the biggest cause of circular power saw accidents.
- Electric Brakes: For a few dollars extra, you can buy a circular power saw with electric brakes, which reverse the motor and stop the blade spinning in less than three seconds
- Circuit Breaker: For a corded circular saw, you should always buy a circuit breaker that will instantly cut the power if the cable is severed.
- Blades: Many people are injured every year because, whilst they have a good quality power saw, they buy cheap blades that can shatter, sending high-speed shards flying.
- Safety Goggles: You should wear a pair of these when using circular saws, or risk permanent blindness.
Conclusion – The Best Circular Saws
For occasional home use, a standard in-line saw with 6” blade and 15W/24V of power should be more than enough, as long as you buy one with excellent safety features, If you need to cut metal and ceramic, a higher powered saw will be essential and the gears incorporated into a worm drive circular saw are useful for cutting different substrates. Whether to buy corded or cordless circular power saws really depends upon preference and whether you are likely to be near to an electricity supply.
In terms of brand, I am a big fan of Bosch; their power tools are extremely robust, safe and well designed. DeWalt are another brand that I like and are a top-seller amongst European contractors. Personally, I avoid Black and Decker because they are flimsy and the casing usually shatters when dropped; they are not in the same league as their DeWalt siblings.
Skil are an unknown quantity – they are competitively priced and robust, but I am not sure if they are durable enough for heavy use by contractors. Whilst I have never used Michigan, as I have never seen them in the UK, I am led to believe that they are excellent circular power saws.
Hopefully, with this information, you will be able to find the best circular saw for the job.
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