A circular saw is one of the most common power tools in use today. With the appropriate blade, this tool is capable of cutting wood, steel, masonry, and ceramic tile. Learn how to find the circular saw design and features that will make your projects successful.

Find the Right Circular Saw

Circular saws are affordable, flexible, and easy to use, making them one of the most popular items in a tool chest. Knowing which design is perfect for which job is the first step. Once you’ve learned which saw is right for you, shop for it either online or in-store.

Circular Saw Basics

Circular saws make quick, straight cuts across a board (crosscuts) or along the board's length (rip cuts). You can also set a circular saw to make bevel cuts (cuts made on the edge of the wood). Standard components in a circular saw include:

  • Blade Guard: A safety mechanism that covers the blade when the saw isn't in use, and retracts to expose the blade during use.
  • Foot Plate or Shoe: This piece steadies the saw against the workpiece.
  • Depth Adjustment: This setting allows you to use workpieces of varying thicknesses.
  • Bevel Adjustment: The foot plate tilts in relation to the blade when making bevel cuts.

 

Circular saw blades are usually classified by the diametre of their blades. Sizes of 5 1/2 to 7 1/4 inches are the most common. There are also many options available on circular saws, so pick the one based on your specific needs.

Types of Circular Saws

When choosing your saw, you'll have two basic designs to choose from: sidewinder (or inline) saws, or worm-drive saws. 

Orange and silver circular saw with a sidewinder drive configuration

Sidewinder Saws

Sidewinder, or inline, saws are the most common, traditional saws. The motor is located along the same axis as the blade. A shaft runs directly from the motor to drive the blade. Sidewinder saws are more compact and lightweight than worm-drive saws and are well-suited to most circular saw applications.

Blue and silver Bosch circular saw with worm drive

Worm-Drive Saws

Worm-drive saws have their motors positioned at a right angle to the saw blade. The motor uses gears to increase the torque transferred to the blade, which makes the saw well-suited for heavy-duty use. Worm-drive saws are longer than sidewinder saws and tend to be quieter.

Power Sources

When and how you use your circular saw will help determine the power supply you need. Two types are available: corded or cordless.

Blue and silver Kobalt circular saw

Corded

Corded circular saws don't depend on batteries for power and are better suited for tough cutting jobs like masonry, steel, and continuous woodcutting. These models are available in many sizes, but the most common is 7 1/4 in. A corded circular saw requires a suitable extension cord.

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Black and silver Porter-Cable circular saw

Cordless

Cordless circular saws are convenient when working in areas where extension cords are difficult to use. And, since they are smaller than most corded saws, they work well in confined spaces. Cordless saws are best suited to cutting wood and wood products, due to the limitations of their batteries. They typically range in size from 5 3/8 to 6 1/2 in.

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Features

Once you've decided on the design and power source, compare the features.

Graphic showing the letters a and v inside separate circles

Amps & Volts

Amps on corded saws and volts on cordless saws measure power. Higher amps and volts mean more cutting power.

Man using a circular saw to cut into a piece of wood

Blade Capacity

This determines the maximum depth of cut. The most common blade diameter is 7 1/4 in. Most saws with blade capacities of 6 in. or more can cut through 2 in. dimensional lumber at a 45 degree angle in a single pass. A 5 3/8 in. saw can cut through 2 in. dimensional lumber in one pass at 90 degrees but requires two passes at 45 degrees.

Man using a circular saw on a piece of black wood

Electric Brakes

To reverse the flow of electricity in the motor, release the trigger. Reversing the current stops the blade's momentum quickly. Electric brakes can stop the blade in as little as two seconds, much quicker than a blade on a saw without this feature.

Man pulling out a blade from a circular saw

Spindle or Shaft Locks

The shaft lock immobilizes the shaft and blade, making it much easier to change the blade.

Person using a circular saw to make a bevel cut in a piece of wood

Bevel Capacity & Stops

Bevel capacity indicates the maximum bevel the saw can make, while bevel stops are presets that allow quick adjustments for bevel cuts.

Man using a circular saw on a wood board with a laser guiding the line

Laser Guides

Laser guides help improve cutting accuracy by projecting a beam of light onto the work piece.

Blades

A key part of the saw is the blade. Different blades are available for different applications. When purchasing a blade, make sure it's compatible with your saw. The four most common blades are: high-speed steel blades, carbide-tipped blades, tile-cutting blades, and masonry blades.

Silver circular saw blade with yellow border

High-Speed Steel Blades

These are harder than steel blades and stay sharper longer.

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A set of three carbide-tipped circular saw blades

Carbide-Tipped Blades

Carbide tips are attached to the teeth. They are more expensive than other blades, but stay sharp much longer than steel or high-speed steel blades.

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Yellow tile-cutting circular saw blade

Tile-Cutting Blades

These are specially designed for cutting ceramic tile. Better tile-cutting blades have diamond-tipped blades.

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Silver masonry circular saw blade

Masonry Blades

This style is made of abrasive material for cutting concrete, brick, cinder block, and other masonry materials.

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Caution

Always follow the device manufacturer's operating, maintenance, and safety instructions, including instructions on what safety gear to wear.

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