If you’re a do-it-yourselfer like me, investing in tools that perform well for repairs and builds is smart. Filling your workshop with a one-trick pony that only excels at a single task, well, that’s not so smart. So if you’re planning a project that involves cutting beyond what a good pair of scissors can afford, you’ll want to find a versatile saw that’ll perform like a champ, no matter what you throw at it. In short, you want a circular saw—like our favorite, the DeWalt DCS391B(available at Amazon for $129.00).
A circular saw is a powered hand-tool that, in many instances, can easily tackle tasks normally reserved for a table saw or hacksaw. It will chop up two-by-fours, slice particleboard and dice drywall. With the aid of a specialized blade, it will cut metal, tile or brick. And as you gain confidence using a circular saw, you’ll find the tool capable of so much more than making simple rough cuts—like plunge cuts and miter cuts—will soon be within reach.
But which circular saws are best for home projects? Does blade size matter, or whether the saw is right- or left-handed? That’s why I set out to compare the best circular saws on the market. I spent 40 hours researching and extensively testing nearly a dozen corded and cordless circular saws in my workshop to find which performs the best.
These are the best circular saws we tested ranked, in order:
SKIL 5280-01 (corded)
Milwaukee M18 FUEL 2732-20
Black and Decker BDCCS20
Ridgid R3204 (corded)
SKILSAW SPT67WM (corded)
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At first glance, this spartan-looking tool doesn’t impress: there aren’t any fancy laser guides or LED lighting. There are no extra buttons or levers. In fact, without its iconic yellow and black color scheme, at first blush, the DCS391 could be interchangeable with a number of the other right-handed saws I tested. It wasn’t until I set out to use this circular saw that it started to shine.
Weighing in at 7 pounds, the DCS391’s design and ergonomics made it feel significantly lighter than many of the other saws in our test group, despite having roughly the same heft. More importantly, it easily sliced up all the material I tested it with. The rubber handle felt comfortable after several cuts and, after an hour of testing, the battery had only reduced by a third.
The DCS391 is a bit short on features but goes long on quality. It comes packing a high-grade magnesium alloy shoe and a quick blade brake that kicks in instantly after removing your finger from the saw’s trigger. While equipped with a small 6 ½-inch blade, it proved capable of completing bevel cuts on 2-by-4 lumber without pause. Add to this the wide range of DeWalt tools that leverage the same 20-volt battery platform as the DCS391 and this saw’s value increases—it’s a great tool on its own, but even better when used as part of a system. The only real downside to this incredible workhorse of a saw is buying a battery and charger to use with it will set you back an additional $130.
If you’re not planning on investing in any more of DeWalt’s 20-volt power tools or aren’t crazy about the steep price of the DCS391’s battery and charger, and still want a cordless circular saw, I suggest taking a look at the Bosch CCS180, which is also reviewed in this roundup.
When you plug in the SKIL 5280-01, a large square red LED on top of the handle lights up, answering the question “does this saw have power?” It’s a simple but welcome safety feature for anyone who has struggled with extension cords and questionable wiring. Like the other corded saws I tested, the SKIL has a full metal plate (steel) and metal blade guard. The saw’s handle is reasonably comfortable and its safety is within reach of the hand on the trigger. In addition to a blade lock to use while changing the blade, the SKIL has a laser guide to help with your cut.
Compared to other saws that I’ve tested, SKIL 5280’s plate is a bit more difficult to read, making adjustments difficult. That said, adjusting for beveled cuts is straightforward. You should also know that, as with the other corded saws I’ve tested, there was no electric brake on the SKIL. So be careful, that means the blade will continue to spin for a bit after releasing the saw’s trigger.
My name is Rebecca Boniface. My curiosity and frugality fuel my enthusiasm for DIY projects. My experience ranges from wrenching on cars to RV repairs, furniture hacks, and small engine maintenance. If I can trade some of my time to make something that's broken run again, I’m all in. If I was able to learn how to repair and build my way to a better life, you can, too. I want to help you find the tools you’ll need to feel the satisfaction of a job well done, as well as save yourself time and money.
After speaking to several professional carpenters and other DIYers, I compiled a list of types of cuts and materials often used with a circular saw. I then shortened this list to focus on the smallest number of different building materials with the greatest variance in density: standard cuts of lumber, vinyl siding, plywood, and MDF (medium-density fibreboard, a dense type of composite board).
In speaking with the experts and from what I learned researching online—including this helpful Power Tools 101 guide from Curbly—I found that the two most common cuts made with circular saws are cross-cutting and angled cuts through lumber. Given that these are the two most common cuts I make when I’m using a circular saw, it helped confirm my own DIY expertise.
Before testing each cordless circular saw, I first discharged its battery and then left it to charge for a minimum of 48 hours. Once I was certain that the battery of each saw was topped off, I ran each battery-powered saw, along with their corded siblings through the following tests:
Short cuts on pieces of 2-by-4 lumber
Long cuts on ¼-inch plywood sheets
Long cuts through drywall
Long cuts through MDF.
Cross-cutting at a 45-degree angle through 2-by-4 lumber
In order to evaluate the out-of-the-box experience that you get with each saw, all of these tests were conducted using the stock blades each circular saw was shipped with.
In addition to the cutting tests, consideration was also paid to how easily each saw cut through each material, how clean the cut was and how comfortable the saw was to operate. I also paid attention to more subjective bits such as how easy it is to change the saw’s blade or adjust its shoe.
What You Should Know About Circular Saws
Power Source: Before investing in a circular saw, you’ll want to give some thought to whether you want cordless or corded model. It used to be that going cordless meant sacrificing power. That’s no longer the case. Over the last few years, battery technology has advanced significantly, making cordless tools a more competitive solution to their corded counterparts. With this in mind, the choice of whether or not you should go cordless comes down to where and how you plan on using the circular saw. If you frequently work in an area with power outlets or can move the material you are cutting closer to a power source, you might consider a corded circular saw. That’s great news, as corded power tools can often be less expensive than their battery-powered counterparts, especially once you factor in the additional cost of a battery and charger. However, if you frequently work in areas without easily accessible power, adding a cordless circular saw to your toolkit makes more sense.
Compatibility: If you’ve decided that buying a cordless circular saw is the best fit for how you work, you’ll want to think about compatibility. For example, if you already own a number of cordless power tools that use the same battery, then the smart move is to buy a saw that will run off of those batteries. Doing so will save you from forking over extra money for a new battery and charger, just so you can use the saw. If a new circular saw is the first battery-powered tool that you’ll own, give some thought to what other tools the saw’s manufacturer offers (like a cordless drill) that you might like to buy down the road. Doing this will ensure that you’re satisfied with your purchase for years to come.
Blade Size: For circular saws currently on the market, the most common blade size is 7.25 inches. However, if you choose a cordless saw, generally, the blade size is slightly smaller at 6.5 inches. Selecting a saw with a common size makes buying replacement blades easier and gives you a quick short-hand of the saw’s cutting capabilities.
Left- or Right-Handed?: Unlike scissors, saws are labeled according to the side of the motor the blade is located, rather than the hand dominance of the user. On left-sided circular saws, the blade is to the left of the motor, while right-sided saws have a blade on the right. That means, no matter which hand you prefer to write, eat, and do other activities with, you can easily use either sided blade. Preference on a blade boils down to simply having a different setup for cutting—keeping in mind where your saw motor is supported on the table and keeping your arms out of the line-of-sight for the cutting area. As a right-handed user, I prefer the left-sided saw. I don’t have to look over the motor to see my cutting area and I prefer to stand to the left of the saw rather than directly behind it. That said, I found it easy to switch between the two different sided saws by either changing the direction of my cut, or the way my material is supported.
Other Circular Saws We Tested
The CCS180 offers most of the features the DeWalt does, in a slick-looking gray and blue, left-blade design. Weighing 6.6 pounds, almost half a pound less than the DeWalt, the CCS180 offered a similar level of comfort to the DCS391, thanks to its ergonomic rubber-coated grip and easy-to-reach safety button, located on the side of its handle. The Bosch offers further safety considerations with a quick stopping blade brake when you lift your finger off the trigger and a left-sided blade orientation. By placing the blade on the left side, the Bosch CCS180 offers increased visibility of the cutting area and a safer direction of travel should the saw ever kick back on you. However, you might find the left-sided blade awkward if you are used to a circular saw with a right-hand orientation.
In testing, the Bosch cut a particularly clean line on the particleboard and drywall. The Bosch batteries have a similar indicator to the DeWalt 20v battery, but you need to pull the battery out of the tool to check the charge gauge.
While very similar to the DeWalt and the Bosch circular saws in both style and functionality, the Hitachi’s handle was not as ergonomically comfortable as my top picks. However, it performed well on all our tests, with a particularly clean cut on particleboard.
Now for the bad news: The C18DGL’s battery doesn’t come with a charge indicator like other brands. This leads to frustration if you set up the saw, only to discover that its battery is completely discharged. (A Hitachi battery and charger can be had for around $80—just over half the price of a charger and battery for the DeWalt DCS391).
Additionally, it’s difficult to find this saw. Earlier this year, Hitachi announced a name change to Metabo HPT. Most of their products are expected to come under this new branding by December 2018. Hitachi has stated that once the name change comes into play, Hitachi batteries and those with the new Metabo HPT branding will be interchangeable and that they will continue to honor the warranty of any of their tools purchased before the rebranding. Keep your eyes open for good deals on some great tools as the old branding is phased out.
The Ryobi ONE+ circular saw was able to cut through everything I threw at it. However, the handle was not very comfortable with a seam that rubbed directly on my palm. I also found that, once the battery was attached to it, the saw’s balance felt a little awkward. However, if this is a battery platform that you own other tools in, this circular saw cut well and would be a good addition to your toolbox. (A battery and charger will run you about $80.)
Weighing in at 9 pounds, the Milwaukee M18 is a beast. Granted, this is only two pounds heavier than our top pick, the DeWalt DCS391. But those few extra pounds of weight were really noticeable after a couple of cuts. While the Milwaukee cut noticeably cleaner than some of the other saws, the heavier weight and the higher price knocked it out of the running for the best circular saw.
However, safety and durability are certainly at the top of Milwaukee's design considerations: The electric brake was a very quick and safe stop after letting go of the trigger. Also, the M18 was the only cordless saw in this roundup with an all-metal (aluminum) shoe and blade cover. In addition, the framing hook allowed for the saw to hang well in our cutting area. As a left-handed saw, the M18 is arguably safer for kickback and provides better visibility of the blade while cutting. However, if a right-sided blade is your preferred tool, you’ll have a bit of a learning curve before mastering this saw.
At 9 pounds, the Ridgid R8653 was one of the heavier cordless circular saws that I tested for this guide. But, the way that Rigid oriented the saw’s battery made the R8653’s extra heft feel manageable and balanced. This saw features a comfortable handle, LED lighting that is activated when you move the saw, and an excellent blower for removing sawdust. Unfortunately, the R8653 was unable to complete a crosscut at a 45-degree angle through 2-by-4 lumber. When the saw failed the first attempt, I swapped out the battery I had been using (which showed I was at 75 percent) and tried with a fresh battery. This attempt failed again. I was a bit surprised at the result; most of the other cordless saws I tested for this guide completed the test with minimal troubles.
Aside from its issues with angled cuts, you should know that batteries and charger for the R8653 will set you back more than $100, beyond what you’re already paying for the saw.
While its comparative portability is a plus, the Black and Decker BDCCS20 comes equipped with the smallest blade size, at 5-1/2 inches, of any of the saws I tested. The Black + Decker BDCCS20 was limited to cutting only the thinnest of materials. While it was able to start cutting the particle board, I used in my tests, it froze and refused to advance further than about 2 inches in. Additionally, during the drywall test, the BDCCS20 cuts were ragged and far more chewed up compared to other saws in my test group. I’m not quite sure who this saw would be ideal for other than someone who’s only interests include cutting trim or boards no greater than one inch thick. On the plus side, the saw comes with a charger and battery. So there’s that.
The Ridgid R3204 might lack the bells and whistles that many corded circular saws have, such as LED lights and laser cutting guides. But it comes equipped with a magnesium alloy base and blade guard—desirable features that make the saw safer to use and more durable. Unfortunately, no matter how safe it might be to work with, I discovered that the R3204 was unable to complete a 45-degree cross-cut on a two-inch piece of lumber. That’s disappointing, to say the least.
With an LED lamp to light its cutting area, large levers that make adjustments a cinch and all magnesium guards, the Makita 5007MGA, which has a 7 ¼-inch blade, looks pretty desirable. The cuts it made were noticeably cleaner for drywall and plywood than most of the saws I tested. Unfortunately, the Makita was not able to pass my 45-degree lumber cut test. In all fairness, the tool specifications do not claim that it can cut past 1-3/4-inch. However, considering other saws—some with smaller blades—were able to complete the 45-degree cut test, this highlights the Makita’s shortcomings.
After using the SKIL5280, I had high expectations for their contractor level saw in the SKILSAW SPT67WM. But I was really disappointed with the lack of features compared to the SKIL5280’s thoughtful power LED indicator and safety trigger on the handle. Safety features aside, this SKILSAW was easily the noisiest saw I tested. After I completed my test cut, I didn’t even hear the cut piece hit the ground. The SPT67WM easily sliced through each cut I tested. On the plus side, it felt like the saw pulled forward during the cut, making it less of an effort to make those longer cuts.
I recently got to check out the Craftsman relaunch with their updated tools after Stanley Black and Decker bought the brand from Sears and its products will now be sold at Lowe's stores. That included a quick hands-on with the new V20 cordless saw. Unfortunately, the saw isn’t available for in-depth testing or purchase yet. We’ll update this roundup once the saw is available.
We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.