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I've made do with hand tools for everything including the rare plywood job for several years now and I want to buy a good circular saw. I will not use it very often, but when I do it will be for serious work like plywood sheets or stair treads.

Is there any specific features or brands I should look for? I want a relatively lightweight saw (probably means a sidewinder) but powerful enough to cut hardwood and possibly sheet metal easily. I would also prefer one where things like blade depth are easy to adjust.
PS I'm left-handed if that makes a difference.

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5 Answers 5

up vote 4 down vote accepted

As far as brands go, I trust DeWalt, Milwaukee, and Skil. There are probably more, but those are the ones I've had experience with.

Are you going for a cordless saw, that can be more portable, and good for the occasional plywood cutting project, or a corded one? Usually the corded ones have more power, and a higher duty cycle.

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I would prefer corded because I'd rather keep track of the extension cord which I can see than battery life which I can't. Also, I have a very good Black&Decker drill. Do you have any experience with them? –  Yitzchak Jun 11 '12 at 14:04
Ordered a Skil saw on amazon. 13 amp sidewinder, met my minimal feature list, and had a great price –  Yitzchak Jun 11 '12 at 23:00
A 2nd battery = no worries about charge state. –  Jay Bazuzi Jun 12 '12 at 4:51
Regarding Black&Decker - they were my Dad's brand of choice a few decades ago. However sadly, I've had a couple bad experiences with them, and they're now off my "preferred" list. –  mikemanne Jun 13 '12 at 20:55

It's been a while since I've been to job sites, but a few years ago the tool of choice was a Milwaukee Worm Drive circular saw.

Milwaukee Worm Drive

Things might have changed with well known brands switching to plastic gears, but the torque on these doesn't get much better. They are also well known for having less kick-back problems.

My opinion is to stay away from cordless.

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I agree with the "avoid cordless" sentiment. I had concerns about battery power/longevity. Also, it seemed like all the cordless ones I saw were very small, limiting the versatility of the tool. –  mikemanne Jun 11 '12 at 13:53
battery technology is always changing. If it hasn't reached the tipping point for you yet, be ready for it to happen soon. –  Jay Bazuzi Jun 12 '12 at 4:51
Yep. For those willing to spend the money, Milwaukee and Makita are the best tools out there right now. This generalization is true almost across the board. One notable exception is rotary hammers, where Hilti is the best. Milwaukee = a little more power; Makita = a little more finesse (very lightweight tools, reduce fatigue, etc.) Other brands (DeWalt, Skil, et al.) make perfectly acceptable circular saws, though. Nothing wrong with cordless, but you are making a bit of a tradeoff. Little less power for increased mobility. At times, that extra mobility can be a blessing. –  Michael Jun 12 '12 at 14:01
@JayBazuzi - you're probably right. Might just be my old-guy skepticism kicking in. :) My cordless oscillating tool provides surprising power and longevity per charge - better than I would have thought. –  mikemanne Jun 13 '12 at 20:53
My saw is actually a cheap Craftsman, but between a table saw, a chop saw a mitre saw I don't use it unless I absolutely have to or don't want to dig the others out. If I bought a saw it would be a worm drive, but with my arthritis and other ailments, it would just collect dust with all my other power tools. But I gotem if I needum. –  lqlarry Jun 14 '12 at 0:51

The pros (and experienced amateurs) here may laugh at me, but... I've actually had really good experience with Rigid tools (the home depot "house brand") - including a circ saw, power mitre, cordless drill, and oscillating tool. For me, they struck a very good balance of features, cost, and "solid feel".

I use them for occasional home projects, so I can't speak to their long-term durability/reliability. So far they've all survived a moderate-size retaining wall (6x6 landscape ties) project, a solid hardwood floor project, an engineered-flooring project, and misc small projects - and have served me well through all of them

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+1 for Ridgid. I've had their circular saw for over a year now. I haven't had any problems with it, and I cover some of the pros in this question. I liked it so much that I bought a Ridgid table saw as well. –  Doresoom Jun 11 '12 at 17:16

There are two main types of circular saws, Worm-Drive and Sidewinder. Worm-drives are more powerful and heavy-duty general speaking. If you are going to be doing a lot of cuts, you likely want a worm-drive one. However, this comes with added weight.

Sidewinder saws are not quite as powerful but are lighter and cheaper, and for most DIY jobs are more than sufficient.

Blade size is also important, the standard being 7 1/4". Battery powered saws might have smaller diameter blades which will limit the depth that you can cut.

As the other answers have mentioned, you can also choose between corded and cordless though most circular saws will be of the corded type.

Another features which may or may not be important is the ability to cut on a bevel - you will need to decide if this is needed for your uses.

After that you start getting into "toys" like laser guides, built in lights, etc. that add cost but aren't really critical to the tools abilities.

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I've already decided on a sidewinder for the weight. I probably will need a bevel cut at some point. –  Yitzchak Jun 11 '12 at 14:10
I like my heavy corded worm-drive saw for the sawhorses, bringing the material to the saw. I like my light battery-powered saw when I bring the saw to the material. –  Jay Bazuzi Jun 12 '12 at 4:53

Make sure you buy carbide tipped blades. It will make all the difference. A great saw with a cheap blade = a cheap saw.

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