Q&A / 

Which Circular Saw Should I Buy?

DEAR TIM: I want to buy a circular saw for my husband for our anniversary. That way he can build some things for me that I've been hinting I need. However, when I look online at all the different models and types, I'm more confused than ever. The current rage seems to be cordless saws, and the traditional corded saws seem to be very much out of favor. What kind of saw do you have and what are the pros and cons of each type? What would you buy if you were me? Marsha V., Nederland, TX

DEAR MARSHA: Oh my goodness, you've opened up a can of worms! I can hear the wailing and gnashing of teeth now from countless carpenters, circular saw manufacturers and marketing managers! Let's see how well I can navigate through this minefield and give you solid information.

You're correct that the large battles between all the major power tool companies is being fought in the cordless tool trenches. Cordless power tools are exciting, there are major advancements being made all the time, and they're convenient. I happen to own many cordless power tools, several circular saws among them, and am delighted with their performance.

Here are two nearly identical circular saws. The price is nearly the same for both, but they differ greatly. Photo Credit: Tim Carter

But that being said, I have to tell you that there's no substitute for overall performance when using a traditional corded circular saw hour after hour after hour on the jobsite. For over twenty years in the field as I worked each day, I knew I could pick up my corded circular saw, pull the trigger and have unlimited top power so long as there was electricity. Even when there wasn't traditional power, I made my own with a portable generator.

Let's start with the pros that surround cordless circular saws. If you have the battery charged up, and perhaps a second battery, you can saw wood anytime, anywhere under just about any conditions. You just pull the trigger and the saw blade starts spinning. If a battery runs out of stored power, you can have a new battery in the tool in seconds and be back to work.

Cordless saws free you from the cord, and extension cords, that can sometimes get in the way. These saws can be time savers because you don't have to fiddle around with long tangled extension cords.

Now let's talk about a few of the cons surrounding the cordless saws. Understand these are subjective points from my perspective. They may not be generally held feelings by all. First, you can only get unlimited power from a cordless saw if you have multiple batteries and a power source that recharges the batteries. If you have this power source, this could just as easily connect to a corded saw.

The cordless circular saws have been steadily advancing getting more and more powerful each year. But in my opinion, understanding I don't have expensive testing equipment at my disposal, a cordless circular saw can't come close to cutting wood at the same rate in a given amount of time as a traditional corded saw. The cordless saw out of the gate may keep up with, or even cut faster than a corded saw, but within a few minutes of continuous cutting, the corded saw just keeps on going like that cute bunny that beats the drum while the cordless saw slows down and stops.

Realize that when you purchase a corded saw, you don't usually ever have to buy anything else to keep it running. The batteries on cordless saws can go bad. Some batteries eventually wear out and you need to replace them. The price tag on cordless batteries can take your breath away.

There's a subtle difference the rookie tool buyer like you might not pick out between the two saws. Most cordless saws come with a 6.5-inch diameter blade. The traditional corded saws usually have a 7.25-inch diameter blade. This larger blade, assuming both saws are spinning at the same revolutions per minute, produces more cutting power because the larger blade tips are moving faster as they're farther away from the center of the axle. This means more power when the blade contacts the wood.

Don't forget that you still need 120-volt power to make a cordless circular saw work. The batteries have to be recharged. If you have lots of cutting to do and not enough batteries, you will stop working. I know, as it's happened to me. That would never happen with a corded saw. As long as you have power, and you keep your finger on the trigger, the saw blade spins.

At the end of the day, and if your budget allows over time, your husband would appreciate having both saws! There are times when I absolutely need and use a corded saw, but then there are jobs where it's great to have the versatility of a cordless circular saw. No matter what you buy, he'll be happy.

Be sure to pay attention to pricing. The saws that cost more generally have better parts and are made to last generations if you take care of them. The more expensive tools tend to be made for pros that use the tools day in and day out. If your husband will use the saw on occasional weekends, a pro circular saw will deliver top performance for decades.

You can watch numerous saw videos that contain secret tips at www.AsktheBuilder.com. Simply type "saw video" into the search engine at www.AsktheBuilder.com.

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