When looking to purchase the next piece of equipment for your woodshop, you may have friends advise you to buy a circular saw.
Other people may suggest a skill saw. Skill saw vs circular saw…how do you know which is the best for you?
It’s actually kind of a trick question. Skill saws and circular saws are essentially the same thing.
Skill saws get their name from the famous manufacturer Skil. Their circular saws are so popular that with many woodworkers, the name Skil came to mean circular saw. Over time the term skill saw developed.
It’s similar to how Kleenex means tissues or Band Aid means adhesive bandages.
So what you really need to think about is what kind of circular saw you need. There are several features and benefits to consider in order to select the one that’s best for you.
What Is A Circular Saw?
At its core, a circular saw is an electric or battery operated saw with a flat round blade.
The handle features a trigger switch, safety guards, and the ability to adjust the bevel, height, and depth. These saws can cut wood, plastic, or even metal depending on the blade.
There are two main kinds of handheld circular saws, determined by the placement of the motor.
Worm Drive Circular Saw
The worm drive circular saw is constructed with the motor parallel to the blade, toward the back end.
It is made to cut through heavy materials like thick lumber and sometimes concrete. Two gears transfer the power to the blade.
This gives the saw more torque but keeps the blade speed down to around 4500 RPM. Since it is a longer saw, it cuts wider boards easily and is adept at plunge cutting.
The length also allows for better sightlines, since the blade doesn’t obstruct your view.
Not surprisingly, worm drive saws are heavier and larger than other circular saws.
Most average about 16 pounds. They often require a solid surface to support weight during the cut.
The motor also requires you to add oil every so often.
Sidewinder Circular Saw
The sidewinder circular saw (also called direct drive) features the motor placed at a right angle to the blade.
These more compact, lightweight saws are easier to manage than their larger cousins, so they are more widely used in homes. They average about 11 pounds.
They are good for cutting overhead and vertically, and they can handle plunge cuts, too.
Sidewinders boast a lot of speed because of the motor placement, about 6,000 RPM. There is no need to add oil to the motor, and it is even available in a cordless model.
Handheld Circular Saws Advantages
1. The circular saw can cut quickly and efficiently, bringing the saw directly to the lumber instead of the lumber to the saw.
2. Long life lithium batteries extend the use of cordless saws.
3. The saw provides precise, accurate cuts that are not quite up to a jigsaw’s standard but are still smooth and circular
4. They can handle deep cuts well.
How To Choose The Circular Saw
There are a number of features to consider when it comes time to select a circular saw.
First, think about the project and the power. If a saw isn’t strong enough to handle to job, the blade will get bogged down.
This can make the blade heat up. That can have a ripple effect. A heated blade dulls more quickly, and a dull blade can leave the kerf and push back toward you.
Keep in mind that amps don’t always equate to force. Amps refer to how much electricity the saw will use when it runs. Horsepower is more accurate, because it relates to the torque.
But this torque measurement is the blade spinning in test conditions, not on an actual project.
In many ways, the best thing to do is handle several saws. First, think about if you want a lift-side blade, like a sidewinder would have, or a right-side blade, like a worm drive.
This is mostly your own preference, although some people decide based on whether they are right-handed or left-handed.
When you are holding the saw, review the sight lines, how easy it is to handle, if your wrist ever needs to cross the blade, and how stable and balanced it feels for the kind of woodworking you will do most of the time.
Can the bevel, height and depth be adjusted easily? Saws that use full knobs and level locks are much easier to grasp and change than those with smaller levers and awkward wing nuts.
Cut Line Indicator/Visible Blade
Look in front of the saw’s baseplate for two notches. These need to be exactly aligned with the blade so that you can trust the cut to be just where you need it to be.
It should show both sides of the blade’s kerf so if you want, you can cut a little to the side of your line.
Depending on the job, you may not be able to see the cut line indicator.
For that reason you want to evaluate how well you can see the blade itself through the little safety ‘window.’ This may be your only way to tell if you are staying on your line.
When you drop the saw (and we all do!), the shoe helps prevent damage. A high-quality shoe will be made of strong cast metal, maybe with reinforcing ribs.
A lesser shoe will be constructed from aluminum. This may still offer some protection, but the soft metal will dent easily.
Few things are more frustrating than to be in the middle of the cut and the guard gets stuck and won’t retract. It means you have to stop everything, stretch across the saw, and jiggle the guard to loosen it up.
A quality guard will not have a rough leading edge that could get snagged easily. It will feature a large, smooth front arching over the blade.
Which One To Choose
In general, framers prefer worm drives because they are great at cutting thicker wood. Their more powerful torque handles the construction-type jobs well.
The bit of additional maintenance is a small trade off for the ability to cut heavy wood without bogging down.
Woodworkers, general contractors, and DIY homeowners usually opt for the sidewinder circular saw.
Its lighter weight, ease of use, and precision make it handiest for lighter jobs, especially those that require vertical or overhead cutting.
A circular saw (or skill saw) is a must for serious woodworkers. How powerful a saw you need and the quality of the additional features is a personal choice.
But experts agree that seeing and holding the saw as part of your decision process is vital.