In this Guide
It’s no overstatement to say that the circular saw has revolutionized modern carpentry. It’s become the go-to tool for DIYers who need a portable cutting machine to handle any rips or cross-cuts, and it’s a favorite of any professional contractor’s cutting arsenal. When it comes to making big cuts outside the shop, or on fixed materials, there’s really nothing better than a good circular saw.
However, since these saws have become so ubiquitous, it can be a bit tricky to figure out which ones are the real deal, and which ones are cheap, toy versions that aren’t up to snuff. While large, stationary saws are only made by a select number of brands, you’ll find circular saws from pretty much every tool maker. There are lots of models to sift through, so we decided to come up with a special guide to help you out!
We put our team to work comparing all the circular saws on the market right now, to find the absolute best options available. We’ve focused on 7 1/4” units for this guide, since they’re so versatile and ergonomic. They’re our favorite compromise between power and portability. We’ve pooled our own experience, and consulted reviews from expert woodworkers in periodicals like Family Handyman, Wood, and Popular Mechanics. We’ve also taken the time to sift through and analyze all the buyer reviews of these models that we could find, to make sure our picks will hold up for you over the long term.
Below, you’ll find our own in-depth reviews of the three saws that made the top of our rankings. We’ve also put together a handy how-to section to help you sort out which is the best saw for you!
Let’s jump right in with a glance at the Top Three!
Best on a Budget
- Our Rating: 4.5
- Popularity: Low
- Our Rating: 4.7
- Popularity: Low
- Our Rating: 4.5
- Popularity: Low
Circular Saw Reviews
This Porter Cable is our top recommendation to buyers on a budget. It’s sturdy, accurate, and very powerful for its size. While it’s a bit heavier than a professional might want for full-time use, we think it’s the most affordable “real” circular saw you can find on the market right now.
We’re extremely impressed by the Porter Cable’s sturdy magnesium components, and comfortable hand grip, not to mention the zippy blade. It’s a great choice for DIYers or handymen who need a versatile, powerful unit for less than $100.
- Weight: 9.5 pounds
- Motor: 15 amps, 120V
- Blade speed: 5600 RPM
- Cutting capacity: 2 3/8” at 90 degrees, 1 13/16 at 45 degrees
It’s very affordable. This Porter Cable costs well under $100, and if you wait for the right sale, many buyers have gotten it for less than $75. You can’t do much better than that. Family Handyman awarded this unit their top value prize. Previous buyers said that they were extremely surprised to find such a powerful, sturdy saw priced so cheaply, and so are we! It’s by far the best bargain on the market right now.
It’s powered by a 15-amp motor: the same amperage as our top recommendations! It cranks out up to 5600 RPM. Reviewers noted that it cut both smoothly and quickly, with no lag and very little vibration in the handle. This one doesn’t have any limitations in the cutting department!
It’s very lightweight, compared to other budget options. While this one isn’t quite as light as some of the top-shelf models, the use of a magnesium show is a serious upgrade over most saws at this price. It saves a lot of weight, and feels just as sturdy. Buyers didn’t have any complaints about weight or ergonomics with this one.
That’s mostly thanks to a cast magnesium shoe, which replaces a part which is traditionally solid (heavy) steel. Previous buyers said it felt very high quality, but also lighter than a stamped steel shoe. It’ll hold up better to falls, and it’s a material you don’t generally find on saws priced this cheaply.
It has a 55-degree bevel capacity, with positive stops built in to help you find your angles quickly. That’s much better than other budget models and reviewers said the bevel stops felt firm and secure. The levers for both the bevel and the depth of cut adjustment are nice and big.
There’s a very nice grip cushion on the handle. Users said they didn’t feel much vibration at all through the handgrip, which is another key advantage the Porter Cable has over other saws in this price class.
It has an 8-foot power cord. That’s big enough to get you over a 4×8 sheet of material. Reviewers found that it was flexible enough to maneuver without tangling or bunching.
It comes with a decent framing blade, equipped with carbide tips, and it cuts straight right out of the box. Generally, you’ll have to do a few tweaks to get a budget circular saw to cut dead-on. However, buyers found that their Porter Cable units were squared off straight from the factory.
It’s covered by a 3-year warranty. That’s very impressive for a machine this inexpensive!
It doesn’t come with any extras. You get the saw, a basic blade, and an adjustment wrench. We’re not disappointed at this price, but you should be aware that you’ll need to buy a case and replacement blades separately.
The adjustment knobs are a bit cheap. They’re all plastic, although the thick, dense material used here is better than some other budget options we’ve seen. With that said, we always prefer metal-core levers and knobs.
It’s not as light as a lot of other saws.
It doesn’t have an electric brake. That’s a big safety point lost for the Porter Cable. Even though electric brakes aren’t an industry standard at this point in time, we think they definitely should be.
This Dewalt unit is one of the best-selling saws on the market. It’s a lighter, smarter alternative to the Porter Cable. We especially love all the little design tweaks which make this one even more versatile and easy to use, without creating a larger footprint. It has a very impressive cutting capacity for its size, and a wide bevel range to boot.
Plus, it features a roomier handgrip, sturdier power cord, and a smart dust blower system that make it feel like more of a real woodworker’s tool than the Porter Cable. It also adds the safety bonus of an electric brake. We recommend it to pros who value light weight and compact design for working in tight spaces or over long hours. We also think it’s an affordable option for DIYers who want pro-grade accuracy at a more reasonable price.
- Weight: 8.8 pounds
- Motor: 15 amp, 120V
- Blade speed: 5200 RPM
- Cutting capacity: 2.55” at 90 degrees, 1.9” at 45 degrees
It has a lot of the features we liked on the Porter Cable: large, tactile levers and knobs, legible measurements and sightlines, a padded grip, and a powerful motor. Overall, it’s a well-equipped, ergonomic saw that’s easy to use with or without gloves.
It’s lighter than the Porter Cable. In fact, it’s a solid 20% lighter than the competition from all the leading brands in this category! That might seem like a small difference, but it’s a world of improvement in terms of ergonomics, especially with wrist and shoulder strain. This is a great choice for people who use their circular saw very frequently.
It’s very nearly as fast as the Porter Cable, in a smaller package. This one achieves a no-load blade RPM of 5200 RPM, which is zippy enough to cut through any sort of wood, concrete, or other building material with no lag, provided you use the appropriate blade.
It has a wider (57-degree) bevel capacity than the Porter Cable. This one’s ideal for people who cut lots of angles, especially on the wider side of things. As with the Porter Cable, there are positive stops built in to help you find common angles quickly.
This one also has a higher overall cutting capacity, thanks to a smart arbor design that lets you cut materials over 2.5”! That’s a noticeable improvement over the Porter Cable, and it’s at the top of the range for this class of saw.
It has an integrated dust blower. Not only does it keep sawdust away from your workpiece, but it’s specifically aimed to keep your sightline clear. Reviewers were very happy with how well the system worked on this model.
It’s very reliable, thanks to a ball bearing guard design that keeps dust and debris out.
This one adds an electric brake, which stops the blade quickly after you release the trigger. It’s a big advantage in the safety department, since the Porter Cable’s blade will keep on spinning for a while after you stop cutting. This one reduces your delay time between cuts, and makes your workplace a safer environment
There are lots of little design features which make this one feel very well thought-out. It has a very sturdy cord that’s many times better at withstanding cord pullout from drops than the competition. It provides better clearance between the handle and the blade guard than other units, which makes it more comfortable to use for people with larger hands or bulky work gloves.
It also has a slot for you to add a rip fence. You can store the blade-change wrench onboard the saw. All in all, the Dewalt is one of the most user-friendly circular saws we’ve reviewed to date.
It comes with a carrying case. That’s super convenient, especially since you can use it to store spare blades as well as the saw itself.
It’s covered by a great warranty, like the Porter Cable. The Dewalt is covered by a 3-year warranty, a 90-day satisfaction guarantee, and a 1-year paid service contract.
Dewalt quality control isn’t the best in the business. A small percentage of buyers received units that weren’t squared-off properly between the blade and the shoe plate. You can adjust the alignment with some plate screws and the instructions in the manual, but some buyers weren’t able to get it quite right. However, the vast majority of users got saws that were dead-on out of the box, and most folks who received wonky units were able to get everything aligned using the adjustment screws.
The stamped aluminum shoe is sturdy and light, but it isn’t quite as reassuring as other shoes we’ve seen: especially the magnesium components used on most competing units. While we didn’t see any buyer complaints about the shoe, we’re taking off a point or two because it feels a bit outclassed by other models.
It’s slower than the Porter Cable. You shouldn’t notice the difference in a major way, but if you cut lots of concrete or wet, pressure-treated stock, this one might not be quite as zippy.
It doesn’t come with a blade. That’s not a huge downside, since most factory blades are sub-par, but you should be aware that you’ll need to order a blade at the same time you buy your saw. We suggest a Diablo carbide option.
While we didn’t see any issues reported with this model, we’ve found that other Dewalt saws have warranties which offer coverage for repair costs, but won’t cover transporting your saw to the service center. You should be prepared to either ship the saw back to the company, or drive to a service center if something goes wrong. We think that given this gap in coverage, it’s a good idea to purchase third-party/add-on coverage for the Dewalt, to make sure you won’t have to foot the bill for any issues down the road.
The Makita is a shoo-in for our top quality spit. It’s Family Handyman’s top recommendation, and you’ll find it in the top of most roundups of the best circular saws. We love it because it’s so precise and easy to use. It’s specifically designed for the rough, unpredictable world of construction and DIY.
It’s a heavier-duty, harder-hitting choice for the full-time pro, or DIYer who works with a lot of salvaged materials. We don’t think you can do any better for a new circular saw!
- Weight: 10.1 pounds
- Motor: 15 amp, 120V
- Blade speed: 5800 RPM
- Cutting capacity: 2 1/2” at 90 degrees, 1 3/4” at 45 degrees
This unit has a lot of the same features we love from the Dewalt. There’s an electric brake system for safety and convenience, a reinforced power cord attachment for durability, and a blade wrench which stores right on the saw itself. There’s also a dust blower which keeps your sightlines clear, and very legible measurements on the shoe.
It has nearly as high a cutting capacity as the Dewalt. This one can cut cleanly through 2.5” lumber, and we’re comfortable recommending it for any and all professional carpentry tasks where you need the maneuverability and convenience of a circular saw. This one is also great at sink-cutting and other tricky tasks where you need its ergonomic design to make an accurate cut.
It has a fast, smooth motor. In fact, it’s faster than the Dewalt! The Makita cranks things up to the same speed as the Porter Cable unit, and it’s one of the most powerful circular saws on the market in terms of speed. It also has an electric brake, like the Dewalt. This brake is even faster, stopping the blade in less than 3 seconds every time.
It’s the best of the three in terms of visibility and legibility. That’s thanks to the active dust blower, as well as an enlarged clearance between the housing and the front of the show. The Makita also provides twin LED worklights, illuminating each cut. That’s a huge advantage over the other two where accuracy is concerned. We’re also very impressed with the rule at the front of the shoe. This one has by far the most user-friendly shoe markings of the three. It uses strong, contrasting black and white markings to show your measurements.
It’s great for angles, and bevels up to 56 degrees. Unlike the SkilSaw and other competitors, this one has a great set of bevel stops. They’re firmer, they lock more securely, and they’re more accurate. We’re going to assume that Makita have used magnesium for these notches, since they feel so much better than the light aluminum components on the competition.
It also adds a positive bevel stop: you’ll have three to choose from as opposed to two on the Dewalt. The levers and knobs are all rubberized, but they have metal cores. Overall, they’re the most rugged of the three, and their molding makes them the most ergonomic as well. We especially love the quick-change knobs for switching between 0/90 and 45 degree bevel stops.
It’s very ergonomic. Previous buyers were very impressed with how balanced the Makita felt. They said that the balance, ergonomics, and handle design made the extra weight unnoticeable. All the adjustments are designed to be made with one hand, and all the knobs are large and tactile.
It comes with a rip fence. That’s a nice bargain for the price, especially if you work on a lot of longer rips.
It has a shoe that’s much more rugged than the Dewalt’s stamped aluminum. The Makita features a shoe plate made from magnesium, which has the strength of steel without all the weight. It feels much less flexible than the Dewalt, and it stands up better to knocks and drops. Many of the other metal parts, including the guard housing , are made from magnesium as well.
It comes with a great blade. The carbide-tipped framing blade has lots of smart features which make it a better performer than other factory-standard blades. There are heat vents built in, and the tips are all coated to reduce heat and pitch build-up. This is a great choice for all framing cuts, even on rough lumber with moisture or hardware risk.
On the whole, the Makita is more of a heavy-duty tool than the Dewalt, which makes it a better choice for the rough and tumble construction trade. Reviewers were close to unanimous in agreeing that this was one of the best circular saws they’d ever used. It’s rugged, powerful, and very user-friendly, with lots of design features the working professional will really appreciate.
It cuts straight out of the box, and reviewers said it went through any materials like a hot knife through butter. Reviewers both professional and amateur though this was one of the smoothest, most accurate saws they’d ever used. It’s no wonder it’s at the top of most periodical rankings!
It doesn’t have quite as impressive a cutting capacity as the Dewalt. That’s a disappointment mainly because the Makita has a larger footprint, and it uses its size less efficiently. In practice, though, we don’t think most folks will notice a difference. This one isn’t quite as good for confined spaces.
There’s not quite as much space for your fingers between the main grip and the housing. That’s one advantage Dewalt like to talk up on their circular saws, since they’ve intentionally provided more space than the Makita. This one might not be ideal for folks with big fingers and thick gloves, but most buyers didn’t have any issues.
It’s the heaviest of the three. One of the Makita’s strongest points is its balanced, ergonomic design. With that said, no amount of smart construction can change the fact that it’s the heaviest unit here by a pound or more. We recommend it to professionals who already have the arm strength to handle this one.
It’s twice the price of the Porter Cable. We think this is still priced very reasonably for the working professional, but it’s probably overkill for a DIYer.
Makita tools don’t come with very long warranty periods. This one’s only covered for 1 year, which is a third of what the Dewalt or Porter Cable saws come with. The warranty also requires you to pay for return shipping or driving the machine to a service center. That’s why we’re recommending you choose add-on warranty coverage for this one. Plans are available for up to 2 extra years, and you’ll have the added benefit of skipping the return or transport costs.
Which is the Best Circular Saw for You?
The Porter Cable is the clear choice for DIYers on a budget, since it’s so affordable. At the same time, it provides superior build quality, power, and accuracy to the other budget options. We think it’s an excellent option for people who want to get an accessible circular saw that doesn’t skimp on quality or limit you to rough, amateur cuts. However, it’s not quite up to par with our other recommendations for the professional. The knobs are flimsier, and there aren’t as many user-friendly features.
The Dewalt is a great midrange choice for people who want to get the most bang for their buck. It has the largest cutting capacity of the three, and it’s the lightest unit here. We think this is a good choice for the ambitious DIYer, or professional contractor who needs something lightweight and reasonably priced. It’s versatile, reliable, and uses its size very productively. However, quality control on this unit is worse than with the others, and the aluminum shoe plate just doesn’t feel as solid or reliable as the magnesium shoes on our other recommendations.
The Makita is our top choice for full-time professionals, especially those who work in a lot of rougher construction environments. It’s the most powerful unit here, and it has by far the best build quality, thanks to all the magnesium parts. This saw can cut through absolutely anything, and with all its user-friendly features like the work lights and legible ruler, it’s excellent for pros who demand precision. However, it’s on the heavy side, and it’s quite expensive. We think it’s overkill for DIYers, and it’s not great for people who don’t have the arm strength to use something like this for extended periods.
Best Worm-Drive Circular Saw
We’ve focused on side-winder circular saws for this guide, since they’re generally lighter on your arm as well as your budget, and they can handle most tasks easily. However, if you cut a lot of rough, wet, hardwoods or construction materials like concrete, or if you make a lot of longer rip cuts, you may want to think about getting a worm-drive circular saw. Their in-line motors provide superior torque and grunt power over sidewinders, which makes them ideal for the heaviest cutting tasks. If you’re a full-time salvager, or working on rougher tasks around a farm, say, you’ll find that a worm drive saw is worth the extra bulk and expense.
Our current favorite comes from Dewalt:
This unit is built super tough, like our Makita sidewinder recommendation. It has a magnesium guard and footplate, for an ideal balance between weight and ruggedness. It’s fast, too, at 4800 RPM, but where it really excels is in the torque department.
Reviewers found that this one never got bogged down in thick materials, even making longer cuts. It’s much safer on rough lumber, since it doesn’t kick back or stall like a sidewinder. This model has a much heavier-duty plate and guard than the Dewalt that made our top three, and it’s got a great reputation for reliability and durability.
It’s accurate, cuts smoothly, and is pretty much unstoppable. While it’s heavier and more expensive than any of our Top Three choices, this saw is a great alternative for the pro looking for an extra bit of power and smoothness, especially for folks who work outdoors or with salvaged materials. It’s covered by the same 3-year coverage as the other Dewalt.
How to Choose the Right Circular Saw
Decide on your budget:
Circular saws generally cost between $50 and $250. We recommend spending at least $75 for your tool, even if you’re a casual DIYer. We’ve found that anything cheaper than the $75 mark tends to be disposable, with too weak of a motor to get anything done smoothly and cleanly.
You’ll find that circular saws are scaled by the type of motor arrangement onboard. You’ll be looking primarily at a choice between sidewinders and worm-drive saws.
Sidewinders are by far the most common type of circular saw, and they’re the original format most people picture when they hear the term “circular saw.” These units have the motor off to one side of the blade, which allows for a more compact (and lighter) design. They usually hit higher blade RPMs, and are the most affordable sort of circular saw to buy.
They’re smaller, which means they’re ideal for working in tight spaces, or for folks who want to be able to store their circular saw as easily as possible. On the downside, they have lower torque than worm-drive models, so they tend to bog down or burn out more easily. Higher-end “helical” units rival worm-drive saws in terms of torque, and they’re a good lightweight alternative for folks who need lots of torque.
Worm-drive saws have the motor lined up with the blade, which gives them more torque–ideal for cutting wet woods, thick hardwoods, or other materials like concrete. They’re the better choice for heavy-duty structural work. They resist kickback very well, and are better for long rips. However, for most buyers, they’re cost prohibitive and probably overkill.
You’ll usually spend $200+ for a good worm-drive unit, which is more than even a professional-grade sidewinder. They’re also pretty heavy, so it takes the kind of arm strength that a full-time woodworker has to be able to use these well. We only recommend them to full-time pros who can really get their money’s worth.
Compact sidewinders generally cost less than $100, while full-size sidewinders will usually cost from $100-$150. We recommend that DIYers spend between $17-$125, while professionals will be better off with something between $125 and $200.
We’ve recommended only sidewinder saws in our top three, because they’re simply what most folks can afford, and get use out of. They’re faster, lighter, and more maneuverable for most buyers. However, if you think the extra torque of a worm-drive unit would come in handy, you’d be well-advised to check out the Dewalt we’ve featured above.
Look for solid, cast-metal shoes:
No matter how well you take care of your tools, you’re almost guaranteed to drop your saw at some point. With that in mind, you should pay careful attention to the shoe (facing plate and mounts) on your circular saw, since the shoe will take the brunt of a fall.
Make sure you get a cast-metal shoe, with raised, reinforced or ribbed edges. These won’t crumple like a stamped, flat shoe. Most cast shoes are made from steel, which can be heavy for some folks to use. Magnesium is a common alternative which provides the same strength with less weight. You can also get away with aluminum, provided it’s thick enough to take a fall without bending. Avoid thin, cheap aluminum shoes, since they crumple easily.
The shoe plate of your circular saw will also play the largest role in determining the accuracy and precision of your woodwork. You should look for machined plates as opposed to stamped plates, since machined components are generally more level. It’s also an excellent idea to find a model which allows you to adjust the alignment of the shoe plate, since shipping can cause some circular saws to arrive misaligned.
Look for clear, accurate ruler markings, and exact blade cutouts to give you a sightline of exactly where you’re cutting. You’ll want them to be reinforced, along with the bevel stops, which can wear out if they’re not reinforced with molding.
Pay attention to ergonomics:
Unlike all the stationary saws in your shop, a circular saw is a hand tool. As such, you want it to fit comfortably and easily in your hand, so that you can use it safely, accurately, and confidently.
Look for sculpted, comfortable handles which give you leverage without making your wrists uncomfortable. You’ll want space between the handle and the guard for your hand, especially if you work with gloves. You should look for large, molded handles and knobs which can be adjusted with gloves on, without feeling too fiddly or delicate.
Small levers, wing-nuts, and other catches aren’t going to serve you well, especially if you often make quick adjustments as you work. Look for a lightweight saw, under 12 pounds at the very heaviest, and preferably at or below the 10 pound mark. The lighter the saw, the more ergonomically friendly.
You should also pay attention to where the weight of the unit is balanced. You’ll want something that’s centered right in the middle of the blade, so that you’re not constantly struggling to balance the saw yourself. Expect the handles to be equipped with a rubber grip or other soft material to dampen vibration and give you better purchase on the saw. (Read more from This Old House)
Consider the long term:
With any tool, you should make sure you’re buying something that will last you for years of use.
The more you pay for your saw, the more you can expect to get in terms of magnesium metal parts, reinforced components, and motor features that boost reliability. When you’re shopping, think about how much you’ll use your circular saw, and for how intensive of tasks. DIYers who use their saw occasionally, but for smaller projects and on forgiving materials can probably get away with a few plastic or light aluminum components.
If you’re a full-time carpenter or construction contractor, you’ll want to spend $125+ for something that can handle daily abuse. Expect magnesium shoe plates, guards, and other metal features as standard above $150. You’ll also want all-metal adjustments, in the blade height, angle, and locks.
You should also take a close look at your warranty coverage, and additional coverage options available at the checkout. Expect at least a few years of coverage, and double check to see what the warranty actually covers. With a lot of power saws, you’ll be covered for repairs, but you’ll have to foot the bill for getting the machine back to the maker for maintenance. With a power tool, that can be costly.
One way to get around that cost and extend your warranty coverage in the process is to get an add-on policy from a third-party provider at the checkout. These plans are usually quite affordable, and they’ll save you having to deal with frustrating customer service people from the manufacturer.
We’ve found that buyers who purchased external plans generally had much better experiences getting their problems solved than folks who went through the company. The other benefit of these plans is that they’ll add extra years to the warranty, which means you can get a much longer working life out of your tools.
We don’t always recommend these plans (for instance, the Porter Cable unit we’ve recommended here has sufficient coverage already), but it can really come in handy for saws that have short coverage (like the Makita) or warranties with lots of caveats (like the Dewalt’s we’ve looked at here).
Visibility is the other huge factor that’ll determine how well a circular saw will serve you. After all, it doesn’t matter how smoothly a circular saw cuts if you can’t see well enough to make accurate cuts in the first place! In thinking about visibility, look for a clear line of sight between your face and the line of cut, clearly-marked, legible rules and measures.
To get a good line of sight as you cut, you should look for a frame that provides a gap between the top of the motor and blade guard and the front of the shoe, where the ruler and line of cut markers are laid out. You’ll also want to look for a dust blower that’s aligned to keep sawdust and worksite debris out of your way as you cut, so you never lose sight of your line or pencil marks.
Some premium units also have LED worklights, which give you even better visibility. They’re a good choice for folks working in awkward spaces where light might not always be ideal.
Don’t worry about the factory blade:
While we’d love to see a high-quality factory blade on any new saw we buy, the fact is that most toolmakers don’t provide factory blades that are as well-designed or well-made as their tools. So, we don’t think you should choose a circular saw based on the factory blade, no matter the price of the unit.
You should almost certainly plan to replace your blade, especially if you’re buying a saw that’s less than $150. If you’re looking for a reliable, well-designed upgrade blade, we’ve found that Diablo make some excellent options for 7 ¼” saws like these. You can find all their blades on Amazon here!