Features to Look for on a Circular Saw
If you’ve been on the jobsite for a while, you know what features to look for on a circular saw. Ot at least the features you’re used to. As circular saws move to greater performance in the cordless sector, more of these features are showing up – along with a few new ones.
Features to Look for on a Circular Saw
A user’s initial impression of a saw is through its grip feel, balance, and ease of adjustments. The rear handle of every circular saw should have a rubber surface for a sure grip and most will also have the same material on their front knobs (pommels).
A few saw handles in our cordless shootout were less comfortable because they were too vertical, too fat, or had trigger safety buttons that were difficult to push. Trigger safeties should be within easy reach of your thumb – even when bevel cutting – and ones you push down on are generally easier to use than one you push in. Repositioning your hand to squeeze your thumb inward compromises your grip more than a downward pushing action. And saws that require you to move your trigger finger to reach the safety and then reposition your hand with the saw running to get a good grip on the handle are the most awkward to start.
A heavy saw will always feel heavy, but good balance can offset the strain associated with handling a heavyweight circular saw. Keep in mind that the plus-size batteries we often use in cordless circular saws put these tools at their heaviest – and the bigger batteries may negatively affect the balance the tool was originally designed with.
Setting the depth adjustment should be an easy task for Pro level circular saws. Often depth scales are way off, so check first before depending on one. But that’s not a deal breaker since you can draw your own marks.
Most circular saws have depth locking levers placed to the outside of the saw. They are easy to reach here but can bump loose when the saw is set down on the work surface, especially for saws with levers that lock down near the level of the shoe.
Setting a saw’s bevel angle precisely is easier with saws that have marks every one degree instead of every five degrees and thin marks etched into the bevel angle quadrant are typically easier to see and last longer than those merely painted on. Similarly, definitive pointers down close to the degree marks reduce parallax error and increase setting precision. However they are constructed, bevel scales and pointers with strong visual contrast help immensely.
A few extra features found on some of the saws add a nice bit of functionality in different situations. Hanging hooks are handy to have when you are away from the cut station, allowing you to hang the saw securely from a nearby scaffold rail or a bit of blocking. And though they are totally invisible in bright daylight, LED headlights really come alive indoors and can be a big help in the shop or at a remodeling job. Also well-suited for indoor work, the aimable dust ports found on a few circular saws can be connected to a portable vacuum to tame airborne dust.
Performance Enhancing Features
Features that help you work effectively with a circular saw include accurate cutline markers, good blade visibility, smooth guard retraction, and a flat shoe set parallel to the blade. The best cutline markers line up exactly with the kerf cut by the saw with a notch no wider than a thin-kerf saw blade so you can tell where to aim to cut to one side of your mark or the other. Markers with a notch much wider than the kerf or out of line with it require some doctoring before you can rely on them.
Because you can’t always sight your cut through the cutline marker, visibility of the blade where it enters the material is important. When the blade is facing the user, you usually have an unobstructed line of sight, but saws with the blade facing away provide more a challenge with the view often blocked by the upper guard housing, lower guard retracting lever, or the user’s hand on the front knob. Keeping a saw set at its maximum depth of cut can help since it moves more of the blade forward into the viewing “window” above the motor.
A saw’s lower guard should to retract freely during any cut, regardless of blade depth or cutting angle. The best guards have angled lower edges and rounded lobes to ride up on the material better so you don’t have to make cuts with the guard lever held open with your front hand. Cast metal guards with rough edges often work much better after a little smoothing. To reduce guard hang-ups, sawing with the minimum depth of cut required will help.
To achieve lower bevel angles, modern saws have much of the shoe cut away in the middle so there is little bearing surface keeping the saw steady. Variance in shoe flatness – especially across the width – can cause the saw to tilt and bind during the cut. Such a bend or dip across the shoe can also effectively change the angle of the blade relative to the material being cut depending on how much of the shoe sits on the material. A long cutoff piece in contact with both the left and right perimeter of the shoe will bridge the gap, but during a shave cut, the saw will tilt toward the dip in the center of the shoe, making it difficult to achieve square cuts of all lengths.
Besides being flat, a saw’s shoe should also have edges set parallel to the blade so it can be guided effectively against a straightedge or square.
This is what our Pros agree are the features to look for on a circular saw. Think we missed one (or more)? Feel free to tell us about it in the comments below or hit us up on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter!