Sidewinder Vs Worm Drive Circular Saws News & Opinion

Sidewinder Vs Worm Drive Circular Saws

You’d be hard-pressed to find a jobsite without a circular saw, an indispensable tool for framing, long crosscuts, and even beveling. So what’s the difference between Sindewinders and Worm Drives? Isn’t a circular saw just a circular saw? *Buzzer Sound!* Actually, no. Sidewinder circular saws (or more appropriately, direct drive) and Worm Drive circular saws perform essentially the same function and you can use them interchangeably for the most part, but there are some important differences that you need to know. We’re here to cut through the confusion about Sidewinder Vs Worm Drive Circular Saws!

Circular Reasoning

Curiously, tradesmen in the West and Mid-West are typically more familiar with Worm Drives, while East Coasters are more likely to use Direct Drives. No doubt you can typically substitute a Direct Drive for a Worm Drive, but let’s talk about the substantive differences.


Motor Orientation and Profile

The first handheld circular saw, what we’d call a Worm Drive, was the Skilsaw developed in the mid-1920s. The motor was behind the blade, making the tool relatively long and narrow. Worm Drive saws are still designed like that today. The centerline of the motor is in line with the handles, parallel to the plane of the saw blade, and has a narrow foot that lets users – like remodelers, for instance – get into more confined spaces. The longer distance between the handle and the blade extends a user’s reach while making a cut, which is helpful for jobs such as framing a roof.

Sidewinder Vs Worm Drive Circular Saws

A spiral gear (the worm gear) turns another gear oriented at 90-degrees, which turns the blade.

SKIL SHD77M Worm Drive gear


Due to different design ideas or patent constraints or a combination of both, the Direct Drive saw was later developed featuring the motor next to the blade. This makes the saw wider, but also shorter, than a Worm Drive saw and can provide more control for the less experienced user. A spur gear turns the Direct Drive’s blade.

Skilsaw Sidewinder SPT67WL-01 Handle

There’s another consideration here. Direct Drives put the saw off-balance, so to speak, as the motor side is heavier than the blade side. Imagine the extra control you need if you finish a cut and the motor is over the waste side of the material: the saw will have the tendency to fall toward the motor. However, making the cut so that the motor ends over the supported, “keeper” side will help you maintain control as the cut ends.

Blade Orientation

Traditionally, Worm Drive saws have been blade-left saws while Direct Drives have been blade-right. This is changing, however, and the distinction isn’t quite as clear as it once was. This might seem irrelevant at first, but it influences cut line visibility. The narrower, longer, blade-left Worm Drive saws give right-handed users a better sight line. Of course, blade-right saws give left-handed users a better sight line. Keep in mind that a clear sight line happens with one-handed use – using the non-dominant hand on the pommel handle can obscure the line.

You can read more about blade-left vs blade-right considerations here!


Worm Drive saws spin slower than their Direct Drivin’ brethren. You’ll usually find Worm Drives at about 4,250 RPM while Direct Drives can be 6,000 RPM or higher. You can count them all, or just take our word for it!

Skilsaw Sidewinder SPT67WL-01 Action



A Worm Drive has larger gear teeth with more load-carrying capacity than a Direct Drive, offering more power and durability and allowing the saw to handle higher shock loads. It can plunge cut and do tougher jobs because it’s got more muscle behind it. If you won’t need that muscle, you might opt for the Direct Drive because it’s almost always lighter than the Worm Drive.

Sidewinder Vs Worm Drive Circular Saws

Because of this, many Pros that carry both saws consider the Worm Drive a rip cutting saw and the Direct Drive a cross cutting saw, but you can use either one for both tasks once you get a feel for it.

Learn how to make the perfect cross cut in our video!


Well, oops, we gave it away already. Direct Drives are lighter so you can more easily hold and maneuver them for unusual cuts. While the heftier tools might typically be something tradesmen shy away from, you can use the weight to your advantage for longer cuts or quick crosscuts in a downward motion.


Sidewinder Vs Worm Drive Circular Saws In Practice

You don’t have to be a longtime reader to anticipate what we think – both circular saw designs are excellent and one design might come in handier for particular applications. So get both because, hey, more tools.

Direct Drive (Sidewinder) Breakdown

  • Spur Gear Design
  • Side Motor Design
  • Higher RPM
  • Lower Torque
  • Shorter and Wider Profile
  • Lighter Weight
  • Typically Blade Right for Corded Models
  • Easier to Maneuver
  • Best for Cross Cuts and Softer Woods

Worm Drive Breakdown

  • 90-Degree Worm Gearing
  • Rear Motor Design
  • Lower RPM
  • Higher Torque
  • Longer and Narrower Profile
  • Heavier Weight
  • Typically Blade Left
  • Tougher to Maneuver
  • Best for Long Rip Cuts and Harder Woods
  • Periodic Oiling is Necessary

Whatever saw you choose, always be sure to wear appropriate safety gear. We hope you’ve enjoyed this article about Sidewinder Vs Worm Drive Circular Saws. If you’re a Pro and you have a circular saw tips, add them in the comments below or hit us up on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter to share your thoughts.




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Art ThoghPaul HopkinsJeff RawlinsElectricalChris ManskeSteven Brophy Recent comment authors
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Art Thogh
Art Thogh

The worm drive is much more pleasant to use, at least compared to the Skilsaw sidewinder that has a shrill sound to it. The shrieky sound of the direct drive is rather annoying; with the worm drive, the sound of the wood cutting predominates more than the motor.

Jeff Rawlins
Jeff Rawlins

Worm drive is better for framing. I’m surprised you didn’t mention this. Having the weight out in front allows you to support, say, a 2×4 on top of your foot and make your 90 degree cut in a downward motion, at least several inches from your foot, of course. If you haven’t seen this you haven’t been around Western framers, at least not in the 1900s.

ElectricalChris Manske

Warm drive more torque for everything you need for cutting.

Steven Brophy

Worm all the way

John Riley

I’m a Midwest guy … worm drive for heavy framing or thicker plywood and sidewinder for osb and small task