You’d be hard-pressed to find a jobsite without a circular saw. So what makes people choose between sidewinders and worm drives? And why does the East Coast choose the former while the West Coast seems to prefer the latter? Isn’t a circular saw just a circular saw? *Buzzer Sound!* Actually, no. While sidewinder circular saws (or more appropriately, direct drive) and worm drive circular saws perform the same function, there are some important differences. We’re here to cut through the confusion about sidewinder vs worm drive circular saws!
Quick Article Summary
- Corded worm drives typically provide more torque
- Corded direct drive (sidewinder) saws operate at higher blade speeds
- Worm drive saws typically weigh more than sidewinders
- Cordless sidewinder and rear-handle saws have surpassed corded worm drive saws in both speed and power (torque). No, we’re not kidding.
- For cordless tools, it is now a handle- and motor-orientation preference.
Setting Up the Comparison
Curiously, tradesmen in the West and Midwest typically favor worm drive circular saws. East Coasters more often reach for our sidewinders. It’s not without good reason. What we want to know, of course, is whether those preferences are based on anything other than tradition. Is one saw truly better than the other? If so…how so?
Sidewinder vs Worm Drive Motor Orientation and Profile
Skilsaw developed the first worm drive saw in the mid-1920s. The motor sat behind the blade, making the tool relatively long and narrow. Worm drive saws still carry this design today. The centerline of the motor sits in-line with the handles, parallel to the plane of the saw blade. A narrow foot lets users—like remodelers, for instance—get into more confined spaces. The longer distance between the handle and the blade also extends a user’s reach while making a cut, which is helpful for jobs such as framing a roof.
That makes a worm-drive saw narrower but longer than a sidewinder saw.
A spiral gear (the worm gear) turns another gear oriented at 90-degrees, which turns the blade. This increases the torque of the blade, making these saws very powerful. It’s not uncommon to see guys cut through several sheets of plywood or OSB at once with these saws.
Due to different design ideas or patent constraints or a combination of both, the direct drive saw (sidewinder) was later developed featuring the motor next to the blade. This made the saw wider, but also shorter and lighter, than a worm drive saw. It also provided more control for the less experienced user.
A spur gear turns the Direct Drive’s blade. Also, with less gearing, you don’t have to worry about oil and you have less moving parts to contend with.
Sidewinders Care About the Waste Side if the Cut
There’s another consideration here. Direct drives motors put the saw off-balance, so to speak. The motor side is heavier than the blade side. Imagine the extra control needed if you finish a cut with the motor 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 helps you maintain control as the cut ends. This isn’t always possible without some pre-planning.
Sidewinder vs Worm Drive Blade Orientation
Traditionally, Worm Drive saws have been blade-left saws while direct drives have been blade-right. This is changing, however. 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 sightline. Of course, blade-right saws give left-handed users a better sightline. Keep in mind that a clear sightline happens with one-handed use. Using the non-dominant hand on the pommel handle can obscure the line.
See our article on Left Side vs Right Side Circular Saw Blades.
Blade Speed or RPMs
Worm drive saws spin slower than sidewinders. You’ll usually find worm drive saws at about 4,250 RPM while direct drive saws carry speeds of 6,000 RPM or higher. You can count them all, or just take our word for it! This makes up for the (typically) lower torque in sidewinders (read on).
Sidewinder vs Worm Drive Torque
A worm drive saw has larger gear teeth with more load-carrying capacity than a sidewinder, offering more power and durability. It also allows the saw to handle higher shock loads. It has more muscle to plunge cut and handle tougher jobs. Conversely, sidewinders are almost always lighter than worm drive saws and offer very similar performance. In fact, modern cordless sidewinders have eclipsed the speed and power of corded sidewinders in our most recent best circular saw reviews articles.
Because of this, many Pros who carry both saws consider the worm drive a rip-cutting saw and the direct drive a cross-cutting saw. In truth, you can use either one for both tasks once you get a feel for it. And with cordless technology—all bets are off. More and more, handle- and motor-orientation has become simply a matter of preference!
Sidewinder vs Worm Drive Weight
Well, oops, we gave it away already. Sidewinder saws typically weigh less, so you can more easily hold and maneuver them for unusual cuts. While the heftier tools might dissuade some tradesmen, you can use the weight to your advantage for longer cuts or quick crosscuts in a downward direction. Of course, the other advantage you get with direct-drive sidewinders has to do with blade options. Small brushless 6-1/2″ circular saws make cutting regular sheet goods and framing material super-easy.
Sidewinder vs Worm Drive Circular Saws By the Numbers
You don’t have to be a longtime reader to anticipate what we think. Both circular saw designs work well. While one design might seem more convenient for a particular application, the lines have seriously blurred. We recommend you have 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 additional circular saw tips, add them in the comments below or hit us up on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter to share your thoughts.