Trim Saw vs. Circular Saw – What’s The Real Difference?

While shopping for a circular saw, you might’ve seen some that some of the saws were advertised as ‘trim saws’. This, understandably, can be a cause for a little confusion as both saws appear darn similar. So what’s the difference?

Essentially, trim saws are ‘miniature’ circular saws - they’re the same tool (both circular saws), but the only real difference is that trim saws are smaller and lighter.

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For a general distinction, any circular saw with a blade of 6 ½” or larger would be considered a standard circular saw. (The two most common circular saw blade sizes are 6 ½” and 7 ¼”). Anything smaller than 6 ½” would be a trim saw.

Common trim saw blade sizes are 5 ½” or 5 ⅜”, but you may see some as small as 4”.

Ok, so the only real difference is size - is there any difference in function between a trim saw vs. circular saw?

Uses for each: Trim saw vs. Circular saw

Yeah, there are different uses for each, and the distinction between the two can pretty much be determined through the name ‘trim’ saw; trim saws are great for working smaller jobs where a full-sized circular saw might be a bit overkill.

Some of these ‘smaller’ jobs include, of course, trim work (paneling, cabinetry, molding), cutting flooring material, ripping thin sheet stock, and reducing stock for cabinetry or other light furniture. Like we said, pretty much any job where a full size circular is just a bit too much.

Advantages of each

Couldn’t you just use a circular saw for everything? Absolutely. However, there are some advantages to adding a smaller trim saw to your tool collection.

The first advantage is price; you can pick up a decent little trim saw for around 50 or 60 bucks. Is it an absolutely critical tool to add to your arsenal. Not really. But for the price, it’s not like you’re making a massive investment.

Another advantage is battery life; full-size circular saws are notorious for sucking the life out of batteries faster than a 12-year old downing a pouch of Capri Sun after a mid-summer soccer game.

Even the best manufacturers out there - Milwaukee, Makita, DeWalt, etc - have yet to really engineer a cordless circular saw that lasts any length of time at all. Smaller trim saws, on the other hand, if used for the right applications, will easily last you through an entire afternoon’s work.

Additionally, you may have found out the hard way that full-size circular saws, unless guided by an expert hand and used with a quality finishing blade, tend to produce tearout when cutting thin pieces of trim or other finish material. A smaller diameter trim saw, with it’s smaller kerf and finer toothed blades, will be much easier to obtain perfect cuts on the thinner stuff.

Of course, the advantages of a standard circular saw are much too vast to list in a single paragraph; there’s absolutely no substituting for a good quality 6 ½” or 7 ¼” saw - a must have for any shop, home, or garage.

Here’s a great video showcasing all the various uses for the jack of all tools, from a professional builder/carpenter who’s very, very passionate about the circular saws. Right from the get-go, he claims that with a hammer and a circular (skil) saw, you can build a house. Maybe that’s a bold statement, but the point’s well taken.

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DeWalt used to make a really nice 18V, 5 ½” cordless trim saw, but they must’ve discontinued production on it because we couldn’t find one for sale anywhere. If you do happen to find one (new or used), definitely a great little finishing saw.

For the best value and bang for your buck (you probably won’t use it a ton anyways), we actually the Craftsman C3 19.2V 5 ½” trim saw. If you don’t already have the 19.2V C3 battery platform it’ll be a bit more expensive, but you can usually pick up the bare tool for only around 50 bucks.

It comes with a nice, thin, fine-toothed carbide blade that’ll produce flawless cuts on even the thinnest of trim material. Here’s a nice little product-pitch video from Craftsman highlighting the features of the tool.

If you’re willing to spend a tad more, Makita makes an incredibly good quality, well-balanced 5 ⅜” 18V LXT cordless trim saw. This one, unlike the kind of niche 19.2V C3 stuff, uses Makita’s extremely popular 18V LXT battery platform, although even the bare tool will run you about $140.

For standard circular saws, if you’re set on going cordless, we recommend going 6 ½” rather than the full-size 7 ¼” - like we said, 6 ½” saws will drain a battery very quickly, but with the 7 ¼” they really go in a flash.

One of our favorite 6 ½” circular saws is DeWalt’s DC390B 18V cordless. It’s the older model (not the newer 20V MAX), but this thing is an absolute workhorse. Most DeWalt tools are known for being a little on the heavy/bulky side, but in our opinion that’s exactly what you want in a good circular saw.

For a complete list/review of our favorite circular saws, make sure to check out our detailed article here.

If you’re wanting to really upgrade your collection and a new brushless circular saw to the arsenal, Makita’s 18V LXT XSH03Z 6 ½” is one of the finest out there. Milwaukee also makes a pretty incredible cordless circular - the 2730-21 M18 Fuel. Both of these tools, if used with the larger 4.0 Ah batteries, will provide hours of quality work before needing a recharge.

Bottom Line

Alright, let’s recap on the difference between a trim saw and a circular saw.

Trim saws are circular saws... they’re just smaller versions (anything under 6 ½”).

They’re best used for - wait for it - trim work!

Their smaller, narrower blades make for better quality cuts on thin material, and they also last longer battery-wise than full size cordless circular saws do. Of course though, like we said they are certainly not to be thought of as a replacement for your circular saw - if anything, they’re supplementary to it.