Circular Saws

Circular saws are used for cutting a number of different types of materials, including wood, brick, plastic, metals, and even concrete. Circular saws can be either hand-held, or used with a guide rail system and can come in a number of different blade sizes. Circular saws can make cross-cut, plunge cuts, bevel cuts and rip cuts and a great tool to keep handy.

The circular saw is quite possibly the most common saw in America. Incredibly easy to use and able to make a wide range of cuts at a high level, almost every professional and hobbyist has a circular saw of some variety or other.

As the name suggests, a circular saw is a saw designed around a circular blade. Incredibly popular today, the circular saw has a history that dates all the way back to the 18th century. After so many years of development, brands today have developed a number of new and inventive features.

What is a Circular Saw

A circular saw is a power tool that utilizes a toothed or abrasive disk spinning in a rotary motion to make various types of cuts. These saws use a motor that is generally powered by electricity, though some gas-powered models exist.

These saws are capable of handling a variety of materials, though the correct blade will need to be installed for the material being cut. For cutting through metal, you want a blade made of a material capable of doing that. For cutting wood, you’ll want to know what style of teeth is best for what kind of cuts you plan to be making.

The term circular saw generally refers to the handheld variety when talking about woodworking. While other saws utilize a circular blade, such as chop saws and miter saws, only the handheld type is considered to be a circular saw. To many, these saws are also known as Skil saws, a moniker given based on a common and popular brand of saws.

These saws are also capable of making an array of different types of cuts, including crosscuts, rip cuts, and even miter cuts. Their handheld nature makes a lot of these cuts easier to accomplish.

The use of a circular saw is also incredibly easy, leading to its extreme popularity amongst handymen. With a handle for each hand, it’s really just a matter of securing your workpiece and using the right guides to ensure your cut is straight and precise.

Type of Circular Saws Drives

While all circular saws are handheld models, there are some slight variations that make for a few different types. The main difference amongst these is the placement of the motor in relation to the blade, and how the motor attaches to propel the blade.

In-Line Circular Saw

This is the most common type of circular saw and is sometimes referred to as an in-line saw. These types feature a motor mounted directly next to the blade, cutting down on the hardware needed to propel the blade.

The sidewinder wood circular saw has enough in raw power to slice through everything from wet lumber to dense hardwood without any noticeable loss of any of the saws cutting power. The motor of the saw is mounted on the saws side, which makes the sidewinder saw more compact, which also allows the motor to rest on the cutting material for additional balance.

This compact design helps to cut down on materials needed, which keep the saw light and versatile. The position of the motor also allows for more power in propelling the blade. These models can come in both corded and cordless varieties.

In-line circular saws are great for cutting materials overhead since they weigh almost half of traditional circular saws.

Worm Drive Saw

On a worm drive circular saw, the motor is mounted further back on the tool, giving it a more slender and narrow design. This design allows for easier maneuvering and cutting of wider boards.

These saws connect to the blade via two gears. While this cuts down on blade speed, it does add torque to the machine. These added parts generally mean a heavier tool, as well as a need for added maintenance, specifically periodic oiling.

With a worm drive, the blade of the circular saw is on the left side. Because the blade is on the side, the majority of the weight of the saw is on the right. This side to side design, changes the way the blade is installed. The motor, delivers enough torque to easily cut through wet lumber or through concrete, which makes a worm drive ideal for framing or major renovation jobs. Many worm-drive users either cut right on the stack of lumber, or take advantage of the tool’s weight by cutting boards in a handheld position. 

Hypoid Circular Saw

Hypoid circular saws have a similar looking build to the worm drive variety, though they differ in how they propel the blade. This variety refers to the hypoid gear the machine uses to power the blade. This design helps to improve blade contact while adding power and efficiency.

These models tend to be a bit heavier than the other circular saw designs. Similar to worm drives, they’re well suited to longer rip cuts on wider boards.

Hypoid circular saws have the blade spinning on a separate plane than the motor, which results in a “gyro” effect that makes a hypoid circular saw easier to control. This flexibility in use makes it easier to make stable cuts along a line once the saw is running with one hand.

The gear drives are similar in design to the worm gear drive found on most other circular saws, but hypoid circular saws are different in a couple of ways. The hypoid gear of the saw is also sealed and factory lubricated, where a worm gear drive requires periodic oiling for maintenance. 

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History of the Circular Saw

The circular saw is one of the first power saws to be developed and patented on. While there are several different points of interest in the development of the circular saw, it is tough to pin down its invention to a single inventor or date. What is more likely is a natural and independent development of the concept in multiple locations all around the same time.

The first documented iteration of the circular saw can be traced back to Samuel Miller in 1777. A sailmaker in Southampton, England, Miller was issued a patent for a wind powered sawmill. Notably though, the patent was for the mill itself, and not the design of the saw components, leading many to believe he was not the original inventor.

Many historians also credit Gervinus of Germany with inventing a circular saw model in 1780.

Walter Taylor of Southampton is also credited with some level of circular saw invention, but again, the specifics are hazy. The owner of a sawmill, Taylor also owned the blockmaking contract for the Portsmouth Dockyard.

In 1781, Taylor built a new mill to service the dockyard. Descriptions of the mill in the 1790s described it as having circular saws. Though Taylor owned two patents for machinery in the mill, neither were for the circular saws.

In 1810, in Harvard, Massachusetts, the circular saw made its first appearance stateside. Credited to Tabitha Babbitt, a Shaker living in Massachusetts, it’s believed the design was a result of watching two men struggle to use a pit saw to rip lumber.

A weaver by trade, Babbitt drew on the concept of the spinning wheel to develop her prototype. Recognizing that a wheel with saw teeth carved into it could be attached to a similar mechanism as the spinning wheel, the continuous spinning motion would mean continuous cutting action.

While Babbitt’s design largely resembled those of Miller and Taylor, her’s was on a much larger scale, designed for more commercial use. With this, the circular saw quickly caught on in sawmills as the primary saw of choice.

These early models were immobile, especially the larger ones utilized in lumber mills. Essentially table saws, in 1878, the W.R. & John Barnes Company developed the first circular table saw that could be powered by a treadle mounted beneath the table.

In 1929, Art Emmons developed the first handheld circular saw, the forefather of that which hobbyists and professionals alike know and love today. This early model utilized an electric motor that was both light enough and small enough to make for easy portability. This design is still the predominant designed used in today’s handheld circular saws.

Anatomy of a Circular Saw

A circular saw consists of a fairly simple design that is made up of a few main components. Together, these parts make a small, portable saw that packs a lot of power and versatility into its compact design.

  • Blade
    The star of the show on any type of saw, the blade on a circular saw is – you guessed it – circular. The size of the blade will affect the depth of the cut the saw is capable of, and the design and material of the blade will depend on its designed purpose.
  • Motor
    Circular saws contain a compact electric motor that is mounted directly to the machine. Depending on the type of circular saw, the motor will be mounted directly next to the blade or a bit further back. On most circular saws, the motor also makes up the main body component that other features are attached to.
  • Handle
    Another obvious feature but nonetheless critical, the handle is what helps guide the saw. Being a handheld saw, the handle needs to be capable of controlling the saw while still providing the operator with enough feel. Most models will also feature a power trigger on the handle.
  • Plate
    The plate is another critical component of circular saws. Because a circular saw is a free-floating tool, it needs a method for helping to keep a consistent depth on its cuts. The plate provides this by acting as a sort of guide that sits flush on the workpiece. This guide helps to ensure that the saw is making a consistent cut through the entire piece.
  • Blade Cover
    The blade cover is a safety mechanism designed to prevent accidental cuts while also protecting the blade. These are spring-loaded to retract as you move across a cut and protract back over the blade as free the blade from the workpiece.
  • Power Switch and Trigger
    Almost all circular saws will have a two-action process to powering the saw. The first is a power switch located somewhere on the body that allows electricity to run to the machine. The second part is a trigger located on the handle. This method provides some built-in safety and makes the process more responsive to the operator.

A general knowledge of the different kinds of circular saw types can help you to know which kind might be best for you. While there aren’t massive differences in capabilities between the different types, if you know that you’ll be doing a lot of rip cutting, a worm drive or hypoid might be best for you.

Things to Consider When Buying a Circular Saw

When looking to purchase a circular saw, there are several considerations that should go into your decision. Each person will have a different set of needs for what they’re looking for, and with a plethora of models on the market, buyers of all varieties can find something to meet their personal requirements.

  • Power
    The power of a circular saw, as will most power tools, is measured in amps and volts. The greater the number of amps and volts the motor is capable of running at, the more power there is behind the blade of the saw.
  • Blade Capacity
    This is dictated by the size of the blade on your saw and is a measure of how deep of a cut you are capable of making. The larger the blade, the deeper the cut that the saw is capable of making. This comes at a cost though, as larger blades mean a heavier saw that is less easily maneuvered.
  • Brakes
    Many circular saws feature electric brakes that will reverse the electrical current once the trigger is released. This helps to brake the blade instead of letting it come to a stop on its own.
  • Material Being Cut
    This is less important, as swapping out blades on a circular saw is a fairly easy process, but you’ll want to think about what materials you’re likely to be cutting the most. If you plan on using your circular saw primarily for metal, you should look for models designed for that purpose.
  • Bevel Capacity
    This is a slightly newer feature but should be something you consider if you plan to get a lot of use out of your circular saw. The bevel feature on circular saws adds just one more type of cut the saw can make. If you plan to do a lot of work and want to be able to use your circular saw as much as possible, you’ll want to be sure it has a good bevel capacity.

All of these considerations will play a role in your decision on what circular saw to purchase. Knowing what you’ll need your circular saw to do is a key to this process.

If you only need a circular saw as a sort of basic do-all weekend project saw, then things like bevel capacity and material being cut might be less important than power and blade capacity. Likewise, for a plumber that plans to use their circular saw on the job site. Materials being cut and braking capacity might be far more important in those situations.

Circular Saw Maintenance

As with all power tools, properly maintaining your circular saw will help to extend its lifespan and keep it running in top condition. Similar to most other power tools, maintenance on a circular saw is primarily maintaining a clean machine.

After each use, you’ll want to remove as much dust and debris as possible from the machine. Wiping it down and using a can of compressed air will help to thoroughly remove any lingering sawdust that might be collecting in hard to reach areas.

Blade maintenance is also pertinent for a circular saw to maintain its full cutting capacity. Periodically, you’ll want to remove the blade to. give it a more thorough cleaning. This generally only requires a good wipe down with a towel or damp rag.

Occasionally you’ll need a cleaner to remove more stubborn buildup. In these cases, a citrus based degreaser should be more than capable of removing buildups.

You’ll also want to maintain a sharp blade. While most saw blades are built to last and maintain their sharpness for extended periods of time, there will occur a point in time that your blade will dull and lose its cutting ability.

When this occurs, you’ll want to address it sooner than later. Leaving a dull blade to continue to operate means your motor will have to overwork to compensate for the lost cutting ability. Using a saw with a dull blade can also increase the chance of an accident as you try to make up for the lost cutting ability by putting more pressure on the saw as you cut.

In terms of the motor on a circular saw, most are completely self-contained and don’t require regular maintenance. This self-containment is designed to mitigate the potential for sawdust to get in places that it could cause a problem, but it has the effect of making it a pain to access the motor.

Because of this, most companies design their circular saws to require as little motor maintenance as possible. Only the worm drive models will require maintenance, and even this is simply a periodic oiling.

Top Brands for Circular Saws

DeWalt

A top brand for power tools in general, it’s no wonder that DeWalt is also a highly popular brand for circular saws. Trusted by contractors and hobbyists alike, the company was founded in 1923, and after a few acquisitions now finds itself under the Black and Decker umbrella of companies. For those looking for a circular saw, DeWalt has plenty of models to fit your needs.

Porter Cable

A sister company of DeWalt, Porter Cable is also a well-respected brand by both professionals and DIY’ers. Originally known for pioneering the portable belt sander, the company was founded in 1906.

In 1929, Porter Cable developed the first helical-drive circular saw, a design that is still the most widely used amongst circular saws to this day.

Makita

A Japanese company known for high-quailty power tools at affordable prices, they also offer a variety of circular saws. Founded in 1915, Makita originally made their name in powers tools with their power drills, though they eventually invested heavily in developing a line of power saws. Today they’re known for providing quality and affordability in their products.

Ryobi

Ryobi is another well-known Japanese brand for quality power tools. Founded in 1943, they didn’t begin producing power tools in earnest until 1968. Ryobi has made a name for themselves amongst many hobbyists for their production of quality power tools at affordable prices.

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