Every DIYer’s toolbox needs a circular saw, that’s because the trusty circular saw is a useful bit of kit especially when it comes to cutting straight lines in timber (and sometimes other materials as well). However, as with almost all power tools these days, the world is filled with a plethora of brands, makes and models that seem to increase in diversity almost on a daily basis. So how is one supposed to decide on the best circular saw for their toolbox? In this review of circular saws, we delve into the ins and outs of the humble circular saw, first looking at the various features that are available in today’s machines and the characteristics that should be included in your next purchase. We then survey the current market of circular saws available in the UK, before reviewing in more depth some of the actual machines that are within the price range of the regular consumer.
What to look for in a Circular Saw
Aside from the usual decision of whether to go the route of a mains-powered power tool or a battery-powered one, there are a number of other features on circular saws that one needs to keep an eye out for when choosing a new machine. These are:
There are a few different blades sizes available for circular saws with many manufacturers having decided on a slightly different-sized blade for their own machines. In general though, the majority of consumer circular saws use blades with diameters in the range of 165mm to 190mm, with the smaller end of the range more the realm of battery-powered machines, and the larger blades more commonly found in mains-powered saws (although with today’s rapidly advancing battery technologies, the larger blades are starting to show up in battery-powered machines as well). So why does blade size matter? The blade diameter goes hand-in-hand with how deep a cut can be made with a circular saw, with larger blades usually exhibiting a greater maximum depth of cut than their smaller brethren. This means that circular saws that use larger blades, in general, are more versatile than machines with smaller blades, making them just that little bit more useful to the DIYer or tradesman. However, on the flip side, larger blades generally mean bigger more powerful machines, which in turn means heavier more cumbersome appliances.
Maximum Cutting Depths
As alluded to above, blade diameter size has a direct impact on the maximum cutting depths of circular saws, but other design characteristics of the saws can affect this metric as well. Therefore, different machines with the same or similar blade sizes may have slightly different maximum cutting depths. This is particularly evident when it comes to angled cutting. Most circular saws can be pivoted relative to the base up to 45° (and sometimes more) in order to create bevelled cuts. Intuitively, tilting the blade means that it is not as able to cut as deeply as when it is exactly perpendicular to the base. As a result, most manufacturers usually provide two maximum cutting depth specifications for their machines, the maximum cut depth at 90° and another at 45°. And you might instinctively think that the angled maximum cutting depth would correlate exactly with that of the perpendicular one so that saws with the same maximum cutting depth in one position, will have the same cutting depth at another angle. However, this is not necessarily the case, as the different mechanics incorporated into each saw will also affect how the blade tilts impacting on its maximum cutting depths at each angle. Consequently, checking the maximum cutting depths for both normal 90° sawing and for cutting at a 45° angle is important to do before making a decision on which circular saw to buy.
No-Load Speed (RPM)
The speed with which the saw blade turns freely in the air is referred to as the ‘No-Load Speed’ and most consumer-focused circular saws will have a no-load speed in the range of 2700 – 5500 RPM. So which speed is best for one’s new circular saw? Well, in general, the faster the no-load speed, the better the control and accuracy of the cut using the power saw, meaning that one should aim for the fastest machine from one’s shortlist of circular saws. However, there is one caveat to this generalisation, and that is that some circular saw manufacturers may intentionally reduce the RPM on their circular saws in order to give them the ability to tackle materials other than wood, such as metals or plastic. A classic case of this is seen with the Evolution brand of circular saws which have some of the slowest speed machines but are well-known to use blades designed to cut a range of different materials.
Base plates on circular saws generally come in three different flavours: they are either constructed out of die-cast metal, stamped metal or hardened plastic. Die-cast metal is strong and inflexible so cannot be warped by undue pressure applied to the machine, however, it is heavy and more vulnerable to breakage if the power tool is accidentally dropped, which can render the circular saw unusable. Stamped metal base plates, on the other hand, are lighter and will almost never break if dropped, instead bending out of shape in a fall, which can be fixed with some careful hammering. As for plastic base plates, these are lighter still and are very strong, making them unlikely to break or permanently deform if they are dropped. However, they are more flexible than their metal brethren and one has to be careful not to put too much pressure on them when cutting in order to achieve an accurate cut.
Being able to clearly see the cutting line is a major advantage in any cutting power tool. In circular saws, there are various designs to make the cutting interface as clear as possible. The main aid to making sure the operator stays on the cutting line are the indentations at the front of the base plate usually made for both perpendicular 90° cutting as well as 45° bevel cutting. However, one is not always in a position to clearly see these base plate grooves, and being able to see the actual interface of the blade with the material is a major advantage. That is where the space between the handles and the upper blade guard at the front of the saw can be really useful for the operator to observe where he or she is cutting. Not all machines have been so thoughtfully designed, as handles and other operating controls on some machines tend to obstruct this view of the cutting blade interface. However, on some of the best-crafted machines, maximum blade visibility has been incorporated right into the design of the circular saw, with ample space and few if any obstructions present at the front of the machine, as well as integrated lighting incorporated to brighten up the cutting area and allow for a clear view of the cutting action.
Safety and Protection Systems
Naturally, with powered cutting tools, safety is always a top priority. So making sure that one’s next circular saw is fully equipped with the necessary safety systems is another important check to do before making the next purchase. One key safety system recommended for all circular saws is the inclusion of an electric brake that slows and stops the blade relatively quickly when the trigger is released. This is not only important in protecting the operator in the event of a mishap during operation, but it also reduces the likelihood of an accident occurring as the circular saw is put down between cuts.
Another safety component found on all circular saws is the blade guard which is gradually pushed away by the workpiece to expose more of the blade for cutting. Although all blade guards do the same job in a similar way, some have been better designed than others. In general, the better blade guards have a large lobe on their leading-edge which tends to make cutting at an angle more smooth and unproblematic.
In addition to safety systems for the operator, the saw itself also needs protecting, in particular, the high-speed electric motor that spins the blade. Extended use of any power saw can lead to the motor overheating and device protection systems, like cooling fans, will increase the working life of one’s new circular saw.
As mentioned earlier, most circular saws have been designed with the ability to tilt the blade and cut materials at an angle. Bevelled cutting with a circular saw is occasionally required by the DIYer, especially when doing more complicated work such as roof building or window framing. Most circular saws are able to angle the blade up to 45°, but some brand-name appliances can tilt the blade further still, to cut at even greater angles for some more unusual cuts. Typically, DIYers almost never need to cut at angles greater than 45°, so choosing a circular saw with a greater cutting angle capability is unlikely to be necessary for most people. The very best designed saws will also have detents at key cutting angles (typically 22.5° and 45°) which can make using the device for bevelled cuts just that little bit easier to do. In addition, better quality saws will also have the tilting angle scale engraved or cast into the actual machine as opposed to being just stuck on using a sticker or label.
Most, if not all, circular saws include the ability to adjust the blade depth to ideally suit the thickness of the workpiece being cut. A lever is usually present on the machine that releases the main body of the saw from the base plate so that it can be raised and lowered. This depth adjustment lever is usually located at the back of the machine on either the left or right-hand side of the main handle. In general, the preferred position for most right-handed people is for the lever to be to the left of the handles so that it can be more easily operated with the left hand while naturally holding the main handle with the right. However, this is not a deal-breaker as depth adjustment on the saw is done prior to operating the machine, and temporarily holding the power saw with the ‘incorrect’ left hand while operating the lever with the right, should not pose any significant problem.
Circular saws are relatively heavy, big and bulky affairs, and carrying them around or storing them when not in use can be awkward even for the best-designed machines. That’s why it is always recommended to get one that has its own carry case for transport and storage.
Now that we know what to look for in a circular saw, let’s take a look at some of the popular machines selling on the UK market:
(***If you are located in the US, then check out what the popular circular saws are in the US here ***)
Popular Corded Circular Saws in the UK
|Bosch GKS 190||30|
*** The R185CCSX+ model does come with a soft carry case
Corded Circular Saw Reviews
Evolution R185CCS Circular Saw Review
The R185CCS series of circular saws from Evolution represent some of the best value machines currently available to the UK consumer. Looking over the features incorporated into the R185CCS series clearly shows that Evolution has listened closely to expert DIYers and tradesmen as to what features should be included in a consumer-affordable machine and incorporated most of them into the R185CCS series.
First and foremost, all Evolution circular saws stand out from other circular saws in that they are designed to operate with the proprietary multi-material blade that Evolution is well-known for, which is designed to cut not only wood but other materials as well. Because of this multi-material capability, no-load speeds on the Evolution circular saws have had to be kept to a low 3700 RPM in order to run the blade effectively across these different materials. However, it cannot be overstated how useful it is to have a single circular saw that is able to tackle a variety of materials. Not only does it make life easier with not having to own or carry around multiple tools and blades to deal with the different materials that building work typically involves, but it also means that reclaimed wood can also be cut without having to worry about the odd hidden nail within.
The design and build quality of the R185CCS series are also excellent and it is definitely worth paying the little extra for Evolution’s orange-branded ‘Expert’ level machines as opposed to buying the cheaper green-branded DIYer-targeted power tools that the company produces. Design-wise, the R185CCS circular saws use a 185mm diameter blade that has a reasonable perpendicular cutting depth of 64mm and a depth of 40mm (47mm for R185CCSX and R185CCSX+ models) for 45 degree bevelled cuts. The machines use locking levers as opposed to other more cumbersome screw-like mechanisms to make adjustments to the tilt of the blade as well as its depth of cut (although the rear locking depth of cut mechanism on the machines is a screw-type lock which ensures that base plate is fully secured).
The positioning of various components on the machines have also been well-thought-out, such that the all-important blade visibility is excellent with the handles being designed sufficiently far away from the upper blade guard and with few components obstructing the operators line-of-sight. Indeed, one of the unusual characteristics of the R185CCS machines is that the front handle is positioned relatively far forward compared to other competitor saws, which also gives better control over where the circular saw is cutting but at the same time takes a little getting used to. The power cable too has even been taken into account and supplied as an ample 3m to 4m length depending on which R185CCS model one is looking at.
The base plate on the R185CCS series is cast metal alloy, which is always the preferred type, although this also means that one has to be extra careful when handling the machine as any fall for such a heavy tool will also likely mean base plate breakage.
Noise-wise, the R185CCS circular saws are fairly noisy in operation but not more so than most other circular saws, and ear protection is always recommended especially when working with the saws over extended periods.
For safety, the R185CCS machines incorporate an electric braking mechanism, meaning the blade comes to a stop relatively quickly once the trigger is released. The machines also have an excellent lower blade guard incorporating the much preferred larger lobe on the leading edge of the guard that makes angled cutting more smooth.
On the more negative side, the R185CCS series are relatively heavy compared to other-brand circular saws. However, this represents a double-edged sword, which on the one hand, makes the circular saws more difficult to manipulate, but on the other hand, means that the machines are more robust than their competitors, and certainly give the impression that they will last a lifetime. Indeed Evolution has even designed in a relatively easy way to replace the motor brushes on the machines, indicating that they do expect the circular saws to last quite some time.
Another small niggle with the saws comes with the locating of the depth adjustment lever to the right of the handles. This naturally forces the user to operate it with the right hand while holding the main handle of the tool with the left. This is somewhat contrary to how the tool is operated, meaning that the operator then has to change hands on the main handle when it comes time to turn the machine on. A better design would have sited the depth adjustment lever to a leftmost position on the machine so that it can be operated with the left hand while keeping the right hand where it should be, on the main handle.
Other negative points with the Evolution circular saws include the fact that two of the series, the R185CCS and the R185CCSX do not come with any form of carry case, which just feels wrong especially for such an awkwardly-shaped and heavy machine. However, the last model in the series, the R185CCSX+, does come with a soft bag-like case which is compact and good quality, although a hard case is always preferred for better ruggedness and worry-free handling.
Overall however, these small drawbacks are relatively minor and Evolution’s R185CCS series of circular saws are well worth the price paid for them. As a consequence, they are highly recommended for DIYers and professionals alike especially for those who need the much-vaunted multi-material cutting capability that the saws offer.