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 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 by 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
Corded vs Cordless
One of the first decisions to make when choosing a circular saw is deciding on the power system it will use. This is primarily dependent on your specific needs and preferences. In general, corded circular saws offer more power for your money and unlimited runtime. They are usually better suited for heavier-duty cutting such as slicing through hardwoods, or when a great deal of cutting needs to be done in a single work day.
On the other hand, cordless, battery-powered circular saws have the advantage of not needing to be near a power outlet to use them. Many cordless circular saw brands also belong to a power tool battery system where batteries from other tools within the brand can be used interchangeably with the circular saw as well.
Corded circular saw power is measured in Watts (W), while battery-powered saws are measured in Volts (V). In both cases, the higher the wattage or the voltage, the more power a circular saw will exert and the thicker and more difficult a workpiece it will be able to cut. In contrast, lower wattage corded circular saws and lower voltage cordless saws will tend to be lighter and less cumbersome to use.
Brushed vs Brushless
For cordless circular saws, you also have to decide between a saw with a brushed motor vs a machine with a brushless one. Brushed motors are older technology and less expensive, while brushless motors are more advanced making for a more expensive circular saw. However, brushless motors and the circular saws in which they reside have several key advantages over their brushed counterparts. These are outlined below:
Ultimately, when deciding on whether to go with a brushed circular saw or a brushless machine, one should consider how frequently it will be used and the intensity of the cutting jobs. For heavy-duty cutting on a frequent basis, a brushless circular saw is likely to be the better choice, providing higher-level performance and a longer lifespan with reduced maintenance. However, for infrequent use and for lighter cutting jobs, a brushed circular saw is likely going to be the more financially-sound option to choose from.
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 are generally 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 usually 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 can 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.
Popular CORDED Circular Saws in the UK
(If you are located in the US, then check out what the popular circular saws are in the US here)
|Bosch PKS 55|
|Bosch GKS 190|
*** The R185CCSX+ model does come with a soft carry case
Popular CORDLESS Circular Saws in the UK
** weight includes battery pack(s)
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 also 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° 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.
Tacklife PES01A Circular Saw Review
The Tacklife PES01A circular saw is a good choice for the DIYer that needs an array of features on their machine to take on home projects. It comes with a 12.5 Amp 1500W motor, one of the most powerful in the typical consumer category. A 4.9kg aluminium alloy body makes it ready to take a beating, without hurting the integrity of the saw’s cutting ability. These base features give a platform for adjustability and accuracy.
Angles and deep cuts should not be a problem with this Tacklife circular saw. At 90°, the saw will cut a maximum of 63mm. When the saw is set to bevel cut at the maximum angle of 45°, it can also cut up to 45mm. This maximum bevel cut setting can still cut through a 2x4 piece of lumber. The minimum depth that the circular saw will cut into is 5mm at the 90° setting. The saw comes with two different blades, one with 24 teeth and another with 40 teeth. The 24 tooth blade should be used to cut wood. The 40 tooth blade will produce a smoother cut, so it will be good for plywood or even soft metal. The diameter of the blades is 185mm with a bore of 20mm, which is typical of the majority of consumer circular saws, although the Tacklife PES01A can also accommodate a 190mm blade if the need arises.
This circular saw also comes primed for precision. Two exceptionally useful features, especially for those in the DIY category, are a laser and a scale ruler / straight-cutting guide. The laser is turned on with a switch atop the main grip of the handle. If the circular saw arrives with the laser misaligned, which has happened for some buyers of the tool, it can still be adjusted, although this is not a very user-friendly process (as shown in the video below).
The laser is particularly useful on those long cuts, such as when cutting across large boards. Being able to line up on a distant point will help the overall accuracy of the cut. However, the laser is mostly limited to indoor use since the laser cannot compete with the brightness of an outdoor environment. The scale ruler is also useful for ensuring a straight cut as well. The ruler incorporates a post that can sit along the edge of a flat surface acting as a hard guide.
Certain characteristics of a tool may not seem important at first glance, but can greatly improve usability and safety. This Tacklife circular saw has a few of those characteristics. One is a 3m power cord, which is quite long compared to some others on the market. It is nice not to need an extension cord when the saw needs to travel over an extended distance. Second is the double safety switch. There is a switch that the thumb needs to press on in order to use the finger trigger. This makes sure that one has a firm grip on the saw before starting operation. Lastly, the saw has a connection point for a vacuum hose, which not only makes cleanup easier but also keeps the cutting area clearer.
On the more negative side, it should be noted that several Tacklife circular saw owners have had issues with the motor on the saw burning out. This has been mainly attributed to long and high-intensity use. Occasional cutting is best for this tool, which is why it is a better fit for DIYers as opposed to professionals. Though there have been motor burnout issues, Tacklife has a 2-year warranty and is known for replacing these burnt-out saws.
Overall, DIY users will find this circular saw a useful addition to their tools. It has functional attributes that make it easy for those new to circular saws and more expert users alike, such as the laser and ruler guide. The range of cuts that the Tacklife circular saw can make will more than likely fill the needs of most users, not to mention the two saw blades provided are also a nice touch. So if you are the occasional DIYer-type looking for a well-featured budget saw, you can’t go too far wrong with the Tacklife PES01A.
Makita HS7601J Circular Saw Review
If you are looking for a premium quality circular saw and are willing to forego any special features or accessories to keep the price down, then the ‘bottom of the range’ Makita circular saw HS7601J is likely to be the way to go. Build-wise, you will not encounter higher quality as a result of the typical Japanese-level high precision design and the fact that the saw itself is made in the UK. Indeed, anyone who uses cheaper saws or even some well-known name-brand ones will easily appreciate the high quality of this Makita tool.
For power, the HS7601J spins the blade at 5200 rpm using a 1200W motor which, at first sight, might appear underpowered compared to some of its competitors. However, because of the high build quality of the saw, power transfer from the motor is very efficient meaning the Makita circular saw easily performs just as well as, and in some cases even outperforms, circular saw competitors with larger wattage motors. This is not only evident from the smoothness and how quiet the Makita HS7601J is in operation compared to other saws, but it is also evident from its high maximum depth of cut specification of 66 mm (and 45 mm when used at its maximum bevel angle of 45º).
One point to be aware of with Makita corded power tools is that they often come in two different model types indicated within the model number with a final “/1” or “/2”. These refer to the voltage the saw uses, so HS7601J/1 means that it is operated on 110V, typical of worksite environments, while HS7601J/2 means the saw operates from a normal UK household voltage of 240V.
The Makita HS7601J is compact and relatively lightweight, residing at the lower end of the weight scale for circular saws with a weight of only 3.8 kg. This low overall weight has, in part, been achieved through the use of a base plate made of Aluminium, which has the advantage of making the saw lighter but does detract a bit from its robustness.
Other basic features on the Makita HS7601J include a twin-operated trigger switch for safety, a vacuum port of approximately 38 mm in diameter for attaching domestic vacuum cleaners to, and a good quality power cord that is approximately 2.5 metres in length. The Makita saw is also designed with a flat motor housing so it can more easily be balanced on its side when the time comes to change the blade.
Accessories-wise, the Makita saw does not come with much given its relative low cost, however, it does come with a carry case that conforms to Makita’s universal tool transportation system known as Makpac. This allows the circular saw case to be clipped to other Makpac cases containing other tools and hardware so that the operator can more efficiently transport a range of tools and equipment in one go.
MacPac is designed to accommodate a range of different tools. As a result, the Makpac box that comes with the HS7601J is oversized for the Makita circular saw, which has its advantages as well as disadvantages. On the good side, the roomy carry case means that the circular saw is easily put away without any need to struggle to get the cable in as well, a common problem with numerous other power tools and their cases. In addition, the extra space inside the box can be used to carry other tools and equipment, if desired. On the negative side, the circular saw can inadvertently move around inside the case if one is not careful when transporting it, which can damage the case or its somewhat flimsy tool-fitting insert or even the saw itself. In addition, the black clasps on the Makpac box are often stiff to the point of annoying.
Given the low price of this premium-level power tool, there were always going to be some compromises made to keep its overall cost down. First off, the saw itself does not incorporate an electric brake, meaning it can take a little time for the blade to come to a complete stop after use. Other negative points with the Makita saw concern more the accessories that come with it than the saw itself. These include a blade that is too coarse for making neat cuts (the included blade is more optimised for fast, messier cuts) and a fence for cutting straight lines that is less substantial than might be expected from Makita.
Fortunately, for accurate straight cuts the Makita circular saw can always be used with the Makita track that is usually reserved for Makita track or plunge saws. However, to use this circular saw with the track, a separate adaptor (Makita model number 197005-0) needs to be purchased for it to be compatible. Unfortunately, the adaptor can be difficult to come by as most of the common retailers do not stock it.
Overall, the Makita HS7601J is a high-quality circular saw from a premium power tool company but with a small budget price. It may not have all the fancy features and accessories that more costly premium saws might have but it performs its fundamental role of sawing timber to a very high standard. So if basic sawing is what you are looking for, then the Makita HS7601J is well worth the relatively low price that is paid for it.
Bosch GKS 190 Circular Saw Review
The Bosch GKS 190 circular saw is part of the German company’s blue range of professional tools specifically designed for trade and industry. This means that the Bosch circular saw is a solidly-built machine with durable components that can tolerate the harsh conditions of the worksite. Sporting a powerful 1440W motor, the Bosch GKS 190 has a no-load speed of 5500 rpm giving it the power to cut through even the hardest of hardwoods. It can tackle up to a very generous 70 mm thickness of timber in its default 90º blade position and can handle up to 50 mm when the blade is angled at 45º.
The Bosch circular saw can cut to these sizeable depth specifications through the use of an included 190 mm diameter blade. This Bosch-branded saw blade is specifically designed for rip cutting with its 16-toothed design and can cut reasonably cleanly due to its thin kerf. For a smoother cut, however, especially when using the circular saw for cutting into more sensitive joinery, an equivalent size blade with more teeth can be purchased and used in the machine. The Bosch circular saw also handles the other commonly-available diameter blade, the 184 mm size, although the depth scale on the saw will be slightly off.
Other standout features of the Bosch GKS 190 include a maximum bevel angle of 56º, higher than most other circular saws in its class, and a soft-start motor that gives the machine a professional feel and an extra level of safety that is expected from a trade tool. The Bosch saw also comes with an edge guide that can be fitted to either side of the machine for left or right edge following, as well as a vacuum port adaptor that mediates the connection to a shop vacuum if a clean workspace is required. A connected vacuum system also helps keep the cutting line clear from sawdust and debris, but even if a workshop vacuum is not available, the saw also possesses a powerful air blowing system that keeps the cutting line visible.
Unusually for today’s crop of consumer circular saws but a testament to the Bosch GKS 190’s professional status, the Bosch circular saw comes within a sturdy plastic clam-shell box with two robust metal latches to keep it securely closed. Unfortunately, the box is not lockable nor does it conform to Bosch’s L-Boxx system, and the moulded space within it is a bit limited when trying to fit the saw’s thick power cable in as well. Overall, however, the case does its primary job well - keeping the saw safe and sound during transportation and storage.
More significant negative points with the Bosch GKS 190 circular saw include an absence of an electronic brake to stop the blade quickly on trigger release. Although not critical when using the saw occasionally, this can become quickly tedious if using the saw repeatedly, as each wait for the blade to stop before using the saw again or putting it down requires several seconds. Another strike against the Bosch saw is its incompatibility with a saw track system (including Bosch’s own versions) for more accurate line cutting. This is in stark contrast to some of its competitor brands, which can at least be used with their own brand tracks, and is a touch surprising for a professional saw. Finally, the footplate on the Bosch GKS 190 is of the stamped-steel type which, although makes for a circular saw that is lighter, is less robust than the equivalent cast metal version, making it more susceptible to being easily bent out of shape especially when working with the saw in a tough work environment.
Overall, the Bosch GKS 190 circular saw is a well-designed and well-built power tool using quality components and robust materials. Being a saw that is designed for the professional, it will take quite a bit of abuse and can be expected to have a long service life. It comes with some useful accessories especially its tough carry case but lacks in its ability to be used with an external track system. The absence of an electronic brake is also a bit of a surprise for a professional machine, but then again, so is the relatively low price for such a high-brow machine. Indeed, this Bosch circular saw can often be purchased at a discount from Amazon and other hardware stores, so our recommendation is to wait for those special deals before taking the plunge.