If you’ve been on the jobsite for a while, you know what features to look for on a circular saw. At the very least you know the circular saw features you already use. However, as even cordless circular saws gain in performance, more features (and capabilities) keep showing up.
When we compared the best circular saws, trigger safeties came up quite a bit. We found some of these trigger safety buttons difficult to push. Others seemed placed too high on the handle. In general, Trigger safeties should be within easy reach of your thumb. You should easily reach the safety even when making a bevel cut.
We also tended to favor those trigger safety buttons you pushed down on. Anything you need to push in tends to slow you down. Repositioning your hand to squeeze your thumb inward compromises your grip more than a downward pushing action.
Lastly, we dislike saws that require you to move your finger to reach the trigger safety. You don’t want to have to reposition your hand after you start the saw. That just makes the tool awkward to start.
A user’s initial impression of a saw is through its grip feel, balance, and ease of adjustments. The rear handle of every circular saw should have a rubber surface for a sure grip. Most will also have the same material on their front knobs (pommels). Honestly, we have yet to find a circular saw with a truly poor grip. Some, however, may have a front handle that’s a little too close to the rear handle for our taste.
A heavy saw will always feel heavy, but good balance can help. A well-balanced saw offsets the strain associated with handling a heavier tool.
Just ask anyone who favors a rear handle or worm drive saw.
Keep in mind that the plus-size batteries we often use in cordless circular saws put these tools at their heaviest. Bigger batteries may negatively affect the balance the tool was originally designed with.
Setting the depth adjustment should be an easy task for Pro level circular saws. Often, depth scales can be surprisingly inaccurate. Check them first before making any precision cuts. For us, that’s rarely a deal breaker since you can draw your own marks or use the blade as a depth gauge.
Most circular saws have depth locking levers placed to the outside of the saw. Typically easy to reach, these can bump loose when the saw is set down on the work surface. This especially affects saws with levers that lock down near the level of the shoe.
Setting a saw’s bevel angle precisely is easier with saws that have marks every one degree instead of every five degrees. We also prefer thin etched marks on the bevel angle quadrant to those which are merely painted on. Similarly, definitive pointers down close to the degree marks reduce parallax error and increase setting precision. However they are constructed, bevel scales and pointers with strong visual contrast help immensely.
A few extra features found on some of the saws add a nice bit of functionality in different situations. Hanging hooks work well when you are away from the cut station. They let you hang the saw securely from a nearby scaffold rail or a bit of blocking.
Though totally invisible in bright daylight, LED headlights really come alive indoors. We find them a big help in the shop or when doing remodeling work. Also well-suited for indoor work, aimable dust ports found on a few circular saws can connect to a portable vacuum to tame airborne dust.
Performance Enhancing Features
Features that help you work effectively with a circular saw include accurate cutline markers, good blade visibility, smooth guard retraction, and a flat shoe set parallel to the blade. The best cutline markers line up exactly with the kerf cut by the saw. You want a notch no wider than a thin-kerf saw blade. This makes it easier to place your cut to one side of the blade or the other. Markers with a notch much wider than the blade kerf (or out of line with it) require some doctoring before you can rely on them.
Check out our article: Make Circular Saw Blades Last Longer
Because you can’t always sight your cut through the cutline marker, visibility of the blade where it enters the material is important. When the blade is facing the user, you usually have an unobstructed line of sight. Saws with the blade facing away provide more of a challenge. You may have the view blocked by the upper guard housing, lower guard retracting lever, or the user’s hand on the front knob. Keeping a saw set at its maximum depth of cut can help since it moves more of the blade forward into the viewing “window” above the motor.
A saw’s lower guard should retract freely during any cut, regardless of blade depth or cutting angle. The best guards have angled lower edges and rounded lobes. This lets them ride up on the material so you don’t have to hold the guard lever open with your front hand. Cast metal guards with rough edges often work much better after a little smoothing. To reduce guard hang-ups, sawing with the minimum depth of cut required will help.
To achieve lower bevel angles, modern saws have much of the shoe cut away in the middle so there is little bearing surface keeping the saw steady. Variance in shoe flatness—especially across the width—can cause the saw to tilt and bind during the cut. Such a bend or dip across the shoe can also effectively change the angle of the blade relative to the material being cut depending on how much of the shoe sits on the material.
A long cutoff piece in contact with both the left and right perimeter of the shoe will bridge the gap. However, during a shave cut, the saw will tilt toward the dip in the center of the shoe. This makes it difficult to achieve square cuts of all lengths.
Besides being flat, a saw’s shoe should also have edges set parallel to the blade. This lets you guide it effectively against a straightedge or square.
This is what our Pros agree are the features to look for on a circular saw. Think we missed one (or more)? Feel free to tell us about it in the comments below or hit us up on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter!