Reviews You Can Rely On

How to Choose the Best Circular Saw

How to Choose the Best Circular Saw
Picking the right saw may seem daunting, but we have the experience and know-how to make the choice.
Credit: Abriah Wofford
By Nick Miley ⋅ Senior Review Editor
Monday January 23, 2023

Picking out a new, often expensive power tool is rarely easy. But that doesn't mean it can't be fun. The current circular saw market provides many options to consumers in blade size and configuration, motor type, power, and cost. To be clear, this article, and the accompanying circular saw review, focuses on saws with 7 1/4-inch blades. However, we have a cordless circular saw review that features several different blade sizes that may be of interest. This article will help guide you through the best 7 1/4-inch battery-powered and plug-in saws on the market. We will examine the pros and cons of going cordless, having a right- or left-sided saw, and the advantages of brushless versus brushed motors. Finally, we delve into the nuances of hypoid, worm, and direct driver saws. After reading this article, it should be clear which saws are right for you, and that's where the fun comes in. With this information, you can return to our line-up of saws, select the right model, and get to cutting on your next project.

We sawed through various types of metal, including steel pipe, to test each model's abilities.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

Step 1: Battery vs. Plug-In Saws

Generally speaking, battery-powered saws have lower power and shorter run times than their plug-in counterparts. This difference is a result of the device's power source. While plug-in power is unlimited, battery power is restricted by the size and weight of the power cell—no one wants a saw with a car battery attached to it. Given the limitations of batteries, manufacturers must balance power output with runtime. Plug-in saws are not limited in this way. However, battery-powered saws do not require an extension cord and, thus, are more portable and offer greater flexibility in their use.

circular saw - battery-powered saws give users a lot of freedom of movement, but it...
Battery-powered saws give users a lot of freedom of movement, but it comes at the cost of run time and power.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

Since plug-in saws' strengths are their power and run time, they tend to lean into this advantage. Worm drive saws epitomize this distinction as they have higher torque and greater cutting accuracy. However, they are also quite heavy.

circular saw - corded saws have tons of power to make demanding cuts through wood...
Corded saws have tons of power to make demanding cuts through wood and metal. However, they are often quite heavy and are tethered to the nearest power outlet.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

The choice between a battery-powered and a plug-in circular saw depends on the specific requirements of the task, the user's preferences, and the amount of money one is willing to spend. Ultimately, both battery-powered and plug-in saws offer users practical advantages such that professionals often own one of each.

Step 2: Blade-Left or Blade-Right Saws

While some think that blade-right and blade-left saws are designed for right- and left-handed users, this is not the whole story. Deciding on the blade side often has more to do with the types of cuts one will most often make. Safety concerns and familiarity with a saw type also play a role. That said, let's look at the advantages to right and left-handed users first.

Generally speaking, right-handed users will find that a blade-left saw provides better visibility of the cutting line but less stability for narrow cuts. A blade-right saw provides greater stability but makes it difficult to sight the blade when making a cut. In both scenarios, the opposite is true for left-handed users.

circular saw - this blade-right saw proved a steady cutting platform but limits the...
This blade-right saw proved a steady cutting platform but limits the visibility of the blade.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

The above descriptions may be hard to visualize, so allow us to explain further. Circular saws place the bulk of the shoe under the motor and handle with only a portion of the shoe on the outside of the blade. Ideally, one wants the motor, and thus, the widest portion of the shoe, on the working side of the board. This setup is desirable because it provides greater stability and, as a result, accuracy in the angle of the cut. Some cut orientations allow this, while others do not. What cuts do or do not depend on the orientation of the saw and blade side.

In the end, blade-left or blade-right preference comes down to the type of cut being made, as well as the user's experience and skill. Both saw configurations have their pros and cons. With time, one will learn how to set up their cuts with either saw so that they are safe and accurate.

Step 3: Brushless vs. Brushed

If you've been shopping for circular saws, you've probably noticed that brushless power tools are a lot more expensive than their brushed counterparts. We will not go into the mechanical differences that make them more expensive (that information can be found our Cordless Circular Saw Buying Advice article). Suffice it to say that they are quite a bit more sophisticated. However, we will tell you why buying a brushless tool may be worth the extra money.

circular saw - while you can't point out a brushless saw just by looking at it, you...
While you can't point out a brushless saw just by looking at it, you can often get an idea by looking at the price tag.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

Brushless motors offer several benefits over brushed saws. To start with, they are more efficient. Brushless saws produce less friction and thus generate less heat. As a result, they use less power. These features are particularly important for battery-powered tools as they can result in longer run times. Brushless motors also have fewer moving parts than brushed motors, which means they are less likely to wear out or require maintenance.

circular saw - brushed motor saws will save you quite a bit of money at checkout...
Brushed motor saws will save you quite a bit of money at checkout. Moreover, if you use the saw infrequently, you won't likely encounter the maintenance costs that brushless saws avoid.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

On the other hand, brushed motors are typically less expensive, and, for the time being, more models are available. Saws with brushed motors are a good choice for users who will employ the tool less frequently. However, the brushless models are often higher-end. Accordingly, they regularly have more of the ease-of-use bells and whistles we like. If it's within your budget, it's worth looking at the brushless circular saws, even if maintenance isn't a leading concern.

Hypoid Drive, Worm Drive, and Direct Drive Saws

The difference between these three systems is how they transfer power from the motor to the saw blade. Without getting too bogged down in the nuances of mechanical engineering, the choice of drive mechanism affects the efficiency and configuration of the saw. Hypoid and worm drives are closely related as they use gears to transfer power from the motor to the blade. Saws with these drive systems allow the motor to sit behind the saw blade, which allows for a narrower profile. Conversely, the motor is directly adjacent to the blade in a gearless, direct drive system. These drive systems are responsible for the distinct design differences between the two saw types.

Hypoid saws use gearing to transfer power from the motor to the blade.
Hypoid saws use gearing to transfer power from the motor to the blade.
Worm drive saws also use gearing to transfer power from the motor to...
Worm drive saws also use gearing to transfer power from the motor to the blade, allowing for the motor and handle to be positioned behind the saw.
Direct drive saws transfer power directly from the motor to the...
Direct drive saws transfer power directly from the motor to the blade. This design requires the motor to sit next to the blade.

Like many circular saw features, both drive systems have pros and cons. Some may argue that direct drive saws are quieter and require less maintenance, that warm saws are more powerful and offer the user better sightlines and control, and that haploid saws are lighter, more compact, and less expensive. Modern technology has blurred the lines considerably. After testing dozens of saws over several years, we believe that, as a general rule, direct drive saws are best for more general, lighter use. Conversely, warm drive saws are best suited to heavy use where power and precision are of the utmost importance.


The choice between different types of circular saws, such as battery-powered vs. plug-in, right-side blade vs. left-side blade, and brushless vs. brushed, will depend on the specific needs and preferences of the user. Battery-powered saws offer greater portability and flexibility, while plug-in saws offer more power and run time. The blade position may be chosen based on the user's preference and dominant hand. Brushless saws offer improved efficiency, performance, and reduced maintenance compared to brushed saws. We recommend that the user aiming to put a lot of hours into their saw focus on a worm drive saw. Conversely, the DIYer or casual user should look to direct drive saws.

You Might Also Like

Ad-free. Influence-free. Powered by Testing.

GearLab is founded on the principle of honest, objective, reviews. Our experts test thousands of products each year using thoughtful test plans that bring out key performance differences between competing products. And, to assure complete independence, we buy all the products we test ourselves. No cherry-picked units sent by manufacturers. No sponsored content. No ads. Just real, honest, side-by-side testing and comparison.

Learn More