The Best Cordless Circular Saws of 2020
Best Overall Circular Saw
Milwaukee M18 2631-20
The Milwaukee M18 is a saw for those that demand high-level performance. This saw can really rip. It makes full-depth crosscuts without any sign of struggle. The shoe and its components have clearly visible measurement indicators that make setting depth and bevel straightforward. The action of all the adjustments is smooth and they're locked in place with levers (which is preferred). The 90˚ and 45˚ sightlines at the front of the shoe are spot-on. These features set you up to make high-quality cuts.
Despite all the good aspects, there are some missing features we would like to see. There aren't any positive stops on the bevel at commonly used angles. Blade changing could be better, as is the case on some other saws. The blade lock, specifically, is a bit of a pain to catch and hold. Despite these minor complaints, if you want a top-quality brushless circular saw, look no further than the M18.
Read Full Review: Milwaukee M18 2631-20
Best Mid-sized Saw
Kobalt KCS 6524B-03
We think the Kobalt KCSis one of the best of the mid-sized saws because it leaves little to be desired. This saw can cut both soft and hardwood across the grain at full-depth with little difficulty. The shoe adjustment levers for depth and bevel are easy to operate. Even more impressive, Kobalt distinguishes itself with unrivaled battery life. No other saw we reviewed even came close.
Although you're more likely to wear out before this saw's battery dies, it does suffer a bit in some aspects of ease of use. Sightlines on the leading edge of the shoe are off, which can lead to short cuts. Also, the bevel lacks positive stops, which requires attention because the bevel extends all the way to 50˚. Despite these shortcomings, this is still a super effective saw.
Read Full Review: Kobalt KCS 6524B-03
Best for Compact Trim Saws
Compared to many of the saws in our review, the BLACK+DECKER doesn't measure up especially well. However, judged by what it is — a light-duty trim saw — it's a capable little tool. It's a great deal better, but it doesn't cost much more than, a manual hand saw. It's light and compact, which means it's easy to handle and easy to store. We also think it's a decent choice for some professional applications such as cutting molding.
Most of this saw's shortcomings arise from unrealistic expectations or misuse. This saw lacks cutting power and battery life. In short, it's not suited for burly or prolonged tasks. However, if you only need to make a few cuts or want a handy little saw for quick work on a job site, this is a nice addition.
Read Full Review: BLACK+DECKER BDCCS20B
Best Bang for the Buck
Given the price and performance of this 6 ½" saw, it easily captured a Best Buy award. It's not a pro-quality tool, but it can make most cuts without much resistance. It lacks a few convenience features, but its sightlines are quite accurate, making it an excellent tool for the novice DIYer. Plus, the SKIL has a prodigious battery life, so you can confident that it will be ready to go when you reach for it.
Given its affordable price, you might suspect that some corners were cut in the design. That seems to be true. The SKIL has a stamped sheet metal shoe with twist knobs to make adjustments. The knobs aren't the easiest to use, and the markings are hard to see. The blade changing procedure is a little contrived as well, which is mostly the result of an awkwardly placed blade lock button. Its motor isn't the most powerful, either. Despite these flaws, this tool is way better than a hand saw and better than several other saws in this review, yet you can get your hands on one for a very reasonable price.
Read Full Review: Skil CR540601
Best Choice on a Tight Budget
The Ryobi comes with a very competitive price, which makes it a decent option for those on a budget. It also provides users — particularly newbies — with some helpful features. The saw is light-weight, easy to adjust, with good sightlines, and the blade is simple to change. This means that it's straightforward to set the cut depth and angle and manage the saw during cuts.
As with most budget tools, the Ryobi comes up short in some quality and performance departments. For example, it has a relatively shallow maximum cutting depth for a 6 1/2" saw. Also, one tester described the battery life as "abysmal." That might be a bit strong, but there's no doubt that battery life is sub-par. This saw, however, will tackle most jobs without a fuss, making it more than worth the money spent.
Read Full Review: Ryobi P507
Why You Should Trust Us?
Senior research analyst Austin Palmer has been testing electronics, and cordless tools specifically, for several years. His experience installing and maintaining derricks in the Texas oil fields yields a callused-hands approach to tool testing. He's also a homeowner who always has a project to test a tool on. Complementing his expertise is Senior Review Editor Nick Miley who has a background in custom finish carpentry. He has also built two wooden canoes and maintained countless more wooden boats.As a team, they ripped through more than 2,300 linear feet of 3/4" plywood to test battery life. They also made countless full-depth crosscuts on both soft and hardwood lumber. They carefully inspected all of the features of the saws that contribute to ease of use, precision cuts, and maintenance. In total, they logged more than 150 hours of testing, analyzing, and comparing these machines.
Related: How We Tested Cordless Circular Saws
Analysis and Test Results
This review used a series of systematic tests to allow for direct comparison across a diverse class of cordless circular saws. To do this, we designed evaluations to isolate specific aspects of normal saw use into categories that we call metrics. These metrics are weighted by their impact on user experience and product performance. These metrics are ease of use (50% of overall score), cutting (30%), and battery performance (20%). The following is a rundown on the observations in each of these metrics and what we felt made one saw better than another.
For many people, value is subconsciously calculated before and after every purchase. Often value is simply the feeling people get when they are satisfied with a purchase. However, we try to estimate value through an analytical process wherein products that perform similarly are compared by their price, and products within a similar price range are compared by their performance.
Take the SKIL CR540601 6 1/2" circular saw, for example. This machine has somewhat limited cutting power, but it's easy to use and at the top of the class for battery life. These stats place the SKIL in the middle of the pack overall, yet the product is priced significantly below average. With a price to performance ratio like that, the SKIL is perfect for those tackling weekend projects because it is affordable with adequate performance for light-duty tasks.
Conversely, the Editors' Choice Award-winning Milwaukee M18 is one of the more expensive machines in the product category. Its performance, however, is head and shoulders above the competition. For the professional user or woodworking enthusiast, this saw still provides a great value because it can perform as needed for both frequent and demanding tasks.
Ease of Use
The ease of use metric accounts for 50% of a product's final score and does so for good reasons. This metric is broad and incorporates all the aspects of saw use outside of cut and battery performance. This metric assesses how the user interacts with the saw and rates how easy it is to get the saw to perform the tasks for which it was designed.
Specifically, we make a close inspection of the saw shoe. How deep can the blade penetrate at full-depth? What is the range of bevel angles? Is the bevel well marked so that it's easy to read when dusty? Does the bevel have positive stops that ensure accuracy on standard angles? We also measure the marked angles for accuracy as well as assessing the accuracy of the sightlines. Finally, we weigh the saw and determine the difficulty in changing blades. This is not a nitpicky survey of each model. Instead, this is an investigation into the aspects of saw use that will make a big difference in the user experience and the quality of work being done.
Given the long list of features that we take into account in this metric, it's no wonder that many saws fall into the middle rankings because most saws have a mix of good and bad characteristics. That said, the Ridgid outshines the rest of the class because it has an easy to change blade, spot-on sightlines, and positive stops at common bevel angles. The Editors' Choice Milwaukee, the Best Buy Award-winning Ryobi, and DEWALT are just a step behind.
The depth and angle adjustments on the Milwaukee and DEWALT are really easy to release, place, and secure, while the Ryobi's sightlines are on par with the Ridgid's. The Makita, though it didn't do so well overall in this metric, and the DEWALT both have no-fuss blade swapping systems. Their blade locks are easy to depress while providing a good grip on the saw to loosen the bolt clamp. The blade guards offer ample room for a blade to slide in and out. Additionally, both models have good storage for the wrench. The big difference here is that the DEWALT uses a more powerful box wrench rather than an Allen key, and the DEWALT's battery must be removed to access the wrench. This last feature provides an extra layer of safety while also preventing the tool from accidentally falling out of its storage slot.
Those models that did poorly in this evaluation have poor craftsmanship or lack attention to detail in the shoe. In such cases, adjustment knobs are hard to access, sightlines are inaccurate, and blades are hard to swap. The PORTER-CABLE is an example of a saw that failed to impress in these evaluations because it has all these problems plus a flimsy shoe that's prone to bending.
It might seem curious that we gave cutting only 30% weight in the overall score when it's clearly the critical function of any saw. This weight, however, was used because our cutting tests are concise and focused on the saw's power when making three basic cuts. These cuts are full blade depth crosscuts in hard and softwood, and ripping a softwood plank. The saws that were able to make the three test cuts the fastest have the most powerful motors and thus, received the highest scores.
The award-winning Milwaukee M18 performed the best overall in the cutting evaluation. This 7 1/4" saw can make full-depth crosscuts on a 6x12" header in 4 seconds and can rip 10' off 2x12 in just 35 seconds. Hardwood cuts posed no problems either. The 7 ¼" DEWALT is on the Milwaukee's heels making crosscuts in 6 seconds and rips in 46 seconds. The award-winning Kobalt made a good showing here as well. This 6 ½" saw punched above its weight throwing down crosscut times similar to the M18.
Not surprisingly, the cut test results group by blade size. The best results come from the 7 1/4" models, the poorest from the mousy 5 1/2" BLACK+DECKER. The exception to this relationship is the Ridgid, which, despite its 7 1/4" blade, performed more like a 6 1/2" saw.
Battery life is everything in the cordless power tool world. Without a quality battery, a tool's other characteristics go by the wayside because you'll constantly be fetching batteries from the charger to make your cuts. This scenario could potentially defeat the benefits of going cordless in the first place. However, our battery test is fairly narrow in its scope, consisting of repeatedly making rips on an 8-foot sheet of 3/4 inch plywood until a fully charged battery has been completely drained. Although the battery life of a saw is of the utmost importance, its evaluation only accounts for the remaining 20% of the overall score.
It should be noted that while we test all the saws in our review in precisely the same way, there are differences in amp-hours ratings that skew the results. That said, greater amp-hours does not always correlate with longer battery life. Such is the case with our Editors' Choice for 6 1/2" saws, the Kobalt KCS, which was tested with a 4 amp-hour battery that significantly outperformed the 5 amp-hour models. The Kobalt nearly wore out our tester because it took 360 linear feet of plywood to drain its battery!
Other notable models are the Skil CR540601 (Best Buy Award-winner) and the Milwaukee M18 (Editors' Choice for 7 ¼" saws). Both models ran on 5 amp-hour batteries, but the former model ripped 324 linear feet of ¾ inch plywood and the latter 298. Not too bad. To put this into a broader context, the BLACK+DECKER BDCCS20B ran on a 1.5 amp-hour battery and ripped a mere 52 linear feet. All of the models tested will continue to cut right up to the end of there battery life — a nice feature to be sure.
There is a lot to consider when shopping for a cordless circular saw. This review highlights three outstanding saws that merit awards for overall performance and value. These awards were given based on each model's rankings in three test metrics: ease of use, cutting, and battery. Making up each of these metrics are tests that analyze the performance of the saw. These tests allow for direct comparisons of the most popular models on the market. We have made all the information gleaned from our testing available to you so that you can evaluate each saw for yourself and make an informed selection. So, here's to the convenience of cordless circular saws, long-lasting batteries, and high-quality cuts.
— Nick Miley and Austin Palmer