The circular saw is a staple of any woodshop, and to find the very best cordless circular saws on the market, we bought 13 of the most popular models for side-by-side testing. We focused on battery-powered direct-drive saws that range from 7 1/4" framing saws to 5 1/2" trim saws. Our team of experts subjected each of these saws to an identical series of tests, focusing on ease of use, cutting power, and of course, battery life. Whether you're in the market for a professional-grade saw or a price-point model for the occasional project around the house, our in-depth review offers expert recommendations based on value and performance. We organize our data so that you can easily compare models to find the best cordless circular saw for your needs and budget.
The Milwaukee M18 Fuel 2732-20 is a high-powered saw with incredible cutting performance. During testing, this saw cut through wood like butter, with deeper depth cuts than any other saw in our lineup. It also had the fastest cross-cut time of any previously tested saw. This saw had incredible performance across the board with exceptional cutting capabilities. It also had an attached rafter hook which will come in handy when working on a project. This saw receives the best overall award because of its incredible cutting capabilities and above-average ease of use and battery life.
The incredible cutting power of Milwaukee M18 Fuel does come at a cost. This saw is one of the highest-priced saws tested. While its overall performance is superior, the higher price is something to consider. This saw is also quite heavy. At 8.9 lbs, it can be alot to push and lug around. Depending on how you plan to use the saw this may be an important detail to know.
The Milwaukee M18 is a cordless circular saw for those who want high-end results. This saw impressed all as it makes full-depth cross-cuts without any sign of difficulty. The shoe and its components have clearly marked depth and degree indicators that make setting the saw up for a cut easy and accurate. The action of all the adjustments is smooth, and they are locked in place with levers — a much better option than knobs. The 90˚ and 45˚ sightlines at the front of the shoe are spot-on as well. Collectively, these features set you up to make precision cuts.
Despite all the praise we've heaped on the Milwaukee M18, there are a few absent features that we'd like to see on this saw. For one, the bevel lacks positive stops at common angle settings. Additionally, blade changes could be smoother. Specifically, the blade lock is a bit of a pain to catch and hold. Admittedly, these are minor complaints, and the fact remains that if you want a top-quality brushless circular saw, the M18 is the obvious choice.
We think the Kobalt KCS is 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.
The SKIL CR540601 has great features and surprisingly good performance for the price. It's certainly not a professional-level tool, but it will work well for most DIY tasks. It lacks a few convenience features, but its sightlines are quite accurate, making it an excellent choice for light woodworking and weekend work around the house. Moreover, the SKIL has a long battery life, so you can be confident that it will be ready to rip whenever you reach for it.
Given its affordable price, you might suspect that some corners were cut in the design, and you wouldn't be wrong. The SKIL CR540601 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 limitations, this tool is quite a bit better than a hand saw and better than some of the other saws in this review. Yet, you can get your hands on one for a modest price.
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 cross-cuts 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, analyzed, and compared these machines side-by-side.
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, cutting, and battery performance. 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.
For example, the Bosch CCS180 circular saw has slightly above-average cutting power on sheets of wood and a pretty decent performing battery. These stats place the Bosch in the middle of the pack overall, yet the product is priced significantly below average. With a price-to-performance ratio like that, the Bosch is perfect for those tackling weekend projects because it is affordable with adequate performance for light-duty tasks.
Conversely, the Milwaukee M18 Fuel 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 great value because it can perform as needed for both frequent and demanding tasks.
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 cross cuts in hard and soft wood, as well as 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 Milwaukee M18 Fuel performed the best overall in the cutting evaluation. This 7 1/4" saw can make full-depth cross-cuts 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 20V is on the Milwaukee's heels making cross-cuts in 6 seconds and rips in 46 seconds. The Dewalt DCS391B made a notable showing here as well. This 6 ½" saw punched above its weight, throwing down softwood cross-cut times as good or better than the 7 1/4" saws and proving that you don't necessarily need a framing saw to cut dense LVL lumber.
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 BDCCS20B. The exception to this relationship is the Ridgid R8653B, which, despite its 7 1/4" blade, performed more like a 6 1/2" saw.
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 assess the accuracy of the sightlines. Finally, we weigh the saw and determine the difficulty in changing the 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 Milwaukee M18 Fuel 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 Ryobi P507, and DeWalt 20V are just a step behind.
The depth and angle adjustments on the Milwaukee M18 and DeWalt 20V are really easy to release, place, and secure, while the Ryobi P507's sightlines are on par with the Ridgid R8653B. The Makita XSS02 (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 PCC660 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. While the Dewalt DCS391B has good cutting performance, the narrow trigger area made this saw more difficult to use.
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 don't always correlate with longer battery life. Such is the case with 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, the Milwaukee M18, and the Milwaukee M18 Fuel (our favorite 7 ¼" saw). These 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 their battery life — a nice feature, to be sure.
There is a lot to consider when shopping for a cordless circular saw. This review highlights outstanding saws that merit acknowledgment for performance and value. These honors 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 from our testing available to you so that you can evaluate each saw for yourself and make an informed selection.
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