Reviews You Can Rely On

Best Cordless Circular Saw of 2021

We tested cordless circular saws from Milwaukee, Kobalt, Makita, Black + Decker, and more to find the best tool for your needs
Credit: Austin Palmer
By Nick Miley and Austin Palmer  ⋅  Sep 14, 2021
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To find the best cordless circular saws, we bought the leading machines on the 2021 market. We focused on battery-powered direct-drive saws that range from 7 1/4" framing saws to 5 1/2" trim saws. We put each saw through an identical series of tests and evaluations. What follows are the particulars of our analysis and a detailed look at the machines that performed the best and why. These details are organized such that you can make your own comparative analysis with the (hype-free) data that we've provided.

Top 11 Product Ratings

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Awards  
Price $55 List
$45.64 at Amazon
Overall Score Sort Icon
33
Star Rating
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Pros Very inexpensive, light-weight, accurate sightlines
Cons Short battery life, limited cutting power, difficult to change blades
Bottom Line This light-duty machine will appeal to novices and pros looking for an inexpensive trim saw
Rating Categories Black+Decker BDCCS20B
Ease Of Use (50%)
5.0
Cutting (30%)
2.0
Battery (20%)
1
Specs Black+Decker BDCCS20B
Blade Side Left
Blade Size (inches) 5.5 in
Brushless Motor? No
Blade Brake? Yes
Bevel Positive Stops? No
Linear Feet of 3/4" Plywood Cut per Charge 52 ft
Measured Weight w/o Battery 4.6 lbs
Measured Max Depth of Cut w/ Framing Blade (inches) 1-1/2 in
6x12" Cross Cutting Time 11.1 sec
Rafter Hook? No
Battery Used in Testing (Amp hours) 1.5 Ah


Best Overall Circular Saw


Milwaukee M18 2631-20


76
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Ease of Use 6
  • Cutting 10
  • Battery 8
Blade-side: Right | Motor Type: Brushless
Professional cutting power
Great shoe adjustments
Good battery life
Expensive
Bevel lacks positive stops

The Milwaukee M18 is a cordless circular saw for those who want high-end results. This saw impressed all as it makes full-depth crosscuts 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 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.

Read Full Review: Milwaukee M18 2631-20

Best Mid-sized Saw


Kobalt KCS 6524B-03


69
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Ease of Use 5
  • Cutting 8
  • Battery 10
Blade-side: Right | Motor Type: Brushless
Powerful motor
Easy shoe adjustments
Great battery life
No positive stops
Inaccurate sightlines

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 Bang for Your Buck


SKIL CR540601


58
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Ease of Use 5
  • Cutting 5
  • Battery 9
Blade-side: Left | Motor Type: Brushless
Long-lasting battery
Spot-on sightlines
Blade brake
Average cutting power
So-so shoe adjustments

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 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.

Read Full Review: Skil CR540601

Best for Cutting Power


Makita XSS02Z


56
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Ease of Use 4
  • Cutting 8
  • Battery 6
Blade-side: Left | Motor Type: Brushed
Spot-on bevel angles
Lever actuated adjustments
Easy blade changes
Middling battery life
Poor sightlines

The Makita XSS02 is a dependable 6 ½" cordless circular saw. It can cut with the best of 'em but, at the same time, offers users ease of use features that make the saw a pleasure to operate. For instance, blade swapping is a breeze thanks to the well-designed blade lock and properly sized upper guard. The bevel and cutting depth adjustments are also easy to operate with a lever that assures that adjustments will stay fixed and that they will easily come undone when you want to make a change.

Unfortunately, XSS02 has a few shortcomings, particularly when it comes to battery life. The 5 amp hour battery cell that we used for testing is on the lower end of the class average. Additionally, the depth and bevel adjustments lack accuracy such that one will need to use a tape and speed square to assure exactness on critical cuts. That said, this saw is relatively lightweight for a 6 1/2" model, so your hand will remain steady and accurate for the long haul.

Read Full Review: Makita XSS02

Compare Products

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Score Product Price Our Take
76
$179
Editors' Choice Award
This 7 1/4" saw boasts professional level power and accuracy in a cordless format
72
$150
This fully-loaded saw makes cut adjustments a breeze, but the motor power leaves something to be desired
69
$179
A professional level 7 1/4" saw with slick adjustments but a little short in the battery department
69
$130
Editors' Choice Award
If you need to make lots of cuts on a single charge, then the Kobalt is the ticket
58
$119
This mediocre mid-sized circular saw is at best uninspiring
58
$80
Best Buy Award
A competent, affordable saw that is a great choice for non-professional users
56
$119
Top Pick Award
The Makita XSS02 is an average 6 1/2" saw with lean features but plenty of cutting power
55
$69
This saw will appeal to the novice DIY crowd due to its modest price tag and ease of use features
51
$69
This model gave a lackluster performance and was particularly shabby in battery longevity department
41
$60
This moderately priced saw is best suited to low-demand tasks
33
$55
This economy saw has notable benefits to users with appropriately low expectations

Our testers perform hundreds of cuts with each saw to assess...
Our testers perform hundreds of cuts with each saw to assess accuracy, ease of use, battery life, and more while evaluating these products.
Credit: Laura Casner

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

Note the lower blade guard pressing against the saw blade. On the...
Making a crosscut trim with a blade-left saw allows a clear view of...

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.

Related: Buying Advice for Cordless Circular Saws


Value


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, SKIL CR540601 6 1/2" circular saw 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 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 great value because it can perform as needed for both frequent and demanding tasks.

Intended use is a key component of a value assessment. If you need a...
Intended use is a key component of a value assessment. If you need a powerful saw, it's worth spending the money to get the right tool.
Credit: Austin Palmer

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 Milwaukee, the Ryobi, and DeWalt are just a step behind.

The Ridgid&#039;s bevel design is among the best we&#039;ve seen. Clearly...
The Ridgid's bevel design is among the best we've seen. Clearly marked degrees, positive stops, and a lever that can't be beat make this saw a standard-setter in the class.
Credit: Ian Pearman

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.

Accurate and clearly marked sightlines are a key component of the...
Accurate and clearly marked sightlines are a key component of the ease of use assessment.
Credit: Nicholas Miley

Cutting


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 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 Makita made a notable showing here as well. This 6 ½" saw punched above its weight, throwing down softwood crosscut 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. The exception to this relationship is the Ridgid, which, despite its 7 1/4" blade, performed more like a 6 1/2" saw.

A hardy 6 1/2&quot; saw making quick work of a 2x12&quot; crosscut.
A hardy 6 1/2" saw making quick work of a 2x12" crosscut.
Credit: Ian Pearman

Battery


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!

The results of our battery tests: hundreds of rips of 3/4&quot; plywood.
The results of our battery tests: hundreds of rips of 3/4" plywood.
Credit: Austin Palmer

Other notable models are the Skil CR540601 and the Milwaukee M18 (our favorite 7 ¼" saw). 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 their battery life — a nice feature, to be sure.


Conclusion


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.

Nick Miley and Austin Palmer