To find out which cordless circular saws are the best, we bought 10 of leading machines on the 2020 market for head-to-head testing. While there are a plethora of circular saws on the market, for clarity we focused all of our attention on battery-powered direct-drive saws. Within this category, there is still a good deal of variety ranging from 7 1/4" framing saws to 5 1/2" trim saws. We put each of the models in our review through the identical series of tests and evaluations to facilitate direct comparisons between tools. The following provides all the details of the analysis.
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 from their tools. The saw can rip and make full-depth crosscuts without showing any sign of a struggle. The shoe and its components are stamped with clearly visible measurements that make depth and bevel setting straightforward. Additionally, all adjustments are secured with levers (which is preferred), and their action is smooth. The 90˚ and 45˚ sightlines at the front of the shoe are spot-on. Collectively, these features set you up to make high-quality cuts.
While we were certainly impressed with this saw, there were some features we would like to see that are missing. Namely, we really like positive stops on the bevel at commonly used angles. While not terrible, the blade changing could be improved based on what we've observed on other saws. Specifically, the blade lock is a bit of a pain to catch and hold. However, these minor complaints can easily be overlooked when contrasted with the merits of this machine. If you are looking for a top-quality brushless circular saw, look no further.
Read Full Review: Milwaukee M18 2631-20
Best Mid-sized Saw
Kobalt KCS 6524B-03
Considered to be the best of the mid-sized saws, the Kobalt KCS leaves little to be desired. This saw cuts 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. While these assessments are all well-received, the Kobalt makes its mark in battery life. No other saw here reviewed even came close.
Although this saw will run long enough that it'll likely wear you out, it does suffer a bit in some ease of use functions. For example, the sightlines on the leading edge of the shoe are off, which leads to short cuts. Moreover, the bevel lacks positive stops, which requires a bit more attentiveness because this saw's bevel extends all the way to 50˚. That said, this is still a super effective saw that will satisfy all but the most exacting user.
Read Full Review: Kobalt KCS 6524B-03
Best for Compact Trim Saws
In comparison to most of the saws in our review, the BLACK+DECKER does not come across very well. However, if you look at this saw for what it is — a light-duty trim saw — it is actually a capable little tool. It is certainly a great deal better, and doesn't cost a whole lot more than a manual hand saw. This tool is light and compact, so it's easy to handle and easy to store. It is also a decent choice for some professional applications such as cutting molding.
Most of the criticisms of this saw's performance are the products of unrealistic expectations or misuse. It's a fact that this saw lacks cutting power, and so it's not a good choice for consistent, heavy-duty work. It is also true that it lacks in battery life. So, it's not the best for prolonged tasks. However, if you are only going to make a few cuts at a go, or you just need a handy little saw for quick work on a job site, this is a nice addition to the tool kit.
Read Full Review: BLACK+DECKER BDCCS20B
Best Bang for the Buck
Given the price point and performance of this 6 ½" saw, it's no wonder it garnered a Best Buy Award. This machine is not a pro-quality tool, but it will make most cuts without much resistance. While it lacks a few convenience features, it's sightlines are quite accurate, making it an excellent tool for the novice DIYer. Additionally, the SKIL has a prodigious battery life, so it'll be ready to go when you reach for it.
Given the competitive price point of this saw, you might imagine that some corners have been cut in the design. That's 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 aren't the easiest 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 shortcomings, this tool is a good bet for those building up their tool kit as it's way better than a hand saw — better than several other saws in this review for that matter — and it sells at a very reasonable price.
Read Full Review: Skil CR540601
Best Choice on a Shoestring Budget
The Ryobi offers consumers a very competitive price point, making it a decent option for those on a budget. It also presents users — particularly newbies — with some helpful features. Specifically, the saw is light-weight, has good sightlines, is easy to adjust, and the blade is easy to change. This means that setting the cut depth and angle is straightforward, and managing the saw during cuts is a bit less demanding. Additionally, you don't have to wrestle the saw when it's time to switch out the blade.
As with most budget tools, the Ryobi lacks a bit in the quality and performance departments. For example, this model has a relatively shallow maximum cutting depth for a 6 1/2" saw. Additionally, one tester described the battery life as "abysmal." While this might be a bit of an overstatement, it certainly gets the point across that the battery life is subpar. That said, this tool 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 specifically cordless tools for several years. His experience installing and maintaining derricks in the Texas oil fields fuels a callused hands approach to tool testing. Austin is also a handy homeowner that is always working on projects around the house. Given his background, he can evaluate a tool with the eye of a professional as well as a homeowner tackling projects on the weekends. Complementing this approach 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. With their combined knowledge, Austin and Nick designed tests that would highlight each saw's strengths and weaknesses.Together our team ripped over 2,300 linear feet of 3/4" plywood to test the battery life of the saws. We made countless full-depth crosscuts on both soft and hardwood lumber. We also carefully inspected all of the features of the saws that contribute to ease of use, precision cuts, and maintenance. In the end, over 150 hours were spent testing, analyzing, and comparing these machines.
Related: How We Tested Cordless Circular Saws
Analysis and Test Results
This review is informed by a series of tests that allow for direct comparison across a diverse class of cordless circular saws. To do this, we designed evaluations that isolate specific aspects of saw use that we call metrics. These metrics are weighted by their impact on user experience and product performance. The metrics and their weights are ease of use (50%), cutting (30%), and battery (20%). The following is a rundown on the components of these metrics and what made one saw better than another in each.
For many people, value is calculated before and after every purchase. Sometimes value is simply the feeling people get when they are satisfied with a purchase. However, we calculate value through an analytical process wherein products that perform similarly are compared for price differences, and products within a narrow 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 delivers an above-average performance in the ease of use metric and is at the top of the class for battery life. These stats place the SKIL in the middle of the class overall, and 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 and performs satisfactorily when used lightly.
Conversely, the Editors' Choice Award-winning Milwaukee M18 is one of the more expensive machines under review. However, its performance is head and shoulders above the competition. For the professional user or woodworking enthusiast, this saw will be a great value because it will 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 analyzes 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 will 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 features. That said, the Ridgid outshines the rest of the class in this metric as 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 as opposed to 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 preventing the tool from falling out of its storage slot.
Those models that did poorly in this evaluation have poor craftsmanship and 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 prone to bending.
It might seem curious that we weighted cutting to just 30% of the overall score when it's clearly a critical aspect of any saw assessment. This weight was used because our cutting tests are concise, focusing on the saw's power when making three basic cuts. These are full blade depth crosscuts in both hard and softwood as well as ripping a softwood plank. The saws that can make the three test cuts the fastest have most powerful motors and thus, score the highest.
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, the tool's other characteristics go by the wayside as you'll constantly be fetching batteries from the charger to make your cuts. This scenario would defeat the benefits of going cordless in the first place. However, the 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. While the battery life of the 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 the Kobalt KCS (Editors' Choice for 6 1/2" saws), which was tested with a 4 amp-hour battery and significantly out-performed the 5 amp-hour models. The Kobalt nearly worn out our tester as 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 prior 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. The above 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