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In the Workshop: Circular Saws

Filed Under: Tools, Know-How

circular saw, workshop, power toolsCorbis

If you're just setting up your workshop, your initial tool purchase should definitely include a circular saw. (And if you already have a workshop, this tool is a must-have.) The circular saw is the best all-around cutting tool: compact, powerful, and versatile.

There are two styles of circular saw on the market; the sidewinder and the worm drive. The mechanics of the sidewinder are set up so that the motor sits next to the blade and spins it in a direct fashion.

sidewinder circular sawSidewinder circular saw. Photo: Amazon

The worm drive, on the other hand, has the motor located to the rear of the blade, with the transfer of power coming through a worm drive gear. Because of the gearing, worm drive saws don't have the blade speed of sidewinders, but they make up for it with overall power. Worm drives are also heavier and a little more difficult to manage than the sidewinder. If you're looking for your first saw, I'd say stick with the sidewinder.

Sidewinder saws are available for as little as $35; worm drives start at about $100. Since this tool is the cornerstone of any serious DIY project and will likely end up being one of the most used items in your workshop, I'd recommend splurging for a saw that retails for at least $80 range. The tool will pay for itself quickly. After you have it for a few years, it'll probably work out to about 2 cents per cut.

Before you buy a circular saw, make sure to go to a store and get your hands on a few different models. Get a feel for things like weight, balance, and handle position. Also check out the footplate. It's likely that the saw will take a few spills over the course of its lifetime, so you don't want a flimsy metal footplate that will easily bend.

The primary safety concern with circular saws is kickback. This is when the blade binds up in the wood, and because of the blade rotation, the saw ejects back, usually toward the user. To help prevent this and other catastrophes, follow these safety tips:

- Always wear safety glasses. If you don't, you're really just asking for it. Oh, and squinting while you cut isn't going to do anything to protect your eyes.

- Do not take a coat hanger and wire your blade guard in the up position in order to work faster (it's insane, but we've seen it done).

- Keep two hands on the tool only when the workpiece is secured. Otherwise, keep a hand on the board.

- Try to position yourself so that your body is not directly behind the blade. If the blade kicks back, it's less likely to find you.

- Don't force the blade.


Craftsman Mini Circular Saw (Charles & Hudson)
History of the Circular Saw (Ask Tool Talk)


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