The circular saw is a crossover tool more popular with home builders and home-improvement hobbyists than woodworkers. However, with the right features and techniques, the circular saw can succeed in the wood shop.
• Sidewinder vs. worm-drive
• Depth of cut or plunge
• Dust collection
• Tilting base
Choosing styles and features
Circular saws are available in two basic styles. Sidewinder saws have a motor mounted on the side of the tool. They are generally lighter and less expensive than the other style of circular saw, known as a worm-drive saw. Worm-drive saws feature an inline motor that is generally more powerful, has more torque, and operates at a quieter volume than sidewinders.
Sidewinders are available in right-handed and left-handed models. This is due to the fact that the handle on a sidewinder may be positioned to either side of the blade, obscuring the line of sight when used with the wrong hand. Worm-drive saws are mostly ambidextrous because the body design doesn't obscure the cut line.
Variations on these circular saw types include cordless models, where manufacturers outfit a circular saw with the same battery as those on other cordless tools in their inventory. A few companies also make plunge-cut circular saws, which provide a mechanism to start and stop a cut with extreme precision.
No matter the style, a circular saw should have a sturdy fence that is easy to adjust in height and tilt. It will also benefit from a dust exhaust port and a blade guard that easily retracts during a cut.
Using a circular saw
To a carpenter, the circular saw is almost an extension of the hand, and can be coaxed into cutting everything from 2x4s to sheet goods to finished doors. Woodworkers, on the other hand, typically relegate the circular saw to second-class status in the woodshop behind precision machinery and handtools.
That doesn't have to be the case. When there's no room for a tablesaw in your shop, a circular saw is an ideal substitute for ripping and crosscutting solid wood lumber and sheet goods. When used with a straight-edge guide, it can produce the same precision and tearout-free edges as a tablesaw.