Publication Date: May/June 2002
As an apprentice carpenter in Canada, I walked into the local
tool store to buy my first circular saw. I had a growing
interest in timber framing and had just read a book by a timber
framer named Tedd Benson. According to his book, there was no
question about which saw to buy for cutting beams and I was
determined to have it. That particular saw was an 8 1/4-inch
Skil wormdrive, which I still use today.
Now, I work alongside the man who wrote that book, helping to
run the building systems department at Bensonwood Homes in
Walpole, N.H. We build the floors and enclosure systems for our
timber frame homes. We use circular saws with blades from 4 1/2
inches to 16 inches in diameter, but we use 8 1/4-inch saws
most often in our shop and on our jobsites around the world.
They're indispensable for making cuts into big materials. We
use them to cut tenons out of 8-by stock, rip through nominal
3-by in one pass, and muscle through 1 1/8-inch floor
I look for an 8 1/4-inch circ saw to be light, accurate, and
easy to adjust. It must be rugged and powerful, and able to cut
sheet goods, solid-sawn framing, and engineered wood products
smoothly. The saw also needs to rip, cross cut, plunge cut, and
cut compound angles found in roof framing.
I tested the Milwaukee 6378 and Skil HD5860 wormdrives, and
five sidewinders including the Bosch 1656, DeWalt DW384,
Hitachi C8, Makita 5008NB, and Milwaukee 6405-6. I ran the saws
through 2-by at 90 and 45 degrees to check adjustments, guard
action and cut accuracy. I also looked for stiffness between
the saw bodies and shoes. I tested the saws' power by sending
them through a stack of 1/2-inch OSB. I also evaluated balance
and feel to find out which saw I'd want on the jobsite all
Seeing the line. I like to watch the blade cut the line no
matter what the bevel angle is, so I usually don't use the
guides on the saw base leading edge. Since sidewinders and
wormdrives have different cut views, I made a list of what saws
offered the best line of sight. In the sidewinder category, the
Hitachi and DeWalt offer the best cut views at both 90 and 45
degrees. The Milwaukee model offered the poorest line of sight.
Of the wormdrives, the Skil model beat out the Milwaukee
wormdrive on cut view quality.
Shoe. To make straight cuts
with accurate angles, circ saws must have stiff, flat shoes
with strong connections to the tool bodies. Milwaukee's
sidewinder uses an aluminum shoe and one point of attachment.
That leaves most of the shoe unsupported and produces unwanted
DeWalt uses an aluminum plate with a two-point connection: a
front slide with a large locking knob and a rear pivot. I found
this arrangement rigid and very easy to use. It also keeps your
hands low for better control while operating the saw.
The wormdrives and the Bosch sidewinder use front pivots, rear
slides, and stamped steel shoes. I checked the steel shoes with
a machinist's straight edge and found them to be up to
3/32-inch out of flat. That's a little more than I'd like to
see. Hitachi has the same front pivot/rear slide arrangement,
but it uses a cast metal shoe which proved to be the stiffest
and flattest out of all the saws.
The DeWalt shoe was 1/8-inch out of parallel with the blade
when the saw arrived. It has an adjustment that allows you to
true it up; however, when I adjusted the shoe parallel to the
blade the saw wouldn't bevel more than 15 degrees. This threw
me off enough to ask for another saw, but the replacement had
the same problem. Fortunately, this only posed a problem when I
cut against a fence in the power test. Otherwise, we found the
saw worked fine for most procedures, even with the shoe a bit
out of line.
Bevel adjustment. Except for
the Milwaukee sidewinder, all the saws we tested have similar
bevel adjustments. Milwaukee uses a tongue-and-groove,
semi-circular track arrangement with a locking lever, but it
allowed the bevel angle to change when the saw was set at 45
degrees The other saws use front and rear pivots and locking
levers or knobs. This dual pivot system works better and all
the saws seem equally stiff.
All the saws tested can roll over to 45 degrees. The DeWalt
model goes further to 50 degrees, and the Bosch and Skil can go
to 60 degrees. This extra reach is very handy in roof
All of the sidewinders have 90- degree adjustable stops -- set
screws that let you dial the saws directly in to 90 degrees.
The wormdrives don't have this feature. If you're constantly
changing from bevel to 90 de-grees, this feature is nice to
All of the saws have angle scales to determine the bevels on
the saw blades. They're almost all laid out in 5-degree
increments. The DeWalt saw has 1-degree divisions and an
adjustable pointer, which makes for finer adjustments if you
Depth-of-cut scales. The
Milwaukee wormdrive and Makita sidewinder saws don't have a
marked scale. The Milwaukee sidewinder comes with tick marks,
but no numbers. The Bosch and Skil saws have scales laid out
for common stock thicknesses. They're set up so the blade
protrudes 1/4-inch deeper than the scale's stock size, putting
the blade at the correct depth for a given cut.
The Hitachi and DeWalt scales read the actual cutting depth.
The DeWalt also has an adjustable pointer on the depth scale so
you can zero out the saw for small differences in blade
diameters. I had never used a cut-depth scale before, but found
it useful for kerfing out notches. DeWalt's adjustable pointer
is especially good for this.
Blade change. Blade changing
is about the same for all of the models. They have arbor locks
which make blade changes easy. The Bosch and Skil saws have a
feature that the companies call a Vari-Torque Clutch, which,
according to the owners' manuals, "permits the blade shaft to
turn when the blade encounters excessive resistance, reducing
the saw's tendency to kickback." This feature requires the
blade bolt to be properly tightened to keep the blade from
slipping during normal cutting. This wasn't the case, however;
I really had to over-tighten the capture bolt to keep the blade
from slipping. I think that clutch design could use some
Electrical. Except for the
Milwaukee model, all of the sidewinders we tested are
double-insulated. Neither wormdrive is double-insulated.
External brushes are a nice maintenance feature. All the saws
have them except the Bosch tool, which makes you remove a cover
to access them.
All the saws come with adequate-length cords, but I found the
cord on the Milwaukee wormdrive to be excessively thick.
A nice safety feature on the DeWalt saw is an electric blade
brake that stops the blade in about three seconds. That won't
help much for a kickback, but it can help prevent other jobsite
injuries and quiets the saw down considerably faster.
Balance and Ergonomics
A tool's feel is often a question of personal taste. I like a
saw's handles to be far enough apart for control, large enough
for big hands, and mounted as low as possible. That's why I
like to work with wormdrives so much.
The wormdrive's handle arrangement gives me a stable platform
in case of kickback. The sidewinders tend to have handles
mounted higher on the saw; I personally don't like this
DeWalt overcomes overhand positioning problem by using a rear
pivot for depth and providing large handles. This, combined
with its relatively light weight, makes for a very comfortable
tool. Bosch's saw also has comfortable handles, but they're
mounted higher. The Skil saw feels good in my hands, but it's a
little heavy. The Makita and Hitachi tools have small handles,
but the saws' light weight can be a relief at the end of a long
day. I found the handles on both Milwaukee models a little on
the chunky side.
Guards. Some of the guards
gave me some trouble. The Makita guard seems to have excessive
side motion and it got hung up on 45-degree cuts. The guard on
the Milwaukee sidewinder wouldn't clear the base at full-depth,
45-degree bevel cuts. Bosch has a guard retractor mounted near
the front handle, which allows the guard to retract with your
hands safely on the handle. The return spring is so heavy,
however, I had to let go of the saw to help the guard over the
blade. The guards on the rest of the saws worked fine.
Power, Speed, and Vibration
To test for power, I pushed the saws to their limits. I
stacked five sheets of 7/16-inch OSB on top of each other, put
brand new identical blades on each saw, and used a fence to
keep me on line. Then I ripped through the stack as fast as I
could go without stopping the blades. I averaged each saw's
time for three passes. I expected the 15-amp saws to outperform
their 13-amp cousins, but that wasn't necessarily the
At 27 seconds, the 15-amp Bosch was the slowest. It was very
hard to keep it against the fence and it vibrated excessively
when pushed hard. The DeWalt and Makita saws turned in times of
24 and 25 seconds respectively, but also vibrated a lot. The
wormdrives were not as impressive as I thought they'd be. The
Milwaukee wormdrive finished at 23 seconds, while the Skil
clocked a 25-second average. They were a little smoother than
the others, but not quite what I'd hoped for.
The power title goes to the Milwaukee sidewinder. It turned in
a very impressive 20-second average, sat right on line, and was
almost vibration-free. Milwaukee's saw has an impressive power
plant. The 13-amp Hitachi saw was the runner-up in the power
battle. It ran a 22 second average, was very smooth and easy to
hold on the line.
It was difficult to choose an overall winner from this test. I
did a lot of soul-searching and didn't want to betray my old
wormdrive. I'm still not willing to hang up my old Skil, but I
think I can find room for two saws in my personal tool
The Hitachi saw is my new favorite -- not for any one feature,
but for its overall performance in this test. This saw isn't
the most powerful in this bunch, it doesn't roll over to 60
degrees, and its handles are a little small for my taste.
However, it's one of the lightest saws in the test, ran the
second fastest time in the OSB stack, runs very smooth, and you
can really see the line. Another bonus, it has the flattest,
stiffest base and its overall quality is very high. I like this
saw a lot.
The DeWalt saw was my second favorite because of its good cut
view and blade brake. The Skil wormdrive came in third,
followed by the Makita side-winder, then the Milwaukee
wormdrive, Bosch sidewinder and Milwaukee sidewinder.
Paul Boais a timber frame carpenter at Bensonwood
Homes in Walpole, N.H.
Tools of the Trade
with the companies in this test to donate their tools to
Habitat for Humanity.
Thanks to Freud for providing the blades for this
This article is reprinted
courtesy of Tools of the Trade