My crew and I evaluated the 18-volt Milwaukee M18 Fuel and 36-volt Makita 18V X2 LXT circular saws for the September 2014 issue of JLC. Cordless circular saws have proven their worth for intermittent tasks such as cutting soffits, rafter tails, and window openings. But ads claimed that the new 6 1/2-inch Milwaukee and the 7 1/4-inch Makita could also do serious production framing, from gang-cutting plywood to trimming LVLs. Although we were impressed by both saws, neither one will be replacing our speedy corded sidewinders for production framing.

Milwaukee has since introduced the 18-volt, 7 1/4-inch M18 Fuel, which is also supposed to handle the most demanding applications. After using it for a couple of months and running some serious speed tests, we're comfortable with sharing our opinions.


The new 7 1/4-inch saw is clearly related to Milwaukee's 6 1/2-inch version. Both kits include the same 4-amp-hour batteries, which have built-in fuel gauges and take almost 1 1/2 hours to fully recharge. Both saws have the same brushless motor and identical gearing. And both saws have magnesium shoes and blade guards, easy-to-read depth and bevel scales, a well-designed pivoting rafter hook, an on-board blade wrench, and an LED headlight. But the 7 1/4-incher is a blade-right rather than a blade-left saw. And although both saws generate 5,000 no-load rpm, the larger blade circumference of the new saw yields a faster speed at the cutting edge. Both saws use advanced electronics to protect against overloading, overheating, and overdischarging, but Milwaukee says it built a unique electronics package for each saw to achieve peak performance.

Like other cordless circular saws, the new 7 1/4-incher has a safety that you must press with your thumb before pulling the trigger. Cordless saws are often used in awkward positions where the extra thumb action is a pain, so I wish manufacturers would eliminate this feature.


We've been using this new sidewinder constantly for small jobs, and we love having it on our framing jobs as an extra saw that we can carry around for quick cuts without a cord. It's easy to adjust and comfortable to hold. The blade guard works well, although, like most, it gets hung up and needs a helping thumb on the lever when the saw is making a bevel cut at an acute angle. The saw bevels to a bit over 51 degrees and can cut through a 2-by at that angle. I've found the bright LED headlight to be a blessing for interior work. It has a 10-second afterglow when you release the trigger.

According to Milwaukee, the saw can crosscut 233 2x4s per charge under optimal testing conditions, which is similar to the performance of the Milwaukee 6 1/2-inch and Makita 7 1/4-inch cordless saws we tested a few months ago. Obviously, battery runtime is normally not an issue with these efficient new cordless saws. But my instincts have always told me that cordless saws just aren't as fast as their corded counterparts. With manufacturers now claiming equality for their new cordless offerings, I decided it was a good time to test this new 7 1/4-inch saw against our go-to corded framing sidewinders: a 15-amp, 7 1/4-inch Milwaukee Tilt-Lok and a 12-amp, 6 1/2-inch Ridgid Fuego. For good measure, I also tested the cordless 6 1/2-inch Milwaukee and 7 1/4-inch Makita.

Assisted by a helper with a stopwatch, I counted the number of freehand crosscuts I could make per minute with each saw through a well-seasoned, full-dimension 2x10 spruce staging plank with consistently scattered small knots, repeating the test several times for each saw and averaging the results. I equipped each saw with a new Diablo 24-tooth framing blade and fully charged all the batteries.

Among the cordless saws, the Milwaukee 7 1/4-incher cut 13 to 14 slices per minute, the Milwaukee 6 1/2-incher cut 12 slices per minute, and the Makita 7 1/4-incher cut 15 to 16 slices. On the other hand, our corded Milwaukee 7 1/4-incher easily cut 30 slices per minute and our corded Ridgid 6 1/2-incher cut 26, making it clear that corded saws still definitely rule for production framing.


Despite the marketing hype for cordless tools, corded saws are still the best choice for production framing. The top corded models cut significantly faster than the latest cordless ones, and running a cord to a pile or a cutting station is at least as easy as setting up a charger and swapping batteries. But cordless saws have become indispensable for small jobs and for all those awkward cuts that you need to make in place, and the 7 1/4-inch Milwaukee M18 Fuel is our new favorite. That's partly because I already own a fleet of Milwaukee M18 tools with compatible batteries and chargers. But more important, the saw resembles a traditional 7 1/4-inch corded sidewinder, can cut anything that our corded saws can, is very comfortable, and has a handy rafter hook and an LED headlight. The whole crew loves it.

We tested the two-battery kit, but you can also buy a one-battery kit for $100 less or the bare tool for $200 less.

John Spier is a builder on Block Island, R.I.

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