"What's the point of a 6 1/2-inch circular saw?" That was my question when I first laid eyes on Ridgid's Fuego circular saw. My crew and I were accustomed to our 7 1/4-inch saws; a smaller version just seemed gimmicky. The only other 6 1/2-inch model we'd used was an 18-volt cordless number that never lived up to expectations and was downgraded to punch-list status soon after we bought it. But the Fuego was hard to dismiss: Ridgid says that because its blade spins at 6,100 rpm, it cuts faster than any other framing saw.

I decided to put the claim to the test. My Porter-Cable 324MAG 7 1/4-inch circ saw spins at about 5,600 rpm, and my DeWalt 378 hypoid at about 4,600 rpm. While a co-worker timed me with a stopwatch, I compared cutting times among the three tools. With every material I tried, the Fuego beat the older saws by at least a second or two. In addition to a faster rpm, the smaller saw has the advantage of lightness. It weighs a mere 8 pounds — 1 1/2 pounds lighter than my PC and 5 pounds lighter than my DeWalt.

However, the size issue raised another concern: Would the tool be less durable than larger, heavier models? In fact, we did have some problems with handles breaking off. Other than that, however, the answer seems to be no. While serving as our primary framing saw on six homes and countless smaller jobs, the Fuego proved to be nearly trouble free.

Ridgid Fuego Specs
Depth-of-cut at 90 degrees: 2 1/8 inches
Depth-of-cut at 45 degrees: 1 5/8 inches
Depth-of-cut at 51 degrees: 1 1/2 inches
Rpm: 6,100
Weight: 8 pounds
Cord: 10-foot rubber
Ridgid 800/474-3443

The Fuego bevels to 51 degrees; a push button overrides a stop at 45 degrees. Even at 51 degrees, the tool can cut through 2-by material in a single pass — but it won't quite make it all the way through an LVL at a 45-degree bevel. While this may be a problem for some carpenters, beveled cuts on LVL are pretty rare on our job sites, and we can easily finish off remaining stock with a hand or recip saw.

Depth-of-cut. Unlike many other depth-of-cut scales I've used, the one on the Fuego is easy to read and very accurate. There are even fractional markings for cutting panel products. When I set the saw to cut at 1 1/2 inches, it sliced cleanly through 2-by lumber, leaving only a faint cut line on the stock below. The locking lever is easily accessible and holds the depth tightly.

Shoe. I had my doubts about the composite shoe, but several falls onto concrete proved its durability. A useful kerf indicator shows the blade location for plunge cuts — a very nice feature.

Blade guard. Though there's nothing particularly special about the blade guard, it functions well and the lever for retracting it is easy to reach. The guard does bind up a little during steep compound cuts but still retracts on its own with a little shove. At one point we dropped the saw from a second-floor deck and the guard handle broke off; I was able to order a new lever online.

Blower. By diverting some of the airflow from around the motor, Ridgid was able to create a blower that clears the cut line. This is a well-designed feature that we really appreciated when cutting OSB and plywood sheathing.

Cord. The Fuego's 10-foot rubber cord includes a lighted plug that's handy when several tools are plugged in to the same power strip. Besides keeping the cord under control, the Velcro cord wrap helps keep it connected to an extension.

From our vantage point, the Fuego's most remarkable feature is its 8-pound weight. The manufacturer kept the weight down by using composite-plastic parts wherever possible. The result is a very comfortable saw — but the downside is a greater likelihood of breakage.

The broken guard handle wasn't the only piece that broke while we used the tool. (Admittedly, a second-story drop is a long fall — but a metal handle would have bent, not broken.) Another small handle that adjusts the depth-of-cut stripped out over a metal nut. In both cases the parts cost less than fifty cents and were easily obtained online from the manufacturer, so I ordered extras in anticipation of the problems reappearing.

Despite our problems with broken handles, I'd recommend the Fuego saw to just about anyone. Over the last few months it's become my primary saw; my 7 1/4-inch models see less use all the time. The Fuego comes with a nylon bag and sells for $139.

Jeremy Hess is a lead carpenter with Heisey Construction in Elizabethtown, Pa.

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