Best Cordless Circular Saw – Head to Head
Cordless Circular Saw Head to Head – High Capacity Edition
Here at Tool Box Buzz we’ve been conducting head to head comparisons of a wide variety of tools. Testing criteria and parameters have always been focused on ensuring apple to apple comparisons. We depart from this model on this test for a few key reasons. Tool manufacturers are truly innovating, not duplicating. In the past, like in our Best 18V Cordless Circular Saws – Head to Head, we used only 18V tools. We even were considering omitting brushless saws and went as far as to exclude Makita’s 18V X2 Cordless Saw as it fell into a gray area.
As the market exists today we see companies focusing on different technologies to achieve power, endurance, and ultimately freedom from the corded tool for the end user. With that said, we feel that trying to match tools in the apples to apples format limits our ability to give you, our readers, a good sense of what is available and how they stack up. But don’t worry, this isn’t our first rodeo, so we understand the critical discriminators between the tools and will caveat those differences throughout this Best Cordless Circular Saw – Head to Head article.
Ultimately this article will give you a solid understanding of the performance of “high capacity” batteries paired with top of the line cordless circular saws available on the market today!
Our testing included both 6-1/2″ and 7-1/4″ blade diameters, 18V to 36V tools, running single packs and double packs, of 3.9Ah to 9.0Ah. We’ll highlight crew favorites, name best in class categories, reveal endurance testing results, and name the crew’s coveted best overall high capacity saw!
Models Featured in the Test
- Bosch CCS180B with 6-1/2″ Blade [18 Volt with 6.0Ah Battery / Brushed]
- DEWALT DCS575T2 with 7-1/4″ Blade [60 Volt MAX with 6.0Ah Battery / Brushless]
- HILTI WSC 7.25-A with 7-1/4″ Blade [36 Volt with 3.9Ah Battery / Brushed]
- Makita XSH03Z with 6-1/2″ Blade [18 Volt with 6.0Ah Battery / Brushless]
- Makita XSH01Z with 7-1/4″ Blade [2x 18 Volt (36 Volt) with 2x 6.0Ah Batteries / Brushed]
- Milwaukee 2730-20 with 6-1/2″ Blade [18 Volt with 9.0Ah Battery / Brushless]
- Milwaukee 2731-20 with 7-1/4″ Blade [18 Volt with 9.0Ah Battery / Brushless]
- Metabo KSA 18 LTX with 6-1/2″ Blade [18 Volt with 5.2Ah Battery / Brushed]
- Ridgid R8653 with 7-1/4″ Blade [18 Volt with 5.0Ah Battery / Brushless]
Although we gave up on apples to apples comparisons for the saws themselves we controlled the stock blade variability. While simultaneously assessing the ease of blade change for each saw, we swapped out stock blades for Diablo 24 tooth framing blades on both the 6-1/2″ and 7-1/4″ models. Controlling for blade variability allows our assessments to focus on the motor, battery, and electronics to gauge performance of the saws. Also, to get all the saws close when it comes to batteries, we decided to compare all the run time results based on two batteries (more on that in the Endurance section).
Another choice we made was to distinguish between the smaller 6-1/2″ saws and the 7-1/4″ models. Based on the size of motor and common application we decided to categorize the 6-1/2″ saws as “trim” saws and the 7-1/4″ as framing saws. We highlight the best in class models for each weight class and ran our endurance testing in two separate heats. Which means we’ll crown not one, but TWO best overall saws in this Head-to-Head! For a video spoiler check out Rob’s rundown of the testing below…
A fresh and appropriate blade for your application is critical to ensure a quality cut and productivity on the job-site. Changing a blade should be easy, safe, and convenient. We changed the blade on nine saws and although there were no clear stand outs, a few key differences surfaced during our assessments to give us our best in class winners.
Blade Change Winner (Trim) – Makita
Makita eked out ahead of the rest of the 6-1/2″ saws as our best in class blade change. In the trim saw category a sharp blade for clean scribe cuts is key, so frequent blade change is common. The blade stop caught easily and was well placed on the saw. The on board storage for the allen wrench to loosen and tighten the arbor nut was a little sloppy, but placed better than the competition.
Ultimately, this was the feature that put Makita just slightly ahead of the 6-1/2″ Milwaukee Fuel. The Fuel’s on board allen wrench popped easily from its cradle, threatening to get lost on the job or in a tool box.
Blade Change Winner (Framing) – DEWALT
In the framing category nothing exciting came out of the blade change assessment. The key discriminator was the on board storage of a 1/2″ wrench, the industry standard for most 7-1/4″ saws. This feature makes the blade change much more convenient, as generating torque with this tool is noticeably easier compared to the dinky allen wrench provided for most cordless saws.
For the record all the other 7-1/4″ “Framing” class saws featured in our test provided those hex, allen wrenches for blade change.
The ergonomics of a saw is difficult to evaluate objectively, and we here at TBB don’t pretend that our say is the end all be all for this category. In fact, we encourage you to go to your local box store or lumber yard and pick these tools up for yourself. Still we had seven experienced carpenters put their hands on these saws, and through a simple but fair process of elimination selected one saw from each category, trim and framing, to name best in class.
The feel, weight, and balance of a tool is tough to convey through text. We compiled the weights of the tools, depicted in a bar graph, so you can see the difference in weights across the board. Of course how that weight is balanced impacts the “feel” of the tool. In our Cordless Screw Gun Head to Head we highlight the HILTI for it’s balance. Despite it’s 25% more weight over the ergonomics winner, the Hilti was so well balanced our crew loved using it.
Ergonomics Winner (Trim) – Bosch
The “feel” and balance of a tool has a major impact on our assessment of ergonomics. Again very subjective, but what was clear from our deep pool of professionals was the favoring of a particular style of grip. Our crew showed a preference for handles in a vertical position when the saw is at max depth. The Bosch CCS180B is a great example of this style of grip. This handle orientation results in the user pushing the saw through material at standard depth, while the grip becomes more aggressive at shallower depths.
Our crew named the DEWALT DCS391 our ergonomics winner in this category last time we tested cordless circular saws. This saw, in regards to ergonomics, is the polar opposite style grip, where the handle is extremely aggressive, almost parallel to the shoe at max depth. A great example of how ergonomics can be subjective, but also of how these two very different styles can emerge as “best in class”. So if you don’t like how one saw feels, try one with a different style grip and see if that’s what YOU prefer.
Ergonomics Winner (Framing) – Makita
The size, weight, and balance of this tool was a crew favorite. The Makita XSH01Z is another example of a push style grip at standard depth, although not as vertical as the Bosch. Regardless, not only did the weight and feel of the tool impress the crew, rounding out at just over 12 pounds, but also the comfort and ease during operation. We kept hearing the word “Smooth” associated with the Makita 7-1/4″ framing saw, despite being the heaviest saw in the group. The crew almost unanimously called out the Makita for it’s feel during use, so we had no doubts naming this saw best in class for ergonomics.
The circular saw is a fairly blunt tool, although it can be used skillfully in finish applications, money cuts are left to the miter saw. So appropriate circular saw applications that require beveling tend to be rough framing applications, where speed is everything. A bevel scale that allows users to quickly set and verify common bevel settings is the key performance indicator for this category.
Bevel Setting Winner (Trim) – Makita
Makita employs a simple but effective method to set the saw’s bevel to 45-degrees and max out to 50-degrees. The tool, much like it’s 18V X2 (36-Volt) big brother, features a simple stop dial. This adjustment allows the user to turn a dial which bottoms out the bevel gauge at 45-degrees, when not engaged the bevel setting will max out to 50-degrees. This feature combined with the raised white on black bevel gauge makes the Makita XSH03Z our best in class choice for the trim saw category.
Bevel Setting Winner (Framing) – Ridgid
The big brother to Ridgid’s R8651, this 7-1/4″ version shares the impressive bevel adjustment design of the smaller 6-1/2″ trim saw. The discriminators in this category were ease of angle setting and visibility. The Ridgid Framing saw included detents at 0, 15, 22-1/2, and 45 degrees, for unmatched speed and precision setting bevel angle. Finally, with an easy to see white on magnesium painted dial, this saw clearly dominates this category.
Our team agreed that depth setting was best left to a quick adjustment on the work piece checking exactly where the blade projects past the material to be cut. Still there is something to be said about a gauge that can quickly and accurately set the depth of the saw. In this category we found that the scale was easy to read, but often the tools failed to accurately denote where on the scale the saw was set. This made our job easy to determine best in class in both categories.
Depth Setting Winner (Trim & Framing) – Milwaukee
The scale for depth of cut on the Milwaukee cordless saw’s faces the operator on the blade guard. Additionally, a duplicate scale can easily be seen when looking at the saw from the motor side. This family of saws features the most comprehensive scale for depth across the field. The bonus features for the Fuel saw’s includes a RED mark making it really stand out to the eye, which surprisingly enough was an oversight on most other models. Bottom-line the Fuel family of saws are our best in class for Depth Setting.
No matter how well a tool feels in your hand or how long the runtime is, if you can’t see what your doing, you can’t expect great performance. At a minimum you’ll probably be pulling your hair out when getting ready to make a money cut.
Nothing will kill your productivity and confidence like swapping from sight line to sight line to see if you can actually watch the blade through your line. At worst you’ll have to deal with subpar cuts that your can’t redo, which for a lot of us, is tough to live with. So in this category we focus on how well users can see the blade during operation from both blade and motor side.
Sight Line Winner (Trim) – Makita
The Makita XSH03Z was designed from the ground up and the saw includes exceptionally executed features across the board, so it’s no surprise the sight lines on this tool are great! The guard on both the blade and motor side are relieved creating a clear window for the user to track the blade across the workpiece. Visibility from the motor side is always the challenge with these tools and Makita did a good job keeping a line of sight open from the blade through the blade stop, bevel gauge, and guards.
Sight Line Winner (Framing) – DEWALT
DEWALT’s Flex Volt circular saw follows the design of the DCS391, which in our last head to head easily took the best in class for Sight Line. This Flex Volt generation saw does not have the bare bones, skeleton frame of the DCS391 and the shoe is much more substantial. Overall the sight lines on this model is not as open and clear as the DCS391, but still easily the best sight lines in the “Framing” class.
Value is one of our favorite categories to call during head to head evaluations. The cost of the tool, or in this case the combination of components, is a clear objective. But value is not the cheapest tool, but the tool that delivers exceptional performance for its price. This head to head is a Frankenstein combination of components; tool, high-capacity battery, and charger. So we’re seeing higher price tags than the off the shelf kits you’re used to seeing in the stores.
The graph below is broken into two sections, one for the 6-1/2″ saws and one for the full size 7-1/4″ saws. We’ve listed the pricing based on the price of the tool, a charger (in some cases they are dual chargers), and two high capacity battery packs. Because one of the tools uses two packs in order to operate, we felt it was best to level the entire field by using two packs as the basis for cost and how much work can be accomplished with two packs.
Value Winner (Trim) – Bosch
The Bosch CCS180 with exceptional ergonomics, a decent runtime, and a reasonable price for all separately purchased components make this our value winner for the trim category. During our last circular saw head to head this tool with a 4.0Ah battery was named best in class for endurance. So although this is an older model, it still displays good performance and is well priced. You can expect to pay around $347 for the tool, 6.0Ah battery, and a loose charger.
Value Winner (Framing) – DEWALT
This category is typically dominated by Ridgid due to the aggressive pricing and quality performance. They certainly came close this time but the real winner here is the new DEWALT FlexVolt priced just below $400! This is the only saw that we tested that came in a true kit with the saw, charger, and two batteries.
But with the disruption of the FlexVolt line, DEWALT’s new system is a big ask for current 20V users. Although the FlexVolt batteries are backwards compatible, DEWALT is still upsetting the apple cart by introducing a new line of tools no longer useful to the users invested in the DEWALT 20V line. With all that said, DEWALT needs to entice users over to bridge the new battery platform. Either way the DEWALT offers a very powerful tool, currently sporting a 60V, 2.0Ah battery, with plenty of room to run at a great price!
At the end of the day a cordless saw is only as good as its primary function, cutting. And with a finite amount of cuts in energy stored in a cordless battery, endurance means a lot to these tools. So we address the endurance test with two key philosophies. One, test the tool in a realistic application at a realistic pace. Two, we are not a laboratory, so we don’t sweat every variable, although we strive to create an environment where each tool is assessed fairly.
One of the difficult choices for this test was how to fairly compare the Makita double battery tool to the rest of the field. We struggled with this but in the end we felt it was very important to compare these tools based on the same number of batteries. The thought here is if you buy two batteries for each of these tools, how much work can you accomplish on two fully charged packs. This isn’t perfect I realize, but it is important to the total story. If you own the Makita, and you plan on working all day, you likely will need 4 packs at a minimum. The rest of the saws can likely work all day with two packs so that’s a big consideration.
In the graph below are the results from cross-cutting 1-3/4″ x 11-7/8″ LVL. This is a brutal test but really points out how well these tools can perform on the toughest tasks. The data below was calculated as follows: All of the tools used one pack while the Makita used two. The number of cuts were doubled for all the single battery tools so we could compare to the double pack of the Makita.
We’ve been to various manufacturing plants where we’ve seen controlled experiments to develop the published figures on performance. These are typically a combination of robotic assessments and human evaluations. Ultimately, we understand we are introducing a degree of variability with different users, but we don’t expect user performance to skew the results of each saw enough to be a concern.
Circling back to realistic applications, a carpenter actually using a tool means a lot to us and our team, we garner tons of additional information actually doing the cutting ourselves.
For example, if a tool handle becomes hot over prolonged use, or if a tools weight begins to cause user fatigue, or if common lever is uncomfortable to engage over prolonged use. These realizations only become evident when you actually use the tools as they are intended to be used. We learned some hard lessons about a few of our competitors which we’ll address at the end of the article.
Endurance Test Winner (Trim) – Milwaukee
When we began this test, one of the most intriguing questions we were hoping to answer was the difference in performance between the 6-1/2″ Milwaukee Fuel and the 7-1/4″ Milwaukee Fuel. Two theories existed among the crew. One, the smaller diameter blade would actually outperform the larger saw given the efficiencies of a smaller blade. Two, the larger 7-1/4″ blade is accompanied by a much larger motor which would exceed the performance of a smaller motor on the trim version.
The two saws in fact run the same motor so the smaller saw does deliver additional endurance given the efficiency gained from additional rotations and less friction of a smaller blade. In the trim category the fuel dominated the competition by cutting 73% more than the next closest two saws.
Endurance Test Winner (Framing) – Milwaukee
The framing category was probably the most interesting one and definitely a category that we struggled with. If you pick up any of these saws with the battery (s) that are attached to it the Makita wins easily. But that comes at a serious price in having to have two fully charged, properly operating battery packs. While working with this saw you’d need to be charging two more packs in order to keep working when the first two are drained.
When we normalize the competition by looking at total cuts for two packs, the DEWALT FlexVolt and the Milwaukee FUEL blow away the other saws. The Milwaukee again crushed the competition with 25% more cuts than the 2nd place finisher DEWALT. Some of you may find this very surprising if you’re just thinking about voltage. But voltage isn’t the entire story, it’s really a story about the energy stored in the battery pack, the motor, and the electronics that combine to do the work.
Battery Pack Comparisons
Considering we’ve stacked the competition with a myriad of motor types, battery voltage, battery amperage hours, and blade sizes its impossible to normalize the saws to be compared fairly. Bottom-line the tools are just too different. We can assess the efficiency of the saws by calculating the watt hours (WH) per battery pack and comparing this metric to the overall number of cuts. This essentially gives you an idea of how efficient the tool is.
The first graph shows the potential Watt Hours for each of the tools with the battery packs. This is fairly easy to calculate by multiplying the nominal voltage by the amp hours of the pack. For example the DEWALT FlexVolt is calculated like this: 54 volts x 2 amp hours = 108 watt hours. As you can see, there is a huge difference in the potential battery pack energy that each of these tools has. What’s more interesting is how that energy is used to do the work. Total watt hours doesn’t necessarily mean more work.
The graph below depicts cuts per watt hour. Cuts per watt hour is an interesting way to evaluate how efficient the saw is using the battery energy. Watt hours per cut tells us how well the combination of battery, motor, and electronics are delivering power to the saw when cutting.
So why show all this technical stuff? The answer is quite simple. The performance of these saws is based on several things including the voltage, battery size, motor type, and the electronics that control it all. If you look at the graph above you can see some really interesting data. While the Makita has the most potential energy when two batteries are running on the XSH01Z, it’s not as efficient with how many cuts it can make with that energy. Most of that is due to the fact it uses a brushed motor while the others are using brushless motors. Imagine how well that saw would work with a brushless motor!! The FlexVolt does a very impressive job at utilizing the full capability of their battery pack with the most cuts per watt hour.
You cannot judge a cordless tool solely on it’s voltage, battery pack size (amp hours), or number of batteries.
Overall Best in Class Cordless Circular Saw
When naming the overall best in class saw we consider all categories assessed with endurance, design, and value leading our decision. Ultimately we select a tool that performs exceptionally well in its primary function, delivers high quality features that enhance performance, and does so at a fair price. The intangibles often contribute to a tie breaker in any given category, but because the overall best in class is a combination of so many individual assessments our selections are usually very objective given the results of the head to head.
Overall Best in Class Trim Saw – Milwaukee FUEL 2730-20 with 9.0Ah Battery
The Milwaukee 2730-20 was a surprise during the endurance test to our crew. Only until we reached out to Milwaukee to learn that both the 6-1/2″ and 7-1/4″ saws share the same motor, with each batch of cuts we were shocked the saw kept cutting well past the other saws in the category. The number one overall performance in our endurance test coupled with the high end features and an excellent design made this an easy choice for best in class trim saw.
Overall Best in Class Framing Saw – Milwaukee FUEL 2731-20
This was one of the toughest calls we’ve ever had to make. The top three saws in this category are easily the DEWALT, Makita, and Milwaukee. All three of these saws are beasts and definitely able to perform any task that would traditionally need a corded saw. The Makita quite possibly could win this entire thing if it was updated with a brushless motor. Sure, there are plenty of guys out there that simply do not want to deal with a dual battery saw, but the performance is tough to ignore. So we’ll give Makita the 2nd runner-up.
The battle for Overall Best in Class is pretty much a tie in my mind with only a slight edge to Milwuakee. The DEWALT FlexVolt is a very impressive and powerful saw. It’s definitely the most powerful cordless circular saw that we’ve ever tested. With a larger battery pack due out soon (9 Ah at 20V, 3 Ah at 60V), it will have even longer run time as well. We think this saw certainly could benefit from a rafter hook. Probably the biggest issue we have is the fact that you can’t use other DEWALT battery packs with the FlexVolt. While the FlexVolt batteries are backwards compatible, the 20V packs cannot run this saw.
The Overall Best in Class goes to the Milwaukee FUEL 7-1/4″ 2731-20. The run time of this saw when combined with the 9 Ah High Demand battery pack is simply amazing. At the end of the day, the decision to go cordless means finding a solution that allows you to work as long as possible on a charge. What’s most impressive about this tool is the ability to work on every single 18V battery pack that Milwaukee offers. You can grab any pack you own and throw it on this saw and keep working. For guys that have invested significant money into a platform that’s a huge consideration. Lastly, this is a proven saw that we’ve used in the field for quite some time and performs flawlessly.
Best Cordless Circular Saw Video Review
For your Consideration:
HILTI WSC 7.25-A
The HILTI WSC 7.25-A was actually retested at a later time because during our evaluation we suspected we had a lemon on our hands. When we do these head to head tests, we use brand new tools out of the box, so there’s no way to know if we’ve got a defective tool ahead of time. Although most manufacturers employ quality control measures to identify faulty products before shipment, you may purchase a defective tool and should immediately contact the manufacturer or distributor if you feel you may have a lemon.
In this case the HILTI WSC 7.25-A, a 36-Volt tool with a 3.9Ah battery definitely did not meet our expectations and when the smoke poured from the motor, we knew we had a lemon. Upon retesting for endurance the saw performed in the middle of the pack, which we anticipated given the age of the SKU. Some of the photos in the article show the LVL results from the first unit we tested. The graphs include data from the newer unit that was tested after the fact. The tool itself had some unique features, like a shoe ready for a track, and a removable portion of the guard for dust control.
About the author
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