Circular Saw vs. Skill Saw


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There’s much debate about the similarities and differences between circular saws and skill saws. If you’re just getting started in carpentry, it might be challenging to differentiate between these two types of saws because some people look at the same tool and refer to it as both a circular and a skill saw.

So, what’s the difference between a circular saw and a skill saw? The circular saw vs. skill saw debate is similar to the rectangle and square adage. Essentially, every skill saw is a circular saw, but not all circular saws are skill saws. To explain more thoroughly:

  • A circular saw is a term used to refer to a category of tools applied to a single iteration of that design. 
  • A skill saw is a proprietary eponym that was derived from the popular hand-held circular saw developed by the company Skil. 

To understand the difference between these two saws, you need to understand the history of circular saws and why some people refer to all of them as skill saws.

In this article, we’re going to take a step back in history to give you a better understanding of these saws. You’ll also learn the different types of circular saws, what they do, and when to use them.

Circular Saw vs. Skill Saw: What’s the Difference?

The circular saw dates back to the 18th century. In the past, the saws were significantly bigger than the circular saws available on the market today. The initial design was mainly used for converting large logs of timber into usable lumber for building purposes and was only used for large rip cuts.

It wasn’t until 1924 that the first hand-held practical circular saw was invented and patented by Edmond Michel. In the same year, Edmond founded Michel Electric Handsaw Company in partnership with Joseph Sullivan to manufacture the saw. The duo later changed the company name to Skilsaw Inc.

The company’s first circular saw was the worm drive, and it was primarily used for rough cuts and farming. However, because of the popularity of the company and market ubiquity, construction workers adopted the term “skill saw” to refer to the worm drive circular saw.

Over the years, as is the case with most inventions, other manufacturers copied Skilsaw Inc. and developed their own saws.  The manufacturers used technological developments to improve the hand-held circular saw and came up with different models. Nonetheless, people who became accustomed to calling the circular saw a skill saw continued doing so. As a result, most people kept using the terms interchangeably.

So, What’s A Circular Saw?

cutting a 2x4 with a circular saw

Now that you know why there’s some confusion when it comes to a skill saw versus a circular saw, you’re probably wondering what a circular saw is.  A circular saw is a power tool that allows you to cut through material quickly. It can either be cordless or corded.

There are two primary types of hand-held circular saws: the sidewinder and worm drive (Fine Home BuildingOpens in a new tab.).

Sidewinder

A sidewinder circular saw utilizes a motor with a spur-gear. Because of how this gear is designed, the motor must always be in line with the spinning gear, thereby making the blade spin very fast. The blade spins at about 6000 RPM, and the saw is generally lightweight.

Worm Drive

A worm drive circular saw, on the other hand, has a motor located at the rear end of the saw. Additionally, it features a pair of gears oriented at a 90-degree angle that help to transfer power to the blade. This design reduces the speed of the blade. You can expect a rotating speed of about 4500 RPM with this type of circular saw.

The worm drive has a longer blade compared to the sidewinder and is also quite heavy.

When it comes to choosing between a sidewinder and worm drive circular saw, the choice will depend on your personal preferences and which saw you find more comfortable to handle.

Some people prefer the sidewinder because of its lightweight nature and speed, and others find the worm drive easier to work with because it’s slower and has a longer blade that makes it easier for gang cutting wide stacks.

Recommended Circular Saw

If you’re in the market for a circular saw, we recommend the Makita 5007MgOpens in a new tab. Magnesium 7-1/4-Inch Circular Saw. Thanks to its magnesium components, this circular saw offers excellent weight reduction. The saw weighs about 10 pounds, which is lighter compared to other circular saws on the market.

The saw also features 15-amp power that delivers up to 5800 RPM. And that’s not all. It also features two built-in LED lights that increase both safety and accuracy. With these lights, you’re always aware of the position of the blade, which makes it less likely to injure yourself. The saw also has excellent cutting power and is very durable.

Other highly rated circular saws that you can purchase include:

Recommended Skill Saw

You can’t go wrong with the Skil brand, either. The company was the first to invent the circular saw, and they’ve made great strides in improving their products. One of their latest inventions is the Skil 15 AMP 7-1/4” Circular Saw With Laser GuideOpens in a new tab..

With 15-amp power, this saw can deliver up to 5300 RPMs. The saw also features a spindle lock that allows you to change blades effortlessly using the on-tool wrench. In addition to this, you get to enjoy deeper cuts of up to 2-3/8 inches. With the 24-tooth carbide blade, you can rest assured of precise cuts.

Corded vs. Cordless

Apart from deciding between the two primary types of circular saws, you’ll also have to choose between a corded and a cordless circular saw. Do you get a circular saw that gets its power from a battery or one that has a dedicated cord that must be plugged into a power source?

The answer to this question depends on your needs, tastes, and preferences. However, it’s crucial to know the pros and cons of each. 

  • With a corded circular saw, you can rest assured of increased power. However, you won’t have freedom of movement as you would with a cordless saw.
  • A cordless circular saw is portable; you can take it anywhere with you without hassle. And the best part is that you can use it in areas where there’s no electricity. However, it is not as powerful as its corded counterpart.

Circular Saw Uses

So why is the circular saw (or skill saw) so popular compared to other types of saws? It’s simple. Although it is small, the circular saw packs lots of power, and it’s the perfect tool for cutting small boards. Not to mention, it’s versatile and can cut through different materials, which makes it the ideal replacement for other types of saws.

Other benefits of the circular saw include:

  • Speed: With a circular saw in hand, you never have to go through the hassle of balancing your board on a table or work surface and passing the saw through the wood in slow movements. This saw cuts right through in a matter of seconds and can even be used on the ground as long as the piece of wood is elevated.
  • Portability: The circular saw is also an excellent choice if you want a saw you can carry around for different projects. You have the option of choosing between a corded and cordless design, depending on your needs.
  • Precision:  The circular saw is also a perfect replacement for a table saw or miter saw because of its accuracy. You can play around with the bevel gauge and shoe to get different types of cuts, and you don’t have to take so many measurements to get a perfect cut.

Limitations

Despite its many advantages, the circular saw doesn’t come without disadvantages. Fortunately, this saw doesn’t have many limitations. One of the challenges of using a circular saw is that it’s almost impossible to make accurate plunge cuts.

Also, the blade and motor design make it challenging to know where the blade will pass, which means you’ll have to do some guesswork. Nonetheless, once you get the hang of it, you’ll find that a circular saw is quite easy to use.

Circular Saw: A Comprehensive Buying Guide

Unfortunately, knowing the difference between a circular saw and skill saw doesn’t make things easier for most people when it comes to deciding which one to buy. Skill saws are quite popular because most people have brand loyalty. After all, the company was among the first to develop the circular saw. But is it the best?

When you’re trying to decide between a skill saw and another brand of circular saw, it’s crucial to consider your preferences, what you plan to use the saw for, and other essential features. Below are some of the critical things to consider.

Cutting power

Circular saws are either corded or cordless. The power rating in corded circular saws is generally expressed in amperage. 15-amp saws are the standard.

Saws that have a power rating of 10- to 15-amps are best for infrequent use. If you want a higher cutting power, go for a saw that has a high power rating.

Cordless circular saws are rated by the voltage of their batteries. You can find saws with 18- to 20-volts or higher. Apart from the voltage, in most cases, manufacturers also include the amp-power rating, which is an indication of how long you can use the saw before the battery runs out.

In most cases, the amp-power ranges from 5 to 9 hours. It’s always best to go for a higher amp-power for days when you need to use the saw for an extended period.

Safety 

When it comes to safety, every circular saw must be handled with care. However, it’s best to go for a known brand such as a Skil saw, which has an excellent reputation for quality as opposed to choosing any ordinary circular saw you come across. 

It’s also advisable to choose a brand that indicates safety precautions if you’ve never used a circular saw before. If you can’t find one, always be cautious when using one or get guidance from an experienced contractor.

Ergonomics

Ergonomics should also be among your top priorities when you’re shopping for a circular saw. Don’t just purchase a skill saw or another brand of circular saw because the brand is popular. Take the time to go to your local tool supplier and test the saw for yourself.

Hold the saw on your hand to see how comfortable it is for you to hold. Consider the weight, adjustment components, blade length, and any other features you believe would make it work easier for you. Ultimately, a good circular saw is the one you find easiest to work with.

Accuracy

You should also consider the accuracy of a circular saw before investing your hard-earned cash. Hand-held circular saws are known to make cuts that other types of circular saws cannot. Not to mention, portable circular saws are capable of cutting to a deeper depth compared to table saws.

Therefore, before you decide between circular vs. skill saw, it’s crucial to consider the accuracy and precision you’ll get with both saws.

Portability

Are you the kind of DIYer that works at a designated workspace, or do you often have to carry your tools to different locations for jobs? If you’re in the latter, it’s best to consider a hand-held circular saw. 

Hand-held circular saws offer more flexibility in terms of portability because you can carry them from one place to another. This is impossible if you go for a circular saw with a base or one that requires more stability.

Weight

The weight of a circular saw can also interfere with how fast or effectively you do your job. Therefore, when you’re trying to decide between a skill saw and another brand of circular saw, it’s crucial to determine whether you want a worm drive or sidewinder.

As we mentioned earlier, worm drive saws tend to be heavier because of their unique designs. For this reason, you may have a hard time balancing the saw if you don’t have an even work surface to work on. Sidewinders are much lighter and easier to handle.

So, make sure you consider your preferences and what type of saw would work best for you before considering which brand to choose.

Budget

The type of circular saw you go for will also largely depend on how much money you’re willing to spend. Circular saws cost different prices depending on the model, features, and brand. Take the time to compare the prices based on the features included to determine which one is worth buying. 

It’s also advisable to read customer reviews to get an idea of how the saw performs in real settings. This way, you’ll be able to make an informed decision about which saw to purchase.

Blade Size

Another critical factor to consider is the blade size. The size of the blade determines what extent of thickness the blade can cut through. For instance, 7 ¼ inch blades are perfect for DIY enthusiasts because they can cut through a 3-inch thick piece of wood. Not to mention, this blade size is perfect for cutting other materials other than wood.

Generally, the blade size ranges from 6 ½ inches to 8 ¼ inches for light-duty and heavy-duty use, respectively. Consider what you plan to use the saw for, and which blade will offer you the best performance before making a final decision.

Design

The overall design of the saw is also an important consideration. Some circular saws have bulky designs that result in a big saw that takes up too much space, and others have a more compact design.

Again, consider your preferences to determine which saw would be the perfect fit for you. If you don’t have enough storage space, for instance, it would be best to choose a smaller sized saw as opposed to a bigger one. 

Wrapping Up

If you were struggling to differentiate between a circular and a skill saw, now you know the difference. To recap, Skilsaw Inc. was the first company to invent the circular saw. As a result, most people started referring to all circular saws as skill saws because of brand popularity. 

However, not all circular saws are skill saws. Numerous manufacturers have come up with their own lines of circular saws that have different features from the Skil brand.

If you’re in the market for a new circular saw, we suggest exploring the features of different brands of circular saws before making a final decision. 

While Skilsaw Inc. is a popular brand, some manufacturers give the company a run for their money by producing circular saws with even better features. So, take the time to compare to get the most value for your money.

Tony

Hi there, my name is Tony. Having worked in the construction industry for over 30 years and being a weekend warrior on my own home I definitely have plenty of war stories to share. Have a topic or project you are interested in trying? Let me know and we will try to put together an article or video on it!

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