Old House Tools: Choosing a Circular Saw

By: Mark Clement , Contributing Writer
In: Technology

Despite the fact that I’m going to say it, it goes without saying that the circular saw is a front line tool for any DIYer or contractor. Used and abused from frame to finish, cutting everything from framing to doors to deck-boards and more, a circular saw is almost more than a tool.

Circular Saw

Circular Saw

Chances are, unless you’re a died-in-the-wool pro (please note: always follow manufacturer safety instructions!) you have a circular saw known in the industry as a side-winder. Side-winders are light, capable saws with a direct-drive motor jutting out to the left side of the tool–the blade is on the right. Side-winders are made for homeowners and pros and at various price points along the scale.

But if you’re just getting into the game. Or you’re thinking about an upgrade—and you’ve walked the tool aisle—you’ve surely investigated the heavier iron there, the longer, heavier, more mac-daddy-ish saw. You know what I’m talkin’ about.

Old House Tools: The Wormdrive

This saw–what appears to be an exercise in terrible balance and badly distributed weight–is called a wormdrive.

It gets its name from the type of gear–a worm gear–that turns the blade. And all that weight, in the hands of the right user, is an advantage for many. The first thing many people like though makes abundant sense: the blade is on the left side of the tool where right-handers can see it pass through the work. Makes sense.

The long, in-line body makes reaching across a sheet of plywood much easier as well as other framing cuts like deck building. The mass makes cutting smoother, which I appreciate while using the saw (with an edge-guide) cutting shelf blanks from sheet stock like MDF or birch plywood or for sizing a door. I also like that the in-line body passes by clamps I use to hold the edge-guide. A side-winder’s motor doesn’t clear them.

I notice no power difference between side-winders (pro models) and wormdrives, though you’ll hear people say wormdrives pack more punch. And there is a cost difference. Wormdrives cost more.

For one-off cutting it might be a bit too much saw. If you’ve got a whole hosue remodel in front of you, however, I think they’re worth the weight.