What is a Circular Saw? Design Features and Uses

Updated on December 20, 2022 by

A circular saw is a powered saw used to make straight cuts in lumber.

A circular saw is a useful power tool to have around the house or garage. Due to their versatility, people use circular saws for both professional work and DIY projects. These saws can handle a wide variety of cuts, making them useful for many types of projects.

You may want a circular saw to cut plywood quickly or cut logs into firewood. This versatile tool has many uses, which you can explore in the following article.


Circular saws are often used to make straight cuts on pieces of lumber, including large pieces of plywood or 2x4s. However, you can also use a circular saw to cut through other materials, including metal, tiles, brick, and plastic. 

Here are some of the common uses for a circular saw:

  • Cutting large pieces of plywood
  • Cutting logs into firewood
  • Cutting bevels
  • Cutting lumber for framing  
  • Cutting tile and brick
  • Cutting drywall

Circular saws are used for home renovations, construction, roofing, and many other tasks. Compared to a table or miter saw, a circular saw offers a more portable option, which is often necessary for cutting existing lumber during remodels. 

what is a circular saw

Features and Design

The main feature of a circular saw is the circular blade powered by a motor. The motor may sit directly to the side of the blade or behind it. 

You can also find mounted or handheld circular saws. However, carpenters typically only use the term when talking about handheld circular saws.

A few of the main features and characteristics of a circular saw include:

  • Replaceable circular blades
  • Electric brake
  • Steel or magnesium shoe
  • Bevel stops 

Along with these features, circular saws are available in corded and battery-powered models. Battery-powered circular saws are more portable, which makes them useful for those who frequently work at remote sites. If you are tackling projects around the house, a corded circular saw is not too inconvenient.

Corded circular saws require access to an electrical outlet but offer more power and consistent operation. You do not need to stop periodically to charge a battery. 

Types of Circular Saw

There are many types of circular saws. Some of the most used circular saws include:

  • Sidewinder circular saw
  • Worm drive circular saw
  • Abrasive circular saw

The sidewinder circular saw is one of the two most common designs for circular saws. These options are portable and intended for one-handed or two-handed use. The sidewinder circular saw has the motor mounted directly in line with the blade. 

The traditional sidewinder has the blade mounted on the right side. However, some people prefer to have the blade on the left side. With the blade on the left, you can hold the main handle with your right hand and easily see your cut instead of looking over your shoulder. 

The in-line design means that the saw has fewer moving parts compared to other options. However, it cannot generate as much torque as comparable worm drive circular saws. 

A worm drive circular saw includes a motor that sits behind the blade. A series of gears transfer power from the motor to the blade. It generates less speed but more torque, allowing you to cut through tougher material. 

Yet if you want to cut through concrete, tile, or asphalt, you need an abrasive circular saw. Abrasive circular saws include a flat blade with no teeth. They resemble a large pizza cutter and are often made of diamond. 

circular saw in use cutting lumber

Modern Brands of Circular Saws

When buying a circular saw, you may want to stick with some of the most respected names in the industry. Here are a few of the brands that I trust most when it comes to circular saws:

  • Makita
  • Skil
  • Ryobi
  • DeWalt
  • Craftsman
  • Black & Decker

Makita and Skil produce premium tools with hefty price tags that may last a lifetime. The other brands make products that offer great value for your money. 

What Is the Difference Between a Circular Saw and a Table Saw?

A circular saw is a handheld power tool, while a table saw is stationary. With a circular saw, you bring the saw to the material. With a table saw, you pass the material across the table and through the saw.

The blade also cuts from underneath the material instead of from above. A table saw is useful for making long, straight cuts with greater accuracy but less versatile than a handheld circular saw.


A circular saw is a handheld saw with a circular blade. It is useful when cutting large sheets of plywood down to size or cutting 2x4s for wood framing. 

The circular saw is also versatile. It lacks the precision of a table saw or miter saw for straight cuts and bevels but can still get the job done.

When choosing a circular saw, remember to look for an option that matches your handedness. If you are right-handed, the blade should sit on the left side to keep you from looking over your shoulder to see the cut.

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Michael Culligan

I am a lumber worker who performed logging services for Oregan's forestry industry for over a decade. I have spent years honing my skills and experience to become a well-rounded axeman. I enjoy timbersports and have ranked in my local lumberjack competitions. I'm exited to share my knowledge of axes and lumber tools with everyone to help. I also have a large collection of restored vintage axes that I carefully maintain.