The Washington Post

Cordless saws have advantages, but their drawbacks should not be overlooked

I want to buy a circular saw for my husband for our anniversary. That way he can build some things for me that I’ve been hinting I need. However, when I look online at all the different models and types, I’m more confused than ever. The current rage seems to be cordless saws, and the traditional corded saws seem to be very much out of favor. What kind of saw do you have, and what are the pros and cons of each type? What would you buy if you were me?

— Marsha V., Nederland, Tex.

Oh, my goodness, you’ve opened up a can of worms! I can hear the wailing and gnashing of teeth now from countless carpenters, circular saw manufacturers and marketing managers! Let’s see how well I can navigate through this minefield and give you solid information.

You’re correct that the large battles among all the major power tool companies are being fought in the cordless trenches. Cordless power tools are exciting and convenient, and major advancements are being made all the time. I happen to own many cordless power tools, several circular saws among them, and am delighted with their performance.

However, that being said, I have to tell you that there’s no substitute for overall performance when using a traditional corded circular saw hour after hour after hour on the job site. For more than 20 years in the field, as I worked each day, I knew I could pick up my corded circular saw, pull the trigger and have unlimited top power as long as there was electricity. Even when traditional power wasn’t available, I made my own with a portable generator.

Let’s start with the pros of cordless circular saws. If you have the battery charged up, and perhaps a second battery, you can saw wood anytime, anywhere under just about any conditions. You just pull the trigger and the saw blade starts spinning. If a battery runs out of stored power, you can have a new battery in the tool in seconds and be back to work.

Cords and extension cords can sometimes get in the way. Cordless saws can be timesavers because you don’t have to fiddle around with long tangled extension cords.

Now let’s talk about a few of the cons of the cordless saws. Understand that these are subjective points from my perspective. Not all will agree with me.

First, you can get unlimited power from a cordless saw only if you have multiple batteries and a power source that recharges the batteries. If this power source is available, you could just as easily use it for a corded saw.

The cordless circular saws have been steadily advancing and getting more and more powerful each year. But in my opinion — understanding that I don’t have expensive testing equipment at my disposal — a cordless circular saw can’t come close to cutting wood at the same rate in a given amount of time as a traditional corded saw. The cordless saw out of the gate may keep up with or even cut faster than a corded saw, but within a few minutes of continuous cutting, the corded saw just keeps on going like that cute bunny that beats the drum while the cordless saw slows down and stops.

Understand that when you buy a corded saw, you don’t usually ever have to buy anything else to keep it running. The batteries on cordless saws can go bad. Some batteries eventually wear out and you need to replace them. The price tag on cordless batteries can take your breath away.

There’s a subtle difference that the rookie tool buyer like you might not pick out between the two types of saw. Most cordless saws come with a 6.5-inch diameter blade. The traditional corded saws usually have a 7.25-inch diameter blade. This larger blade, assuming both saws are spinning at the same revolutions per minute, produces more cutting power because the larger blade tips are moving faster as they’re farther away from the center of the axle. This means more power when the blade contacts the wood.

Don’t forget that you still need 120-volt power to make a cordless circular saw work. The batteries have to be recharged. If you have lots of cutting to do and not enough batteries, you will stop working. I know, because it has happened to me. That would never happen with a corded saw. As long as you have power and you keep your finger on the trigger, the saw blade spins.

Tim Carter is a columnist for Tribune Media Services. He can be contacted through his Web site at


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