Tool Test: 7 1/4 -Inch Circular Saws

We tested 12 saws for power, speed, and convenience.

By Steve Veroneau
Spring 2003

I remember when I bought my first circular power saw. It meant that I was on my way to becoming a real carpenter. After twenty years as a carpenter I know what I need from these tools. So when I field-tested these 12 new models I checked-out their depth and bevel adjustments, guard operations, view of the cut line, and of course power. I also looked for features like easy blade changes, electric brakes, adequate dust ejection, and comfort.

Test Criteria

I tested two saws with their blades located on the left side, and ten with right-side blades. We tested all the saws on jobsites with my framing crews, and also back in my work shop. The left-blade tools include the Makita 5007NLK and Porter-Cable 743. The right-blade saws are the Bosch 1655, Craftsman Professional 27108, DeWalt DW364 and DW368, Hitachi C7SB2 and C7802, Makita 5007NHK, Milwaukee 6375-20 and 6390 Tilt-Lock, and Porter-Cable’s 447.

Power 

It would be hard to find a tougher job for a circular saw than ripping (cutting along the grain) engineered framing lumber. So we set up a cutting station for our power-test, using 1 ¾-inch thick material, and pushed each tool to its maximum to see how strong it was. Easily the most powerful saws in this part of the test were the Milwaukee 6375-20, both DeWalt models and both of Hitachi’s tools. They all cut with plenty of power. In the second group, the Bosch, both Makita’s and the Craftsman saw made it through the test, but with some difficulty.

Pushing the Porter-Cable saws and the Milwaukee Tilt-Lock saw as fast as they could go stopped them in their tracks about half-way down the length of framing lumber. While I don’t usually have to rip large lengths of engineered lumber every day, power is important when we group-cut studs, or rip through multiple layers of plywood — where I really need my saw to go that extra mile without a stalling.

Site Lines

Left Blade. For straight 90-degree cuts, I quickly learned to like the Makita 5007NLK and Porter-Cable 743 left-blade saws. It’s nice not to have to lean over the tool to get a clear look at the cut-line. At 90-degrees, each saw provides a great view. At 45-degrees, however, it’s more difficult to follow the line with Porter-Cable’s tool. I could still see the cut-line through Makita’s saw body without leaning way over the saw. Since both saws were so good to use at 90-degrees, it makes me wish other manufacturers would make left-blade saws too.

Right Blade. The DeWalt DW364, Makita 5007NHK and both Hitachi saws have good clear lines-of-sight at when cutting both at 90 and 45 degrees. On these four saws I could see my line through the saw body without leaning to the right side of the saw. When I did choose to lean over the saw (the way I usually cut) I could see the cut line from that angle clearly as well.

The Bosch 1655 has clear views too, but when I leaned over the saw debris from the cutting shot up into my face. On both Milwaukee models it was difficult to see the line through the saw body; with the Tilt-Lock model there was considerable blow-back of debris into my face when I leaned over the saw. The right-blade Porter-Cable 447 has absolutely no good view of the cut line when set at a 45-degree bevel. The Craftsman offered a good view at 45 degrees but I could only get a good view at 90 degrees by leaning over the saw.

Adjustments

The criteria here is simple: easy-to-adjust saws eliminate snags and frustration on site and are better to work with. I evaluated bevel and depth-of-cut adjustments, lever controls, and how easily you could read adjustment scales to see which saws are easiest to use.

Blade Depth Adjustment. The DeWalt DW364 is without a doubt the easiest-to-adjust and most user-friendly saw in the group. The depth adjustment knob at the top of the saw body is in a perfect location and provides the best control for setting the blade. (It also works nicely as a handle to help control the saw when cutting.) Second place for ease of adjustments goes to both Makita saws. Their adjustment levers are padded with a blue rubber tip, making them easy to locate and comfortable to move. Next easiest are the two Hitachi models. Their green padded finger grips are comfortable and well-placed. The Bosch, Craftsman, DeWalt DW368, Milwaukee Tilt-Lock, and both Porter-Cable’s depth adjustments have standard levers and work fine. The Milwaukee 6375-20’s adjustments need work; the knobs and levers aren’t where you expect them to be. I kept getting confused and grabbed the bevel adjustment knob expecting it to adjust the saw blade height. So did my crew.

Bevel Adjustment. Not surprisingly, the DeWalt DW364, both Makita’s, and both Hitachi’s have the easiest bevel adjustments as well. DeWalt’s is large enough to grasp comfortably and the bevel markings are easy to read. Makita has tactile blue rubber on their levers that makes them easy to move on both their saws. Also, they’ve done a good job creating a positive stop for 45 degree bevels, while enabling you to override it easily for other angles. The over-ride is a knob that you turn to stop the bevel at 45 or adjust to allow it to pass this mark and set the saw all the way up to 50-degrees.

Hitachi’s padded levers on both of their units are well-placed and move smoothly. My only complaint though is the bevel-stop at 45 degrees. To get to a 55-degree bevel–the second highest bevel in the bunch–you have to move a holding pin through a quick left-to-right motion. This wasn’t easy to use, but I’d live with it to get the 55-degree bevel feature on this saw, which is great for framing hip and valley rafters and cutting compound miter angles.

Scales. I’ve never relied on a saw’s printed scales to set blades to their depth-of-cut. Instead, I measure the actual blade-depth with my tape measure before cutting. I don’t know any better way to be accurate. However, if I were to use this feature, then the DeWalt DW364 is the one for me. It’s easy to see and adjust accurately, which eliminates the need for a tape measure. For the other saws in the group with scales (Bosch, Craftsman, the DeWalt DW368 and both Milwaukee’s) by the time you find the scale and tilt the saw for enough light to see it, you could’ve adjusted the saw with your tape measure. I actually appreciate that Makita, Hitachi and Porter-Cable don’t even bother to put a scale on the tool for blade depth.

The scale used to set bevel angles is a different story. I use that scale a lot. Again, the DeWalt DW364 is my first choice. It’s easy to use, clear to read, and easy to calibrate. Both Makita units take second place and both Hitachi’s third. The Bosch, Craftsman, DeWalt DW368, the Milwaukee Tilt- Lock, and both Porter-Cable units get the job done but could be better. The Milwaukee 6375-20’s scales are marked for every degree, which is nice. Milwaukee’s saw adjusts easily, too, but the high-gloss paint finish reflects light, making the numbers on the scale difficult to see.

Operation

Cut Depth. All the saws in the group have ample depth of cut to get through framing material when set at either 90 or 45 degrees, but with Laminated Veneer Lumber (LVL is engineered framing lumber) it’s a different story. Neither Makita nor the DeWalt DW368 could cut through a 1 ¾-inch thick LVL at a 45-degree bevel. Since I use LVL’s almost exclusively now for ridge beams in my roof framing, these saws would come up short when it came to cutting them, which is a problem.

Electric Brake. All of these saws should have electric brakes as standard equipment, but they don’t. Of the 12 saws I tested only the DeWalt DW364, Hitachi 7802 and the Porter-Cable 447 have electric brakes standard. It only takes the blade guard to jamb open once for your saw to do some serious damage to understand why I believe this should be a standard feature in any circular saw.

Blade Change. All the saws I tested use a spindle-lock feature to secure the saw’s arbor while you loosen the nut holding the blade in place. The easiest one to operate is the DeWalt DW364. It’s well placed (on the top of the saw) so that you can engage the spindle-lock and hold the saw steady while changing the blade with minimal effort. Bosch, DeWalt DW368, both Hitachi’s and both Makita’s have flat bars that you push to lock the shafts and you can engage them without much strain and still maintain a stable hold on the tools. I didn’t care for Porter-Cable’s engagement pin. Although it worked fine, it’s small and uncomfortable to push on. The blade-locks on the Craftsman and the Milwaukee Tilt-Lock are adequate and do the job. The Milwaukee 6375-20’s spindle lock pin is in the wrong place. Because it’s mounted toward the rear of the saw, it’s hard to push the pin, crank the wrench, and keep a solid hold of the tool as you do all this.

Features

The Bosch 1655 has a great mechanism for retracting the blade guard. This is a secondary lever located between the handle and top of the blade-housing which enables you to safely retract the guard without putting your fingers near the blade. It’s great for starting a plunge-cut or for retracting the guard for cutting thin materials. The padded handle on both Hitachi saws makes them comfortable to grip and hold. I also like that the Bosch, both Porter-Cable saws and the Milwaukee 6375-20 store their blade wrenches on the saw. That saves a trip to the toolbox when changing blades. Both of the Porter-Cable saws have unique dust ejection chutes that channel sawdust out through a “chimney” on top of the saw. While the chimney works, it gets in the way, so my crew didn’t use it. What ended up happening is that the channel to the chimney clogged with sawdust, resulting in a lot of dust spray when you use the saws.

Winners

The DeWalt DW364 is my favorite. Its adjustments are incredibly easy, the scales are clear and accurate, it’s got enough cutting capacity to cut through LVL framing material on a 45-degree bevel, it’s comfortable to hold, the blade change is easy, and it’s got an electric brake. The only drawback is its weight. It’s the heaviest saws I tested and a bit larger, too. Nevertheless, this tool is hard to kill and easy to use. I’d really like to see it with a left blade someday.

Next, I like the Hitachi C7802. The 55-degree bevel is a great feature and it comes with a brake. Even though the positive-stop at 45 degrees is sticky, I can live with it for the extra cutting angle capacity. Third is the Makita 5007NLK left-blade model. Without a brake I wouldn’t want it as my only saw, but if I were going to switch from right blade to left blade, this saw has the power and features that make it a keeper; I just wish it could cut through an LVL on a 45 degree angle. Fourth is DeWalt’s DW368. It’s the lightest saw in the bunch and very user friendly, but could also use a brake. Tying for fifth: Bosch 1655, Makita 5007NHK and Hitachi C7582, all right blade units. After these I go for the Porter-Cable saws, the Craftsman then Milwaukee’s Tilt-Lock and finally the Milwaukee 6375-20.

Steve Veroneau owns Transformation LLC, a framing and trim company in Falls Church, VA and is a Contributing Editor to Hanley-Wood’s Tools Of The Trade.