Consider the kind of work you'll be doing. Even the wimpiest saw may suffice for building the occasional birdhouse, but more ambitious construction projects require more power.
Plug-in or battery
A cordless saw leaves you unfettered by a power cord. Some of the latest perform far better than earlier models--at least until the battery runs down. But some are far less powerful and cut far more slowly. A weak saw can bog down on tough jobs such as thick hardwood. And a slow-cutting saw is frustrating when you have lots of wood to cut. Speed also affects safety. You're more likely to push a slow saw, dulling the blade quickly and overheating the motor, or making the saw jam or kick back.
That's why we think most serious do-it-yourselfers would be happier with a corded saw or even both corded and cordless versions. Expect to pay anywhere from about $100 to $150 for the best homeowner models.
Try before you buy
Look for design points that make a saw easy to live with. These include good balance, a comfortable handle, a clearly visible blade and cutting guide, easy blade adjustment for depth and angle, and a handy on/off switch. Quality of construction can be harder to evaluate at the store, but it contributes to long, trouble-free performance. Look for a saw with durable roller or ball bearings, motor brushes that are accessible for servicing or replacement, and heavy-duty hardware.
All the saws are loud enough when cutting to warrant hearing protection. And all kick up a lot of chips and dust, so wear safety glasses or goggles. Also, a circular saw blade can't tell wood from fingers.
Copyright © 2006-2012 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc. No reproduction, in whole or in part, without written permission.