I remember when I bought my first sidewinder circ saw. To me it meant I was on my way to becoming a real carpenter. Twenty years and a couple hundred houses later, I've used sidewinder circ saws to cut everything from masonry to trim. After all that time and work, I know what I need from these tools.

Test Criteria

When I field-tested 12 new models, I checked-out 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.

I tested two left-blade and 10 right-blade models in the field with my framing crews and back in my shop. The left-blade tools are the Makita 5007NLK and Porter-Cable 743K. The right-blade saws are the Bosch 1655K, Craftsman 27108, DeWalt DW364K and DW368K, Hitachi C7SB2 and C7BD2, Makita 5007NHK, Milwaukee 6375-20 and 6390-21 Tilt-Lok, and Porter-Cable 447K.

Power

It would be hard to find a tougher job for a circ saw than ripping LVL framing?glues and resins, thickness, and density all add up to a tough job for any saw. We set up a rip station for our power test, using 13/4-inch-thick stock, and tried to max-out each tool. I also took the blades out of the equation by using brand new identical blades on each saw. I pushed each saw as fast as it would cut for as far as I could reach (about 42 inches).

Easily, the most powerful saws in this part of the test were the Milwaukee 6375-20, both DeWalt models, and both Hitachi models. They all cranked through with no problem. In the second group, the Bosch, both Makitas, and the Craftsman made it through, too, but with some strain and noticeable draw down on the shop lights.

Pushing the Porter-Cable saws and the Milwaukee Tilt-Lok as fast as they would cut stopped them in their tracks about halfway down the LVL. While I don't have to rip huge lengths of LVL every day, there's plenty of power-cutting going on at our sites?like gang-cutting studs or gang-ripping 2 inches of plywood?where I really need my saw to go that extra mile without stalling.

Sight Lines

Left-handed carpenters have kept a secret from us righties: It's much easier to see a cut line when you don't have to lean over the saw. For cut-line visibility at a 90-degree bevel, left-blade saws take the cake. Things change, however, when you tip the saw over for a bevel cut.

Left Blade. For straight 90-degree cuts, I quickly took to the Makita 5007NLK and Porter-Cable 743K left-blade saws. At 90 degrees, each saw provides a great view. At 45-degress, however, it's more difficult to find the line on Porter-Cable's tool. With the Makita, I could still see the cut line through the saw body without leaning way over to see it from the far right. Since both saws were so good to use at a 90, it makes me wish other manufacturers made left-blade saws, too.

Right Blade. The DeWalt DW364K, Makita 5007NHK, and both Hitachi saws have clean sight lines at both 90 and 45 degrees. On these four saws I could clearly see my line through the saw body. When I leaned over the saw (the way I usually cut), I could see the line from that angle, too.

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