As a framer, I prefer inline saws to sidewinders because they're more durable and less likely to bog down in heavy cutting. What distinguishes an inline saw from a conventional model is the orientation of the motor – it's parallel to the base, so special gears must be used to transfer power to the blade. This gearing is responsible for the high amount of torque that inline saws can generate. It's also responsible for the name "wormdrive," the term most carpenters use for this saw; traditionally, inline saws have been driven by worm gears, though some now contain hypoid gears.
Fifteen years ago, when I started out as a framer, Skil was the only real choice for carpenters looking for an inline saw. Since then, a lot more companies have started making these tools and now there are quite a few to choose from. For this article my crew and I tested seven 7-1/4-inch inline models by using them on site in the normal course of our framing work: the Bosch 1677MD, Craftsman 28195, DeWalt DWS535, Makita 5377MG, Milwaukee 6477-20, Ridgid R3210, and Skil SHD77M. We evaluated them based on a variety of criteria, including power, features, and ease of use.
It's important that an inline saw be powerful enough to cut dense engineered lumber like PSL and LVL. Fortunately, all the saws we tested were able to cut these materials without straining. I attribute this to their 15-amp motors and the fact that they're geared to run about 1,000 rpm slower than sidewinders. It's like riding a bike up a steep hill – it's easier to do in a lower gear.
Many tradespeople have developed the unsafe habit of pinning back the guards on their saws or completely removing them. They do this because they don't trust them to retract without snagging and stopping the saw. Guards are better than they were when I entered the trade, but some still snag – usually when you're cutting compound angles or trimming a small amount off the end of a piece.
We experienced more snagging with the Makita and Milwaukee than with other saws. It didn't happen often, but when it did, we found it very irritating. The guards on the DeWalt and Ridgid are the best of the bunch. They never hung up in use; we even tried to get them to snag and we couldn't make it happen.
Bevel and Depth Mechanisms
The bevel mechanism is an important feature for us because we frame a lot of roofs and are always cutting bevels. The gauge should be easy to read, and the base should pivot smoothly when we're adjusting it. It's nice when there are stops at commonly used angles like 22.5 and 45 degrees.
It should be easy to change the depth-of-cut – the base should pivot smoothly when we release the lock lever. It drives me crazy if the depth-setting bracket binds when I slide it up and down, as often happens after a saw has taken a few falls.
When I put the saw down I want it to be within easy reach for the next time I need it, and the way to do that is by hanging it from a joist, rafter, or sawhorse. All of the saws have metal hooks that will fit over 1-3/4-inch LVL material; except for DeWalt's, these hooks are all very similar. The one on the DeWalt is longer than the others and wide enough at the opening to fit over 2-1/2-inch I-joists. It becomes narrower farther in so that it will also fit properly on thinner material.
The hex head arbor bolts on the Makita, Milwaukee, and Ridgid saws can be tightened with an Allen wrench (which stores on the saw) or a standard hex wrench. The other models use hex wrenches only. It's a minor point, but I like having the Allen wrench there on the saw because it means I don't have to search for a wrench when it's time to change blades. Compared with a hex wrench, an Allen wrench is less likely to slip and cause skinned knuckles.