The Fuel designation is Milwaukee's way of saying the tool has a brushless motor.
Doug Mahoney The Fuel designation is Milwaukee's way of saying the tool has a brushless motor.
For purposes of comparison, that's an M18 Fuel model on the left and the M12 Fuel tool on the right. The M12 saw is a couple of pounds lighter.
Doug Mahoney For purposes of comparison, that's an M18 Fuel model on the left and the M12 Fuel tool on the right. The M12 saw is a couple of pounds lighter.
The grip tapers near the front but has to be large enough in back to accommodate a battery.
Doug Mahoney The grip tapers near the front but has to be large enough in back to accommodate a battery.
The saw bevels up to 50 degrees and has an easy to read bevel scale.
Doug Mahoney The saw bevels up to 50 degrees and has an easy to read bevel scale.

Until now, 12-volt circular saws have mostly been 3 3/8-inch blade tools—good for small tasks such as trimming shingles from scaffolding but lacking the power and runtime needed for serious work. For the past few weeks I’ve been testing Milwaukee’s new M12 Fuel 5-?-inch Circular Saw (2530- and it raises the bar for saws in the 12-volt max category. A powerful mid-size brushless tool, it can handle 2-by lumber without any problem.

With its full-size handle and larger blade, it’s close in size to Milwaukee’s M18 Fuel 6 ½-inch circ saw (which I own and use all the time). But at 6.25 pounds with battery, it’s almost two pounds lighter than the M18 tool.

In the time that I’ve used it, the M12 saw has really impressed me with its performance. According to its maker, with a fully charged battery the tool can make 170 cuts through 2x4 material. I didn’t test for that, but I did use the saw on ¾-inch AC plywood and was able to cut 82 linear feet before emptying the battery. I’ve run similar tests in the past, with 18-volt tools, and the M12 saw cut more per charge than some of those larger saws.

It has good power too, though it’s not in the same class as the M18 FUEL saw (which cuts like a corded tool). The M12 saw occasionally struggles—especially when I waver from a straight cut—but it has yet to bind or slow down enough to cause me to become frustrated.

The M12 has convenient features such an LED that shines on the cut line, onboard storage for the Allen key, and a battery gauge near the pommel—where it’s easy to read. The tool has a very nice bevel gauge and adjustment, and the connection between the saw and base is very solid.

The ergonomics, though, could be better. M12 batteries have a thick stem, so the base of the grip bulges where the battery slides in. The littlest finger has to grip the thickest part of the handle, which is not very comfortable when using the saw for extended periods of time. It feels better to shift my entire hand towards the rear of the handle, but that makes it a stretch to flip the safety switch. Fortunately, the M12 saw is not a production machine and you won’t be holding it for more than a few cuts at a time. If you are, then you’re using the wrong tool. Another thing I’m not wild about is the depth of cut gauge; it’s hard to read because you have to peer through the handle area to see it.

I like the M12 saw overall. It doesn’t have the oomph or stamina to be my only saw, but is powerful enough to be a secondary tool for punch work or for moderate intermittent cutting over the course of a day. Available in kit form or bare, it would be a good addition to the arsenal of the tradesman who already uses the M12 battery system.

Milwaukee 2530-21XC Circular Saw Specs
Blade: 5 3/8- or 5-½ inch
Arbor: 10mm
RPM (no load): 3,600
Max bevel: 50 degrees
Max depth of cut: 1-?-inch
Max cut @ 45: 1-? inch
Weight: 6.25 pounds (w XC battery)
Length: 12 3/8 inches
Country of origin: China
Kit includes: tool, blade, charger, one XC 4.0 Ah battery, and duffle
Price: $229 (kit); $149 (bare; 2530-20)