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Like many builders out west, I'm an avowed inline-motor saw guy. And when I tested wormdrives and hypoid circ saws for Tools of the Trade back in 2005, I was most impressed with DeWalt's hypoid model – which has since been discontinued. So I was eager to see how the company's new DWS535 wormdrive circ saw would stand up to heavy-duty field conditions on the job.

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DWS535 Circ Saw

Wormdrive saws are known for being plenty strong – and plenty heavy too. And as it turned out, where power is concerned, the DWS535 ranks right up there with the best of them. Its 15-amp motor and wormgear drive train really delivered under load, quickly cutting the toughest engineered lumber we fed it. As for weight, the saw's aluminum body and magnesium footplate make it surprisingly light at just 13.8 pounds. Despite its high power-to-weight ratio, it is stable at start-up with minimal wrist torque.

The saw's most notable improvements are in its features. DeWalt said it started the design process of the DWS535 from the ground up by asking framers what they didn't like about the wormdrives they were currently using. Then the company set out to remedy common complaints – and I'd say it hit the mark with most of them.

One major issue is the cost of replacing strained power cords. Spending as much as $100 on replacement cords over the life of a saw is not unheard of, in my experience. DeWalt's solution is the Toughcord. It's a shock-absorbing mechanism built into the cord end in the handle of the tool. When you jerk on the cord – such as when you're hoisting the saw onto the roof – you can feel the strain-relief cord attachment flex as it absorbs the stress. The nearly 9-foot-long cord is the first I've seen that's intended to support a saw's weight. This is a good example of practical tool design – DeWalt has adapted the tool to what guys actually do in the real world instead of blindly recommending against those practices.

Also high on the list of framers' complaints were lightweight footplates that bend when dropped, making the saw cut out of square. The DWS535 is fitted with a 5-1/4-inch-wide heavy-duty cast magnesium footplate that has greater rigidity than many stamped aluminum or steel plates. It felt very sturdy in use and should be more difficult to knock out of true with routine drops and bumps.

The plate has standard 90- and 45-degree kerf marks at its leading edge along with minor marks spaced every 1/2 inch. There are also unique kerf markers at the front and back of the blade opening in the plate so you have a few different places to sight your line as the saw moves away from you on long-reaching cuts. This is another nice touch that shows practical design innovation – someone at DeWalt is paying attention.

Undersized, easily bent depth-adjustment arms and levers that are too small to manipulate when you're wearing gloves were yet another common source of grief. DeWalt fixed that by outfitting the saw with a massive blade-depth adjustment arm made of 3/16-inch-thick steel. The oversized arm and its wide, sturdy locking lever are truly impressive and hold a depth adjustment tightly. There is a very solid feel to the saw in relation to its base; the rivets connecting the two are tight and allow for very little flex. For the bevel adjustment at the front of the saw – an area that can experience a great deal of stress – DeWalt provided a sturdy steel pivoting adjustment bracket that clamps to a thick magnesium arc cast in one piece with the base. The lever handle for the bevel adjustment has the same ample dimensions as the depth adjustment lever. Both can be operated easily while wearing heavy gloves.

One well-thought-out but simple bonus feature is the notch on the bevel locking lever. It is used to pry the diamond knockout from blades. This little trick saves me the awkward task of removing the knockout with my hammer – brilliant.

For those of us who cut in roofs and wonder why so many saws can't cut beyond a 45-degree bevel, the DWS535 is engineered to handle bevels all the way up to 53 degrees. The major settings – 15, 22.5, 30, 45, and 50 degrees – are clearly marked on the magnesium arc for quick adjustment.

In addition, 1-degree increments are marked protractor-style into the pivoting steel bracket for very precise bevel angle adjustments. Detents catch at 22.5 and 45 degrees, and there is a set screw to calibrate the saw's 90-degree setting.

Another annoyance that has plagued me and other wormdrive users is a lower blade guard that gets hung up. You often see framers reach down with one hand and give the guard handle a little tug so that it comes up when they make a sharp compound bevel cut. This is dangerous enough, but even worse is the practice of wedging the guard open to make cutting sharp bevels possible – a big problem for OSHA and a big liability for employers. I really liked the smooth action of the DWS535's lower guard. Its inside face extends farther forward than its outer face, allowing it to rotate back easier when the blade is at a severe angle.

The upper guard features an accurate scale with large, easy-to-read measurements that let you set the depth-of-cut in 1/8-inch increments up to the maximum of 2-7/16 inches.

DeWalt included a dual-size fold-away rafter hook on the DWS535 that fits over 21/2-inch engineered joists and steps down to 13/4 inches to fit more snugly on standard 2-by dimensional lumber. The hook's hinge makes the saw pivot and lock gently against a sloped 2-by, so the tool can be hung on some roof rafters, not just on joists.

Most wormdrives have a spindle lock button low on the front of the gear housing. The DWS535's button is located on the top of the tool above the fluid line, which means there's less chance of a gear oil leak. This placement is more ergonomic, as well: It's much easier to lay the saw on its side and press the blade lock with one hand while tightening the blade with the other.

The Fence

I've always been a fan of sturdy rip fences, and DeWalt's new DWS5100 Dual Port Rip Guide turns the DWS535 into nothing less than a handheld table saw. The fence's twin arms fit through slots on the front and rear end of the footplate; they gain stability by sliding through slots on the left side of the footplate all the way to slots on the right. With the rip-fence arms engaging all four slots, the extra-large fence allows you to make accurate cuts as wide as 121/2 inches and as narrow as 1/2 inch. Both arms of the fence are marked for this entire range in 1/8-inch increments, so you can quickly and accurately adjust the width of your cut without using a tape. Two locking screws are used to make sure the fence is set parallel to the footplate.

Although the guide is designed to be inserted from the blade side, it works fine on the motor side too. The measurements on the arms will no longer correlate with the width of your cut, but rip capacity will increase to 141/2 inches on the right. When cutting bevels with the fence, make sure to position the locking screws on the right side of the plate so they don't keep the saw head from tilting all the way down.

My buddy's crew used the saw with the DWS5100 rip fence for cutting finish plywood soffit on a two-story home. According to them, not having to lug a table saw up to the second floor was a real time-saver, and the cuts produced with the setup were as straight as if they'd been run through a table saw. A couple of sections of roof overhang required cuts wider than the DWS5100 is supposed to be able to accommodate. But by sliding the arms of the fence out so that they were engaged in their slots on only one side of the footplate, the guys were able to make rip cuts 16 inches wide.

The Verdict

The new DWS535 is powerful and well-balanced. Coupled with the DWS5100 rip guide, it's a powerhouse with great versatility. Whether framing walls, cutting roofs, or ripping sheathing and trim, the saw-and-fence combo did it all and did it well. After testing the tools, both my crew and that of my framing buddy Hans Kronemeyer were reluctant to give up their new favorite saws. Two thumbs up.

Contributing editor Michael Davis owns Framing Square in Conifer, Colo. Hans Kronemeyer and crew of Groen Construction in Conifer, Colo., helped out with this test.

DeWalt
DWS535 Circ Saw
DWS5100 rip fence
Price: Saw, $199; fence, $39
800-337-8600
www.dewalt.com