As a blogger in the home improvement world I’ve come to know quite a few construction professionals so when I had a question regarding the differences between circular saws, more specifically the worm drive and the sidewinder, I asked my friend Robert Robillard who is a carpenter and also writes about tools and home improvement challenges at A Concord Carpenter.
As a seasoned DIYer who lives on the west coast I’ve only really shopped for sidewinder saws which I always just called circular saws. But circular saws also come in another variation which is a worm drive saw.
It seems there is a regional bias for what type of saw contractors use. Early on the sidewinder saws were marketed to the east coast and the worm drive to the west coast. The SKIL 77 worm drive saw is a legendary workhorse and many right-handers prefer it because you don’t have to look over the motor to see the blade cut. Sidewinders have become the preferred choice among DIYers because of their lighter weight and lower cost.
Robert breaks down the differences for me.
Carpenters from coast to coast have used worm drive saws for framing, stair and roof rafter construction. The “Worm drive” is the name of the gears inside the saw. The motor drives a worm gear that transfers power to the blade. Because of this a worm drive has more torque and will cut when a direct drive saw would stall out. Which means more powerful!
It also means more weight and for years this was a negative for a lot of carpenters who are not framers.
In my opinion, worm drive saws are unmatched for their line of sight and blade visibility [blade on left for right handers] as well as their ample power. As a carpenter I can attest that my job site needs change and evolve with newly developed materials, updated building techniques and streamlined methods of working. Todays worm drives are lighter like the DEWALT 13.8 saw.
Many carpenters who do rafter and stair work would have a worm drive and a side winder for the opposing bevels.
Sidewinders or direct drive saws are small, light and get the job done. I personally own both and if I’m making a few cuts I use the lighter sidewinder. If Im on a framing job – it’s the worm drive.
I’d love to hear what type and brand of circular saw you use and why?
photo: Fine Homebuilding
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Founder/EIC at Charles & Hudson
Timothy’s background includes stints at This Old House, ELLE DECOR, Metropolitan Home and Woman’s Day. His work has been published on Wired Design, Bob Vila, DIY Network, The Family Handyman and Popular Mechanics and he has been featured on the Martha Stewart radio show and as a speaker at the ALT Design Summit, K/BIS and the National Hardware Show.