Circular Saw vs Skill Saw: What’s the Difference?
If you’ve been exposed to woodworking and carpentry, you might’ve come across the term skill saw. At first glance, it looks exactly like a circular saw – its blade is between 5-1/2 and 7-1/2 inches, it has a shoe, its handle is pointing upwards at an angle, etc. Well, if it looks like a circular saw and works like a circular saw, what exactly is it? Is it different from a regular circular saw?
These are some of the most commonly asked questions by people looking to purchase one or the other. If you’re not familiar with what a circular saw and a skill saw can do, then you might want to read up a bit. In this article, we’re going to discuss the “differences” between both of these saws and explain what they do.
What is a Circular Saw?
The circular saw was invented in the late 18th century. Back then, it wasn’t a compact saw, but rather it required multiple people to use in order to produce what would be done by a single pair of hands today. Operating one of the earliest circular saw models was similar to working an assembly line, and it was used specifically for cutting huge pieces of lumber.
The modern circular saw is a handheld power saw that is equipped with a blade usually between the sizes of 5-1/2 and 7-1/2 inches in diameter. It’s a portable tool that you take with you to the material so you don’t need to lug around huge boards or sheet metal to a stagnant saw.
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So What Is a Skill Saw?
To be completely honest with you, dear reader, there is absolutely no difference between a skill saw and a circular saw. See, the skill saw, sometimes referred to as a skilsaw, is actually a circular saw produced by the company SKIL, a power tools manufacturer coming straight out of Naperville, IL. The skilsaw became synonymous with a circular saw in the mid-1950s due to its popularity among professional contractors.
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Origins of the Name “Skill Saw”
The very-first handheld circular saws were equipped with a worm drive and were used mainly to produce framing cuts and rough dimensioning cuts. The popularity of the worm-driven circular saw, more specifically a unit made by Skil, led construction workers to use the name “skill saw” as shorthand for a worm-drive circular saw.
As time went on, technological developments led to the development of sidewinder circular saws. This allows the motor and blade to be placed side-by-side, giving the user better visibility when running the saw across longboards. Still, the name skill saw was never abandoned, and soon enough, contractors were using the term to refer to any handheld circular saw.
Modern Handheld Circular Saw Uses
The circular saw (or skill saw, whichever term you’re more comfortable with) is generally used to cut small boards. This handheld tool is not something to scoff at; it may be small, but it packs a huge punch. Plus, the versatility of the tool really allows it to replace the functions of many other larger saws you may have in your shop.
The main benefit that you get with a skill saw is its portability. This means you can take it from job site to job site without having to worry too much about storage space on the back of your truck. Furthermore, because it’s a lightweight tool, you can bring the saw to your materials and not the other way around.
Another great use of this tool is making quick cuts when needed. With one of these tools on hand, you don’t need to go through the whole show of picking up your board, balancing it on a table, pushing the board through a saw’s blade, and picking up whatever pieces drop. Instead, a circular saw can be used on the ground with the workpiece slightly elevated, giving the blade enough clearance to pass through 2-inch boards in a single pass (depending on your model, of course).
A circular saw is almost a perfect replacement for a table saw, and miter saw. With a few measurements, you can make accurate cuts in long, thick pieces of wood without too much trouble. If you need to make mitered cuts, simply realign the shoe of the circular saw and push. If you need to make beveled cuts, toy around with the bevel gauge until you reach the right angle, then push the blade through your board.
All of this can be done much quicker with an aluminum rail. The rail latches onto your workpiece, preventing both the board and saw from shifting positions. It’s all just a matter of pushing the saw’s blade through the material and in one to two passes, you’ll have a perfectly dimensioned board ready for sanding.
What a Circular Saw Can’t Do
The good thing about the circular saw is that its disadvantages are few. One such downside of this saw is that it’s unable to make reliable plunge cuts into the center of your workpiece. You can attempt to do so by jimmying the blade guard up and away from the blade, but this is a safety hazard and is not recommended by anybody.
Another disadvantage of the circular saw is its visibility. The position of the motor and blade make it somewhat difficult to gauge where the blade will pass. The shoe usually comes with a notch which indicates the positioning of the blade, but if the shoe is knocked out of position, you pretty much need to guesstimate where the blade will go.
So in conclusion, a circular saw and skill saw refer to the exact same tool, regardless of brand and design. Don’t be confused by the term “skill” and think that it’s only referring to a SKIL circular saw since the name has pretty much become synonymous with any and all circular saws. If you don’t have a circular saw yet, consider getting one; especially since they can do a ton of different cutting jobs without the hassle of balancing large boards and passing the material through a quick-moving saw blade.
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