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Worm Drive vs Sidewinder Circular Saws: Which is Best?

Want to know what separates a worm drive saw from a sidewinder saw?

Circular saws are an important part of any carpenter or woodworker’s tool kit, allowing you to easily cut straight lines with ease. Two of the most popular circular saw types are worm drive saws and sidewinder saws.

At a glance, there doesn’t appear to be much difference between these two types. However, there are some key differences between them that will affect how they can be used.

In this article, we will take a closer look at worm drive saws vs sidewinder saws. This includes how they differ from each other and why either type might be more suitable for a given task.

Key Takeaways

  • Worm drive saws have higher torque and are ideal for cutting dense materials, but they are heavier and more expensive.
  • Sidewinder saws are lightweight and more beginner-friendly, but they have less torque and may struggle with dense materials.
  • Worm drive saws are better for right-handed users as the blade is mounted on the left side, giving a clear view of the cutting line.
  • Sidewinder saws are more suitable for left-handed users, as the blade is mounted on the right side.

Quick Comparison Chart

Key Features Worm Drive Sidewinder
Motor Type Worm gear Direct drive
Position Rear of the blade Side of the blade
Torque High Low
Rpm 4,500 6,000
Maintenance Lubricant None
Average Weight 12 to 14 lbs 8 to 9 lbs
Blade Mounted Left side Right side
Suitability Right-handed people Left-handed people
Costs High Medium

What is a Worm Drive Circular Saw?

Worm Drive Circular Saw
Photo by: Dewalt

A worm drive circular saw is a powerful saw that has the motor mounted at the rear, with the power driven through two gears set at 90-degree angles. This setup means the motor produces less RPM than a sidewinder — about 4,500 — but more torque.

Worm drive saws tend to be bulkier and longer, due to the way the motor is situated.

How Does It Work?

Power is transferred through gears at 90-degree angles to the blade. This means the saw spins more slowly than a sidewinder but it has more torque. The torque provides its cutting power. A fast car, with a powerful engine but no torque wouldn’t get very far as its wheels would struggle to grip. Sometimes, it is better to have less speed and greater grip.

What Is It Used For?

Thanks to the added torque and weight, worm-drive circular saws are ideal for cutting stacks of lumber and knotted wood. It is sometimes also possible to convert the saw to cut concrete, similar to an angle grinder. Torque is critical if you are sawing dense material.


Makes Plunge Cuts

The extra length of the saw means making plunge cuts is easier. This enables you to cut shapes into the wood with less effort. It also means you have greater flexibility with your cutting techniques.

Better for Right-Handed Carpenters

On a worm drive saw, the motor sits at the rear, with the blade mounted on the left. If you are right-handed, this means you will have a clear view of the cutting line.

Cuts Hard Material

Hardwood and knots should pose no problem with the power of a worm drive circular saw. They also cut concrete.



Worm drive saws weigh a lot more than a sidewinder, so they require more strength in your hands and wrists. The average worm drive saw weighs 14 to 16 pounds, compared to the 8 or 9 pounds of a sidewinder.


In addition to weighing more, worm drive saws are usually significantly larger than sidewinder saws.


All power tools need some level of maintenance. However, a worm drive saw requires more attention and lubrication than a sidewinder model.

Costs More

Worm drive saws are more expensive than sidewinder saws. For this reason, they are usually only purchased by professional carpenters or very keen amateurs.

What Is a Sidewinder (Direct Drive) Circular Saw?

Sidewinder (Direct Drive) Circular Saw
Photo by: Skilsaw

A sidewinder saw takes its name from the fact that the motor is mounted on the side of the saw. This allows it to drive the circular saw blade without the need for extra gears. This method is called “direct drive”, and sidewinder saws are often referred to as direct-drive saws.

As energy doesn’t need to be transferred through gears, sidewinder saws are faster, usually spinning at about 6,000 RPM. When you compare this to the 4,500 RPM of a worm drive saw, it is a significant increase.

How Does It Work?

The absence of additional gears means sidewinder saws are more efficient. They generate a higher RPM because the direct nature of the drive allows it to operate at greater speeds.

What Is It Used For?

If you have smaller projects or don’t need to cut large amounts of lumber, a sidewinder saw is ideal. As they are lighter, they are also easier to operate when making awkward cuts such as high on walls.

A sidewinder will make most of the same cuts as a worm drive saw. However, the trade-off of the added speed is less torque.



Sidewinder saws are lightweight, making them ideal handheld circular saws. If you have a job that requires awkward cuts, a sidewinder will be ideal. They are also less of a burden on your arms and wrists than a worm drive saw.

A sidewinder saw usually weighs around 8 or 9 pounds, compared to the 14 to 16 of a worm drive.

More Compact

Being more compact means sidewinder saws will fit into most carpenters’ tool kits. They are also easier to handle due to their smaller size, giving you far greater control.


If you want to learn how to handle a circular saw, a sidewinder is a far better option than a worm drive. It is lighter, more maneuverable, and smaller.


A sidewinder saw is far less expensive than a worm drive saw. This is why you typically find sidewinders in the tool kits of DIYers, as opposed to worm drives which are generally only used by professionals.


Less Torque

Despite having greater RPM, sidewinder saws produce less torque, so they might struggle to cut through some hardwoods and other dense materials.

Blade Position

Sidewinder saws have the blade mounted on the right-hand side. This makes it more awkward for right-handed people to view the cutting line while using the saw. Only about 10% of the United States population is left-handed (1), but this does make a sidewinder more user-friendly if you fit into that category.


Why Is It Called a Worm Drive Saw?

The term “worm drive saw” means a specific type of motorized cutting tool that uses an offset motor at the rear. This motor design gives the saw increased torque and power, helping you cut through the toughest materials.

Interestingly, the motor in a worm drive saw is sometimes called a “gear motor,” further highlighting its unique construction and capabilities.

Worm drive saws are known for their narrow, curved blades, allowing them to get into tight spaces and easily make precise cuts.

Who Invented the Worm Drive Saw?

Edmond Michel is credited with inventing the portable worm-drive circular saw in 1923. In 1924, Michel entered into a business partnership with Joseph Sullivan, and the two established the Michel Electric Handsaw Company.

The company was established for the primary purpose of manufacturing and selling the saw that Michel had designed. After some time, the business changed its name to Skilsaw, Inc.

What Kind of Oil Goes In a Worm Drive Saw?

Three types of oils are commonly used to lubricate worm gears: compounded mineral oils, EP mineral gear oils, and synthetics. Each type has its unique characteristics. All three types of oil can be successful in use.

There is a phenomenon in worm gears called sideways sliding motion. It makes it hard to maintain a hydrodynamic oil wedge. As a result, gears work in boundary lubrication conditions.

Why Are Worm Drive Saws Left-Handed?

Historically, the left-hand rotation of the blade was required for use on all worm drive saws.

In addition, this configuration most likely positions the weight of the saw so that it rests on the piece of the material the user wants to keep, making it much simpler to maintain control of the saw while cutting.

Who Makes the Best Worm Drive Saw?

The DEWALT DWS535B uses an electric brake that immediately brings the blade to a screeching halt to prevent any injuries.

It has a ton of features that make it the best worm drive saw; a secondary hand grip, a good operating angle, and really great customer service.

What Is Better: Worm Drive or Sidewinder?

The placement of the motor in worm drive saws, as opposed to sidewinder saws, is the primary distinction between the two types of saws. A worm drive motor is placed behind the blade, rather than in line with it.

When most of us hear the term “circular saw,” the first thing that comes to mind is a sidewinder saw, also known as a direct drive saw. This type gets its name because the blade is set in front of the engine rather than in the traditional position behind it.

The lightweight sidewinder can be used for cutting jobs that are more uncomfortable or even for cutting duties that are performed overhead. The additional weight of the worm drive saw makes cutting more stable and may also be used to steer a cut in a downward direction.

When producing long rip cuts, the increased weight of worm drive saws also contributes to the increased stability of the saw. Because of this, they are perfect for ripping sheet goods.

Compared to worm drive saws, sidewinders have a lot less torque. So, they’re considerably less prone to induce any kind of blowback when cutting.

If they become stuck or stalled while cutting, most sidewinder blades simply cease spinning rather than producing kickback.

The increased torque produced by worm drive saws might result in significant kickback force.

On the other side, worm drive saws can produce a significant amount of kickback, which can be particularly unnerving if you’re not accustomed to dealing with it.

Worm Drive or Sidewinder?

Worm drive saws and sidewinder saws are both excellent tools that can become important parts of your tool kit. Which saw is better is largely a matter of your experience, budget, and the sort of tasks you need it for.

If you need to cut hardwood or large quantities of wood, a worm saw will excel at this kind of heavy-duty work. For smaller jobs, a sidewinder saw should be sufficient and it will also be more user-friendly if you are inexperienced at using circular saws.

Budget is an unavoidable factor when choosing any product. If you can afford a worm drive, they have stronger cutting power, which is why they are widely used by professionals. On the other hand, if you have a limited budget or don’t want to spend a lot on a saw that will only be used occasionally, a sidewinder saw should allow you to complete most tasks to a high standard.

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About the Author

Mark Weir

Mark spent 24 years working in real estate, so he knows his way around a home. He also worked with contractors and experts, advising them on issues of planning, investments, and renovations. Mark is no stranger to hands-on experience, having renovated his own home and many properties for resale. He likes nothing better than seeing a project through to completion.