There are geographic preferences when it comes to the types of circular saws. In the Midwest and West, worm drive saws are common. In the East, however, sidewinder saws are the tool of choice.
To the untrained eye, circular saws look the same, regardless of whether they are a worm drive saw or a sidewinder. But there are subtle differences in appearance.
We look at the two different drive saws to see what the advantages are and if you should be choosing one over the other.
Worm Drive Saw vs Sidewinder Saw
Worm drive saws have gears set at 90-degree angles that drive the blade. Sidewinder saws have a direct drive system that produces greater RPM, but less torque. Worm drive saws have higher torque but less RPM. Worm drive saws are heavier and more expensive to buy.
Quick Comparison Chart
|Key Features||Worm Drive||Sidewinder|
|Motor Type||Worm gear||Direct drive|
|Position||Rear of the blade||Side of the blade|
|Average Weight||12 to 14 lbs||8 to 9 lbs|
|Blade Mounted||Left side||Right side|
|Suitability||Right-handed people||Left-handed people|
What is a Worm Drive Circular Saw?
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 degrees. This set up means that the motor produces less RPM — around 4,500 — but more torque.
Worm drive saws tend to be bulkier and longer, because of the way the motor is situated.
How Does It Work?
The transfer of power is through gears oriented at 90-degree angles. This means the saw spins slower but has better torque. The torque is what gives it cutting power. Imagine a fast car, with a powerful engine but no torque. The wheels would struggle to grip. Sometimes it’s better to have less speed and greater grip.
That is the difference between a worm drive circular saw and a sidewinder.
What Is It Used For?
Because of the added torque and weight, worm drive circular saws are ideal for cutting stacks of lumber and knotted wood. Also, it wouldn’t take much to convert the saw to cut concrete, a bit like an angle-grinder. Of course, torque is crucial if you are sawing dense material.
Makes Plunge Cuts
The added length of the saw enables making plunge cuts easier. It means that you can cut shapes into the wood with less effort. It also means you have greater flexibility with your cutting techniques.
Better for Right-Handed Carpenters
Another important advantage of a worm drive saw is the motor sits at the rear, while the blade mounts on the left. So, if you are a right-handed carpenter, you get a clear view of the cutting line.
Cuts Hard Material
Knotted or hardwoods don’t stand a chance against the power of a worm drive circular saw. They also cut concrete.
Worm drive saws weigh a lot more than a sidewinder, so they place more strain on your hands and wrists while operating one. The average worm drive saw weighs 14 to 16 pounds.
Along with added weight, they also have a significant size increase over a sidewinder saw.
All power tools need some kind of maintenance. However, a worm drive circular saw needs considerably more attention and lubrication than a sidewinder model.
Worm drive circular saws are more expensive to buy. For this reason, they are more likely to appeal to professionals or seasoned woodworkers.
What Is a Sidewinder (Direct Drive) Circular Saw?
As the name suggests, the motor is mounted on the side of the saw. That allows it to drive the circular saw blade without the need for additional gears. This is called “direct drive,” and sidewinder saws are often called direct-drive saws.
The advantage of no gears is increased speed, with most producing 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?
Not having additional gears to transfer the power of the motor means that sidewinder saws are more efficient. They generate a higher RPM because the direct nature of the drive creates masses of speed.
What Is It Used For?
If you have smaller projects or don’t need bulk lumber chopping, then a sidewinder is ideal. Because they are lighter, they also operate better in more awkward situations like sawing overhead.
A sidewinder will make most of the same cuts as a worm drive saw. However, the trade-off with the added speed is less torque.
Sidewinder saws are lightweight, making the ideal hand-held circular saw. If you have a job that requires awkward sawing, a sidewinder is perfect. Also, they won’t wear out your arms and wrist as a worm drive saw will.
When compared to a worm drive saw, a sidewinder weighs around 8 or 9 pounds.
Being more compact means they fit into most carpenter’s tool kits and are maneuverable. Also, they are easier to handle because of the size, meaning you have far greater control.
Easier for Beginners
If you want to learn how to handle a circular saw, a sidewinder is by far the better option. It’s lighter, more agile, and smaller to handle.
A sidewinder circular saw is far cheaper to buy than a worm drive saw. It means you typically find sidewinders in the tool kits of DIY enthusiasts and the general public.
Every upside has a downside. For all the added RPM, a sidewinder saw produces less torque, so it struggles to cut through some hardwood and denser materials.
Sidewinder circular saws have the blade mounted on the right-hand side. This makes it more awkward for right-handed people to see the cutting line and impedes the overall view. Only 10 percent of the general population is left-handed (1). However, every cloud has a silver lining; if you are a leftie, a sidewinder would be better.
Has the Worm Turned?
Has the worm drive saw turned your head, or is it the sidewinder that sleeps tonight? Whichever type of saw you choose, both are as good at completing the tasks.
If you want something that has clout and brute force, the worm drive saw could be the way to go. However, should you go through that added expense, not to mention the extra size and weight if you don’t need to?
Only you can decide.