Thursday, April 9, 2009

Tool Review: Skilsaw 7 1/4" Circular Saw, Model 5400

Occasionally I will write a review of a tool I have used. In no way do I pretend to be a professional, as this blog should show, but I also have found some of the most helpful reviews to be by "average joes" like me. All the tools I will review should be within the budget for most homeowners and weekend warriors.

Circular saws are real work horses and are good at many different tasks. Yet, being a jack-of-all-trades tool usually means it is a master of none. For every job the circular saw can be used for, there is a tool that can do a better job.
For example, circular saws are often used to rip full sheets of plywood. This is a task they are good at, but a mid to high end table saw may yield better results. That is not to say the circular saw is bad, in fact, it is an incredibly valuable tool. The tools that out shine the circular saw's capabilities tend to be either very specialized or expensive.

The main use for a circular saw is making straight cuts through wood products no more than 3" thick. Not every DIY weekend warrior has a cabinet, radial arm, or panel saw, but you will not need any of these expensive tools to cut large sheet goods. This is where the circular saw can be an inexpensive substitute.

It can be difficult to cut straight lines free hand, but you can make a simple jig that will assure accurate cuts every time.

To construct the straight cutting jig you will need one board 4' long and at least 2" wider than the distance between your circular saw blade and the edge of the saw's foot plate, another board 4' long by 1"+ width, and some nails or screws:
  1. Fasten the narrower board (green) to the wide board (blue) as shown in the picture. Make sure they are square to each other.
  2. Position the circular saw on the jig as shown in the picture. The bottom board should extend a little past the blade. Run the saw along the guide while cutting the bottom board to the correct width.
  3. Now all you need to do is line up your cut marks with the edge of the bottom board and you will have precise cuts every time! (Remember to add the thickness of the jig to the thickness of the board you are cutting when setting the saw's blade height)
So How Good is the Skilsaw 5400 Circular Saw?
There is no denying that this is a budget saw. It was the least expensive one at Lowes, where it retailed for about $30 in 2008. But do not let the inexpensive price scare you off. A lot of times a cheap tool is just that, cheap, but I prefer to call this a base model saw. Its low price reflects its simple design and lack of pizazz (if a power tool can have pizazz) instead of cheap craftsmanship and materials. More expensive models come with laser sights, better blades, and if you pay enough, completely different methods of spinning the cutting blade. However, with a straight edge and steady hand you do not need laser sights. The blade it comes with is adequate, not great, but adequate. Different blades are readily available, so it is hard to knock too much off for the included blade.

Adjusting the blade height is as simple as unlocking the adjuster via a lever, changing the height, and relocking it by tightening the lever. An indicator shows you what height, in inches, your blade is set to. Here is where a more expensive saw would have the nice feature of set height points for the most commonly used heights so you could easily and repeatedly set the height without having to eyeball the ruler line and the adjuster. But, considering this is a budget saw, it is hard to complain about the lack of features that, though nice, are not absolutely necessary.

The saw can also be adjusted to cut up to 45 degree angle beveled cuts. The bevel adjustment is very similar to the height adjustment in terms of simplicity and short comings.

Changing blades is also simple. There is no spindle lock on this model, so you must use a block of scrap wood to act as a brake for the blade. With the blade blocked by the wood, an included wrench is used to loosen the spindle nut.

The saw has plenty of power to cut through any wood I put in its path, as long as the blade is sharp. It is loud when being used due to its direct drive motor, so be sure to wear proper ear and eye protection.

The included blade is suitable for fast cutting 2x4s and plywood. However, if you want a cut that will leave a really nice and smooth surface, I would recommend buying a 60+ tooth carbide tipped blade.

What I Like

  1. Price
  2. Simplicity of design and use
  3. Blade and Foot Plate are square to each other
  4. Plenty of power

What I Dislike
  1. Included blade is only adequate
  2. Would be nice if the height adjustment locked into standard heights

This was one of the very first power tools I purchased when we moved into our first house. For a while it substituted for a table saw and power miter saw. Even now that my tool collection has expanded, I still find uses for the circular saw. The Skilsaw is a very sturdy power tool considering the budget price tag. It may lack some of the features of the more expensive saws, but what can be expected from the low end offering? This saw does its job well enough and, in my opinion, is worth having in any DIYer's tool box.

This Model's Rating
There is nothing that would keep me from buying another Skilsaw unless I wanted to upgrade to one with more features. It is a solid saw and if you do not need extra features and want to save some money I would recommend this saw.

This Power Tool's Rating
As I mentioned at the beginning of the review, I do not think circular saws excel in any one task, but the many jobs they can do well enough, plus their portability, make them invaluable tools. This is definitely a category of tool I would recommend having.


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Isabel Thomas
Online Marketing Consultant

Martin Roy Woodworking said...

Explained the features and how to use the circular saw so beautifully that I am considering myself a skilled guy , does it have a cordless version ?

Anonymous said...

Thank you. 2 years after you posted this was desperate to change the blade on my similar saw, manual long disappeared, thanks for the block of wood comment, saved me. From one DIY to another <3

Lopez said...

I am going to buy miter saw. I read many website and I see Dewalt DW175 which suitable my need. I read your article, I don’t know Skilsaw 5400 miter equal Dewalt DW175. Do you give me advice?

Lori said...

Thank for your sharing. I read information very late, your article is closed but congrats to our winner. I bought Dewalt miter saw. It very good, I think I create anything that join contest