Abrasive chop saws, spraying impressive showers of sparks, are great tools for cutting through rebar, metal pipes, angle iron, and other materials. But a chop saw that looks good in the movies may not be the best choice for your workshop. Power tools need to be selected based on their performance rather than their appearance.
There’s a lot of them out there though. Advances in technology have led to a proliferation of models and, therefore, options. While you may not be as lost as Frodo and Sam wandering around the swamps of Mordor, it can still get pretty confusing out there. You need a guide to steer you through it—hopefully, someone more trustworthy than Gollum.
We’ve done reviews of the available saws, sorted them out, researched them, and come to some conclusions that will assist you in picking the best saw for your needs. Just because one of your friends has a particular saw doesn’t mean it will be the best one for you—you might have different requirements than them, necessitating a different tool.
Keep an open mind as you read our reviews and read all the way through before you make your final choice.
|DEWALT DW872||55 lbs||4.8/5|
(Best for the Money)
|Evolution Power Tools EVOSAW380||55 lbs||4.4/5|
|Milwaukee 6177-20||43 lbs||4.2/5|
This is our choice for top pick among the chop saws we reviewed. It cuts quickly and easily through 2×2 box tubing with a 1/4″ wall thickness. It reduces cutting time by at least half (or possibly more), and it stays cool the whole time because it uses toothed blades instead of abrasive ones. This virtually eliminates sparks and accounts for the coolness of the cuts and the blade.
This tool’s cuts are accurate, quick, precise, and free of burrs. It comes with a D-shaped handle for easy gripping. There’s a lock-off button to prevent accidental starting, which is a very nice, and necessary, safety feature. The toolless adjustments on the fence are well designed and implemented.
The only complaint is the chip collector tray. It catches only about 10% of the chips. The rest wind up on the table or floor. It’s not a fatal flaw or anything, just annoying.
This saw allows you to work faster and safer than you would otherwise. It eliminates the requirement for grinding material to remove burrs, saving you even more time. Everything about this saw is designed to make your job as effortless as possible—and it succeeds brilliantly.
This runner-up from DeWalt went head-to-head with our top pick and lost by only the slimmest of margins.
It’s a cold saw that makes smooth, straight cuts with no burrs. With minimal pressure on the handle, this saw cuts through steel like butter, whether it’s heavy pipes or solid bars. You can use this to cut pipes prior to welding or make great miter cuts on such things as building handrails. Either way is easy on you.
When cutting heavy stock, there will be some sparks and heating, but not much. On smaller stock though, everything stays cool to the touch with no significant sparking. This is a cold saw masquerading as a chop saw.
The DeWalt cuts fast as well as accurately, so you can keep moving ahead with your work. Who wants to get bogged down on one step of a job? With this saw, you won’t.
The clamp on the fence is weaker than it should be, and dust/chip collection isn’t what it should be either. Aside from the clamp on the fence, these first two saws are equals. The clamp does make a difference though, leaving this one as the runner-up.
DeWalt also took the “best for the money” slot in these reviews with this abrasive chop saw.
The quick-lock vise allows for fast clamping on different size materials so you don’t have to waste your time changing or moving it. The quick-change backstop can move forward or backward as the blade gets smaller, extending the useful life of your blades and saving you tons of money. The toolless blade changing system saves time as well, letting you get on with your work.
This has a powerful motor with a soft start that saves wear and tear on the gears. There’s also an ergonomically designed handle for comfort.
This tool didn’t make it into the top two because the base is sheet metal rather than cast iron. It flexes too much during use, and it has a 1/4″ slope which makes it impossible to square your cuts unless you shim the material or use a second clamp to steady it. This eats up the time the quick-change saves you.
The quick-change itself, as nice as it is, wears out because of the internal plastic teeth on the gears. Once the teeth wear down and start slipping past each other it becomes impossible to tighten the blade.
This saw has a lot of potential, but it turned out to be a disappointment.
It cuts through material with clean, cold cuts and minimal burrs. It’s relatively easy to use when it works—which isn’t always the case.
There isn’t a quick release on the fence clamp. Adjustments have to be made with a set of hex wrenches (included in the box), lengthening the change operation from a few seconds to several minutes of finicky effort. You won’t enjoy making adjustments on this saw.
The blade has a huge wobble in it, up to 1/4″ in either direction. It originates from the pin that mounts the saw to the base. That means you’d have to dismantle the whole arm and shim it to get rid of the wobble—a process that might take hours.
The base is aluminum instead of cast iron, it isn’t level, and there isn’t any discernible way to mount it to a table. This is a cheap, disappointing base.
Considering the problems attached to this saw, it’ll stay in fourth place for the foreseeable future.
This is a decent hobby saw but its limitations prevent it from being able to handle commercial or professional grade work.
The base is flimsy. It flexes during use which creates jagged cuts and burrs. It also has alignment problems, causing it to occasionally cut into itself.
The motor overheats, slows down, and pulls too much current. It trips the circuit breakers on a fairly regular basis. It also vibrates badly, which may be due to the alignment problems mentioned earlier. In any event, it soon becomes very painful in your hand.
The fence is hard to adjust and changing the blade is even harder. The inner nuts are almost impossible to reach and the included wrench is a joke. The material clamps aren’t any better. They can’t be tightened enough to eliminate movement during cutting, with predictable results for your cuts.
If you don’t need precision, this is the saw for you because squaring the cuts is impossible. “Close” is the best you’ll get with this tool. It works—slowly—for most hobby applications, but its many issues permanently relegate it to last place on the list.
Power equipment such as chop saws represents a significant investment in time and money. Before pulling out your wallet you need to step back and consider everything connected with it. Available options, warranty issues, price, and shipping are important, but safety is number one, so let’s take a look at that first.
When you’re using chop saws, whether they’re abrasive or cold, you’re using a dangerous piece of equipment. Used properly they’re great tools, but improper use or adjustments can sling material across the room, damage nearby equipment, or impair the saw itself.
Good ventilation is required when using chop saws, especially the abrasive variety. When the wheel is grinding against the material it heats it up, creating hazardous fumes. The saws’ design puts your face very close to the contact point between the wheel and the material, and close to the fumes. An open room is good, but an active vent with strong negative air flow (pulling the fumes up and away) is the best option.
Diffused fumes that remain present around your nostrils and lungs create what is known as chronic toxicity. Chronic toxicity occurs when you’re subjected to a low-level exposure of toxic fumes or materials over a long period of time, leading to a slow build-up of toxins in your tissues. Metal particulates or fumes are among the worst since there’s virtually no way to eliminate them from the body once they’ve entered.
Active air vents with a strong fan pull the fumes away before they have a chance to enter your lungs. You’ll have to spend some extra money, but how much is your health worth to you? It’s your choice.
Chop saws create a lot of heat. Even so-called cold saws can create sparks and heat under the right conditions or when cutting certain materials. Heat, in turn, creates—you guessed it—fire. Preventing a fire is easier than putting one out, just ask Smokey the Bear.
Keep flammable objects such as shirts, towels, furniture, and so forth well away from the saw. A good rule of thumb is to maintain five to six feet of clearance around the saw, even if you construct a shroud around it. Sparks can jump and bounce unexpectedly in ways even the best shroud can’t always prevent. Paint some yellow and black alternating stripes on the floor around your saw and then keep everything outside that line except the material you’re actively working on.
Your saw needs to be securely anchored in place. A rapidly spinning blade can unexpectedly grab heavy material, and if the saw isn’t firmly held in position, it can yank itself across the room, doing untold damage to itself, the material, you, and anyone else in the vicinity. Unless you absolutely need to have a portable chop saw, sink some anchor bolts in the floor and make sure the support table is bolted down tight. Mount the saw to the table and you won’t have to worry about broken fingers, material, or other equipment.
Environmental protection laws have proliferated beyond number in the past few decades. Metal particulates, chips, and dust are considered by government agencies to be carcinogens and are, consequently, heavily regulated in many cities. Some will require you to recycle your metallic waste and store them in approved containers until they’re recycled.
Make sure you know the laws and regulations in your area. Ignorance is no excuse and the fines for noncompliance can be crippling. Even if you’re just a hobbyist working at home you’re still subject to inspections by the local code enforcement officer(s). Don’t take any chances—make sure you’re following all applicable laws.
In addition to legal and safety considerations for the saw itself, there are safety considerations for you. Some of them are common sense and a matter of law. Be sure you know the difference.
OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration) regulations are fairly stringent when it comes to PPE (personal protective equipment). While these regulations probably won’t apply to the home hobbyist, they definitely apply to anyone using chops saws at work.
(We said OSHA regulations might not apply when you’re at home, but it never hurts to check. The size and scope of your home project might meet their minimum criteria for being subject to their regulations, and again, the fines for noncompliance are steep.)
First and foremost is eye protection. The human eye is one of the most fragile parts of the body, the easiest to harm, and the hardest to heal. Damage to the eyes is almost always permanent. Common sense would advise you to wear safety goggles but OSHA might require more, a full face shield for instance, and they’re not very forgiving if they find you violating their standards.
Ear protection is also subject to OSHA regulations. Earplugs generally aren’t enough to meet their standards. Sound suppressing earmuffs are widely available and most manufacturers can easily tell you what OSHA standards their product meets (there are several). They’re fairly inexpensive and can help you avoid paying a huge penalty.
Regulatory compliance is expensive and time-consuming, but the cost of noncompliance is even higher. Find out what the regulations are in your area and follow them like your life depends on it. Your business life does.
Other PPE required by OSHA includes heavy gloves, steel-toed boots, and fire-resistant aprons. Hardhats are almost always required when you’re working around power equipment. If your chop saw of choice is a cold saw rather than an abrasive one, you might be able to dispense with the apron, but you should check the regulations first just to be on the safe side. If your company is large enough to require a compliance officer, he or she should have all of this information readily available for you.
OSHA isn’t the only agency you’ll have to contend with when you’re using chop saws. The Environmental Protection Agency (the EPA) keeps close tabs on how many decibels you’re generating with your equipment. They’re fond of surprise inspections and, by nature, they’re suspicious of any and all businesses. It’s the way they were designed. If they find you over, or close, to their relatively arbitrary limits, don’t expect any mercy or understanding from them.
With federal agencies, the best defense is a good offense. Find out what the regulations say about your business. Depending on the zoning laws, it might be advantageous to move your business to a new location. Otherwise, invest in approved sound suppressing equipment in your building. The cost can be amortized to relieve some of your financial burdens.
By the way, the EPA will also be interested in any fumes created by your abrasive saw(s). Find out what they want with regard to your vent hoods and fans.
Extra blades are an important option when you’re purchasing a chop saw. All blades, whether they’re abrasive or toothed, eventually wear out. But you can extend their life by getting the right blade. Blades are expensive so you’ll want to make sure you’re getting the correct one. This will save you a lot of money. More importantly, it will save you valuable time. Money can be replaced, but time can’t. Invest in the right blades up front so you’ll have everything at your fingertips from the moment your saw arrives.
Lubricants run a close second behind blades as an important option. All moving parts need lubrication and chop saws, of any variety, are no different. Get some good lubricant and keep it on hand. Spend a little extra for better quality and your saw will thank you for it with better performance and less maintenance.
Cleaning brushes are an option some people tend to overlook. Blowing the chips out of the saw is one way of cleaning your saw, but it’s not really optimal. The metal chips can blow back into your eyes, ears, and nose if you’re not careful. There are numerous brushes available on most websites that carry chop saws, so go ahead and grab a couple while you’re at it. They not only extend the life of your saw with regular cleaning, they’re one of the cheapest pieces of safety equipment you can buy. Clean equipment equals working equipment.
Extra clamps and triangles are nice options to have available. The best saw in the world can’t hold everything in place or measure every little detail. Get a few extras and you’ll save yourself some headaches later on.
None of these options are unusual, but it’s amazing how often we overlook the “ordinary” because we’re in a hurry. Make a checklist of the options so you won’t forget anything when it’s time to make your purchase.
The Makita LC1230 saw is our top pick in these reviews. Everything about this saw is well designed, works the way it should, and saves you time and money—both when you’re buying it and when you’re using it. This saw will have a place of honor in your shop for years to come.
The DEWALT D28715 earns the position of “best for the money” among the chop saws we reviewed. While it has a few issues with the base that kept it out of the top two, it cuts through metal of all kinds with good speed and accuracy. For the budget conscious, this is the chop saw for your workshop.
Abrasive chop saws, due to their design, inherently impose significant regulatory constraints on businesses that cold saws don’t. Be aware of this when making your choice.
Hopefully, we’ve been more like Gandalf than Gollum in your quest to find the right chop saw for your needs. It can be a bit confusing out there and these reviews are meant to help you sort through all the conflicting claims and information. Clarity creates the conditions for making the right choice—now you can go out and make it!