Rotary Saw vs. Circular Saw: Which to Use?

Rotary Saw vs. Circular Saw: Which to Use?

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If you are entering the world of DIY projects or building, then there are some specific tools that you will need in your arsenal. When it comes to construction, two very commonly used types of saws are rotary saws and circular saws.

While they may sound like they are similar, they’re actually fairly different tools. Today, we are here to figure out what both rotary and circular saws are, what similarities and differences they share, and what they’re both best used for.

Rotary Saws and Circular Saws: The Basics

Before we talk about similarities and differences, let’s first figure out what both of these tools are.

What Is a Rotary Saw?

Rotary Saw A rotary saw is a relatively small handheld type of saw. With that being said, most people would define this type of saw as being a heavy-duty power tool. Although they might not look very impressive or be very large, they do actually have a great deal of power behind them.

Do keep in mind that rotary saws and rotary tools are not the same things. We are talking about rotary saws in this article, not rotary tools.

One of the defining features of a rotary saw, if it is fitted with a circular saw blade, is that the saw blade is fairly small. A rotary saw can also use other attachments, such as drums, bits, or sanding bits.

Rotary saws are usually used to cut holes into siding, drywall, plywood, and other thin materials. However, if you upgrade the saw blade, this tool may also be able to cut hardwood, laminate, metal, cast iron, concrete, some types of stone, and even plexiglass.

What Is a Circular Saw?

We then have the circular saw, which is a medium-large handheld power saw. As you can probably tell by the name, a circular saw has a circular blade, one that is usually 7.25” in diameter. Yes, the circular saw does have a fairly large blade, and it spins at great speeds, up to 5,000 RPM.

These are very powerful tools that were originally designed for woodworking. That said, this tool can also use many other blade types that are designed to cut metal, masonry, plastic, tile, and more.

An important thing to keep in mind is that we are talking about handheld circular saws specifically. However, there are other saws out there that have circular blades, although these are not called circular saws. A table saw does have a circular blade, but it’s not a circular saw.

Similarities of Rotary Saws and Circular Saws

Now that we know what both of these saws are, let’s figure out what makes them similar.

1. They’re Both Powered

One common similarity of both of these saw types is that they are both powered. Both circular saws and rotary saws may be battery-powered or corded.

2. They’re Both Handheld

Another basic similarity that these two saws share is that they are both handheld. They’re not affixed to anything such as a cabinet or a table, and you can easily carry them around with you. They’re both designed to be quite maneuverable.

3. They May Cut the Same Materials

Depending on the specific type of blade affixed to both of these saw types, they may be able to cut the same types of materials. For instance, a circular saw is designed to cut wood, and with the right attachment, a rotary saw can do the same.

Both rotary saws and circular saws, with the right attachments, can cut wood, metal, plastic, tile, and more. That said, their primary functions and the materials that they are originally designed to cut are different.

4. Both Have Circular Blades

One of the biggest similarities shared by these two saws is that they both have circular blades. The blades are different sizes, but they are both circles.

5. Blade Angle Adjustments

The other similarity shared between circular saws and rotary saws is that both usually allow you to adjust the bevel or angle of the blade.

Circular Saw in Use

Differences Between Rotary Saws and Circular Saws

Now that we know what makes rotary saws and circular saws similar, let’s figure out what makes them different.

1. Size and Weight

One difference between these two saws is that circular saws tend to be quite larger and heavier. They’re just larger and more powerful tools in general.

2. One-Handed Use

Another notable difference between rotary saws and circular saws is that rotary saws are generally designed to be used with a single hand. You can easily hold a rotary saw with a single hand while holding the material with your other hand. Now, some experts may be able to use a circular saw with a single hand, but technically speaking, this is not how they were designed to be held.

3. Size of the Blade

Circular saw blades are usually 7.25” in diameter. As you can tell, the blades are fairly large. On the other hand, the blade on a rotary saw is usually only two or three inches in diameter. This, therefore, does make it ideal for fitting into smaller spaces.

4. Blade Direction and Cutting Motion

One of the biggest differences here is that with a circular saw, the blade moves upwards, and you push the saw away from you as you use it. With a rotary saw, the blade moves in a downward motion, and you pull this towards you as you cut.

5. Most Common Purposes

Circular saws are generally used for cutting wood, although they may also cut metal, tile, stone, and other materials with the proper attachments. On the other hand, a rotary saw is generally designed for cutting drywall, plywood, and other such thin materials. Although, with the right attachments, you can also cut very hard materials such as asphalt, concrete, stone, metal, and more.

Rotary Saw in Use

Rotary Saw vs. Circular Saw: Which of the Two Should You Use?

If you are cutting large pieces of wood, and lots of them, then a circular saw is the best tool to use. Generally speaking, when it comes to cutting wood in straight lines, the circular saw is going to be the tool of choice.

However, if you need to cut small and accurate holes into thin pieces of wood, plywood, drywall, or anything else of the sort, then it is a rotary saw that you want to use. Rotary saws are also better for cutting very hard materials such as concrete and stone.


You should now know all of the main differences between these two types of saws to make an informed choice for your next project.

How Do Rotary and Circular Saws Compare with Other Tools?

See how rotary saws compare with: jigsaws

See how circular saws compare with: angle grindersbandsawshypoid sawsjigsawsjigsaws and reciprocating saws | miter saws | plunge saws | reciprocating saws | table saws | track saws