The Takeaway: If you’re not a contractor, you don’t need a contractor-duty circular saw. What you need is a reasonably priced, easy-handling machine with good power and a light weight, all of which you get with the Skil 5280.
• 15-amp motor provides plenty of oomph
• Lightweight and good industrial design
• Comes equipped with a laser guide, if you’re so inclined to make use of it
When I think of the Skil 5280, a circular saw that costs just shy of $60, I’m reminded that the average person can struggle to get the money together for a decent set of tools. That isn’t lost on me as a reviewer. It’s too easy in this business to gravitate toward expensive, pro-duty power tools, which easily impress with their top-of-the line specs. Along the way, a reviewer can forget that more accessible models can also get the job done, many quite admirably, too. In the process, someone who evaluates this equipment for a living risks becoming a tool snob. The Skil rids us of such pretensions, as it easily outclassed other inexpensive saws in our recent test. And therein hangs a lesson: A tool need not be worthy of professionals to be very good.
On the specifics, the Skil 5280 is a value-packed saw that cuts accurately and with power. We ripped and crosscut Douglas fir and sticky Hem fir framing lumber, made plunge cuts in solid lumber, and gang cuts in plywood. We cut with the blade at 90 degrees to the shoe and at 45 degrees. The saw sailed through in every case. Although we didn’t mount a pro-duty blade on it, if we had, it would only have been better.
Now would we recommend using this when building a house? Well, you could, and many a home or addition has been framed with a lesser tool. But for that work, I’d probably go pro-duty, selecting a Skilsaw, Bosch, Makita, or DeWalt. But the Skil would be ideal when you’re building a shed, erecting wood and vinyl fencing, cutting shelves, or sizing plywood sheets before you feed the pieces through a table saw.
Performance and Features
One of the most important features of any tool of this kind is a high power-to-weight ratio; that helps you get more work done with less fatigue. The 5280 weighs 8.7 pounds (a pro-duty model of this type typically weighs at least 11), and it’s equipped with a 15-amp motor, as large as you’ll find on any saw. That power and relative lack of heft make the 5280 very easy to handle when cutting framing lumber and plywood. So it’s obviously a breeze to use it for small jobs, such as cutting down a door or slicing garage shelves to length.
It’s also important that a circular saw’s shoe be an accurate reference surface. This makes for a saw that slides accurately along a fence when making rip cuts; it also makes the saw easier to use freehand in both ripping and crosscutting as you try to follow a line. The Skil succeeds admirably there because its shoe is flat, with an edge parallel to the blade, and its angle markings and depth gauge settings are all accurate. You would think that’s a given; unfortunately, not with inexpensive saws. If you’re of such a mind to use it and find it helpful, the 5280 is equipped with a laser to help guide you. We think that’s a gimmick because on most crosscuts with framing lumber, the laser won’t even point on the lumber anyway once you are a second or two into the cut. It might come in handy on a sheet of plywood, but better to learn how to point a saw and not rely on training wheels to get you through. You will find that faster and safer overall than trying to track the saw with the laser on the cut line. By the way, it's likely the laser will not be all that visible in bright sunlight anyway, especially on light materials.
Finally, all of this brings us to safety—key with any tool or machine but even more so in the case of a power saw intended for less-experienced users. The average DIYer needs all the help that he or she can get when it comes to operating one safely. The 5280 is equipped with a simple feature that Skil calls the Vari Torque clutch, a series of washers and a blade bolt all designed to allow the blade to slip a little when it encounters excessive resistance to its rotating force. By allowing for that slip instead of feeding the reaction force directly into the blade and motor, it reduces the likelihood of kickback. Simple, but like the 5280 itself, effective.
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