Worm Drive vs. Sidewinder Circular Saws: Advantages, Differences, & More

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Any woodworker knows how important a circular saw is in a workshop, but not everyone can discern the difference between sidewinder and worm drive circular saws. And while some say it’s just a regional preference, the reality is these tools carry different capacities. 

In this detailed comparison of worm drive vs. sidewinder saws, I’ll break down their primary functions to help you figure out which circular saw is suited for your projects.

A Quick History of Worm Drive and Sidewinder Circular Saws

Back in 1924, a tool company called Skilsaw popularized the usage of worm drive saws. These circular power saws have gained massive attention on the West Coast and Midwest, acquiring the famous moniker of “The Saw That Built America.”

Now, the modern successor of the worm drive saw called Model 77. Given that its design extends the user’s reach, it’s no wonder that this circular saw is still sought after by professional carpenters and DIYers. 

Meanwhile, sidewinder saws are preferred by workshop owners on the East Coast. After worm drive saws were introduced to the public, Arthur N. Emmons invented sidewinder models in 1928. 

Skilsaw worm drive
These tools are so standard that their design is the first thing you’ll think of when you hear the word circular saw. Nowadays, in industry terms, it’s more commonly referred to as a direct drive saw instead of a sidewinder.
The name stems from its unique right-angled blade position, a detail I’ll discuss in its features below.

Overview of Features

FeaturesSidewinderWorm Drive
MotorRight-angle or side of the bladeBehind the unit’s blade
Saw Blade OrientationBlade-rightBlade-left
WeightUp to 10 lbsUp to 16 lbs
RPMs (Speed)Up to 6000 RPMUp to 4500 RPM
Maintenance RequirementNo maintenance requirements.Regular oil change.

How Do Worm Drive and Sidewinder Saws Work?

The operation of these circular saws varies mainly due to motor placement and the gear components.

sidewinder circular saw

Sidewinder saws carry spur gear options, which means that the blade spins fast on the scale of 6000 RPMs. And because of the blade-right and motor orientation, these direct drive saws have a lighter weight that offers more control for users. 

Contrastingly, a worm drive circular saw is equipped with a gear of the same name (also referred to as the spiral gear). It allows the power transfer from the unit’s blade to the two gears as they meet at a 90-degree angle. 

Thanks to this worm gear, your worm drive saw can produce more torque than a sidewinder circular saw. On top of that, it’s designed with larger gear teeth and more load-carrying capacity resulting in its heavier construction. 

Comparing the Features of Sidewinder and Worm Drive Circular Saws

Motor Placement

When you look at these tools side by side, it’s easy to figure out that their main difference is motor placement. 

In a worm drive saw, you’ll see the motor located in the saw’s rear or behind the blade. And if you look at the sidewinder, the motor is on the right side. 

motor of a sidewinder circular saw

The location of the sidewinder’s motor will make it hard for the user to see the cut line, unlike when using a worm drive saw. This placement will also put a safe distance between your hands and the unit’s blade. 

Waste Side

When cutting materials, the other side of the measured area you’re not going to use is called the waste side. Some may think it’s not a part of the consideration, but this is where your sidewinder’s motor will be resting while doing cross cuts. 

The only problem with using sidewinders for this chainsaw cutting technique is the fact that it will hinder your line of sight because of its design. Meanwhile, you wouldn’t encounter this issue for worm drive saws. 

Drive Blade

Traditionally, worm drives were categorized as blade-left saws and sidewinders as blade-right. But in my recent exploration of the market, I’ve noticed that both sidewinder and worm drive saws are now available in both blade orientations.

operating a cordless circular saw

So if you’re a right-handed user, I recommend buying a saw with a drive blade on the left side. It’ll give you a better sight of the cut lines and extra length. For left-handed people, blade-right saws are the better options. 


Worm drive saws have a handle design that extends to the user, making them capable of reaching a longer distance. Between the two saws, the sidewinder has an easier handle to grip because it’s closer to the blade. 

Due to its compact and lighter design, it can fit more confined spaces, and its weight is highly suitable for a less experienced user.


As previously mentioned, worm drive includes higher load capacity and massive gear teeth. So despite having the same function, it’s not an overstatement to say that worm drive is more powerful. 

person operating a worm drive saw

However, this doesn’t imply that a sidewinder doesn’t have enough power to accomplish typical tasks on the job site. 


The size of your saw’s teeth also signifies if it has more power to tackle tough materials, and that’s what worm drive has. On the contrary, sidewinders are only equipped with average-sized teeth designs, which are more suitable for cutting softer materials.  


The overall weight of your tool indirectly affects its speed. Because of this, it’s not surprising that the much lighter sidewinder can operate up to 6000 RPM while worm drive models only run around 4250 RPM [1]

However, it’s important to note that it can result in lower torque. 

Drive Torque

At first glance, any professional user can tell that worm drives offer higher torque because of their heavier weight, higher carrying capacity, and bigger gear teeth. Some would even say that this saw has more durability to make plunge cuts and execute tough tasks. 

adjusting circular saw blade depth

But lighter weight doesn’t necessarily translate to reduced torque. If you look into the latest cordless sidewinders on the market like I did, their drive torque is on par with other options.

Weight and Control

As I mentioned earlier, a sidewinder saw is generally lighter than a worm drive. This makes it more maneuverable, especially for intricate and complex cuts. Another advantage of a more compact saw is its capability to effortlessly cut through standard sheet goods and framing materials.

On the other hand, the heavier saw will come handier if you need to do longer cuts or downward crosscuts.  


Depending on the model you purchased, you may have to lubricate the worm drive saw with oil for maintenance. Although, there are units with closed systems that wouldn’t require such a process. 

Skil saw worm drive

Meanwhile, sidewinders wouldn’t need this service as they’re also closed systems. 

Pros and Cons of Each Saw

Worm Drive

If you need a saw that cuts and frames thick sheets of plywood, you can rely on the power and productivity of a worm drive tool. It’s also specifically designed so that it won’t hinder material visibility and help you can avoid accidents or inaccurate cuts. 

Its disadvantages will always be along the lines of its heavier weight. Not all tasks require massive power, so you may want to pass on this for easy tasks that need mobility. It also costs more than other alternatives. 


On the other hand, many prefer sidewinders due to their compact and lightweight design. This makes them more maneuverable and beginner-friendly. Plus, they often come with a more attractive price tag.

sidewinder circular saw on wooden surface

The only downside of this saw is its lack of power. If you’re planning to do some heavy-duty cutting that takes hours to complete, we don’t recommend using this option.

Which Circular Saw Should I Choose?

When weighing the two options, I’d recommend thinking about the tasks you’ll be tackling. For jobs that involve overhead work, a lighter unit like the sidewinder might be your best bet. It’s also a solid choice for straightforward woodworking tasks.

On the other hand, if you want to practice professional trade, the heavier worm drive option should be your choice. It will also be more helpful for tasks like framing. 


Following this quick sidewinder vs. worm drive rundown, I hope you have a clearer understanding of the distinctions between these tools. After all, mastering your craft often comes down to knowing your tools inside and out.

If you’re looking to broaden your DIY horizons, I’d recommend diving into projects where you can put these tools to good use.

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Robert Johnson is a passionate furniture maker & carpenter, sought after for his knowledge on the craft.
You’ve probably seen his down-to-earth wisdom in USA Today, Bobvila, Family Handyman, and The Spruce, where he has shared commentary and guidance on various woodworking topics.

Robert is the brain behind Sawinery, where he aims to share tips, tricks, and a passion for all things carpentry.

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