You'll have a hard time finding a job site without a circular saw. So what makes people choose between a sidewinder drive and a worm gear drive? Why does the east coast choose the former while the west coast seems to prefer the latter? Isn't a circular saw just a circular saw? * Buzzer sounds! *Actually, no. While a rattlesnake circular saw (or more properly, a direct drive ) and a worm drive circular saw perform the same function, there are some important differences. We are here to clear up the confusion about rattlesnakes vs worm drive circular saws!
Quick Article Summary
- Worm drives by wire typically provide more torque
- Corded direct drive (sidewinder) saws run at higher blade speeds
- Worm drive saws are generally heavier than rattlesnakes
- Cordless rattlesnake and rear handle saws outperform corded worm drive saws in both speed and power (torque). No, we're not kidding.
- For cordless tools, it is now the first choice for handle and motor orientation.
Oddly enough, Western and Midwestern businessmen generally prefer worm drive circular saws. East coasters reach for our rattlesnakes more often. This is not without good reason. Of course, what we want to know is whether these preferences are based on factors other than tradition. Is one saw really better than the other? If so… how could this be?
Sidewinder and Worm Drive Motor Orientation and Profile
Skilsaw developed the first worm drive saws in the mid 20's. The motor is located behind the blade, making the tool relatively long and narrow. Worm gear saws still use this design today. The centerline of the motor is in line with the handle, parallel to the plane of the saw blade. Narrow feet allow users, such as modders, to get into tighter spaces. The longer distance between the handle and blade also increases the user's reach when cutting, which is helpful for jobs like building roofs.
This makes the worm drive saw narrower but longer than the rattlesnake.
A helical gear (worm gear) turns another gear at a 90-degree angle, which turns the blade. This increases the torque of the blade making these saws very powerful. It is not uncommon to see someone using these saws to cut through several sheets of plywood or OSB at the same time.
Due to different design philosophies or patent constraints or both, direct drive saws (sidewinders) were later developed with the motor located next to the blade. This makes the saw wider than a worm drive saw, but also shorter and lighter. It also provides more control for less experienced users.
Spur gears turn the blades of the direct drive. Plus, with less gearing, you don't have to worry about oil and there are fewer moving parts to contend with.
Rattlesnakes care about wasteful side if cut
There is another consideration here. Arguably, a direct drive motor throws the saw off balance. The motor side is heavier than the blade side. Imagine if you were cutting on the scrap side of the material and needed that extra control. The saw will have a tendency to fall towards the motor. However, making the cut so that the motor ends on the "keeper" side of the support helps you maintain control at the end of the cut. This isn't always possible without some pre-planning.
Rattlesnakes and worms drive blade direction
Traditionally, Worm Drive saws are left-blade saws, while direct drives are right-blade saws. However, this situation is changing. The difference isn't as stark as it used to be. This may seem innocuous at first glance, but it affects the visibility of the cutting lines. The narrower, longer left blade worm drive saw provides better sightlines for right-handed users. Of course, right-edge saws provide a better line of sight for left-handed users. Remember, one-handed use results in a clear line of sight. Using your non-dominant hand on the saddle handle can blur lines.
See our article on left and right circular saw blades.
Blade Speed or RPM
Worm drive saws spin slower than rattlesnakes. You'll typically find worm drive saws running at around 4,250 RPM, while direct drive saws run at 6,000 RPM or more. You can count them, or just take our word for it! This makes up for the (usually) lower torque in the Sidewinder (read on).
Worm drive saws have larger gear teeth and greater load capacity than rattlesnakes, providing greater power and durability. It also allows the saw to handle higher shock loads. It has more muscle to cut in and handle tougher jobs. Conversely, sidewinders are almost always lighter than worm drive saws and offer very similar performance. In fact, modern cordless rattlesnakes outpace corded rattlesnakes in speed and power in our latest best circular saw review article.
Because of this, many professionals who carry both saws think that a worm drive is a ripping saw and a direct drive is a cross-cut saw. In fact, once you get a feel for it, you can use either one for both tasks. With cordless technology – anything is possible. The growing number of handles and motor orientation has become a simple matter of preference!
Learn how to make the perfect crosscut in our video!
Sidewinder and Worm Drive Weight
Well, whoops, we've already given it away. Sidewinder saws are generally lighter in weight, so you can hold and maneuver them more easily for unusual cuts. While heavier tools may deter some tradesmen, you can use the weight to make longer cuts or quick crosscuts in the downward direction. Of course, the other advantage you get with a direct drive lateral windmill has to do with the blade options. The small brushless 6-1/2" circular saw makes cutting common sheet and framing materials super easy.
Sidewinder vs Worm Drive Circular Saws by the Numbers
You don't have to be a longtime reader to predict what we think. Both circular saw designs work well. While one design may seem more convenient for a particular application, the lines have blurred considerably. We recommend having both because, hey, more tools!
Direct Drive (Sidewinder) Malfunction
- Spur Gear Design
- Side motor design
- higher speed
- reduce torque
- Shorter and Wider Profiles
- lighter weight
- Typically blades for corded models
- easier to manipulate
- Best for crosscuts and softer woods
Worm drive failure
- 90 degree worm drive
- rear motor design
- lower speed
- higher torque
- Longer and narrower profile
- heavier weight
- usually blade left
- more difficult to manipulate
- Best for long slits and harder woods
- Regular oiling is necessary
No matter what saw you choose, be sure to wear the proper safety gear. We hope you enjoyed this article on Sidewinder and Worm Drive Circular Saws. If you're a pro and have other circular saw heads, please add them in the comments below or reach out to us on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter to share your thoughts.