One of the first power tools most people buy is a circular saw. It’s the workhorse of the framing carpenter, and if you’re a DIY enthusiast, it won’t be long before you’ll find yourself needing one. Up ‘til now, for anything other than casual to medium-duty use, your only option has been a corded saw. There are cordless models available, but nothing with the cutting power—and battery life—to be considered as a worthy replacement for a corded saw. Recently, we got a big teal blue box in the mail with a product that aims to change all that – the Makita XSH01 Cordless Saw. Join us as we put the Makita’s aspirations to the test.
I’ve gone through a few circular saws over the years, from a cheapo Black & Decker (which makes some scary noises, but still works—I use it with an abrasive blade, to save wear and tear on my better saws) to the Dewalt and Ridgid saws I regularly use now. I also have a Ryobi 18V cordless saw, with a 5-½” blade, that someone gave me as part of a kit several years ago. It struggled to get through a 2X4, and it didn’t see a lot of use.
Since that was the only cordless circular saw I had any experience with, I didn’t have high expectations for the breed, and never really sought one out. I know there have been some improvements, and there are decent models available from Bosch, Dewalt, Hitachi, Milwaukee, Porter-Cable, Makita, and others. After doing a little research, it looks like some of them can do a pretty fair job of ripping and making cross cuts on plywood and dimensional lumber. Most of them are only equipped with 5-½” or 6-½” blades, though, which limits their usefulness somewhat. 18-volt batteries power the majority of them, and even though some of them are great batteries, using a high-draw tool like a circular saw will drain them down relatively quickly.
Makita wanted to produce a tool with more power and run time, while still using the popular 18V Lithium-Ion platform. (Makita offers over 70 tools that use the 18V LXT batteries). They came up with the Makita XSH01 Cordless Circular Saw, which uses two of the 18V LXT batteries to do the job (hence the “X2”), essentially making this a 36V saw. In Makita’s testing, the Makita XSH01 cut 250 2X4’s on a single charge, using their 3.0 Ah batteries. Makita says its new 4.0 Ah Lithium-Ion battery, due out in summer of 2014, will deliver even longer run time, and reach a full charge in only 40 minutes.
Here are the official specs on the Makita XSH01 Cordless Saw:
• Weight: 10.1 lbs., including batteries
• 4800 RPM no-load speed
• 2-5/8” max cutting depth at 90°
• 1-7/8″ max cutting depth at 45°
• Bevel range 0-45° and 0-50°, with positive stop at 45°
• Reinforced Magnesium base
• Blade diameter 7-¼”
• Built-in dust blower
• On-board blade wrench storage
• Electric brake
• L.E.D. indicators to monitor battery charge status and temp.
• Rubberized soft grip handles for increased comfort
The Makita XSH01 – Out Of The Box
The Makita XSH01 is sold in two versions. Already got batteries and a charger? Buy it as a bare tool, the Makita XSH01Z. Want the whole shebang? The Makita XSH01X comes with the saw and blade, two 18V LXT Lithium-Ion batteries, the DC18RC 30-minute charger, and a contractor tool bag to tote it all around in. Here’s a quick overview video from Makita:
Before you can start ripping through your stacks of lumber, you’ll first need to top off the batteries. It took a bit less than 30 minutes each to get them fully charged. While they’re charging, install the blade. It’s pretty straightforward, and the Allen wrench you use to tighten it stores onboard right next to the handle. Now just slide the batteries into place, and you’re ready to get to work!
The specs say the Makita XSH01 weighs 10.1 pounds with the batteries. Maybe that’s with batteries but without the blade; I weighed it on my trusty postal scale, and it came in at 10 lbs. 9 oz. I also weighed my Ridgid corded saw, which weighed 10 lbs. 7 oz., so they’re almost identical in weight. The saw is nicely balanced, and the rubberized handle feels comfortable in the hand. The adjustment levers for setting bevel and depth of cut are easy to get at and use, and they lock the blade solidly in place.
There’s an ambidextrous safety switch you need to press down with your thumb before the trigger will operate. At first I thought this was a pain in the butt, but after thinking about it, I’m glad it’s there. A corded saw is only live when it’s plugged in; this one is live whenever there are batteries in it. Since you always grab it by the handle to pick it up and move it, and your finger naturally falls on the trigger… ‘nuff said.
The old Ryobi cordless saw, which was admittedly a low-end model, had a start-up best described as harsh. The Makita XSH01, on the other hand, has a soft start, but gets up to speed very quickly. When you release the trigger, the brake stops the blade in just over a second, another nice safety feature. The saw also comes with an adjustable guide. It’s quick and easy to put on (or take off), and can be used on either side of the saw.
So Cut Something, Already!
Enough about what it has; let’s fire it up and see what it’s got! The target market for this saw is builders, remodelers, roofers, concrete formers, and serious DIYers. They all want a saw that can handle crosscuts and ripping of dimensional lumber and plywood, so I figured that would be a good way to test it out. I set up a pair of sawhorses in the driveway, rounded up some 2X4’s and an old piece of ¾” plywood, and prepared to make some sawdust.
To warm the Makita SXH01 up, I scribed a line down the length of an 8’ 2X4. I wanted to see how it would perform making a long cut, while seeing how well it followed the marked line. The result? Good and good; the saw stayed dead-on the line, using the far right edge of the scale at the front of the saw as a guide. It ripped the entire eight-foot length without bogging down or stalling, and the blower did a great job of keeping the line visible. Result: One ripped stud (a description often applied to me…or perhaps not).
Much of a circular saw’s life is spent making cross cuts in dimensional lumber. (No one said it was exciting being a circular saw). To get the most mileage out of my 2X4’s, I attached the guide to the saw to the right of the blade, set to cut off 1” chunks. Without even giving the poor Makita a ten-minute break, I proceeded to whack chunks off the 2X4, moving steadily down the length, until there were only about 4” left. At that point, because I like having all my fingers, and I don’t like kickback, I called that stud DONE. On a 96” stud, that would have made roughly 90 cuts, by my math. The saw made them all smoothly, no bogging down or stalling.
To change things up, I grabbed a leftover four-foot piece of ¾” plywood. It easily zipped right through it. Then it was back to the 1” crosscuts. I worked my way through another 8’ 2X4, and got almost all the way through it before the batteries decided it was break time.
Unlike regular Ni-Cad batteries, the circuitry in higher-end Lithium-Ion batteries protects the motor and the battery by shutting it down if it gets too hot, or drained to a certain extent. So the saw either works or it doesn’t. In this case, the batteries were done; the proof was in the illuminated “batteries are done” indicator. The temperature was fine, even though the saw had been cutting almost continuously the entire time. Neither the saw motor nor the batteries felt overly warm.
Should You Cut The Cord?
So how much cutting did the Makita SXH01 get done? Makita said they got 250 cuts on a charge in their testing. I got roughly 180 crosscuts, plus a 4’ long rip in a sheet of ¾” plywood, and the full length of an 8’ 2X4. It also made three cuts in a new 2X4 to top my sawhorses. That’s a pretty fair amount of cutting, and it was done in a short time span, giving the saw no rest or cool-down time. On a normal job site, that’s probably going to get you through the day. On a really busy site, it should at least get you to lunch time, at which time you can give those batteries some fresh juice. When the new 4.0 Ah batteries arrive this summer, you’ll have no excuse to take a break!
How does the Makita XSH01 stack up against the competition, and is there room for improvement? The Makita XSH01 is definitely a big step ahead in cordless saw technology. It looks and feels like a well-made tool, and should be beefy enough to stand up to job site use. It’s ruggedly built, cuts comparably to a corded saw, and seems capable of handling any cutting task you’d normally encounter. Its only drawback, as with all cordless tools, is that without charged batteries it’s just a ten-pound doorstop. Looking at what the Makita XSH01 accomplished before quitting, though, that normally won’t be an issue. If this is to be the primary saw on a very busy work site, though, an extra set of batteries would be a good investment.
With the trend toward brushless technology, it seems like this would have been an ideal candidate for Makita’s line of LXT Brushless tools; 36 volts + a brushless motor: Wow! Milwaukee recently released its M18 Fuel brushless circular saw, with a 4.0 Ah battery. The kit price for that saw, which only has a 6-½” blade, is $399, with two batteries, charger and contractor bag, so the Makita is right in the ballpark there. I haven’t personally had a chance to test that saw, so I can’t make a direct heads-up comparison. However, Marc reviewed the Milwaukee M18 Fuel Circular Saw and had high praise for its brushless performance.
Something Makita may want to consider as it expands its line of X2 dual-battery tools: Contractors using these tools in the field aren’t going to like an hour of down time while they consecutively charge the two batteries. A dual-port, simultaneous charger would be a very useful addition to their lineup, allowing a complete recharge during a 30-minute lunch break. Thus far, all the multi-port chargers we’ve seen have been sequential, and we believe that’s mainly an engineering issue. Still, if there was ever a good candidate for simultaneous charging, it would be for a tool that uses two batteries. In the meantime, if speedy simultaneous charging is vital for you, you could buy a second charger and just plug them both in (they sell for around $45).
Win it FREE!
If you’re lucky enough to be reading this review in April, 2014, you have a shot at winning this great tool for FREE in our April Free Stuff Giveaway!
Where to Buy
According to Makita’s communications manager, this tool just launched (as of early April 2014) and it is still rolling out to shelves, both on the street and online. Home Depot is receiving it now, and it’s currently listed on Amazon. Amazon’s current price for the bare tool Makita XSH01Z is $219, and the Makita XSH01X full kit is listed at $445. Other authorized Makita dealers will follow. Get one, and make your own sawdust!