Aluminum or Magnesium Shoe
Steel shoes are common on less expensive saws, and they have a few downsides. First, they can bend if you drop the saw. And a bent shoe can cause your saw to cut poorly. Also, the rolled edge on a steel shoe can be a problem if you're using a thin straightedge like a rafter square for a saw guide. The saw can slip over the top of the guide and ruin the cut. We prefer aluminum or magnesium shoes with crisp, square edges. The more expensive saws in this group all have excellent shoes.
Extra Bevel Capacity
With the exception of the Black & Decker, all of these saws cut bevels beyond 45 degrees. It's rare that you would need to cut such steep bevels unless you built a lot of hand-framed roofs. But it's a nice feature to have. Many of the saws have included detents, or stops, for common angles like 22-1/2 and 45 degrees. On some saws these features actually get in the way of normal bevel setting. But Makita has what we think is the perfect system. You can set a positive stop by rotating the knob to either 22-1/2 or 45 degrees. Otherwise, there are no detents to interfere with the smooth operation of the bevel adjustment.
Easy Depth Adjustment
Changing the depth of cut on a circular saw requires you to loosen a lever and move the shoe up or down. There are two depth-adjusting features worth comparing in this group of saws. First, some saws have what we're calling an “outboard” lever; that is, the lever is located to the left of the handle where it's more accessible. We like this feature. Also, while most of the saws have some type of cutting-depth scale, the Bosch, Craftsman, Makita, Ridgid and Skil saws have exceptional scales that are easy to read. Bosch has gone one step further and included detents at common depth settings, making it quick and easy to go from cutting a 2x4 to cutting 1/2-in. plywood while maintaining the perfect blade depth.