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Do A Lot of Cutting Through Steel? Get One of These Best Chop Saws

Sure, other tools can do it, but not nearly as well.

best chop saws

Steel is tough, and there’s no easy way to cut it. And we’ve tried with just about every tool imaginable, including circular saws, cold chisels, band saws, hack saws, torches, jig saws, and an industrial machine called a cold saw. But this test cemented in our mind that abrasive chop saws are the best tools for the job. These spark-throwing monsters are built to make short work of cutting pipe, angle, tubing, and flat stock. They don’t render cutting steel as easy as cutting wood, but they make it a lot easier than it would be otherwise. Besides, we like sparks, smoke, and the ring of freshly cut steel hitting the shop floor. Take a look below at some buying advice and things to know if you’re in the market, then keep scrolling for our evaluations of the five best.

Abrasive Cutoff Saw Basics

A cutoff saw is a pretty simple machine intended for professional and amateur welders who need to cut steel quickly and accurately. It consists of a large motor that transmits its torque through a set of gears to the abrasive wheel or disc. The head of the machine (consisting of the motor-gear assembly, the handle, and the wheel) pivots down into the cut. The metal is held in place by a vise built into the saw’s base.

The disc is quite thin and analogous to a grinding wheel, in that it wears slowly away as it cuts through the steel. This is why these saws throw such huge plumes of sparks. Speaking of which, when you set the saw up and make your first test cuts, pay attention to that spark pattern. All of these saws are equipped with an adjustable spark deflector that prevent the sparks from flying all over the place. The deflector directs the sparks down, behind the machine. If you find that a lot of the sparks are bouncing back toward you, adjust the deflector to shoot the sparks where you want them.

Buying Advice

All of the saws here have enough power to get the job done; you can buy any of them with confidence. So our advice on shopping for these saws is general. If your budget is tight, the Ridgid below would be your first choice. Next, make sure you’re comfortable with the layout. If you’re an experienced woodworker and you own a miter saw, you’re almost certainly accustomed to a cross handle, such as the one on the Dewalt. We find that handle configuration more comfortable than the old-school straight handle on some of these saws. Also, if the saw will remain in a fixed position in the shop, portability isn’t much of an issue. On the other hand, if the saw goes on and off a workbench a lot, you’ll need to look at whether it’s easy to move, which includes its weight and whether it has a top handle, which you can see on the Metabo and the Bosch. Finally, pay close attention to the vise capacity if you intend to cut wide flat stock or make deep notches. Most of the saws have more than enough capacity to handle stock under ten inches—only the Metabo can accommodate wider.

How We Tested

Our first step was to mount an industrial-grade Norton Gemini Rapid Cut abrasive wheel on each saw. It’s a good, quality wheel that gave us a solid control through which to fairly judge the other components and qualities of the saws. Next, we took a test cut through a 1⁄8-inch-wall steel pipe and, if necessary, adjusted the spark deflector. After that, we made another cut through the pipe and timed it. Finally, we chopped through more pipe, stacked steel studs, and rebar.

Along the way, we evaluated other aspects of these saws, such as how well their vises worked, how much vibration they produced, and the general quality of the machine, often referred to as fit and finish.

All of the saws did pretty well cutting metal, but we noticed some variety in ease of use. Here are our findings.

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Best Overall
DeWalt D28715

Vise capacity: 9 3⁄8 in.
Pipe-cut time: 11.14 sec

There’s a lot to like with this DeWalt, like how despite not being the test’s fastest cutter, it was the smoothest. We plunged down into the steel and moved relentlessly through until the offcut fell away. We also liked its tool-free blade changing, the only saw of the five with that feature. We also preferred the return action of the vertical spring behind the saw head. It provides a smoother return, not so much of a jerky feel as the horizontal spring on the other saws.

Best Miter Cutter
Ridgid R41422

Vise capacity: 9 3⁄4 in.
e-cut time: 10.62 sec

Having tool-free miter adjustment and an easy-to-read miter gauge may not seem like such a big deal. But if you do a lot of angle cutting, then suddenly these are crucial features. The R41422 excels there with a lever-lock miter gauge. We also liked its smartly designed spark deflector. It’s a simple chute held in place with a single Phillips head screw. Tighten the screw just enough for the chute to stay in place; thereafter, just pivot the well-shaped chute to the desired angle, so it keeps the sparks at the back of the machine where they belong. 

Fastest Saw
Milwaukee 6177-20

Vise capacity: 9 3⁄8 in.
Pipe-cut time: 9.8 sec

We’re not sure what enabled the Milwaukee to be consistently faster than the other saws. It’s not its 15-amp motor—other saws are so equipped. Our theory is that its construction is stout, complete with an old-school ball-bearing motor that runs very smoothly. In terms of its lack of vibration, it was about as good as the DeWalt. We preferred the DeWalt’s cross handle to the Milwaukee's straight cantilevered type, a decades-old design. We find the cross handle (by now standard on wood miter saws) to be more comfortable. Realizing that other people may not be so inclined, we can’t count it against this machine. It’s a sturdy metal cutter and a fast one.

Good Portability
Bosch 3814

Vise capacity: 8 3⁄4 in.
Pipe-cut time: 13 sec

This Bosch is a saw with a long and successful track record; the company has offered it for at least ten years. We think its slow-but-steady cut reflects and institutional view of putting less strain on the saw and the user–in an effort to increase the durability of both. The Bosch also has a wheel cover that removes more easily than the other saws and provides better access to the spindle bolt in the wheel’s center. When you remove the cover on the Bosch and some of the others, you wonder how a manufacturer can overlook something so basic. Although we’ve made known our dislike of the straight cantilevered handle design, we do appreciate the spacious top carrying handle that makes the Bosch the most portable saw in this test.

Big Vise
Metabo HPT CC14SFS

Vise capacity: 11 7⁄8 in.
Pipe-cut time: 10 sec

Metabo HPT’s CC14SFS is a fast cutter with the biggest vise in the test. That vise also earns extra points for the quick-lock and quick-release feature, allowing you to bring up the jaw more quickly than having to crank it through its full range of travel. Of the straight-handle saws in this test, the Metabo had the most comfortable design and the one with the best geometry to facilitate up-and-down movement. Integral with that handle is a carrying handle, somewhat like the Bosch. 

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