Review By Dean Bielanowski  Makita Website - http://www.makita.com


Makita BSS611 18 Volt
Lithium-Ion Circular Saw

 Review

By Dean Bielanowski

Reviewed July 22nd 2010

Cordless power tools are certainly more commonplace around jobsites and in home workshops these days, with technology now at a level where batteries can supply sufficient and longer lasting power to many more tools that could not effectively run off battery power previously. Drills have long been a popular cordless tool, but items like circular saws, grinders or reciprocating saws have only, in more recent times, become prevalent.

There is good reason for going cordless on many common power tools. Obviously there are no cords to deal with, which take time to set-up and no need for live circuits on new or remote jobsites. You can grab a tool and go, assuming of course, that you have already dealt with the compromise of cordless tools, which is ensuring your battery or batteries have been fully charged before you go.

Regular readers will know that previously I have used the Ryobi One+ system of cordless tools (one 18v battery designed to be used in many different cordless tools). I still use several tools from that One+ line, but have also recently started using tools from the Makita LXT line, which too uses one 18v battery for a range of cordless tools, however, this line uses new Lithium Ion batteries. (Ryobi too now have lithium ion batteries but the original One+ system used NiCads).

I have been using this Makita BSS611 saw for about 8 months now, and after finding it useful and handy, I thought I might give it a full review for the good readers of this website :)

Makita BSS611 Cordless Circular Saw
As mentioned above, this tool forms part of Makita's LXT Lithium Ion cordless tool line (35+ bare tools available). It uses the 18v Lithium Ion batteries which have codes of BL1815 (1.5Ah Li-Ion battery) and the larger capacity BL1830 (3.0Ah Li-Ion battery). I purchased this saw as a "Bare Tool" package, which means you get the circular saw and nothing else (apart from the box and manuals etc). Bare tools assume you already have compatible batteries and a charger, and of course I did have these from the other Makita Li-Ion tools I own, most notably the BDF452HW cordless drill/driver, which still works great and is still my favorite 18v cordless drill (review available on this site).

Let's look at the features and design.

Firstly, the handle is quite comfortable with rubber grips on the main handle and front auxiliary handle. The handle shape and design fits nicely in the hand and with the battery attached it is relatively well  balanced forward and back. There is a forward weight/tilt bias when holding the saw by the main handle, and this is helpful when using the tool. It helps keep the tool flat and level and resists backward tilt in use. When you grip the main handle and the front handle with your other hand, the tool is pretty well balanced front to back.

You may notice that this saw has a left-facing blade design. This is different to many corded saws that have a right-facing design (when looked at from the rear of the saw). To me this doesn't make a lot of difference, but if you are familiar with using corded saws, the left-hand blade design may take a little getting used to initially. However, being a right-hander, I actually find the left-hand blade design better in one aspect and this is simply because it allows you to see the blade and front cutting area much easier than a conventional right-hand blade design (where you may have to lean over the saw to see the blade). But for cases where you are cutting off small pieces on the right side of a board or piece of lumber, you then have the problem of having only the smaller edge of the base plate resting on the non-cutoff side of the material, and the majority of the weight of the saw on the cutoff side. Of course this can be changed if you cut from the left-hand end of the piece instead of the right, but that too introduces the same issues as a right-hand saw with regard to seeing of the blade and possible position of guide fences and the like, depending of course on where you stand. Horses for courses here I guess. Simply put, whether left-handed or right-handed in design, there will always be situations where the saw is not ideal, so you just deal with these and move on. It's no big problem really and you could argue until the cows come home about which is better. So let's leave it at that and move on...

It is important to note that whenever the battery is attached to the saw, that the saw is effectively "live". So you should always remove the battery when adjusting the saw or when it is not being used. There is a trigger release safety switch located above the trigger which needs to be pushed down before the trigger can be engaged. This is a good and necessary safety feature to prevent accidental starting of the saw but be sure to engage safe work practices when using any saw or cutting tool and in this case, remove the battery before making any adjustments where your hands are near the blade area. Needless to say, safety glasses and earmuffs should be used when operating the saw, and respiratory protection from wood dust is recommended as well.

The BSS611 utilises a 6 1/2" (165mm) blade and a Makita 16 tooth TCT blade is supplied and pre-fitted to the tool. Changing blades is aided by the spindle lock on the front side of the motor body. The saw offers a maximum cutting depth of 2-1/4" (57mm). This will handle most common construction and carpentry cutting tasks but may not be suitable for landscaping timber work where thicker materials are commonly used. The saw has enough power to cut at full depth in most woods, but this may result in excessive battery drain if you are making full depth cuts all the time, and hence a larger capacity corded saw might be more practical in these instances. At the 45 degree bevel setting the saw can cut 1-9/16" (40mm) thick material and offers a 50 degree bevel setting too with a depth of cut capacity of 1-7/16" (36mm). The retracting saw guard offers a nice feature with a depth gauge molded into the design. This allows you to quickly measure how far the blade is extending beyond the base of the saw, so if you are cutting say 1" material, just raise/lower the saw as required until the 1" marking on the retractable blade guard is level with the bottom of the base plate. It is actually a good idea to lower it a little further than the marking I have found to make sure the blade does cut all the way through, and to ensure a little more blade is protruding through the cut. The blade height adjustment lever is on the right of the saw (when viewed from rear) behind the motor. A good indicator of saw design is to check any lateral flex of the motor body against the base at different blade adjustment heights, which could affect angle accuracy in the bevel range. On the BSS611 the height adjustment bracket is composed of quite thick steel for a saw of this size, and as such there is virtually no measurable lateral movement... not enough to pose any problems with accuracy it would seem anyway.

Bevel adjustment is done at the front of the saw and a nice lever lock is implemented there too. Out of the box, the zero bevel setting was accurate, with blade measuring up square against the bottom of the base plate. The BS611 can make bevel cuts up to 50 degrees, and it offers a basic measurement scale in 5 degree increments with common angles marked at 15, 30, and 45 degrees. Additional marks are at 22.5 and 50 degrees for convenience. I checked the common angles with reliable squares and angle measuring devices and for the most part they are accurate to within a degree or two, or as accurate as the person visually setting the marker to the angle lines on the scale can be. If you need high accuracy, implement an additional measuring device of some sort to ensure greater precision.

In front of the bevel adjustment on the front top surface of the base plate is an offset measure scale. This reaches to 3 inches to the right of the blade, and a bit over 1/2" on the left side. There are notches in the front of the blade to indicate to cutting line of the blade, and surprisingly, these are very accurate. Often I find these guides of little use on many saws because they are not accurately positioned and are out enough to not rely on them, but on the BSS611, at least on my saw, it is dead on and I can rely on it to follow a line accurately without constant need to sight the blade cutting area. There is also a notch for the blade cutting line when it is tilted to 45 degrees, and this too is accurate. Not as precise as the 0 degree setting, but good enough for any rough bevel cutting which, of course, is really the only type of bevel cutting you should do with a handheld circular saw. If you need high-accuracy bevel cuts with the cleanest finish, a miter saw or table saw is certainly a better option in most cases.

There is also provision for a guide fence at the front of the saw, with one spring-loaded locking nut to secure it in place. Fences are handy to cut parallel lines to an edge or for cutting strips of wood to a certain thickness or width.

The base itself is machined for a very nice and flat finish on the bottom, and its heavier gauge makes it very rigid and less prone to flex. In fact, it would be very difficult to flex or distort the base plate shape during normal use. Despite the left side of the base being only about 1/2" wide, it is still rigid on that side and does the job nicely as a support platform.

As mentioned above, the retractable blade cover has a molded depth guide and retracts smoothly and readily. The spring is not too tight to cause issues but flicks back nicely after a cut to ensure the majority of the blade is not exposed to the user as the cut is finished or as the saw is powered down. The top blade cover housing offers a small dust port that is oddly shaped. Apparently you can get a Makita dust connector to fit this port but one didn't come with my "bare tool". It is probably an optional accessory. You would definitely need this attachment to hook up a collection hose because making one yourself to fit would be no easy task. While you see some dust being ejected during a cut via this port, a greater amount isn't it seems and hence the port itself, like many on circular saws, is not overly efficient. Hook up of a dust vac with good suction may allow better directional airflow to the port, but since I don't have the dust port attachment, or tried it, I wont comment or judge that aspect further.

The motor casing is small and slimline which helps reduce overall tool size and weight. The tool weighs in at 6.9 lbs (3.1 kg) and the 18v powered high-torque motor spins the blade at 3,700 RPM. Just make sure any replacement 6-1/2" blades you buy can spin at 3,700 RPM safely. This shouldn't be a major problem as most quality blades can spin safely at up to 5000-6000 RPM. You can use another brand of blade of course as long as it is 6-1/2" in diameter and has a 5/8" arbor. Smaller diameter blades can be used (will affect depth of cut capacity of course), but certainly not larger ones (they will either not fit or pose greater risk of blade striking blade housings of guards. The blade supplied is a 16 tooth blade which suits the saw quite well, but a 20 or 24 tooth blade will give you better crosscut quality. The 16 tooth blade is good for rip cuts and may help remove material better from a kerf than a larger tooth count blade. I have used a 24 tooth blade on this saw and it worked just as well in terms of power and cutting performance. Usual blade tooth count guides apply here. That is, for rip cuts, blades with fewer teeth are generally better, and for crosscuts, blades with more teeth will give a cleaner cut.  

There is an integrated "dust blower" which helps remove dust from the front of the saw around where the blade cuts, so you can freely see your cutting line or the front of the blade. A small port from the motor casing supplies this air flow which is directed out the front of the saw. Handy feature that is not easily visible, but you can certainly feel the air flow if you hold your hand (carefully) in front of the base plate.

There is no blade brake on this model saw, but in my opinion it doesn't really need one. The blade comes to a complete stop approximately 1-1/4 (1.25) seconds after you release the trigger.

The battery slides onto the rear of the tool quickly and easily. I would recommend the larger BL1830 3.0Ah 18v batteries for use with this saw. They are slightly heavier, but being Lithium Ion, they are much lighter than comparable NiCads that's for sure. The smaller BL1815 will also work but you wont get as many cuts with it. In theory, you would get half as many cuts going off paper specs alone.

Testing and Results
So after reading the last paragraph, you are probably wondering just how many cuts can you do with this saw with a fully charged BL1830 battery? Well, the number will depend on many factors of course (material you are cutting, material size or thickness, blade type, length of each cut, etc etc). What I can tell you however is that a little while ago, I was testing this saw against several others for an article I did for a woodworking magazine. I set up a test to crosscut 75mm x 35mm pine framing studs. I made 5 crosscuts through the material, one cut after the other, then sat the saw down while I did the same for the other 3 saws tested. This somewhat simulated "on and off" use I guess you could say. I kept making cuts until the saw stalled during a cut because of low battery. The result was that I was able to make 138 crosscuts on a fully charged BL1830 battery, which was quite good actually. I was expecting less. For the record, the winner from the other saws was a Milwaukee model, however, it was a 28 volt model so its not a fair comparison. It cut 160-odd pieces. The more direct competitors with similar specs were a Hitachi model and a Metabo model. The Makita cut roughly the same amount as the Hitachi, while the Metabo cut about 10% less.

So use the above results as a guide. I was quite happy with the cut test results and felt the saw delivered quite a good number of cuts that would likely see most people out the day on a regular construction-type project. If you needed to make more cuts, you could of course just bring along a second or third battery and you will be set but for most a single battery will certainly do the job. I do recommend having a second battery on hand though, and many people who own tools from the line will have a second cell, basically because all the tools use the same cell and most often you need to use more than one tool type for a project. A second or third battery makes the job faster and no need to constantly switch cells between tools.

The Makita DC18RA charger will fully recharge a flat 3.0Ah Li-Ion battery in around 45 minutes, so down-time is minimal, and not an issue at all if you have more than one cell on hand (assuming you can use your charger to recharge the batteries before the next day).

I have also been able to cut all types of materials with this saw. In fact it gets used most to cut down 3/4" plywood and chipboard sheets to make them more manageable on the table saw. It also goes with me on any project away from the workshop. You never know when you might need to make that cut or cuts that are perfectly suited to a circular saw, and having it on hand and ready to go with just the addition of a battery is a good position to be in.

In conclusion, I fully recommend the BSS611 saw. It performs very well, cuts smoothly and has a good amount of power to tackle just about all tasks it is designed for. I was skeptical at first as to the effectiveness of a cordless circular saw, but now I reach for this saw very often before I will go looking for my corded saw when I know the cutting tasks will not require a big chunk of metal attached to a "warm chain" (that's my new term for a power cord these days).

Like the Ryobi One+ system, investing in this saw perhaps means an investment in the Makita LXT system of tools, but if you are buying this as a "bare tool" then its most likely you already are invested in the LXT line, and this saw certainly is a nice one to add to your LXT collection. If you are not invested in the system, this tool makes a nice start to your new collection, but you will need to buy batteries and charger separately as it is hard to find the BSS611 in its own kit. I am not sure if you can buy it in kit form on its own in fact. You can get the BSS610 (prior model) as a kit though. Most often the BSS611 comes as part of a kit with other tools included.

Priced at around US$75 for the bare tool option, the BSS611 offers convenience and value for money. It may not be the right tool for the heavier cutting tasks, but it certainly is great for everything else.

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Makita BSS611 Photos
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The Makita BSS611 without batter


Front view note the relatively small motor profile and size of the tool making it light weight.

 


Trigger, trigger release and front auxiliary handle


The back end with battery mount.


Bevel adjustment is accurate, and front plate measure scale and cut line indicator notches are handy.


Set cutting depth by using the scale on the lower blade guard!


The BSS611 with BL1830 battery attached


The BL1830 3.0Ah battery provides around 130-140 cuts in pine framing studs per charge.

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