Toolmakers have been actively engineering their latest lineups to take on the challenge of making professional power tools more comfortable without sacrificing productivity. I recently tested two new examples from Makita, which sent me a 36-volt cordless circular saw and 1-9/16-in. corded rotary hammer so I could learn firsthand how well they balance ergonomics and speed.

More cordless circular saws are now available in high-voltage variants that allow workers to cut lumber with roughly the same speed and torque as a corded saw; however, few use a full-size, 7-1/4-in.-dia blade. DeWalt's 36-volt saw is one, but it requires stepping up to a 36-volt battery that is compatible with only certain tools and chargers.

Makita takes a different path to power on its new XSH01X circular saw. Instead of using one 36-volt battery, Makita's side-motor saw accepts two 18-volt lithium-ion batteries. This configuration allows workers to mix and match between a wider range of tools and chargers. According to the firm, the saw makes an average of 250 crosscuts in 2x4 lumber on each charge.

Last month, I brought the saw to Midwest Constructors' shop in Indianapolis, where we took turns cutting and ripping wood. We agreed the 4,800-rpm motor was sufficiently powered and the batteries provided ample run time. The motor's "soft start" feature, which takes a second to rev up the blade, helps prevent kickback but takes some getting used to.

At 10.1 lb, the saw weighed the same as its corded sibling and felt well- balanced, with the rearward batteries ballasting the motor. But during operation, the extra weight in the back made it trickier to keep the saw firmly planted on the work surface as we headed into each cut. Once the blade bit in, it stayed right on our pencil lines. The saw easily converts for beveling and cuts deeper than its corded cousin, up to 2-5/8-in. at 90°.

A center Allen bolt unscrews to change blades, but the small wrench that Makita includes with the tool is bound to get misplaced during its first shift. Despite these minor details, we decided the dual-battery concept was well worth considering for its versatility. Priced at $429 for a kit that includes the saw, two batteries and a charger, Makita's unit is about $60 more than the DeWalt model. If you already have an ample supply of Makita 18-volt LXT batteries, you can pick up just the saw for about $229.

Don’t Push It

Makita's new HR4013C rotary hammer quickly drives the point home that you need to let the tool do the work. We found this hammer, equipped with anti-vibration technology, to be far more productive the less we pushed on it. When drilling and chipping vigorously into concrete, we lost time and wore ourselves out faster. In Europe, where tool-vibration exposure is heavily regulated, this tool carries an 8-hour rating, Makita says.

In addition to its easy-to-grip trigger and wrist-saving clutch, the hammer includes a handy on-off button for constant chipping. An optional dust-extraction kit is a must for clean-room environments, but contractors may find it complicated to assemble. A separate carrying case helps keep these parts from getting lost.

Priced competitively at $599, the tool drills up to 1-9/16-in.-dia holes and accepts only newer SDS-Max-style bits, which can be found at specialty supply shops.