How to use a circular saw to cut wood | Tips Tricks
If you’ve ever heard the screeching, buzzing sounds of someone using a circular saw and it gave you an uncomfortable feeling, you’re not alone.
It’s a scary tool when you don’t know how to use it.
A while ago, I built new storage shelves for my basement using some wood and my circular saw. These shelves needed a huge amount of wood pieces and my circular saw quickly cut through the lumber.
It’s tools like these that make every home project I do possible. And would you believe there was a point, not too long ago, when I had no clue how to use this saw?
Let’s teach you what it’s all about and how to use a circular saw properly.
Then, the next time you hear those loud sounds, you’ll be the one using it to prep for your big project!
Disclosure: This post contains some affiliate links or referral links for your convenience. It is a way for this site to earn advertising commissions by advertising or linking to certain products and/or services, click here to read my full disclosure policy.
What is a circular saw?
A circular saw is a power saw that cuts materials with a rotating blade.
The most common function is to make straight cuts (crosscut) but it can also be used to make miter cuts, bevel cuts, and rip cuts.
- Crosscut – cuts across the grain of the wood, or in other words, to make a board shorter
- Rip cut – a cut made along the length of a board, normally used when cutting plywood
- Miter cut – cut that is made diagonally across the grain of the wood, at an angle
- Bevel cut – cuts that are made with saw blade angled to create a sloped edge
The circular saw is one of the first power tools people buy because it’s versatile and useful in many projects.
WHY DO I NEED A CIRCULAR SAW?
One of the biggest benefits of a circular saw is that it is completely portable (has no heavy base like a miter or table saw).
It can cut wood, masonry, plastic, or metal, depending on the blade you are using. And it can be either hand-held or mounted to a machine/table.
Besides a drill, this is probably the most used tool a DIYer can have. It is like a handheld version of a miter or table saw and just as powerful.
The circular saw has many features (like a laser line, LED lights, corded or cordless) but the basic 7 1/4″ saw will do the job. This will allow you to cut material at a maximum depth of about 2-½”. One of the biggest decisions is the blade that you are using. Make sure you are using the right blade for your project.
Break down of a circular saw
Let’s look at the various parts of the circular saw. Please note that the components might not look the same or be positioned differently on your saw but the functions are the same.
Power: Circular saws are either corded and cordless. The saw I have is corded. A cordless saw would use a battery just like the cordless drill.
Blade: The blade of the saw is normally why most people are apprehensive about using circular saws but I am going to walk you through the safety tips to eliminate those fears.
Blade Guards: These two components protect you from the blade. The first one is the upper guard and the second is the lower guard. Both of these fit snugly over the blade to cover it to protect you from accidentally contacting the blade.
The lower guard has a retractable lever that is designed to move up while you’re cutting but quickly covers the blade when you’re done.
Plate: The baseplate, or shoe, surrounds the saw on each side. This is what slides over the surface of the material you will be cutting. It’s designed to keep the saw steady and level but also act as a guide while cutting.
Bevel Adjustment: You will also notice the lever at the front of the saw. This is the bevel adjustment that changes the angle of the cut. Most saws go from 0 degrees up to 45 degrees.
Height Adjustment: The last lever on the saw is on the back. This lever is the height adjustment to change the depth of the blade to the baseplate.
Handle: On the top of the saw, there are two handles: one toward the back of the saw and the other one at the front. You use these to hold the saw while cutting.
Trigger: Under the handle in the back, you will find the trigger. Once the tool has power connected to it, you can start the saw by pressing the trigger and the blade will begin spinning.
Blade Lock: The blade lock is an important safety tool that comes into play when you are changing out your saw blade. This will need to be engaged before you remove the blade.
Those are the basic components of the circular saw. Get to know your saw and be sure to read the manufacturer’s instructions to show you where each component is.
Let’s talk about the safety tips that you need to follow every time you use the circular saw.
- Always wear safety glasses. This is to protect your eyes from flying debris while you’re using power tools.
- Wear a respirator or dust mask because you will be exposed to a large amount of dust.
- Use earplugs or noise reducing headphones to protect your hearing.
- Always unplug the saw when it’s not in use.
- Keep the power cord away from the blade’s path while cutting.
- Keep both hands on the saw: one on the trigger handle and the other on the front knob handle. This will keep your hands away from the blade whenever it is in motion.
- Make sure you use the correct blade for the material you are cutting. You wouldn’t want to use a wood blade to cut metal.
- Do NOT pull the saw out of the wood while the blade is still spinning. Switch off the saw and slowly lift it up.
- Position your body slightly to the side so you are not directly behind the saw. This is so you are not in the path if the saw kicks back the wood (don’t worry – we will discuss that later in the guide).
How to use the saw
Let’s now break down the steps you would take to actually use the saw.
- First, determine what cut you will be making: crosscut, miter, or rip cut.
- From there, adjust the blade height.
- To do this, place the unpowered saw onto the material you will be cutting.
- Pull the lower guard lever so that the saw can sit flush at the edge of the material
- Release the height adjustment lever and adjust the blade so that it is about a ⅛ to ¼ of an inch below the material. This is to help the blade cut more efficiently but it’s also for safety.
- Once the depth is set, lock the lever into place.
- You can use a square or piece of scrap board clamped to the material so all you have to do is slide the saw next to the item to make your cut.
- You can use an accessory, like this guide to make the cut.
- Or you can use the ruler on your saw’s baseplate.
What is kickback?
Kickback is when wood, suddenly and without warning, is thrown back toward the operator. Sounds scary? Kickback can happen with a lot of power tools but don’t worry, we are going to explain why it happens and how you can prevent it.
The main reason for a circular saw to kickback is because the blade is binding (getting stuck in the material) or it stalls (stops spinning). And this happens for two reasons:
- Not cutting straight – If you are freehanding the cut, without a guide, you can stray from the straight line you intended to cut. This will cause the front of the blade to be out of line with the back, which then seizes the blade or binds it, causing the blade to stop suddenly.
- Not supporting the material correctly – If the material is not supported correctly, the blade can be pinched, causing the saw to kickback. Plus, it can splinter the wood you are cutting.
Now that you know why it happens, let’s show you how to properly support the material to prevent kickback.
SET THE BLADE DEPTH TO ALMOST CLEAR THE WOOD –
Adjust the blade so that the blade is about 1/8“ to 1/4″ below the board. This will help the blade to cut more efficiently and it’s safer.
When the blade is too deep, it is more dangerous because more of the blade is exposed while cutting. Then it is more likely to bind and kick back.
ALLOW THE CUT OFF PIECE TO FALL AWAY –
If you are cutting 2×4 or material like that, do NOT support both ends of the board and cut in the middle. As you near the end of the cut, the board bows downward, pinching the blade and causing the saw /or board to kick back.
- SIDE NOTE: The falling piece of wood can take a sliver of wood with it. For a nicer cut, support the board continuously; see below for details.
The picture ABOVE is how to cut the material the wrong way; the one BELOW is the correct way
When cutting with a circular saw, make sure that the larger part of the baseplate is resting on the supported side, so you allow the material to fall away, like the image above.
SUPPORT THE WOOD FOR A NICER CUT –
If you want a cleaner cut or you are cutting a sheet of plywood, support the wood the entire length, then make a crosscut against the wood.
USE A GUIDE –
This is my favorite way to use a circular saw. You can purchase a circular saw guide (like the Rip-Cut) or you can make your own guide using a straight board and two clamps. The biggest benefit of using a guide is a straight and quick cut!
Here is what a guide will look like:
This is what a Rip-Cut looks like and here are tips on how to use a Rip-Cut.
WATCH THE BLADE, NOT THE MARKING –
Most circular saws have a marking of where the blade will cut. Instead, keep your eye on the cut line, right where the blade cuts the wood, to give you a more accurate cut.
MARK UP THE BOARD –
Don’t start to cut a board without marking it first. Mark both ends of the board with either a square or a chalk line, depending on the width.
Finally, make sure you first set the blade depth. Then, use one or a couple of these methods to cut the wood: let the cut fall or crosscut the wood, use a guide, watch the blade, and mark the board. Using these tips will help you feel more comfortable and give you the cut you want.
Overall, it’s a fantastic tool to use and once you understand how the parts work and how to use it safely, you will love your circular saw.
Hey there, I’m Megan! I am here to inspire you to makeover your home into something you can love by sharing do-it-yourself home projects and woodworking builds. Learn more about me.
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History of the Circular Saw
Today we’d like to pay some well-earned honor to one of the most important inventions in our industry (particularly the lumber-processing part of it): the circular saw. Like many products of the industrial revolution, the history of the circular saw is a story founded on legend as much as fact — both of which are equally as interesting.
What Is A Circular Saw?
The circular saw is perhaps the most commonly used saw today, used extensively in both professional construction projects and DIY home improvement. This power tool uses a round metal blade edged with sharp teeth to cut an array of material such as woods, metals, cement block, brick, fiberglass, plastics and slate.
The blade in a circular saw spins around mechanically to provide a clean cut to the material and can either mount to a table or be used in left-handed or right-handed handheld equipment. Various blades are used to cut different types of material most effectively.
Using a circular saw is quick and effective. Simply adjust the saw for the proper height and depth, line it up to where you want to make a cut and push it with enough force to glide it across the material but without pushing too hard. This ease of use is what has made the circular saw popular in numerous applications since its invention in the 1700s.
Inventing the Circular Saw: A Brief History
It’s commonly told that Samuel Miller was awarded British Patent #1152 in 1777 for what is considered the first circular saw machine. Some assert that the wording in his patent indicates the circular blade itself was in common use by that time — it was the sawing machine itself that Miller had invented.
As with many inventions, accounts of the circular saw’s early history are conflicting. Some evidence shows that Gervinus of Germany built something similar in 1780, while others claim it was the Dutch who invented the device some hundred or so years earlier.
A little while later, we hear about a man named Walter Taylor who supplied the Royal Navy with high-quality rigging blocks into the early 19th century. Taylor was responsible for a variety of patents centered on wood processing, although none on the machine itself. But, history has proven he used circular saw blades in his mills.
Like many inventions of the time, the circular saw was a concept developed similarly and independently throughout parts of the developing world. All these stories of the circular saw’s rise in Europe seem completely separate from its emergence in America — or, at least, from American legends.
In the U.S. — more specifically in Harvard, Massachusetts — a Shaker woman named Tabitha Babbitt is said to have also invented a circular saw entirely of her own volition and design in 1810. As legend has it, she got the idea while watching two Shaker men struggling with a pit saw. At the time, these saws could only cut in one direction, making ripping logs a horribly tedious task.
The lumbermen would waste half their energy moving their saw back and forth, only cutting on the forward stroke. Babbitt noticed the inefficiency of this method and set out to make a saw that would waste less time and effort. She created a notched tin disk and rigged it to spin with the pedal push of her spinning wheel. With this simple invention, wood could be cut with a fraction of the time and effort it took using the old pit saw.
Her basic idea was used to create a much larger device for use in the sawmill, and the circle saw quickly caught on as the wood processing tool of choice. While Babbitt’s design was similar to Miller’s or Taylor’s, hers appeared to be much larger and more useful on a larger scale — modifications which differentiated her design from the rest.
The Spinning Wheel’s Influence
The spinning wheel was an early machine used to transform natural fibers into spinning thread or yarn. It was composed of a drive wheel, table, treadle and legs as well as parts that held the fibers. A weaver by trade, Babbitt noticed that the drive wheel spun in a continual circular motion and didn’t need to be continually reset like the inefficient pit saw. By carving a circular saw blade and attaching it to her spinning wheel, every movement of the disk made a cut.
As a Shaker, Babbitt’s religious beliefs prevented her from receiving a patent. While members of the religion were widely admired for their inventiveness and hard work, they believed in sharing ideas freely and leaving their inventions unpatented. But, fortunately, history has remembered her yet.
When attached to a table, the circular saw acts much like the wheel on a spinning wheel, paying homage to Babbitt’s original prototype. Both the saw and its alleged ancestor work in a continual circular motion to produce consistent results without the need to stop and reposition the machine.
Early Versions and Evolution
As with the spinning wheel, early prototypes of the circular table saw were powered by a treadle — a pump on the floor that was pushed by foot to make the saw spin. Saws during this time were not mechanical, nor were they portable. These early models of the circular saw table were used in America throughout the 1800s.
In 1922, the first circular saw attached to a radial arm was created by Raymond DeWALT, allowing for greater control of cutting depth and direction than ever before. However, it wasn’t until 1929 that inventor Art Emmons created the first handheld circular saw.
Emmons’ helical-drive saw featured an electronic motor that was lightweight enough for easy portability. This design became the basis for all portable circular saws used today and remains the most widely used circular saw design.
Since then, both portable and table circular saws have continued to evolve in technological advances. Today’s portable circular saws use a lightweight universal motor that can run off either AC or DC electric power, while table saws typically feature a heavier induction motor.
Safety advances like springs and feeder wheels have been added to prevent users from getting their fingers too close to the blade. Some advanced saws can even sense a change in electric current when a hand comes near the blade and will switch off automatically, making these modern saws safer than ever.
The Circular Saw Today
Since its invention, the circular saw has been used in numerous commercial and personal applications. Small handheld saws can be used for household or construction projects, while larger versions of the table circular saw and blade can cut with extreme precision in sawmills, lumber yards and timber processing. Many novices and professionals alike enjoy the circular saw for its enhanced versatility, as it can easily cut both wood and harder materials like plastic and stone. On wood, the saw is used to crosscut, rip and make angle cuts.
When the York Saw Works started in 1906, our FOCUS included machine knives, but it was saw blades that took the lead in popularity. It makes sense, though. In addition to its history of woodcrafts industrial ingenuity, Pennsylvania was a timber industry powerhouse at the turn of the last century. Indeed, this was true of much of the Northeastern US at the time. Without the keen eye and inventive contributions of people like Samuel Miller or Tabitha Babbitt, who knows where we’d be today?
From the invention of Miller’s first circular saw machine and the legend of Babbitt’s spinning wheel saw to the versatility of DeWALT’s radial arm attachment and Emmons’ handheld invention, the circular saw has a long and fascinating history. We hope we’ve given you a greater appreciation of this rich and versatile tool.
To learn more about the history of the circular saw, check out the resources below. Contact us today for additional questions or order your circular saw blades online!
How to Use a Circular Saw Without a Table
You don’t need a workbench or large workshop! Learn how to use a circular saw without a table and make good-quality cuts easily.
A circular saw is a great woodworking saw to get started with. It is portable. It can cut large sheets of plywood, dimensional material, and even metals. It can make rip cuts, cross cuts, and bevel cuts.
I recently shared a detailed article about how to use a circular saw.
We often see woodworkers using a saw on a table and conclude that we need a table or a workbench to be able to use it. If you are just starting, chances are you don’t have a large workshop with a worktable.
Guess what? You don’t need a table to use a circular saw. You can set it up on your garage or driveway floor or even your balcony and use it. In fact, I still use my circular saw on the floor when I am cutting plywood.
Let’s dive into exactly how to use a circular saw without a table. To do that, first, let’s discuss a few things you need to keep in mind when using a circular saw.
Considerations when setting up a circular saw
No matter where you set up your material to cut with a circular saw, here are a few things you should keep in mind not just for getting a good quality of cut but also to ensure safety.
Supporting the material
When you are cutting a sheet of plywood or dimensional lumber, it is crucial to have the material supported and stable as you cut – on both sides of the cut line.
You don’t want the material vibrating or shifting as you cut. This can not only lead to your cuts getting messed up, but it is also very unsafe.
When using plywood, always support the sheet or if using dimensional lumber, clamp it, so it doesn’t move.
Support the cut line
The most important part of cutting with a circular saw is to make sure the material across the cut line is supported – especially at the end of the cut. If not, it can cause blade binding and kickback.
Blade binding happens when a spinning blade gets trapped in the wood you are cutting. As you cut the board, you will see the kerf. This is the part of the board that turns into sawdust. As long as the blade is spinning within the kerf, it is safe. If there is any amount of twisting, the blade gets stuck and can lead to kickback.
Another important reason to keep the cut line supported is to keep the two sides of the cut from collapsing into the cut as you get to the end of the cut. This can cause the blade to bind and cause the ends of the cuts to splinter and rip apart, leading to an undesirable quality.
Space for the sawblade
When setting up the circular saw to cut, the saw’s blade is set up such that it is ¼″ below the bottom of the surface being cut. This means that whatever you use to prop up your board, you will be cutting into it. In fact, you should be able to cut into it.
Therefore, you want to choose your supporting material wisely to ensure that the blade can cut into it. For example – you don’t want to set up your wood board on metal supports because you will be using a wood cutting blade.
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Options for using a circular saw without a table
As discussed above, you need to have the right support to use a circular saw safely and effectively. The good news is that you don’t need a table. In fact, I still use my circular saw on the floor because my workbench is only 2′ x 4′.
There are a few options for supporting the board or sheet you cut with a circular saw on the floor.
Sheet of foam insulation
This is fairly commonly used, and you may have seen it in many videos and tutorials. A sheet of foam insulation is very inexpensive and usually comes in 4′ x 8′ size.
One of the main advantages of using the foam sheet is that it can support an entire sheet of plywood, and you don’t have to worry about supporting near a cut line.
Also, since it is foam, you don’t have to worry about the blade you are using. Any blade that works with your material will work.
However, one of the main disadvantages is that the sheet is huge and can be a hassle to store. This is the main reason I do not use one.
Another disadvantage is if you are using a straight edge to clamp and cut, you won’t be able to clamp it since there is no space for a clamp under the foam.
Another option is to use 4×4 or stacked 2×4 boards to prop up the plywood. These can be easily stored away. In fact, I use a 4′ 4×4 piece and a bunch of other 4×4 blocks in varying lengths to support my workpiece in various places.
The long 4′ board supports the end of the cut line to keep the boards from collapsing in, and the other blocks support the material near the cut line and various places to keep it level and sturdy.
Using boards to have the plywood at least 3″ above ground is also helpful in being able to clamp a straight edge if needed.
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These can also be used when cutting dimensional lumber with a circular saw.
If you would like to get off the floor, a set of foldable sawhorses is an option. I would recommend laying a couple of 2×4 boards across the sawhorses to support the material, similar to using them on the floor.
I hope this alleviated some of your concerns with working with a circular saw and not having a proper worktable or workshop to use.
Making a straight cut
Once you have the material set up to cut, be sure to use a straight edge guide to help keep the saw straight while cutting and prevent blade binding and kickback.
You can use a homemade circular saw guide or a Kreg Rip-Cut or straight cut guide. They all work well and are easy to use, install, and store.
No matter how you set up your material to cut with a circular saw, always pay attention to safety. Wear eye, ear, and breathing protection, and make sure that your hands stay away from the cut.
You are now ready to build lots of projects with a circular saw. Check out some of them here.
Don’t let loud, high-speed circular saws intimidate you. With these tips, you’ll be on your way to cutting safely and accurately with a circular saw.
By Tom Scalisi | Updated Mar 10, 2022 10:55 AM
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DIYers have a wide variety of cutting tools available to them, but few are as convenient and versatile as the circular saw. This power tool features an electric motor that spins a round blade at high speeds, enabling users to cut through dense lumber, plywood, and other materials in seconds.
They’re fast, efficient, and accurate, and any DIYer can learn how to use a circular saw with some tips and practice. The following will teach you everything you need to know about this useful tool.
Important Circular Saw Parts
Before handling a circular saw for the first time, it’s important to get familiar with some of the individual parts.
- Motor: Inside the plastic and metal housing is an electric motor. While today’s brushless models require very little maintenance, it’s helpful to understand this part and know that circular saws are available in various motor configurations.
- Blade:Circular saw blades are round and have many sharp teeth. The motor spins these blades quickly, and the blade cuts with upward strokes at the front of the blade.
- Blade guard: That spinning blade can do a lot of damage very quickly, whether to a surface that comes in contact with the spinning blade or the user. To keep a spinning blade from accidentally cutting someone or marring an object, the spring-loaded retractable blade guard slides over the blade. When cutting, it should automatically retract.
- Trigger: This part turns the saw on and off. Circular saws don’t have adjustable speeds or pressure-sensitive triggers, so clicking this part will ramp the blade up to speed immediately.
- Safety: Some circular saws have thumb-activated safety switches that prevent the user from accidentally starting the saw.
- Plate: The plate, or shoe, is the part of the saw that rides on the material. They’re typically aluminum, steel, or die cast, and their angles can be adjusted to cut bevels.
- Bevel adjustment: Found at the front or back of the saw (depending on the model), the bevel adjustment allows you to change the angle of the plate relative to the saw blade. These are typically knobs or levers. While they’re not precisely accurate, they’re more than accurate enough for framing.
- Depth adjustment: A circular saw’s blade is adjustable to different depths, allowing users to score surfaces before cutting, remove materials for a mortise, or cut straight through thicker lumber. The depth adjustment is typically a lever and found at the rear of the circular saw.
Types of Circular Saws to Know
As is the case with most power tools, there are different types of circular saws available. While they all serve the same general purpose, each type has its strengths and weaknesses.
Sidewinder Circular Saw
Sidewinder circular saws have electric motors mounted inline with the blade, and the blade essentially mounts to the output shaft of the motor. They’re compact and lightweight compared to worm drive models, and the blades spin at very high speeds. These saws are very low maintenance and easy to wield, but they aren’t as torquey as a worm drive. And, as far as cordless circular saws go, they’re predominantly sidewinders.
Top 3 Circular Saw Projects || 3 Best Circular Saw Ideas
Our Recommendation: DeWALT 7 1/4-Inch Circular Saw at The Home Depot for 125.68 DeWALT’s 7 1/4-inch circular saw has a low-maintenance sidewinder design with plenty of adjustability, as well as features like onboard wrench storage and a built-in dust blower.
Worm Drive Circular Saw
When it comes to cutting through thick lumber and timbers such as 4x4s, 6x6s, and the like, a worm drive circular saw is the way to go. These saws have motors mounted inline with the handle, as well as a set of gears that connect to the blade. This increases torque tremendously, but also increases size and weight. These saws often have maintenance requirements as well, requiring regular oiling and cleaning to preserve performance.
Our Recommendation: Skilsaw 7 1/4-inch Worm Drive Circular Saw on Amazon for 199 Skilsaw’s 7 1/4-inch worm drive circular saw is the gold standard in worm drives, with plenty of torque, lightweight magnesium parts, and tons of adjustability not found in other models.
Compact Circular Saw
Sometimes, a full-size saw isn’t necessary and can actually make a job more challenging. In those cases, a compact circular saw might fit the bill. These saws have blades that range between 4 inches and 5-3/8 inches. They’re also mostly made of polymer plastics, which keeps them lightweight but durable.
Our Recommendation: Makita 18V LXT Cordless Circular Saw on Amazon for 179 Makita’s XSS03Z 18V LXT compact circular saw weighs just 6 pounds (with the battery!) and delivers up to 3,600 rpm, allowing it to handle tough materials with its 5-3/8-inch blade.
Cutting perfectly straight is achievable with a standard circular saw, but a track saw helps expedite the process and reduces room for error. These saws have long track guides that lay on or clamp to the material, and the saw rides in those tracks. This produces straight cuts that are quick and easy to lay out.
Though these saws are rarely capable of cutting as deep as a standard circular saw, many can cut bevels with more accuracy. Inexplicably, most saws don’t come with tracks, so they’ll need to be a separate purchase.
Our Recommendation: DeWALT Cordless Track Saw at The Home Depot for 529 DeWALT’s Track Saw kit features a 6-1/2-inch blade, adjustable depths of cut, 45-degree bevels, and a powerful 12-amp motor.
Circular Saw Safety Tips
Circular saws are convenient and can be very safe when used properly. But it might feel a bit intimidating to learn how to use a circular saw for beginners. The following tips can help.
- Circular saws are very loud and can send chips of wood flying. It’s important to wear the proper PPE, including hearing protection and safety glasses. Also, do not wear loose-fitting clothing when operating one.
- When using a circular saw, be sure that there is nothing underneath the saw that the blade will accidentally contact, including the work surface, any tools underneath, or the power cord when using corded circular saws.
- Never remove the blade guard. If the blade guard prevents the cut (such as when plunge cutting or cutting at a severe angle), simply lift the guard with its handle before starting the blade. Release the guard when done.
- Always hold onto the saw until the blade stops completely. Letting go while the blade is still spinning can result in the saw blade camming up and kicking back at the user.
- A sharp blade is a safe blade. Dull blades covered in pitch from framing lumber make cutting more difficult, require more effort, and make cutting more dangerous. Sharp blades will pass through the material with ease.
- Unplug the saw or remove its battery before adjusting the blade depth or bevel angle.
- Always inspect the saw before use. Check the cord, plug, trigger, safety switch, and guard for operation. Also, ensure that the blade is securely tightened in place (with the saw unplugged or battery removed).
Circular Saw Setup and Calibration
Circular saws are generally easy to set up and use, but there are a few things to know before using one. First, place the saw on top of the material being cut so the blade is hanging off the edge and the plate is flat against the surface. Loosen the depth adjustment, adjust the blade depth so it’s around 1/4 inch deeper than the material’s thickness, and lock the depth lever back down.
For square cuts, it’s important to ensure the blade is set at a true 90 degrees. Unplug the saw or remove its battery and turn it over. Slide the blade guard out of the way and place a speed square or framing square against the blade and the bottom of the plate. If this doesn’t result in a perfect fit, loosen the bevel adjustments and maneuver the plate into place until it is.
How to Use a Circular Saw for Cross Cuts
When it comes to what a circular saw is used for, the most common answer is cross-cutting, such as cutting framing lumber to length (across the grain). Doing so is fairly easy and safe for those who know how to use a saw like this. Here’s one method.
STEP 1: Mark the board to length with a framing square.
Circular saws don’t cut square automatically like a miter saw, so it’s important to mark the board with an accurate line to follow. Make a mark at the desired cut location and lay a framing square at the mark. Draw a dark straight line at the mark and double check it for accuracy.
Tip: If cross-cutting reclaimed wood, check for any nails or screws that might be in the way to prevent blade damage.
STEP 2: Place and secure the board on the work surface.
A sturdy work surface is a necessity, but it doesn’t have to be fancy. A truck bed, two sawhorses, or even a lumber pile make fine surfaces, as long as there isn’t a chance of accidentally cutting into something other than the wood you’re working with.
Provide enough room to stand on the longer side of the board as this will provide the most leverage for holding the board in place while cutting. Use your free hand to hold the board against the work surface with downward pressure. If necessary, clamp the board to the work surface for increased stability.
STEP 3: Cut the board.
Without starting the saw, place the front of the plate on top of the board and touch the cut line with the blade. Back the blade up slightly, press the safety switch, and squeeze the trigger.
Watching the front of the blade, guide the saw through the cutline. Be careful not to put sideways pressure on the blade or else the cut may end up crooked. Allow the scrap lumber to fall to the ground after cutting, and allow the blade to come to a stop before placing the saw down carefully.
How to Use a Circular Saw for Rip Cuts
Rip cuts can be tricky with a circular saw (especially without a track), but they’re certainly doable. Here’s how to cut with a circular saw down the length of a board (ripping):
STEP 1: Create a flat stable work surface.
Ripping wood can be very awkward, so this is another scenario where the work surface is important. For ripping, a series of sacrificial 2x4s laid across a flat driveway works just fine, as do wooden sawhorses with sacrificial tops. Just be sure that the saw isn’t going to accidentally cut something that matters.
STEP 2: Mark the board accurately.
Whether ripping a piece of lumber or a sheet of plywood, the marks need to be accurate. In many cases, the easiest way to accomplish this is by marking the board at either end, stretching a chalk line between the marks, and snapping a line on the surface. Otherwise, a combination square, T-square, level, or a long piece of straight wood or metal can do the trick.
STEP 3: Line up the saw and start cutting.
Place the front of the plate on the board and line the blade up with the mark. Back the blade up slightly, press the safety switch, and squeeze the trigger. Carefully guide the blade down the cut, watching the front of the blade to make sure it stays on the line. Guide the saw as far as safely possible before adjusting your position.
STEP 4: Adjust your position as you go.
For long rips, it might be necessary to reposition several times before the cut is complete. First, do not let go of the saw until the blade stops. Once the blade stops, reposition to continue the cut safely. Then, back the saw up slightly before starting the blade again. Repeat as necessary until the cut is complete.
Lumber with a wavy grain, such as framing or pressure-treated lumber, can persuade the blade to follow the grain and come off of the line. It’s best to work slowly with these materials, and keep a firm grip (and eye) on the saw’s path.
Tip: When learning how to cut straight with a circular saw, it’s often beneficial to lower the blade’s depth as much as possible. This creates more friction, but it also allows more of the blade’s flat surface to come in contact with the wood, helping the saw track straight. Just be sure there isn’t anything underneath the workpiece, or the saw might cut it.
Circular Saw Maintenance Tips
There are a few things to consider when maintaining a circular saw. Be sure to follow these to get as much life and safety out of a saw as possible.
- Replace or sharpen blades as soon as they dull. The saw will be safer and more accurate if you do.
- For brushed motors, replace the brushes anytime the saw feels like it’s losing power. They’re generally easy to replace, and the manufacturer should be able to provide replacements.
- Dirty, sticky plates will scratch surfaces and be hard to push. Clean the bottom of the plate with bug and tar remover, pitch remover, or similar cleaning products to keep the plate gliding smoothly.
- Use compressed air to clear any accumulated dirt and sawdust from the saw. This will allow the saw to move more freely and increase air flow, resulting in better cuts.
- For worm drive saws, be sure to check the oil regularly (every three or four uses) to ensure the gears can spin smoothly and to reduce friction.
When it comes to versatility, there are many circular saw uses. While they’re not as accurate as a miter or table saw, they can do the job of both in many situations. With the above tips, anyone can learn to use these power tools safely and with enough precision to get many kinds of jobs done.