How to Use a Circular Saw

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Categories Saws
Upgrade your circular saw technique with these 9 easy steps.

Circular saws are versatile tools. They are accurate, get the job done quickly and speed up your work rate. If you are a professional or someone who takes their woodworking seriously, you have to get a circular saw.

In this article, we show you, step-by-step, how to use a circular saw so that you get the most out of your power tool and the very best results.

The Correct Circular Saw Techniques

Make sure you have a face mask and goggles. Mark out your line. Always wait while the blade reaches optimum speed before making the cut. Work slowly and allow the saw to work at its natural pace as you guide the blade along the line. When you reach the end, wait until the blade stops spinning before removing it from the workpiece.


What Is a Circular Saw Used For?

Circular saws are used primarily for cutting wood, but with the right saw blade, you can cut a variety of materials. You can cut masonry, plastic and even metal. Because it is a hand-held device, it is especially useful on construction sites. It gives the professionals the freedom to take the tool to the job.

Circular saws are ideal for making crosscuts, rip cuts, and for slicing through sheet material like plywood. With a little experience, you can also make miter and bevel cuts.

Parts of a Circular Saw

While we can’t list every component of a circular saw, some parts are more important than others.

Bevel Adjustment

The bevel adjustment is typically located at the front of the saw and allows the user to change the angle to make bevel cuts. To make the adjustment, move the knob.

Plate

The plate sits at the base of the saw and allows the user to move the saw across the surface of the material. It is sometimes called the shoe. The plate also helps to guide the blade as it skims across the surface of your project.

Blade Cover

The blade cover is a safety device designed to keep the blade from coming into contact with your fingers and other foreign objects. Think of it as a mudguard on a bicycle. It also prevents debris and bits of wood from becoming projectiles.

Bolt Clamp

The bolt clamp holds the blade in place, securing it to the saw body. The bolt clamp needs to be loosened if you want to swap out the blade.

Blade

The circular saw blade is the business end of the saw. It needs to match the saw size, and there are many varieties designed for specific cutting purposes and materials.

The blade spins with the teeth moving in a forward and downward motion.

Motor

The motor is either mounted on the left or right-hand side and is often referred to as a “sidewinder saw.” It makes the saw more compact and gives balance.

You can also buy worm drive saws that have the motor mounted at the rear to make them longer and thinner. These saws are the best variety if you don’t need to worry about left and right-handed operation.

Handle

The handle helps to stabilize the saw as it moves. It should be ergonomically designed for comfort and grip. The handle also helps you to adjust the downward and forward pressure for cutting through tougher material.

Power Switch and Trigger

In many cases, the power switch and the trigger are the same. Once you plug in the saw, depress the trigger, and the blade starts. Remove your finger, and the blade stops.

Some models have a trigger lock to prevent the saw from starting if the trigger is accidentally squeezed.

Depth Lock Knob

Raise or lower the blade using the depth adjusting knob. You should always ensure that the blade is 0.25 inches below the depth of your material.

Power Source

The power is delivered in the form of a battery or a power cord. Battery-operated circular saws are becoming more popular, but the most common type of circular saw is the corded variety.

Types of Cuts

As we said at the start, circular saws are versatile. As you would expect, there are a variety of cuts you can make using this saw.

Crosscut

This involves cutting across the grain of the wood. You would use a crosscut when trimming a length of board to size. Think of moldings and door frames, and you will get the picture.

Rip Cut

A rip cut works along the line of the grain, splitting the fibers of the wood. Rip cuts are typically longer than crosscuts and are particularly useful when cutting lumber and boards into lengths.

Miter Cut

Making a miter cut is the art of cutting angles. This is useful when making frames for windows and doors so that the two pieces of wood join to make right angles.

Bevel Cuts

Bevel cuts are the art of angling the end of a piece of wood rather than cutting the flat of the wood at an angle like a miter cut. It is useful if you have a straight side that needs to be cut to match a corresponding edge.

How to Use a Circular Saw

This step-by-step guide shows you the best way to use a circular saw to make a basic cut. We have included the safety equipment as the first two items you will need for obvious reasons. Circular saws are dangerous. Popular Mechanics (magazine) found that circular saws accounted for 30 percent of all saw accidents in Australia (1).

You Will Need

  • Goggles.
  • N95 face mask.
  • A circular saw.
  • Work material.
  • A clamp.
  • Pencil or chalk line.
  • Tape measure.
  • Dustpan and brush.
  • Vacuum cleaner.

1. Mark the Line

Always measure twice so you can cut once. By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail. Getting the line right is crucial if you want the best results. Once you know where you want the line, you can mark it using either a pencil or a chalk line.

At various stages of the line, mark a V so that the point of the V meets the line. It helps with accuracy.

2. Clamp the Material

Make sure the material is secure. The last thing you want is for it to move during sawing and spoil your line.

3. Choose the Right Blade

You need to choose the correct blade to correspond with the material you will be cutting. Wood blades have teeth while masonry and brittle material blades have no teeth but rely instead on diamond coatings.

If you choose the wrong blade, it could endanger you, ruin the final result, and take longer to complete the task.

4. Set the Depth

Once you have chosen the blade for the task, set the depth to 0.25 inches below the stock you are cutting. This ensures you get a clean line and a smooth exit from the material.

5. Think Safety

It’s now time to put on your goggles and face mask to protect against sawdust and flying debris. Saw blades spin forwards, which increases the risk of something projecting as the blade exits the wood. That puts you in the direct line of fire for shards of wood and debris.

6. Line Up the Saw

Plug the saw in or attach the battery. Rest the base plate with the front of the blade lined up to your pencil or chalk line marker. At this stage, you should not engage the motor, but make sure to lift the blade guard.

7. Power Up

The blade should not be touching the workpiece, but the base plate should. Press the trigger and wait for the blade to reach optimum speed. Now ease the saw forward, maintaining steady pressure.

8. Guide the Blade

Let the saw blade do its thing. Don’t force it because this puts a strain on the motor and causes you to splinter the material. It could also increase the chances of a kickback occurring as the saw struggles to cut the material. Try and keep the blade on the scrap side of the cutting line as you work your way through the cut.

9. Power Off

When you reach the end, release the trigger and allow the blade to come to a complete stop. Unplug the saw and get to work sweeping away any debris. You can use the vacuum to extract the finer sawdust. Now remove your goggles and face mask to examine the quality of your work.

Circular Saw Tips

Every circular saw expert has a trick or two to make their lives easier. Here are some practical things you can do to step up your circular saw technique.

Good Side Down

If you want the best results, face the good side of your material down. Circular saws tend to splinter the upside of the wood and produce a cleaner cut underneath.

Use Masking Tape

A great way to reduce splintering is to lay a strip of masking tape on the wood before marking your line. The tape prevents the blade from shearing the wood and gives you a neater finish.

Use the Fence

When cutting long sheets of ply, use the short fence supplied with the saw. It helps you to keep a straight line and work faster.

Know the Blade

Get to know what blade does what and look at the TPI or teeth per inch. You get a good idea of what blade cuts what material by the tooth count. Blades with a higher tooth count are suitable for harder material and give a neater finish.

A lower tooth count indicates that the blade is better at cutting wood and making rip cuts. If you want a general-purpose blade, go for something in the middle.

Start Over

If you veer off the line, don’t try and swing the blade back towards the line while cutting as this will cause you to overcompensate and steer too far the other way. You will end up snaking along the cut.

Stop the saw and start over. That way, you get a more accurate result and also maintain complete control of the saw.

Set the Depth

Always set the blade depth before you start cutting.

Don’t Clamp the Off Cut

Only clamp the wood you want to keep. It allows the off-cut to fall away as the blade reaches the end of the cut.

Use a Chalk Line

If you are cutting sheet material or longer pieces, a chalk line gives you an instant super-accurate marker.

Circular Saw Safety

Of course, when using any power tool, there are risks and dangers, so making sure you stay safe should always be the number one priority.

  • Never change a blade while the saw is plugged in. Always disconnect it from the wall socket before attempting any blade swap.
  • Use the correct blade for the job to prevent kickback.
  • Make sure the blade is sharp. A dull blade binds and causes kickback.
  • Always make sure the blade is spinning at full speed before making contact with the material.
  • Wear safety goggles and an N95 face mask.
  • Wait for the blade to stop turning before removing it from the stock.
  • Never touch the blade when the saw is powered up.
  • Don’t force the saw while cutting. This puts strain on the motor and could cause kickback.
  • Don’t wear loose clothing or jewelry when operating the saw.

We’ve Come Full Circle

As we said at the start, circular saws are versatile, accurate and speed up your work rate. However, this is only true if you adopt the best practices. And make sure that safety is top of your priority list.

With all this power comes responsibility, so use your circular saw wisely and don’t cut corners, because if you do, it might not be the only thing you cut.

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About the Author

Mark Weir

Mark spent 24 years working in real estate, so he knows his way around a home. He also worked with contractors and experts, advising them on issues of planning, investments, and renovations. Mark is no stranger to hands-on experience, having renovated his own home and many properties for resale. He likes nothing better than seeing a project through to completion.
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