Does the fear of using a circular saw prevent you from doing small home projects? Don’t let your inexperience hold you back – learn tips and tricks to master this useful power tool.
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!
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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?
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.
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.
- Next, adjust the bevel lever to the angle that is needed for the cut.
- Determine if you are using the best blade for the project. This will depend on the material you are cutting and the finish you want.
- Decide on the technique you will use to guide your cut while using a circular saw.
- 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.
- Make sure that the material is supported as close to the cut line as possible. This will give you a quality cut and prevent kickback. I like to use 2×4 to support plywood but you can use foam insulation.
- Give the saw power – plug it in or attach the battery.
- Position the saw baseplate on the edge of the material and near where you want to cut but DO NOT allow the blade to touch the material.
- Squeeze the trigger and carefully allow the saw to reach full speed.
- Then, slowly guide the saw along the material, making sure the baseplate stays firmly on the material’s surface.
- Once the material has been cut, let go of the trigger and the saw will slowly come to a stop. At the same time, the retractable blade cover will close automatically.
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:
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.