While some power tools are fairly safe to operate, others can cause harm fairly easily if used improperly. For obvious reason, saws – especially table and circular saws – are among the most dangerous commonly used tools out there.
Every year, they hurt thousands and thousands of people. And unfortunately, many of those injuries end up in maiming or amputation. To avoid becoming a part of that statistic, it is important that you follow some precautions.
Below, I share with you circular saw safety tips that will help you cut the materials you need to cut without losing your fingers. Many of those are aimed at reducing the likelihood of a kickback happening.
Anyways, let’s jump right into them.
Preparation Is a Key to Cutting Safely with a Circular Saw
To safely cut a piece of material – whether wood or metal – using your circular saw, it is necessary to prepare properly. Here are the steps you should take before even plugging your circular saw into a socket or powering up your cordless one.
1. Wear Proper Safety Gear
Just as with operating any power tool, getting your safety gear right is the first step to safely getting something cut with your circular saw.
First of all, you should be wearing proper closed-toe footwear. More specifically, get yourself a pair of steel toe work shoes that will protect your feet from injuries. As obvious as this may sound, this rule is oftentimes not followed – especially in DIY settings.
Additionally, make sure to wear safety glasses (or similar) that will prevent debris from getting into your eyes. While not necessary with some materials, when cutting things like bricks, you will also want to wear a dust mask.
Finally, contrary to what many people do, do NOT wear work gloves. As counterintuitive as it may sound, they can get easily caught in the circular saw (or any other power tool for that matter) and get you injured rather than protect you.
2. Use the Right (and Sharp) Blade
There are different types of blades for a reason – they are optimized for whatever task they are designed for. As such, avoid using wood blades on metals, masonry blades on wood, and so on. Doing so will not only result in very inefficient (if any) cutting, but it might also damage the blade or injure you.
The same thing also applies to dull blades. Always make sure your blades are sharp before you start cutting.
3. Check the Piece You Are Cutting for Obstructions
The second important thing to do before you even hit the power button is to check the piece of material you are cutting for obstructions.
When cutting wood, you will want to make sure there are no nails or screws where you plan to cut as those could damage your saw or even injure you.
The same applies to other materials.
Make sure there are no stones and other loose, hard parts on the piece you are cutting either. Those – when hit with your circular saw – could essentially become projectiles that could cause a lot of damage and injury if they hit the wrong place.
4. Set the Cut Depth Right
One of the things you will have to do is to set the cut depth. In other words, you will need to set how much of the blade sticks out of the circular saw and actually cuts the material.
Set it too short, and it won’t cut through. Set it too long, and the blade will stick out of the material too much. While that might not sound like a big deal, it will make it more likely that the blade will bend while rotating, making it harder to do a nice straight cut and – more importantly – increasing the risk of a kickback.
The general rule to follow is to always set the saw depth in a way that the blade doesn’t stick out of the material more than 1/4 inch. So, if you are – for example – trying to cut a board that is 2 inches high, you would set the cut depth to 2-1/4 inches.
5. Secure the Piece You Are Cutting Properly
The last thing to confirm before starting your circular saw is that the piece you are about to cut is secured in place.
Assuming you are cutting a loose piece, you will generally be doing so using clamps or a vise. In either case, to decrease the chance of a kickback, you should avoid securing it on both ends of your cut. Instead only secure it on one side. But, make sure that it is “solidly as a rock.”
Follow These Safety Tips While Making a Cut Using a Circular Saw
Once you have done all the preparations to create an environment for safely using your circular saw, it’s time to power it up. Of course this – the actual cutting – is the most dangerous part of using a circular saw.
As such, following the safety precautions below when your circular saw is running is an absolute must.
1. Make Sure Your Cords Are Out of the Way
For obvious reasons, you will not want to cut through cords that electricity runs through. As such, make sure that there are none in the path of your cut at all times.
If you use a corded circular saw, then make sure the cord is always “behind the cut.”
Also, regardless of whether you are using a corded or a cordless one, always make sure there are no other cords – such as those powering your lights or other tools – where they should not be.
2. Keep Your Feet Solidly on the Ground
Whenever you are cutting, make sure that both of your feet are solidly on the ground – regardless of whether you are standing or crouching. That way, you will have the most control over your body.
Also, make sure that you are not cutting in an uncomfortable or even cumbersome position and that you are not overreaching.
3. Do Not Place Your Body in Line with the Saw
When it comes to safety tips for using circular (or any kind of) saws, this is the 101.
Do not – and I repeat, do not – line your body or a part of it with your cut. Never.
While that might sound more obvious for things like reciprocating saws where you are often cutting “towards you,” the same thing applies for a circular saw where you push it away from you. And, the reason for that is the chance of a kickback.
If your circular saw kicks back and moves against the direction of the cut, you don’t want it hitting your body. Instead, you want it to go to an empty space to avoid injury.
4. Focus 100% on the Cut
When working in a group, it is always fun to chit-chat about things while hammering nails in or tightening bolts. However, do not do that when cutting things using a circular saw.
If you are the one cutting, focus 100% on the cut – do not try to tell your teammate a joke at the same time. Do not try to sing along with the music blasting out of your jobsite radio. Similarly, if you are the teammate that is not cutting, keep your joke for later. Do not distract the person cutting.
5. Don’t Try to Adjust the Direction of Your Cut
Circular saws were designed for straight cuts. And, when operated, they are meant to follow a straight path once they start cutting.
As such, do not try to adjust the direction of your cut once you have started your cut. Doing so will, like many of the other things in this list, increase the likelihood of a kickback – and thus the likelihood of an injury.
Don’t Let Your Guard Down After You Are Done with Your Cut
Finally, there are some tips to follow even after your cut is done. After all, you will still need to either stow your saw away safely or make sure it doesn’t hurt anyone before you do your next cut.
Here are three safety tips that will help you do just that.
1. Rest a Circular Saw on Its Side
Considering that it “exposes” the saw’s blade, this tip might sound a bit counterintuitive. What I am talking about is resting your circular saw on its side (in a way that the blade sticks out and is almost horizontal to the ground) rather than vertically (in a way that the blade is pointing down).
The reason you should always rest your saw on its side is to prevent it from accidentally being activated and “running rogue.”
In other words, if the blade starts spinning for one reason or another when you do not intend it to, you don’t want it to serve as a wheel that drives the saw straight through your feet.
2. Keep Your Finger Off the Trigger When Not Cutting
Similarly to the above, this is a precaution that will keep you safe between, before, and after cuts. It is one that will prevent completely unnecessary injuries.
Whenever you are holding or carrying your saw but not actually using it – like when carrying it from one spot on your jobsite to another – make sure to keep your finger off the trigger. That applies regardless of whether you have the trigger locked or not.
3. Cut Power Off Completely Before Touching the Blade
Obviously, you should avoid touching the saw’s blade as much as you can. Sometimes, however, it is unavoidable – like when you need to clean your saw or change the blade.
When you need to touch the saw’s blade for one reason or another, make sure the saw has no power. And by no power, I do not mean just having the power switched off. I mean having it cut off completely.
In the case of corded circular saws, having it unplugged from the outlet. In the case of cordless ones, having the battery removed. That is the only way to be completely sure the blade won’t start spinning when you don’t intend it to and cut through your fingers.
Some power tools like sanders and impact drivers are quite forgiving. In other words, even if you don’t really know how to use them, you can learn using them along the way.
On the other hand, circular saws are among the most dangerous commonly available power tools out there. Especially so when looking at handheld tools. As such, before you use it, you will want to make sure you know all the things you have to ensure to make a safe cut.
That, in essence, comes down to ensuring two things – that you minimize the chance of a kickback and that you are out of harm’s way in case a kickback does happen. And that is exactly what the thirteen tips above will help you achieve.
If you need more help, check my guide to using a circular saw as well.