There are a few essential tools that you’ll see in a woodworking shop as well as at a construction site. Among these tools is an assortment of manual and power saws that allow a crafter or contractor to make a variety of woodcuts with ease.
Most notable among these saws is the circular saw, a versatile power saw that can be used for making a variety of straight rip and plunge cuts – even of narrow boards – in a matter of seconds.
Fortunately, if you’re in the novice crowd, you can increase your practical knowledge of this crucial tool with this guide. Herein, you’ll learn the general steps for safely using a circular saw. From there, you’ll also learn about the several considerations needed to make curved and long cuts.
How to Use a Circular Saw
Let’s start by looking at the steps you need to take to use a circular saw in general, to make any types of cuts.
Step 1: Read Manual and Gather Safety Equipment
Before ever plugging in your new circular saw, you should first become familiar with all of its parts and functions.
To do this efficiently, you should read through your model’s entire owner’s manual. In particular, you should pay attention to all safety recommendations made for your unit. Newer models have added modern safety features, so even a seasoned woodworker should pay heed to their manual’s recommendations.
Meanwhile, DIYers without much experience using a circular saw should use this opportunity to learn about the placement of their unit’s trigger and trigger lock switch.
At the same time, any productive circular saw user should also identify their unit’s shoe as well as any depth or bevel adjustment knobs. Learning your unit’s blade size and style can also be very useful when it comes time to choose one.
While reading your owner’s manual, you should also take note of any personal safety equipment recommendations made by your unit’s manufacturer.
In all likelihood, this will include the wearing of eye and ear protection. A mouth respirator may also be warranted in situations where excessive dust could become a bother. Tight-fitting clothing is also recommended to avoid loose fabric from hanging near your saw’s active blade.
Step 2: Measure Cut and Choose a Blade
With your reading and safety precautions addressed, you’re ready to begin preparation work for your circular saw cut. The first of these preparations should involve measuring out your desired cut.
This can be done with a tape measure. Then, you’ll want to immediately mark the entire length of where you intend to cut. This can be done with a pencil, chalk, or even chalk line tool (ideally, your marking method should be non-permanent).
Once you’ve marked your intended cut location, you’re ready to pick out a circular saw blade. If you’ve just taken your unit out of the package, you’ll probably have a hooked-tooth blade of the correct size and width already installed on your unit.
However, if you are looking to cut thicker or harder stock, you’ll want to invest in a more capable blade. Don’t forget that there are circular saw blades for metal and ceramics, too, which you may need if your task calls for cuts to those materials.
Here are some blade type suggestions based upon the size and type of material you may want to cut with your circular saw:
- Plywood blade: Standard uniform hooked-tooth blade, ideal for cutting plywood
- Ripping blade: Larger teeth and gullets than a plywood blade, ideal for rip cuts
- Crosscutting blade: Smaller, more teeth, ideal for cutting across a work piece’s grain
- Fine-tooth blade: Very small, compact teeth, ideal for creating a smooth cut finish
- Paneling blade: Small vertical teeth, ideal for cutting paneling and thin veneer
- Dado blade: For making dado cuts
Step 3: Set Depth, Plug-in, and Align the Shoe
Once you’ve selected the blade that matches your project’s requirements, you should mount it into your unit according to your manual’s instructions.
Once that is done, you can begin to make adjustments to your unit’s depth and angle. This can be done by loosening and adjusting the depth and angle knobs respectively (locations of these knobs will vary by unit).
When it comes to setting depth, most circular saw cutting jobs can be best completed with a 1/4-inch depth. This provides the blade enough space to make a full cut without excessively exposing the blade. As for choosing an angle, many circular saw cuts do not require a bevel at all.
However, if your cut does need to be beveled, be sure to run a sample cut on a piece of scrap wood after completing the following steps to ensure that your adjustments are sound.
If you have not already done so, you should now don your personal protective equipment and ensure that it is properly adjusted. Once that is done, you may plug your circular saw in (or place in its battery, if it is a cordless unit).
From this point on, your circular saw must be considered “live,” thus requiring you to pay special attention to the safety precautions described at the end of this guide.
Before moving to the next step, you’ll want to place the shoe of your unit. To do this, set the shoe against the edge of your workpiece and align your inactive blade with your marked cut line.
Step 4: Lift Blade Guard, Press Lock Switch and Begin the Cut
At this point, you are effectively ready to begin your circular saw cut.
But before you can do that, you’ll need to lift away your unit’s blade guard. Some modern models do this automatically when the trigger is pulled. However, some still require a manual drawback of the guard. To minimize your risk at this juncture, remove your hand from the trigger space while pulling back the guard.
You may also need to hold down a guard lock switch when performing this step.
Along the same lines, you will very likely need to press and hold down a trigger lock switch before you are able to turn on your circular saw. Take your unit by its several handles and locate this switch. Hold it down and then pull the trigger.
Your unit’s blade should immediately come to life.
Step 5: Follow the Line and Finish the Cut
With your unit fully engaged, you can begin to make your circular saw cut. To do this, keep the trigger pulled and begin to press the active blade against the edge of your workpiece. As the blade begins to cut into the workpiece, apply a small amount of force so that then blade begins to follow your marked line.
Continue to do this until you reach the end of your cut. At that point, you should withdraw your saw before letting go of the trigger. Once you are finished with all necessary cuts, you should immediately unplug your circular saw.
How to Make Straight Long Cuts in Plywood and Other Materials with a Circular Saw
When it comes to making straight, long cuts through plywood or any other material with a circular saw, you’ll basically want to follow most of the steps outlined above. However, there are a few keys to making this type of straight cut a success, regardless of what material you are dealing with.
First and foremost, you’ll want to use a sharp blade. This sounds obvious, but a dull blade can cause even a straight cut to become uneven and rough.
After that, you’ll want to carefully watch your saw’s blade while it follows your pre-marked line. This will help ensure that your cut remains as straight as possible without requiring extra guesswork.
However, the most sure-fire way to create a straight cut of any length is to use a guide. This can be done by clamping a piece of scrap wood to your workpiece and using it as a physical barrier for your cut. Alternatively, you can pick up a purpose-made guide attachment for your saw model.
These can help keep you on track without requiring extra set-up.
How to Cut Curves Using a Circular Saw
Many folks believe that they can cut curves with a circular saw.
There is some truth to that belief, but you’ll be effectively working against the safe design of your circular saw if you choose to do this. The circular saw is not ideal for curved cuts at all. Instead, you should strongly consider investing in a jigsaw for this purpose.
However, if you still want to cut a curve using your circular saw, you should start by marking your intended curve line. This line must be a fairly broad curve or else your blade will not be able to work at an appropriate angle. If your curves angle ends up too tight, your blade will bind, leading to blade damage as well as likely damaging your cut’s finish.
From there, you can slowly use your circular saw to progressively cut out your desired curve. This process may take several tries to get right, so it is important to practice with scrap wood before moving on to your workpiece. Said workpiece should be made from thinner stock, as thicker stock also tends to increase the chances of undesirable binding.
The Basics of Circular Saw Safety
In addition to always wearing proper personal protective equipment, here are a few more safety basics that you should keep in mind while using your circular saw:
- Never turn on your circular saw when its blade is against the material. This can cause either the saw or the workpiece to “buck” unpredictably, which can lead to an accident or injury.
- Always lift the circular saw’s blade out of the cut before turning off the blade. This ensures that the cut remains as clean as possible from start to finish.
- When possible, shoulder your saw’s cord. This can be done by coiling up any loose cord and throwing it around the arm with which you are not primarily supporting the unit. This prevents it from getting in your way or in the way of the saw as it cuts.
- Whenever possible, perform circular saw cuts on a self-supported surface. Cutting on wood surfaces is risky because you could accidentally cut through that surface, causing your saw to drop suddenly.
For more tips, check my detailed guide on circular saw safety.
Using a Circular Saw Like a Pro: Tips & Tricks
After you’ve practiced the basics of using a circular saw, you’ll be ready to try out some of the following tips and tricks. They’ll surely help you take your circular saw cutting capacity to the next level:
- Position your workpiece so that the cutoff material falls freely. This can usually be done by position a plank or board so that it hangs off of a supporting structure’s edge (while still remaining secure, of course).
- Don’t be afraid to restart a cut if your blade wanders. Doing so often helps you get a desirable finish on your cut that won’t need to be trimmed down at a later time.
- Experiment with different saw blade types. You’ll be surprised to learn that some lumber types cut more effectively with a finer-tooth blade.
As you’ve now seen, there are a number of steps you’ll need to complete if you want to learn how to use a circular saw properly. But rest assured because all of these steps and safety recommendations will ensure that your future use of a circular saw is as productive as useful.
Once it comes time to utilize your circular saw, be sure to refer back to this guide so that you can grow in your mastery of this power tool without any setbacks.