Learn How to Use a Circular Saw

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If you plan on creating any larger projects in your shop, you are going to need a circular saw so you might as well take some time to learn how to use one! 

If you would ask what power tool you would need to be the anchor of your work shop I would have to say the Circular Saw. By far when it comes to cutting wood for a project that Shari and I are doing, I reach for my Circular saw 75% of the time.

Circular saws come in various sizes, with different features and in a wide price range, from about $60.00 for a good entry level tool up to 150 for a saw that is more of a professional model and can last a lifetime.

The standard saw is a 7 ¼ inch model; the number refers to the diameter of the blade that the tool holds. This saw can cut through 1 – 1 ½ inch thick lumber, 2/4s 2 x 6 in a single pass set at 90degrees.

For my purposes, I use the saw to cut all types of plywood, framing material, even small pieces of trim. If I can’t use a hand saw this is the saw I grab.

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The basic parts of the saw are height adjustment, which lifts or lowers the blade to control the depth of the cut.

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The bevel adjustment tilts the saw to one side for making bevel cuts up to 45 degrees. Guard lever, used to slide the guard away from the blade while starting cuts on thin stock or when making a plunge cut, the blade guard, which prevents accidental contact with the blade. And of course the handle which contains the trigger switch.

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There are a variety of blades that you can purchase for all types of cutting. Most saws come with a general purpose blade; it usually is a 20 tooth carbide blade that combines speed and long life with a fairly smooth cut. It is the workhorse of saw blades.

I also have on hand a 40 tooth trim blade, this is a finish blade, they cut more slowly, but for a much smoother cut. You can also purchase, masonry blades, plywood blades, decking blades, but if you start with these two blades, you’ll keep plenty busy.

OK, I must warn you if you have never used a circular saw or if you have just gotten a little too relaxed with the saw; it is a power saw and can do lots of damage to wood and to yourself. If you use a circular saw improperly you will remember it for life.

So here are a few tips.

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Setting the proper blade depth is the first step taken before starting a cut. Proper blade depth will minimize kickback. When cutting a 2 x 4, for instance, unplug the saw and adjust the blade to a depth that leaves the lowest tooth no more than about 1/8 inch beneath the wood.

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Always mark the cut line with a pencil and a square, I like to use a roofing square for this and the next step. Guide the saw along the edge of the square, this step has two purposes, first if the saw goes out of line during the cut, the blade could bind and the saw could kick back at you. The square will also ensure a nice smooth cut. Make sure that the broadest part of the base is on the “keep” side of the wood you are cutting.

Never lift the saw while the blade is still moving, finish your cut completely through the wood until the off cut drops free then stop the saw.

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When cutting plywood, always support the plywood by using 2 x 4 supports over a pair of sawhorses, this will eliminate the plywood from flexing during the cut, if the plywood flexes too much, the cut edges could pinch the blade which will result in kick backs.

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Adjust your blade so that there are just enough teeth to cut through the material. The less blade, the less likelihood of pinching should the ply flex.

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Always cut with the plywood’s good face facing down because a circular saw cuts cleanest where the teeth are entering the wood. Use a straightedge to guide the saw. I keep long straight pieces of 1×2 or 1 x 4 that I can clamp with my quick release clamps. There are straight edge guide that you can purchase, but I have great luck with this set up.

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While I cut the blade just barely cuts through my 2 x 4 supports. I never lift the saw or pull backwards as I cut, you’re just asking for kickbacks. If the blade binds, turn off the saw and reposition. I steer the saw with my right hand, and guide the base with my left, placing my thumb on the small indentation in the corner of the saws base. If I need to change position to complete a cut, I shut off the saw before making a move.

Just make sure that you stand to the side of the saw as you cut and please promise me, while working in the shop you will always wear your protective eyewear and that you use ear protection (something I didn’t use while I was starting out, but use all the time now).

If you are interested in purchasing a circular saw, go to your local home center store and ask them if they are having a manufactures demonstration. You will see a saw in action and be able to try one out before purchasing. Don’t be afraid to test drive a saw before you buy one. I have even gone to construction sites and asked the carpenters which brand of circular saw they prefer to use. And most of all practice, spend time learning how the saw works, the circular saw is a tool the in indispensable.

Be safe and good wood working.

Matt

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