Tips and Tricks on How to Use a Circular Saw

A circular saw is one of the most versatile and affordable tools you can own. Learn the easiest way to make straight cuts, plunge cuts and how to make nifty jigs.

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A circular saw can be a really challenging tool for any DIYer. At some point, you'll need to break down large sheet materials or have to clean up a reclaimed piece of wood, and the easiest way to do that with likely be with a circular saw. Follow these tips for better, faster and more accurate results from your trusty saw.

Know Your Saw's Guide Marks

Every circular saw has a guide sight, notched into the shoe, right in front of the blade. And nearly every saw manufacturer has seen fit to make them all look slightly different. Though they may look different, their functions are still based on the same principle. One side of the guide is for the outside edge of the blade when the saw is set to 90 degrees. The opposing side of the guide marks the outside edge of the blade when the saw is set to 45 degrees. Your saw might have more lines, or a laser, or any number of other bells and whistles. Or, it could be as simple as the two shown. No matter, the principle is still the same.

Support Your Work

When using a circular saw, it’s sometimes tough to hold your work steady and not cut into your work surface. Trying to avoid cutting sawhorses or workbenches can lead to all kinds of dangerous situations. Find a thick piece of foam or a big sheet of rigid insulation to put on top of your work surface. It’ll give your material someplace to lie flat, provide some grip, and it makes breaking down sheet goods like plywood so much easier.

Don’t Go Too Deep

After supporting your work, setting the blade depth is the next most important factor in safety and accuracy. The saw blade depth should be set so that it only comes through the underside of the work about 1/8” to 1/4”. Having too much blade exposed is not only dangerous, but it increases the likelihood of a messy cut.

Start Your Cuts Straight

A speed square is the best way to line up your cuts when you just need to make a quick, short or freehand cut. Line the guide mark up to your line, and place the square to the left side of the saw’s shoe, as shown. Hold it there as a guide as you push the saw through the cut with your other hand. Focus on using your elbow to push your arm straight through the cut and follow along the edge of the square, use your saw's guide mark and you’ll get straight cuts every time.

Making a Plunge Cut

You can use a circular saw to cut holes out of the middle of a sheet of wood, but it requires a steady hand and a little practice. Set the blade to the correct depth and align the guide mark with your cut line. Hold the blade guard back slightly while you tip the saw forward on the toe of its shoe. Start the saw and slowly lower the saw and the guard into the workpiece. Push the saw forward to your mark and stop. Once you’ve repeated that step for all four sides, you’ll have to finish the last inch or two with a small hand saw. Don’t try to cut all the way through each corner, it’ll make a big mess of your work.

An Offset Block Makes It Easy

One of the hardest parts of using a circular saw is remembering how far the blade is offset from the left side of the shoe. When you need to use a straightedge to make a long cut, having an offset block is a great way to speed things up. Cut a small block of wood that’s the same width as your saw’s offset. Then once you’ve drawn your initial cut line, place your offset block on the line, and the other edge is where your saw guide needs to be clamped. Keep your offset block in the bottom of your saw’s case so you’ll always have it handy.

A Rip Fence Makes It Flawless

What if you could combine your offset block with your straight edge? You can, and it won’t cost you more than $10. You’ll need a leftover piece of plywood and nice, straight 1x2 x 4'. Don’t worry if your plywood scrap has ugly edges, you just need it to be wider than your saw, and at least 48” long. Glue and screw the 1x2 down the middle of the plywood, then align your saw along its edge and cut through the plywood from one end to the other. Then do the same thing on the other side using the opposite edge of the saw. You now have a straight guide that you can clamp along your cutting line. This will account for your saw’s offset and allow you to make long cuts quickly and accurately.

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