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How to Use a Circular Saw

by Jonathan Logtenberg

OK, so you’ve read our Circular Saw Guide + you’ve found a saw that fits your needs. Now, here’s a few tips and tricks for cutting lumber and other materials with your new saw! Pretty much the first and most important thing we should say about using a circular saw is to be safe. Before you start working, inspect your equipment. Make sure the ”shoe” is in good shape and not bent or warped. Make sure the guard is in good shape. Make sure the ‘safety’ and ‘trigger’ mechanisms are working well.

The second thing I would tell everyone working with a circular saw as a tip is to move the saw at the same speed all the time. This sounds pretty basic, but what they call ”feed rate” is the biggest factor in circular saw performance when it comes to operator mechanics and technique. If you feed the saw too quickly, or with too much muscle, you’ll cut wood in a very dull way. Using too much muscle is always dangerous; you don’t want to slip or get reckless. However, if you don’t give it enough push, you’ll just be burning your material. No single area of wood needs to have the blade rotating on it or over it for more than a few seconds at most.

When was the last time you had your blades sharpened? It’s a good idea to say a few words about blades in this section:
If you’re not happy with your circular saw’s performance, buying a new or different blade is a much easier and smarter way to improve performance versus buying a new saw. Most blades that come with saws are not of high quality, and it also helps to have specialized blades for specific materials. Investing in a high-carbide-content blade like a Diablo may cost you an extra $10 bucks or so, but a strong blade not only makes your job faster but safer as well.

Obviously, if you’re cutting things like tile, you’ll need a diamond blade. If you’re cutting plywood, a blade with a large amount of teeth (say, a 140-tooth blade) will probably suit you the best. Speaking of plywood; it’s important to know if you plan to cut solid wood or plywood mainly with your blades. If you’re cutting through solid wood, you’ll want to know if you’re cutting ”sideways” or ”against the grain” vs cutting parallel, with the grain. Usually, blades with a small amount of teeth are ”ripping” blades, aka blades that are meant to go ”with the grain.” These ”ripping” blades shouldn’t be used on plywood or pressed wood. Not only will the big, coarse teeth wear down rather quickly, but those big, protruding teeth are going to cause splinters and coarse cuts. Crosscutting blades have many more teeth, and in a way are designed for ‘finer’ cuts. These are OK for use on plywood.

Of course, most blades that come stock on your circular saw are going to be some sort of ‘combination’ blade that will attempt to strike a balance between the two styles. So if you can eliminate one type of material or style from your list of needs, the resulting specialization will dramatically increase your performance.

Finally, you can avoid a lot of problems with splinters solely by making sure your wood is facing the correct way when you feed it to the saw. Basically, a saw blade comes from below, on the ‘bottom’ of the wood, and travels ‘upward,’ finally releasing itself ‘on the top’ of the wood. This means that all splinters are going to manifest themselves on the ‘top’ of the piece you’re cutting. So if you want to save time and energy, organize all your materials so that the ”best” side, or the side you want to face out, the side you want people to see have that side of the wood always face down. I’ll say it again; place all of your wood on the table so that the best side, the prettiest side, the side you want to face outwards on your projects put that side down.

This way, no matter how you cut or what you do the splinters or scratches will only come up on the ”backside” of your materials. Try and ”gang cut” to save time. Basically, if you have a bunch of material that’s basically the same consistency, you can cut it all together at once. For this trick you’re going to need some c-clamps or other types of clamps to secure your wood to the table. Once you clamp down your wood, make sure that all the edges line up together so that the cut happens at the same location for all the pieces of wood. Do this wrong once and you won’t do it again, believe me!

Then all you have to do is go in and cut it all at once! If you’re using sawhorses or a table to support your materials, don’t make cuts in the middle of the sawhorses/in the middle of the table! Cutting in the middle means boards will be falling all over the place, and usually inwards towards your cutting line. None of this is good.

What you want to do is set up your materials so that the short or ”small” side hangs off of the edge of your sawhorses/table. Then hopefully your small piece falls off and away from your work area, leaving the main board in place and not moving. This improves both the safety and angle of your cuts and of course keeps big boards and pieces of material from flopping and dropping everywhere.

The last technique tip Surf’n’Buy will give you is that if you ever have to cut something already mounted on a wall, or if you have to cut holes in Sheetrock that’s already been mounted, cut from the top down! Basically, let gravity help you. Let gravity do a lot of the work for you. If you start at the top and work your way down, gravity and the weight of the saw will make your cuts a breeze to make. Remember again to stay safe by wearing eye protection, clamping and securing all your materials, and making sure your equipment is in good shape.

Have fun and good luck with all your projects!

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