How to Use a Circular Saw – Tips and Techniques
A circular saw is a power tool with an abrasive disc or toothed blade used to cut different materials with a rotary motion spin on its primary moving part around an arbor. As the blade spins, it grinds or slices through material quickly, making short work of many a work piece.
With that said, how can you safely use this saw? How can you keep wood from ripping its veneer after doing a cut? Sure, the tool itself comes with instructions on usage, but what advanced techniques can you learn in order to maximize the potential of this portable and versatile hand tool? Keep on reading to find out!
What You Will Need
Here are the tools and materials you need for this tutorial.
The Circular Saw Itself: You can't learn to use something from just reading guides. You need hands-on experience from the saw itself so that you yourself can see its pros and cons by trial and error.
Wooden Work Piece: It could be a block of wood, a wooden board, or even raw timber. Anything wooden that the saw can cut can be considered a work piece. These come in all shapes, sizes, and weights.
Support Pieces: You can use spare plywood and boards to hold up your actual work pieces. Read on to know more about proper support technique.
Sawhorse: It's the support you need in lieu of an actual table saw or even table. You might need to construct a barebones table altogether with these sawhorses in order to properly cut your work piece.
Pencil: This will help you mark where you're supposed to cut. Some saws have their own guides but many don't so it pays to have this marker handy and available.
Blade Guard: You need to hold this up when doing angled cuts so that it doesn't bind the saw or make it come off track, thus ruining the work piece cut.
Gravity: Thanks to a neat carpenter's framing trick outlined below, you can use gravity to your advantage when it comes to cutting heavy boards without the need for sawhorses.
Follow these step-by-step instructions carefully to properly use your circular saw.
Establishing Proper Blade Depth
Don't set your blade too deep. Such a blade is much more dangerous to you and your fingers than a correctly set blade because more of the blade is exposed as you cut, thus resulting in a higher risk of a saw-related injury. Additionally, you also want to avoid getting a kick back or bind from a blade that's set too deep. Most importantly, you want a properly set blade that's able to cut efficiently.
Determine the depth of the blade by unplugging your saw then holding alongside the board with the blade guard retracted. Loosen the depth adjustment knob or lever and pivot the base of the saw until the blade extends about ½ to ¼ inch below the board. Once you get the right depth, tighten the knob or lever. Now you're ready to pull the trigger and saw!
Avoid Binding by Allowing the Cutoff to Freely Fall Away
Make certain that the board you're cutting is free to fall or move away always. The board can end up binding the saw if you don't have a place for it to properly fall. Not to mention, you can also end up damaging the work piece if you don't plan for these things ahead of time. You can also injure your foot from falling wood if you're not careful.
Let the cut end fall for the rough cuts in framing lumber. Beware when it comes to the falling piece taking a sliver of wood as the cut is about to be completed. Its own weight can lead to it ripping part of the other wood as it falls. Prevent splintering by supporting the board continuously. However, don't restrict, hold, or clamp the cutoff piece.
Learn the Proper Plywood Cutting Technique
The plywood you're crosscutting should have support. Crosscutting this work piece without anything supporting it across its length can lead to the saw binding. The cutoff piece of the plywood could also end up tearing or splintering the veneer, thus ruining the piece. Get a pair of 2x4s to support the plywood if you're using sawhorses.
This will give you ample support when push comes to shove. You should not cut wooden work pieces that are supported on both ends. This can present a bit of a kickback problem. It's like cutting off the tree limb you're sitting on. It's a disaster waiting to happen. The board bows downward as this type of cut nears completion. This causes the board or saw to buck and pinch the blade. This can damage the board and make a mess when everything is said and done.
Rip Cuts Require Secured Boards Too
When doing a rip cut on a board, it should be secured. Otherwise, rip the lumber with a more stable table saw instead of a circular saw. Only use the circular saw if you're forced to use it due to the lack of a table saw and the rip cut you need doesn't have to be too precise. Stability is needed here.
Find a way to hold the board as it is getting rip cut. Alas, clamps tend to get in your way unless the board you're ripping apart is quite wide. So instead of clamps, you should use tacks or nails that fasten the board to your sawhorses. Make sure the nails protrude so that you can trip them off with the claw of your hammer afterwards. Otherwise, just pull the board off by its backside if it has flush-hammered nails.
Angle Cuts Require You to Hold the Blade Guard Up
In order to start angled cuts, the proper technique involves holding the blade guard up. Or you can buy once of those fancy newer saws that has retractable blade guards included. Those retract even when you're sawing at an angle. However, you should still retract the guards manually as you start with your angled cut.
It should be automatic or second nature. You want to cut at an angle? Retract the blade guard to get really deep into the cut. Only after you're a few inches into the cut can you release the blade guard (do so slowly). Make it rest on the board. The reason you need to hold up the guard when doing an angled cut is because it could catch on the wood and cause the blade to bind or wander off course.
Start Again If the Saw Wanders from Your Guide Line
If your saw is off the line, start over rather than attempting to save your progress. Mistakes should be redone or retook rather than adjusted on the fly. It takes practice to cut along a straight line with a circular saw. After you've gotten the blade aligned and cutting along the line, it doesn't take much effort on your part to keep the blade on track.
However, if you start off crooked, chances are you'll end up crooked as well. You should begin straight and accurate in order to finish that way too as far as how circular saws are built. Don't bother attempting to steer the blade back onto the line, you won't make it. It's more practical to stop, withdraw from the cut, then cut along the line again as you start over. Practice makes perfect.
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Cut Heavy Boards with Gravity Instead of Sawhorses
Sawhorses are great for cutting heavy pieces of lumber like joists. However, in order to evolve as a carpenter or construction worker, you need to learn other avenues and methods in cutting boards. There's even an easier way to cut them without hoisting them up unto sawhorses, at that. It's all about wooing the harsh mistress known as gravity to your side.
Just let the board rest against your shin and on your toe. From there, align the saw with your mark and allow gravity to pull the saw through the cut. Just be careful to keep the saw at least 12 inches from your toe. Once you become skilled enough to do this without risk of injury, you won't have to end up using sawhorses as some sort of crutch. You can now cut these heavy boards on the fly.
When it comes to using circular saws, it's all about knowing the tricks and tools of the trade. Only experience can turn a beginner user into an expert. Everyone has a Day 1 and in order to get any good, you need to keep at a given trade. Just take note that this is merely a primer or taste of what's needed to be a pro circular saw user for woodworking and whatnot.
All the same, I wish I had these tips available to me when I started learning the trade of carpentry. It would've saved me a lot of splintered boards and off-track cuts to know when to start over or to learn how to set the blade right the first time around. At any rate, did you enjoy this article? Please feel free to share it if you did. Also put in your thoughts in the comments below.