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The circular saw is an essential modern woodworking tool. It’s relatively inexpensive, rugged, and can be used for many applications. There are also many things to consider when trying to finesse the most out of your saw. Here are some handy tips and tricks for the next time you grab yours.

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Michael Colombo

In addition to being an online editor for MAKE Magazine, Michael Colombo works in fabrication, electronics, sound design, music production and performance (Yes. All that.) In the past he has also been a childrens’ educator and entertainer, and holds a Masters degree from NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program.


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  1. Having witnessed more mishaps than I’d like, I’ll suggest a few more:
    • Keep the blade guard clean and oiled so it always closes quickly.
    • Never trust the blade guard to close; always visually check that the blade is covered before setting the saw down.
    • Be mindful of the possibility of kickback. Think about where the saw will go if the wood binds the blade and make sure there are no body parts near that path.
    • If you do have to stop in the middle of a long cut (perhaps because you forgot to plan ahead for the cord), wait for the blade to completely stop before relaxing your grip on the saw.

    Jeff :)

    1. These are all great tips! Thanks for contributing everyone.

  2. Trav says:

    I see, said the blind carpenter, who picked up his hammer and saw.

  3. Ill add a few more.
    *always use a sharp blade, this can save lots of frustration and help prevent kick back.
    *some materials will cut better with the blade installed backwards, like vinyl siding.

  4. David says:

    It’s much easier to scribe a line with the tape measure reversed from above picture: by gripping the tape between your thumb and forefinger at the desired measurement and pressing them against the side of the board, then holding your pencil against the hook of the tape and sliding both hands together.

    1. Interesting… I imagine the angle formed by the tape hook would shorten the measurement slightly though, but it’d probably be negligible. Also I imagine this works better for certain tapes – some don’t have much of a lip between the tape end and the start of the tape measure’s body.

    2. Trav says:

      I agree much easier, but you do have to watch for splinters while sliding your finger along the edge.

  5. For my money, the best hobbyist/homeowner saw out there is a Skil 5480. I wrote about why I love mine @ http://woodshopcowboy.com/2012/07/26/tool-primer-circular-saw/.

    My tips: use a circular saw rather than a table saw to cut large sheet goods. I place Styrofoam, 1″ thick, on the ground and place my large sheet on top of that. I adjust the depth of the cut so the blade goes through the wood and misses my floor. Saw away. Very little chance of kickback, blade binding/pinching, cutting myself, etc.

    Use saw guides. I use two. One, a long (4′ or longer) straight 1″x2″ hardwood runner glued onto an 8″ wide strip of hardboard or thin plywood. I place the runner off-center (about 2″ from one edge”. I then rip one side of the 1×2 with the skinny side of the shoe against the fence, and the other with the wide side of the shoe This creates a saw guide which can be placed directly against the saw line for a perfect cut everytime.

    The other saw guide is a square piece of plywood with two fences. One on the topside going the direction of the cutting motion and one on the underside at 90 deg to the first. You place the guide on a piece of scrap 2×4, horizontal fence down,,adjust the height and cut along the vertical fence. This creates a square cutting guide with an exact cut line.

    Last but not least: blades are important. Go expensive. Expensive blades in cheap saws are amazing. Cheap blades in expensive saws are not.

    1. Alex French says:

      A million times yes to the saw guide.

      It is much more accurate and versatile than the little fence attachment. This should absolutely be in a “ten tips for using a circular saw” article.

      I even like a little 18″ version for cross cutting wide lumber.

    2. Using 1″ thick Styrofoam sounds like a great trick.

      I’d love to see some diagrams of those saw guides you described.

  6. David says:

    “Appropriate Technology reminds us that before we choose our tools and techniques, we must choose our dreams and values. For some technologies serve them, while others make them unobtainable.” Tom Sender, Rainbook.

    Hand tools have many advantages over power tools and are many times preferred.
    Safer: if sometimes goes wrong with power, it can be really quick and really bad.
    Minimal setup time for small jobs.
    Noise is vastly less so no ear protection needed and neighbors are not bothered especially at odd hours.
    Longer tool life and easier repair.
    No dangling power cord, no cut cord.
    Power independence.

    A QUALITY carpenter’s hand saw is heat-treated high-grade alloy, precision ground to a taper so is thicker at the teeth for clearance. A SHARP saw will cut plywood. Most saws today are cheap, stamped sheet-metal, non-sharpenable throw-aways. Some saw shops have good used quality saws.

    Hand-powered miter saw. Most younger carpenters don’t understand this saw but the excitement and use by older craftsmen is changing perception. A saw shop can custom cut bandsaw blades with a variety of teeth and profiles.
    Such as:
    Ulmia Ott mitre saw box model 354
    Detail description, tecnical Data and Spare parts
    http://www.ulmia.de/English/Downloads/30.pdf
    Various blades
    “sold exclusively through specialist retail outlets.”

  7. P Guncheon says:

    To reduce chipping when cross cutting plywood, you can do one of two things: Score the cut line with a razor knife or work on the ‘back’ side of the material.

    1. Tommy Phillips says:

      A bit more detail, for those times you are cutting the LAST piece of expensive oak-faced ply, and the cut MUST be perfect:
      1. Score the show side of the ply with a sharp knife, along the keep side of the kerf (in other words, exactly on the width you want to cut)
      2. Cover the cut line with low-tack tape; this keeps any fibers that lift from completely splitting out
      3. Cut from the other side, so the cuts happen as the teeth enter the show side, so the pressure presses the fibers toward the rest of the board, instead of lifting them away.
      4. Double-check where the kerf is. Almost nothing is more frustrating than going to all that trouble and being short by the width of your blade.

      This level of fussiness can take time to set up, and you might learn things about your squares and straight-edges you didn’t know, but if it can save you a trip to the lumber yard (or worse, the big-box store), it might be worth the extra effort.

  8. Hearing protection too. Those things will blow out your ears. A dust mask is absolutely necessary if you are cutting MDF.

    Blade selection — fine tooth for decent plywood if you are cutting cabinet parts; otherwise, a rough carpentry blade for 2x4s etc.

    Make a shooting board guide for long cuts on a sheet of plywood. Will save you all kinds of hassle and give you a nice uniform cut piece.

  9. jamesbx says:

    - Check under your cut before you start to make sure the blade won’t hit anything.

    - Make sure your material won’t slide while you are pushing the saw into it.

    - Don’t stick your free hand out in front of the saw to hold the board.

    - Check your blade for square with a square, don’t trust the stamped angle guide.

    - Unplug the saw before you make any adjustments or change the blade.

    - If you use a clamped rip guide, clamp handles down. Make sure the saw motor clears the clamps.

    - Circular saws are crude implements of destruction. Use a light pass with a router and a metal fence to square your saw cut, particularly if you are gluing the edge.

    - Plug into a GFI for outdoor work. Don’t run that cord out a window and stand in a puddle.

  10. Jay says:

    Agree with the safety tips mentioned. I would relate two tales:
    Brother-in-law once sawed through some very nice snowtires while using them as sawhorses.
    Once a neighbor, working on the roof of his pool bathhouse, carefully avoided the rafters he was working on but when he reached the end of his cut, the plywood folded up and he fell with his locked saw still running 15 feet to the floor below. The safety guard has closed however and he avoided doing heart surgery on his own chest, which is where the still-running saw landed.

  11. dave says:

    whatever you do, do not mount a 7.25″ circular saw blade to a 4.5″ angle grinder…. unless you like loosing your hands/feet/life

  12. izzy says:

    Food for thought… You start with “use goggles” (clearly aimed at derfs) then use the non-layperson word “kerf” without defining it. Who exactly is your audience?

    1. I tried to run the gamut of tips that would appeal to a broad range of skill sets. All the same, I trust that if the “use goggles” tip is useful to you, you’re also savvy enough to google “kerf.” Btw, I love the derf/kerf rhyme in your comment. :)

  13. Sam Grove says:

    My tip for using a circular saw is to try a hypoid (or worm gear) circular saw. I found the difference amazing. They tend to be heavier, but are much easier to handle when cutting.

  14. mloshe234 says:

    Thanks for the share. Another tip I would add would be to wear some work gloves while operating the saw to get a better grip. I have seen way to many people get hurt buy not having a sturdy grip on the saw.

  15. Donte White says:

    My experience:If you use your right hand to run a saw, buy one with blade on the left; if you use your left hand, buy one with the blade on the right. You need to see where the blade is cutting to make an accurate cut; and working in a good position is important. The position of making a cut with an electric saw is the same as making a cut with a handsaw or hacksaw: The cut line, the blade, your forearm, elbow and shoulder should all be in one straight line.