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How to Use a Circular Saw – The Ultimate Calibration & Cutting Guide

Here’s a detailed guide on how to use a circular saw. What cuts can they make? What’s the right cutting procedure? Let’s find out.

Purchased your first circular saw or planning to buy one? Wonder what’s the right way to use it or what are its cutting capabilities?

You’ve knocked on the right door.

We’ve designed this guide in a step-by-step fashion, from the cutting choice up to the switching off of the saw after completing a cut. 

We hope that you’ll find all the information you need to learn what circular saws allow us to do and how to use them safely and effectively.

What Cuts Can Circular Saws Make?

Different Types of Circular Saws

Circular Saw Sizes

How to Use a Circular Saw

Keep reading to find out how to use a circular saw or click any section above.

What Cuts Can Circular Saws Make?

A circular saw is capable of making just about any straight cut. It’s an incredibly portable tool that will allow you to make cuts easily at a job site.

Because of its versatility, some may compare it to another very versatile saw, the table saw – see our guide on how to use a table saw.

The thing is you may not get the same amount of precision, accuracy, and repeatability as you would with a table saw. But a circular saw allows you to do a lot of the same work with the portability of a handheld tool. 

With a circular saw, you’ll be able to make the following cuts:

  • Rip cut: a cut that goes along the length of a board in the same direction as the grain.
  • Crosscut: a cut made perpendicular (90°) to the wood grain. This is the type of cut you perform when making long boards of lumber shorter.
  • Plunge cut: a cut made directly in the middle of the material.
  • Miter cut: a crosscut made with an angle other than 90°. 
  • Bevel cut: an angled cut that shapes the face of the material to an angle other than 90°.
  • Compound cut: a cut that combines a miter angle and a bevel angle.

Making accurate cuts with a circular saw takes time and practice. But for all its portability and versatility, it’s an invaluable tool.

Different Types of Circular Saws

There are essentially five types of circular saws:

Sidewinder Circular Saw

On this type of saw, the motor is mounted in line with the blade. That’s why it’s also called an in-line circular saw. This setup makes it a more compact, portable, and lighter circular saw, which is why it tends to be preferred by many carpenters. The in-line placement of the motor gives it less torque but more speed than other circular saws.

Worm Drive Circular Saw

It’s the most popular type of circular saw. It has a motor that, unlike other saws, is placed at the back, giving you extended reach when you cut. It uses right-angle gears with large teeth that provide more power but also adds weight. It’s a strong saw with extended durability, but it requires regular maintenance, such as adding oil.

Hypoid Circular Saw

Just like a worm drive saw, a hypoid saw has its motor at the rear end and uses right-angle gear. However, its transmission system is a bit different and allows more torque to be delivered. Unlike a worm drive circular saw, this type of saw doesn’t need oil changes as the gears are sealed in an oil bath.

Compact/Mini Circular Saw

Mini circular saws are extremely compact and portable. They’re generally made for cutting material up to 1 in. thick easily and with great comfort.

Track/Plunge Saw

A track saw is a more sophisticated and accurate type of circular saw. It slides on a rail during the cut. This is great for performing long and accurate cuts. Unlike other saws, a track saw is designed to be either started at the edge of the material or plunged directly into where you need to cut.

Circular Saw Sizes

If you’re planning to buy one, you should know that circular saws are sized on the size of the blades they can accept. In other words, you can only put one blade size on a circular saw.

Obviously, the larger the blade, the thicker the material you’ll be able to cut.

Circular saws range from 3¼ in. to over 10¼ in. in size, and the most widely used circular saw is the 7¼ in. saw. 

How to Use a Circular Saw

Get Familiar with Your Circular Saw

Sidewinder Circular Saw Setup Example

Long before you start thinking about powering it up, you should take enough time to get to know your brand-new circular saw. Read the instruction manual and learn how to use it before trying it out. That way, you’ll learn about its different parts and how it works within a few minutes.
By the way, that’s what we all should do each time we use a new power tool, especially those with a sharp blade spinning fast!

Check the Calibration of Your Circular Saw

Unplug

First off, for obvious safety reasons, make sure your circular saw is de-energized.

  • Unplug it from the outlet or remove the battery if it’s a cordless model.

Check the Blade

Whenever you check your circular saw, quickly inspect the aspect of the blade.

  • Look for any irregularities, warps, or bends. Most of the time, you’ll only need to do a little cleaning

Check The Alignment of the Blade

To make sure your saw is driving the blade straight, you should check whether the blade is parallel to the shoe. You don’t want the blade to skew away in any direction as it may flex and bend, thus getting out of track or even stopping the cut’s progress.

  • Set the cutting depth to the maximum.
  • Lock the cutting depth adjustment.
  • Turn your circular saw upside down.
  • Measure the distance between the shoe edge and the blade’s farthest forward point.
  • Measure the distance between the shoe edge and the blade’s farthest rearward point.
  • If the two measured distances are equal, the alignment is good.
  • If they’re not, however, you may want to read the manual or contact the brand’s technical service department for advice on how to align the blade and the shoe.

Check the Bevel Angle

Sometimes, and throughout its life, it’s good to check the bevel adjustment on your circular saw.

You want to check that the saw is accurate at 90° and/or 45°. In other words, there should be 90° between the blade and the shoe of the saw when no bevel angle is set, and 45° when you set a 45° bevel angle.

Check the accuracy at 90°:

  • Set the cutting depth to the maximum.
  • Lock the cutting depth adjustment.
  • Set the bevel angle to 0.
  • Lock the bevel adjustment.
  • Turn your circular saw upside down.
  • Place a square between the shoe and the blade. Be careful not to put the square on a blade tooth to avoid measurement errors.
  • If the angle is not 90°, first unlock the bevel adjustment. Then, find the bevel adjustment set screw on your saw and give it a turn or two.
  • Lock the bevel adjustment.
  • Check the angle again.
  • Repeat until the angle is 90°.

Check the accuracy at 45°

  • Repeat the above first five steps and set the bevel adjustment to 45°.
  • But this time, place a square between the shoe and the blade the other way round, with the hypotenuse facing the blade.
  • If the angle is accurate, the square should fit perfectly.
  • If it doesn’t, as above, use the bevel adjustment set screw and fine-tune your circular saw until the angle is 45°.

Choosing the Right Saw Blade

Depending on the material, its thickness, and the type of cut you want to make, you’ll need different blades for your saw.

A woodworking example:

  • An 18 tooth blade will make short work of any rip cut but it leaves a very rough finish on any crosscut or plywood.
  • A 40 tooth crosscut blade leaves a nicer edge to your cut but it might bog down on longer rip cuts.

Get the type of blade that is adapted to the material you want to cut. As for the number of teeth on the blade, the basic rule to have in mind when choosing a blade is that the more teeth, the finer the cut.

Adjustments

Set the Cutting Depth

  • Unlock the cutting depth adjustment.
  • You want your blade to be extending only about ¼ in. below the depth of the material you’re cutting. Cutting too far through is not only dangerous, but it makes harder work for the saw.
  • Set and lock the depth you want.

Set the Bevel Angle

  • Unlock the bevel adjustment.
  • On most saws, there are built-in detents for 90° and 45° cuts.
  • Set and lock the bevel angle you want.

Safety Tips

  • Any time you use a circular saw or any power tool, please always wear eye and hearing protection. Also, secure any clothing, jewelry, or long hair. 
  • Depending on the material you’re cutting, you’ll also want to wear work gloves or a dust mask.
  • The lower blade guard protects you from the blade when it’s spinning. Make sure that it’s on there and that it’s functioning properly. On most saws, it will automatically retract when making a cut. You can also use the lever to pull it back manually. This will keep it out of the way when making plunge cuts or irregular cuts.
  • Clamp your piece to the work surface so you can use both hands to guide the saw.
  • You don’t really want the material you’re cutting to be supported on both sides. If you have to, please be very careful as this can be dangerous. If the material were to pinch the blade as you make your cut, the saw might jump out of the material.
  • Stand on the side of the saw when you cut. You don’t want to be behind the saw if it were to kickback.
  • Don’t grab the cut-off pieces. Just let them fall.

Cutting

Ready? Now it’s time to make your first cut with a circular saw.

General Cutting Guidelines

  • (Draw a line on the material to where you want to cut. Use either a pencil or a chalk line.)
  • Set the cutting depth.
  • Rest the shoe of the saw flat on the material.
  • Align the blade with your mark but don’t make it touch the material yet. If the blade is already touching the material when you start the saw, it might get stuck in it.
  • If you’re right-handed, grip the rear handle with your right hand and place your left hand on the front handle to provide additional stability as you work. If you’re left-handed, simply reverse this orientation
  • Pull the trigger and let the blade spin up to full speed before moving it into the material.
  • Push the blade smoothly through the material. Use the guide slots on the shoe or watch the blade directly to guide your saw along the cut line. The slot labeled “0” indicates the location of the blade when no bevel angle is set. The slot labeled “45”  shows the blade location when the shoe is set up for making 45° bevel cuts.
  • Don’t push the saw too quickly. Just let the blade do the work.
  • When your cut is complete, push the blade completely away from the material. 
  • Release the trigger and wait for the blade to come to a complete stop.

Rip Cut Tips

  • Assuming you’re not using a track saw, to make rips cuts, you can use a long 1×4 board as a guide for your saw. Or, you may prefer using a long beam level or buying a circular saw jig. You can also make your own circular saw guide. Whatever it is, make sure your guide is straight and even, and clamp it to the material before cutting.
  • Follow the general cutting guidelines.

Crosscut and Miter Cut Tips

  • Use a speed square to draw straight or angled lines for your crosscuts and miter cuts. You can also use it as a guide for your cuts. Simply clamp the square to your material and press the shoe against the square to help guide the saw.
  • Follow the general cutting guidelines for crosscuts.
  • The saw blade has a tendency to wander when making miter cuts. So lift your blade up before starting a miter cut and hold the saw firmly. Combine the general cutting guidelines and the plunge cut procedure.  

Bevel Cut

Plunge Cut Tips

Track saws are really the best for making plunge cuts. But, if you’re using another type of circular saw, follow these steps:

  • Draw line(s) in the middle of the material to where you want to cut.
  • Raise your blade guard and hold it.
  • Align the guide slot with the line.
  • Lift the back of the saw up. The blade must not touch the material.
  • Pull the trigger and let the blade spin up to full speed.
  • Plunge the blade slowly until the shoe is flat on the material. At the same time, make sure the blade is cutting on the line.
  • Release your blade guard.
  • Run your cut. Don’t push the saw too quickly. Just let the blade do the work.
  • At the end of the cut, release the trigger and wait for the blade to come to a complete stop.

Learn More About Power Saws

Check out our articles on how to use a table saw and how to use a miter saw.

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