Circular Saw Cutting Guide

The circular saw is an indispensable tool, and these pro tips and tricks will help you get it done safer, faster, and smoother.

Man using the Skilsaw sawsquatch to make a rip | Construction Pro Tips
Photo courtesy of SKILSAW

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Get a bigger saw for deeper cuts

Cut—flip—cut again. That's how you have to cut a thick post or beam with a regular circular saw. Maybe the cuts line up, maybe they don't. With the new 10-1/4-in. worm-drive saw from Skilsaw, you can cut through thick materials in one clean pass. The saw has a cutting capacity of 3-11/16 in., and it weighs only 16.45 lbs. (less than some 7-1/4-in. worm drive saws). The motor is powerful enough to plow through the toughest laminated veneer lumber. This beast of a saw is called "the Sawsquatch".

Ripping down a long board with a circular saw | Construction Pro Tips

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Table-saw-quality rips with a circular saw

Even if you own a table saw, sometimes it's easier to rip large sheets of plywood with a circular saw. The trick to a perfectly straight cut is to clamp a straightedge to the plywood and use it as a guide for your saw. On most circular saws, the distance between the edge of the saw's base and the blade is 1-1/2 in., so you can simply position the straightedge 1-1/2 in. from your cutting line. But measure this distance on your saw to be sure.

You can buy a straightedge or use the factory edge of a plywood sheet. If your straightedge only has one straight edge, be sure to mark it to avoid using the crooked side.

Spacer Sticks keep your blade from binding | Construction Pro Tips

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Avoid circular saw blade binding

Cutting the end off a board is usually simple. The short cutoff end simply falls away. But cutting a long board in half is different. You can hold one end, but the other must be free to drop or the blade will bind. The trick is to allow the cutoff end to drop slightly, but not so much that it completely snaps off before the cut is complete. One method is to support the board with strips of wood as shown here. You can also support the board continuously by stacking it on an equal-length sacrificial board. Set your blade to cut about 1/4 in. deeper than the wood's thickness. Hold or clamp the keeper side and allow the other side to move freely.

A diagram showing the safe way to make plunge cuts | Construction Pro Tips

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Make Plunge Cuts Safely

Plunge cutting is a useful method for starting a cut when you can't start from an edge. One example is cutting a window opening in a sheet of plywood. But if done with poor technique, this cut is dangerous. The saw will kick back and run back toward you.

Since you can't see what's under the sheet you're cutting, check before you start to be sure the path of the blade is clear. Never back the saw toward you while it's running. And stand to the side, not directly behind the saw.

  • Set the blade to cut about 1/4 in. deeper than the wood thickness.
  • Hold the front edge of your saw bed down firmly. Lift the blade guard with one hand and sight down the blade to align it with your line.
  • Start the saw and let it come up to full speed. Gradually pivot the saw down to start the cut. Hold the saw firmly so it doesn't jump back.

When the saw bed contacts the work surface, release the blade guard and cut forward. Let the blade fully stop before lifting it from the cut.

Use blades specifically designed for cutting vinyl | Construction Pro Tips

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Buy a Vinyl-Siding Blade

Pushing through vinyl siding with a wood blade in your circular saw will cause the siding to shatter, which is both frustrating and dangerous. Buy a blade made to cut vinyl siding. They're cheap and available at any home center. If you're using a sliding miter saw, and the siding is still chipping, try slowly pulling the saw backward through the siding.

Cut heavy boards | Construction Pro Tips

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Cut Heavy Boards Without a Sawhorse

When you're cutting joists or other heavy pieces of lumber, it's often easier to cut them where they lie rather than hoist them onto sawhorses. An easy way to do this is to simply rest the board on your toe and lean it against your shin. Then align the saw with your mark and let gravity help pull the saw through the cut. Do be careful to keep the saw cut at least 12 in. from your toe.

Scratch-free sawing with a circular saw | Construction Pro Tips

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Avoid scratching with your circular saw

Here's how to cut an inch off a nicely finished door or workpiece when you don't want to risk dinging up the surface with that scratched-up shoe on your circular
saw. Apply painter's masking tape to the shoe and you'll saw scratch-free every time.

Secure boards with a temporary nail | Construction Pro Tips

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Secure the Boards for Rip Cuts

In most cases, a table saw is a better choice for ripping lumber than a circular saw. But if you don't have a table saw handy, and the rip cut doesn't have to be precise, then a circular saw works fine. The trick is to hold the board in place while you rip it. Unless the board you're ripping is very wide, clamps will get in the way. So a good alternative to clamping is to tack the board down to your sawhorses. We let the nails protrude here because they don't interfere with the saw bed. But you can drive the nails (or screws) flush and still easily pull the board off when you're done. To reduce damage to better-quality boards, use finish nails, and pull them through the back side when you're done.

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