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Not knowing how to use a circular saw is what is holding most people back from having a go at some DIY or woodworking. This guide covers how to use an electric or cordless circular saw.
Why learn to use a circular saw
If you can’t you cannot do any serious DIY work.
Skill saws are the most portable electric saws that allow you to make pretty much any cut you want in timber, and a lot faster than by hand. Circular saws are your first line cutting tool for wood.
When you can you have a very useful skill-set.
When you can use an electric saw the whole DIY world will open up to you. If you don’t learn how to use an electric saw it makes you pretty much useless to do any DIY woodwork.
You would get bored and tired very quickly using only a handsaw to cut timber. Being able to use a circular saw can get you on your way to start big DIY projects.
You can do it, start enjoying awesome projects that will follow after you become confident using a powerful tool like a skill saw.
Be-aware: Skill saws can cause serious injury used incorrectly, only do what you feel comfortable doing, have someone watch you that knows how to safely use one and knows about, kickback, RCDs, and how to position timber for cutting, like disused in this guide.
Here is an example of both a small quick grip squeeze clamp that can hold a straight edge as a guide. And a strong quick grip you can rely on for holding work steady to free both hands to hold on to the electric tool.
Why you shouldn’t use a circular saw?
If you don’t know how to use one safely, and if you don’t fully understand what’s known as a kickback, and how to safely position yourself and your work.
Or if you don’t know the importance of connecting an RCD at the power source.
Safely use a circular saw
Kickback is the biggest danger using any type of electric saw because it is sudden and unexpected.
You need to be aware and be prepared for it, kick back happens when a saw blade gets jammed between the two surfaces.
And the blade suddenly kicks back when it gets jammed cutting anything in a direct line behind the saw.
1. Position yourself-safely
It’s important that you position your body so that if/when kickback happens, the cutting blade will not touch you.
Always have the saw lower than your torso, just of the ground is best. Away from important organs. You also have a better grip and more control holding the saw at a lower height.
Don’t position any part of your body in front of the saw obviously and even more importantly behind the saw.
Be to the side of the saw always. Imagine the electric saw going forward and backward, and position yourself so you are not in its path both forward or backward of the blade.
2. Position your work comfortably
Kickback happens when the skill saw jambs. To reduce the likely hood of a kickback you need to position your work correctly.
If you position your work perfectly and you have perfect technique, kickback will not happen but you can never assume this as it can, and it will happen from a misjudgment.
That is why we also position our body away from the line of kickback and use a good cutting technique.
Use clamps to hold your work, so both your hands can be on the saw handle.
Position the timber you are cutting so the piece being cut will fall away, and not jamb.
Position the timber you are cutting so that any timber falling after cutting, will not fall in a dramatic way. For example, if you are cutting a small piece of wood you can let it fall 30 inches.
If you are cutting a full sheet of plywood you can position it so it only falls 2 inches by setting up a good cutting bench.
The big Irwin quick grip clamps can secure your workpiece much more securely than your hand ever could. Definitely worth having at least 2.
The smaller clamp at the top of the photo below is only good for securing a straight edge guide.
3. Set up your circular saw
Always use an RCD when you using any power tools. An RCD stops you from getting an electric shock if you accidentally cut the lead by mistake or keep you safe from electric shock from other electrical shortages. It’s important to remember that a surge protector is not an RCD.
Keep the lead away from the blade or better have a cordless skill-saw if you don’t need the extra power.
Wear ear muffs
The safety guard is to protect you it automatically retracts as you cut.
Wear safety glasses, builders generally don’t wear safety glasses when cutting only timber, but you should.
I always wear safety glasses if I am cutting man-made materials like plywood as wood chips are an issue with these timbers with glue and no natural grain.
It’s important to have a pair of decent safety glasses, most safety glasses don’t work because they do not tightly fit to your face.
Have a Sharp Blade make sure the blade is sharp, while the saw is unplugged, or the battery is disconnected feel the edge on the tungsten tooth.
If the blade is blunt you will be using not necessary force pushing the skill saw, this extra force you are putting in can cause an accident.
All sharp tools are safer than blunt tools.
Follow here for a guide on how to change a circular saw blade.
The size of your skill saw? opt for a small 900-watt circular saw, the smaller your saw the less power it has, and when/if it kicks back the more control you have at stopping it. A small skill saw is also easier to use and causes less strain.
You can also wear gloves for a bit more protection.
Set the blade depth on the skill saw so the teeth only just cut through as the below image shows. The more the blade extends down the more friction there is on the blade. This means more heat and more resistance.
An example of good safety glasses in blue. The green goggles are o.k but not comfortable and the other two safety glasses don’t work because they do not seal to your face.
4. Have a good cutting technique
If you cut softwoods and you don’t hit any nails your blade won’t get blunt, what blunts circular saw blades are man-made timbers like LVL beams and sheets like plywood (glue) and of-course hitting nails by accident.
Hitting the odd nail won’t blunt-en a blade straight away but after you do it 3-5 times, you will need a new blade, or teeth.
Hold on to the saw with 2 hands when you are a beginner use good quality clamps to secure your work every time you cut.
With experience and for 4/2, you can use one hand on your work and one hand on your saw, tilt the timber on an angle and use the weight of the skill saw to make the cut, cutting in a downwards motion.
If you are cutting a large piece of timber and the of-cut that will fall away is large and heavy, this weight is going to be folding into your saw blade as you cut and cause kickback.
A trick is to make the cut very quickly by ruffly cutting your timber 8 inches longer than you need. Then make a careful second cut, now the weight of your off-cut won’t cause the saw to jamb.
5. Diagnosis of overheating
A skill saw blade can wobble when it overheats. A blade over-heats when the blade is not rated to the RMP of the saw.
Or if you are doing a heavy amount of ripping work it can also still happen, you need a more powerful motor for the work you are doing, or you need to give the tool a rest to cool down.
You can only use a circular saw to cut in a straight line, any attempt to curve a cut can result in kickback and this is dangerous if you want to cut a circle or curve use a jigsaw instead.
The Safest Circular Saw To Buy?
The smaller a circular saw motor (amps), the less power it has, and the easier it is to control. But if the saw is under-powered for the work you want to do, and the saw is struggling this can be a problem.
You want to get a saw you can easily control, which is also not underpowered for the job you want to do.
A small 1400-watt Makita or Milwaukee corded circular saw can be a good overall choice, but at a disadvantage when ripping timber along the grain. Although 90% of cuts ever done are cross cuts, against the grain.
A battery-powered skill saw, are the safest option and even easier to control for anyone scared of using a plugin skill saw or wants the portability of a cordless Makita or Milwaukee 18v circular saw.
Feeling confident with a circular saw?
If you have made a few cuts and have never had a kickback, this doesn’t mean you are confident and you can do higher risk cuts.
You become a confident safe skill saw user after you have had a number of kickbacks from a safe working position, and you have learned how to safely respond to these kick back’s when they happened.
You now no longer fear a kickback because you can respond well to it. And you are hyper-aware of the possibility of a kickback happening with every cut you make so you are ready to handle it if/when it happens.
Not until then can you do more risky cuts, like one-handed cuts.
You can never be certain a kickback won’t happen. You can make it unlikely to happen, but even if you think you have perfect technique and positioning of your work.
You always need to be prepared for the chance of it happening otherwise you could lose a finger.
When you learn how to use a skill-saw you will feel more confident to start learning how to use any other power tools, and you can have valuable skills to start and complete a range of DIY and woodworking projects.
For DIY I highly recommend getting a cordless circular as a safer and more portable tool click here to read my review.