Get Better Cuts from Your Circular Saw
The circular saw is an indispensible tool and these pro tips and tricks will help you get the most from yours.
Big Blade, Deep 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.
Photo courtesy of SKILSAW
Make Table Saw-Quality Rips
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.
Lightweight, Feature-Packed Worm-Drive Saw
Some carpenters insist that the Skil Model 77 worm drive is the only saw worth having on the job site. And it's true that once you get used to the power and balance of this saw, you may never want to go back to a sidewinder. But the original Model 77 was a heavy beast. Then the Mag 77, which is several pounds lighter, came along and we didn't think Skil could improve on that saw. But Skil's new SPT77WML-22 is even better.
The SPT77WML-22 is a few pounds lighter than even the Mag77 saw, and here are just a few of its great new features. The eight extra degrees of bevel adjustment (53 degrees vs. 45) come in handy once in awhile. The saw now has onboard blade wrench storage and a cool new flip-out hook for hanging the saw on a joist or other framing member. The redesigned grooved magnesium foot seems more rigid than the one on the Mag77. If you're shopping for a worm-drive saw, we recommend the SPT77WML-22.
Photo courtesy of SKILSAW
Marvelous Mini Saw
Makita's 5-1/2-in. circular saw is a game changer. Weighing in at just 7 lbs., it's 4 lbs. lighter than many older 7-1/4-in. saws and a lot smaller. The 8-amp motor has plenty of power and a brake that stops the blade after each cut. This isn't the saw for framing up a whole house, but for crosscutting a dozen studs or ripping plywood, it's a great choice. When you get used to this mini saw, your old saw will feel ridiculously oversized and just plain wrong for most jobs—like driving finish nails with a sledgehammer.
We do have a few gripes, though: This little saw costs a lot more than most saws. And we dislike safety buttons on saws. The
Makita 5005BA isn't sold at most home centers, but you'll find lots of online sources, including The Home Depot. If you buy the saw, stock up on blades; 5-1/2-in. blades are hard to find.
Magnificent Mob of Makitas
We know a carpenter with 35-plus years of experience who says he's used every circular saw in the book (and catalog). But for the past 30 years, he's used one kind only—the magnificent Makita 5007.
He's purchased four of these saws and still has three of them (the fourth was permanently lent out). He says old 5007s never die—they just get relegated to rougher tasks. His oldest one sports a diamond blade for scoring stone and concrete. The second oldest holds a “nail eating” blade for remodeling, and his newest one has a good carbide blade for day-to-day use.
There's nothing fancy about them, but they're seemingly invincible. He built one house that required ripping miles of 3/4-in. plywood (literally), and the 10-1/2-amp motors never flinched. The baseplates are made of plate aluminum—not wimpy stamped metal and have withstood drops of 15 ft. without bending or breaking. They're well balanced, quiet (at least for a circ saw) and light enough to push all day. There are no lasers, LED lights or dust blowers, but he insists you can't find a better circular saw at any price.
Let Cutoffs Drop Free to Avoid Binding the Blade
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.
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.
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 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.
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
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.