How to Use a Circular Saw [Complete Visual Guide]

How to Use a Circular Saw [Complete Visual Guide]

How to Use a Circular Saw [Complete Visual Guide]

A circular saw is the most versatile tool that you can have in your shop.

In this detailed guide, I tell you everything that you need to know for using a circular saw.

I go through every type of cut (8 types) that you can make with a circular saw and important safety, accuracy tips while using it.

I kept this guide as simple as possible for helping even absolute beginners.

Parts of a Circular Saw

Before you start using a circular saw, it's important to know the parts of a circular saw.

Parts of a Circular Saw-1
Parts of a Circular Saw-1
Parts of a Circular Saw-1
Parts of a Circular Saw-1

Here I have a sidewinder-type Dewalt Circular Saw.

Now, there can be variations depending on the model but there is a general similarity among circular saw parts.

How to Use a Circular Saw for Beginners- Each Cut Explained

In this section, I'll show you in detail, how to make every type of cut that can be made using a circular saw.

Before going into detail, here's a quick picture of each type of cut.

dado cut

Dado cut

1) How to Crosscut with a Circular Saw

A crosscut is a cut that's made perpendicular to the grain.

Typically you use a circular saw or miter saw for a crosscut.

Begin by placing the sacrificial sheet on to the work surface.

sacrificial sheet on the table
sacrificial sheet on the table

Now place the wood on top of the sacrificial sheet. This is done to protect the work surface if the cut gets too deep.

Wood on sacrificial sheet
Wood on sacrificial sheet

Clamp the wood tightly on the sacrificial sheet with two quick grip clamps.

Clamping wood using quick grip clamps
Clamping wood using quick grip clamps

Fix some masking tape over the area where you are going to draw the line of cut.

Masking tape on wood
Masking tape on wood

Using a carpenter's pencil and speed square mark the line of cut.

Marking cut line using pencil and speed square
Marking cut line using pencil and speed square

Set the depth at approximately 1/4th of an inch more than the thickness of the wood to be cut.

The blade should be deep enough to do a through-cut in the wood while grazing the sacrificial sheet.

Setting depth of the blade
Setting depth of the blade

Plug the saw into an outlet.

Retract the blade guard and align the saw blade with the mark.

Aligning the blade with mark
Aligning the blade with mark

Turn the saw on and let it reach full speed.

Begin sawing along the scrap side of the line freely without exerting any excessive pressure on the saw.

Circular saw cutting
Circular saw cutting

Once the cut is complete, release the trigger and turn off the power.

That completes the crosscut using a circular saw.

Finished crosscut
Finished crosscut

If you don't have a work table you can look at methods for using a circular saw without a table.

2) Rip-cut with a Circular Saw

A rip cut is a cut parallel to the grain of the wood.

Typically you use a circular saw or table saw or bandsaw for rip cutting.

There are three main methods to rip cutting with a circular saw.

All three are discussed below.

Method 1: Straight Edge

The cheapest method is to use a straight edge.

The straight edge can be made in your shop using cheap materials.

In order to make a straight edge take a sheet of plywood and a plank.

Remember, rip cuts are long and hence the length of the cuts depends directly on the length of the straight edge used.

Glue a wooden plank on top of the plywood while making sure the factory edges of both are aligned with each other.

Nailing the plywood with plank
Nailing the plywood with plank

Now cut off the excess plywood that projects more than the blade of the circular saw.

With this, your straight edge is made and. Use this to make a straight cut along
with any wood of varying edges.

Finished straight edge
Finished straight edge

For cutting using the straight edge, place the wood on the work surface and mark it for cutting.

Now place the straight edge and make sure its aligned with the mark made on the wood, and clamp it down.

Clamping straight edge
Clamping straight edge

Fix the straight edge with two quick grips and saw along the mark.

Ripping Completed
Ripping Completed

Method 2: Using a level as straight edge

This method involves two clamps and a level.

All the steps are similar to method 1, except that you use a level instead of a straight edge.

In this method, you are limited by the length of the level but it's an easy way to cut straight with a circular saw.

Rip cut with a level as the straight edge
Rip cut with a level as the straight edge

Method 3: Using a Circular Saw Track/Guide

In this third method, I use a circular saw track/guide to make the rip cut.

There are two types of tracks available, the Kreg Accu-cut track and Kreg rip cut guide.

I'll show you how to rip cut using both.

Using Kreg Accu-cut Track

Begin by measuring and marking the line of cut along the length of the wood to be ripped.

Mark the line of cut using pencil track of accu-cut
Mark the line of cut using pencil track of accu-cut

For this, you can use the speed square or the track of the Accu-cut, along with a carpenter's pencil.

Attach the sled of the accu-cut onto the circular saw.

Attaching the sled to saw
Attaching the sled to saw

Align the track to the cut line.

Aligning track with the cut line
Aligning track with the cut line

There is no need to clamp the accu-cut as it comes with anti-slip pads underneath the track.

Attach the sled onto the track of the accu-cut and begin cutting along the line.

Rip cut completed using accu-cut
Rip cut completed using accu-cut
Using Kreg Rip-Cut Tool

With this tool, it is easy to rip large sheets like 4x8 plywood sheets using a circular saw.

Begin by attaching the sled to the track.

Sled on the track
Sled on the track

Using the edge of the plywood as a reference, press the rip guide flush against the factory edge of the plywood.

Mark the needed width and lock down the sled to the track.

Marking width using track
Marking width using track

Make sure the blade is just outside the line of cut.

Begin cutting through the plywood.

sawing with guide
sawing with guide

Cuts of up to 24 inches wide can be made with the Rip-cut guide.

Plywood Piece after ripping
Plywood Piece after ripping

3) Miter Cut with a Circular Saw

A miter cut is a crosscut that's at an angle (other than 90°) to the wood piece.

The most common tools for a miter cut are the circular saw and the miter saw.

To do a miter cut with a circular saw, place the sacrificial sheet onto the work surface.

Place the sacrificial sheet
Place the sacrificial sheet

Now place the wood on top of the sacrificial sheet.

Wood on sacrificial wood
Wood on sacrificial wood

Once the wood is firmly placed, stick some masking tape over the area where you will likely draw the mark.

Masking tape on wood
Masking tape on wood

After applying the tape, using a speed square and a carpenter's pencil, draw the line at 90 degrees to the bottom edge of the wood.

Drawing perpendicular line
Drawing perpendicular line

Using the pivot point of the speed square and the carpenter's pencil, align the speed square with the perpendicular line drawn on the wood.

Keeping the pivot point constant, begin rotating the speed square in either the clockwise or anticlockwise direction for an angle with the previously drawn perpendicular line.

To know the angle formed while rotating the speed square, look at the slanted edge of the speed square to see the graduations marked on the speed square.

This denotes the angles formed.

Angle on speed square
Angle on speed square

When the desired angle is made with the wood's edge, draw a line along the edge of the speed square with the pivot point as the base.

The angle formed by this line and the previously drawn perpendicular line is the same angle shown in the gauge of the speed square.

Remove the speed square to reveal the angle made.

35-degree angle
35-degree angle

To cut the miter cut, begin by adjusting the depth of the blade to match the depth of the wood you wish to cut.

adjusting blade depth
adjusting blade depth

Measure the offset distance from the blade to the edge of the shoe.

Measuring the offset
Measuring the offset

Transfer this distance onto the wood and align the speed square with that line.

Transferring the distance onto wood
Transferring the distance onto wood

Make use of quick grip clamps to clamp down the speed square along with the wood onto the work surface.

Clamping down with speed square
Clamping down with speed square

Now when you place the circular saw against the speed square, the blade of the saw and the mark to be cut will coincide.

Blade over the edge
Blade over the edge

Using the speed square as the guide, start cutting along the slanted line (miter line).

Sawing using a speed square
Sawing using a speed square

Finish the cut and remove the masking tape.

Removing the masking tape
Removing the masking tape
Miter cut completed with circular saw
Miter cut completed with circular saw

Smoothen the edges with a rasp or sandpaper if needed.

With this step, you've completed a miter cut with a circular saw.

4) Bevel Cut with a Circular Saw

A bevel cut is a cut that's angled relative to the face of the material. 

You can do a bevel cut using a circular saw.

To begin, place the sacrificial wood on the work surface.

After setting the wood on top of the sacrificial sheet, apply some masking tape.

Masking tape on wood
Masking tape on wood

Mark over the tape using a speed square and a carpenter's pencil.

To adjust the angle of the blade, loosen the screw near the angle guide so that the blade may now sway freely.

Angled guide
Angled guide

Using the indicator provided on the saw, adjust the saw blade angle with the help of the angle guide on the saw itself.

In this particular case, you can set the angle to 45 degrees.

Indicator on 45 degree mark
Indicator on 45 degree mark

Adjust the depth of the blade according to the depth of the wooden piece you wish to saw. Set the depth at approximately 1/4th of an inch more than the thickness of the wood to be cut.

Saw blade over the edge
Saw blade over the edge

Measure and mark the offset distance from the saw blade and the edge of the shoe of the saw.

Measuring offset
Measuring offset

Transfer this offset distance onto the wood to be cut.

Transferring the offset
Transferring the offset

After positioning a straight edge or a speed square to align with the line, clamp it down on the wood using a quick grip clamp.

Clamping down straight edge
Clamping down the straight edge

Begin cutting while using the clamped straight edge or level as your guide.

Saw completely through till the end and make sure the wood is separated into two.

Bevel Cutting at 45° by pressing against the speed square
Bevel Cutting at 45° by pressing against the speed square

Remove masking tape after the bevel cut is done.

Provide the finishing touches using a rasp or sanding paper.

With this step, you've completed a bevel cut using a circular saw.

Bevel Cut using Circular Saw
Bevel Cut using Circular Saw

5) Groove Cut with a Circular Saw

A groove cut is a slot or trench cut into a member which runs parallel to the grain of the wood.

You can do a groove cut using a circular saw and a chisel.

To begin, place the sacrificial sheet on the table and place the wood to be grooved on top.

Using a speed square, measure and mark the groove onto the wood while making sure both lines are parallel.

Marking groove line with a speed square
Marking groove line with a speed square

Adjust the height of the blade in the circular saw to match the depth of the groove you need. Set the depth at approximately 1/4th of an inch more than the thickness of the wood to be cut.

To do this, keep the blade at the edge of the wooden piece and adjust according to the cross-section of the wood visible from the side.

Adjusting the height of the blade in the circular saw
Adjusting the height of the blade in the circular saw

Remember, cutting more than half of the thickness might lead to the groove being too deep and cutting the wood into two.

Set the speed square such that the blade of the circular saw falls just inside the boundary line of the groove. Then clamp the speed square in place.

If you only have one speed square, Make a pass on one side and then unclamp the speed square and clamp it next to the other boundary line.

Clamping the speed square with wood
Clamping the speed square with wood

Make multiple passes with the circular saw.

After making multiple passes with the circular saw
After making multiple passes with the circular saw

Using a hammer and a chisel clear away the wood to reveal a smooth groove.

Chiseling away the wood to make the groove
Chiseling away the wood to make the groove

With that, the groove cut is completed.

Groove cut completed using circular saw
Groove cut completed using a circular saw

6) Compound Cut with a Circular Saw

A compound cut is the combination of both a miter cut and a bevel cut.

Both a miter angle and bevel angle are involved in a compound cut.

To make one, begin by placing a sacrificial sheet onto the work surface.

Placing the sacrificial sheet on the table
Placing the sacrificial sheet on the table

Place the wood to be cut on top of the sacrificial sheet.

Wood on sacrificial sheet
Wood on sacrificial sheet

To adjust the bevel angle, you may use the angle guide and indicator of the circular saw.

Loosen the angle knob and tilt the saw blade to your desired angle before tightening the knob again.

Once the angle of the saw blade is fixed, it's time to set the miter cut angle.

Using a speed square and a carpenter's pencil, draw a line perpendicular to the wood's edge.

Using the base of this line as a point, set the pencil on edge and align that point marked on the speed square to the pivot point.

Align pencil and pivot point of the set square
Align pencil and pivot point of the set square

While keeping the speed square on the pivot point, rotate the speed square clockwise or anticlockwise direction to get your desired angle.

Rotating anticlockwise to get an angle
Rotating anticlockwise to get an angle

The horizontal edge of the wood that intersects the speed square will denote the angle formed.

Use a pencil to draw the line denoting the angle formed.

Angle formed on the wood
Angle formed on the wood

Once both the miter and bevel angle has been fixed, measure the offset distance from the edge of the shoe to the circular saw's blade.

Transfer the distance back to the wood so the blade will align with the cut line.

Drawing offset onto wood
Drawing offset onto wood

To set the blade depth, keep the blade over the edge of the wood to be cut and adjust accordingly.

Set the depth at approximately 1/4th of an inch more than the thickness of the wood to be cut.

Setting the blade depth
Setting the blade depth

align the blade with the cut line and turn the saw on.

once the saw reaches full speed, begin cutting into the wood.

cutting the wood all the way should yield a compound cut (mitered plus beveled cut)

Compound cut using a circular saw
Compound cut using a circular saw

7) Plunge Cut with a Circular Saw

A plunge cut is a cut that's made inside a board or sheet without starting at any edge.

To do this with a circular saw you need to start the saw while it's up in the air and bring it down (plunge) onto the board while it's running.

Some people prefer using a jigsaw or a router for plunge cuts rather than a circular saw.

To do a plunge cut with a circular saw, start by placing the sacrificial sheet onto the work surface.

Placing the sacrificial sheet on the table
Placing the sacrificial sheet on the table

Wood is to be kept on top of the sacrificial sheet.

Fix some masking tape on the area where you're likely to draw cut lines.

Masking tape on wood
Masking tape on wood

Using a carpenter's pencil and a speed square, draw the cut lines on top of the masking tape fixed on the wood.

Drawing cut lines on wood
Drawing cut lines on wood

To set the depth of the blade, take the blade to the edge of the wood. Set the depth at approximately 1/4th of an inch more than the thickness of the wood to be cut.

Setting the depth of the blade
Setting the depth of the blade

With the blade at the edge, adjust the blade depth according to your need.

Once the blade depth is set, align the blade with the cut line marked on the wood.

Using the guard, place the saw on the cut line.

Keep the end of the shoe on the cut line.

You may adjust the saw further using the notch on the end of the shoe.

Out of the two notches provided, one is for when the blade is straight and the other for when the blade is at an angle.

Notches in shoe
Notches in shoe

Once the blade is aligned with the cut line, retract the guard and plug in the saw.

Keep the saw inclined with the wood, with the blade in the air and the edge of the shoe on the wood.

Saw inclined to wood with shoe touching
Saw inclined to wood with shoe touching

Turn on the saw and let it run at full speed before bringing it down in contact with the wood.

Plunge the saw into the wood carefully, making sure to pay attention to the sound the saw makes.

Plunge the saw into the wood
Plunge the saw into the wood

If you hear the wood pinching or hear the saw blade having difficulty turning, immediately turn off and remove the saw without risking kickback.

While cutting, be careful around the corners. Cut slowly and carefully to avoid cutting beyond the lines.

Once all the sides are cut, use a jigsaw or hand saw to remove the wood block from within the larger wooden piece.

Clean further with a chisel and hammer, if needed.

Cleaning using chisel and hammer
Cleaning using chisel and hammer

Smoothen with sandpaper

Cleaning with sandpaper
Cleaning with sandpaper

With this, your plunge cut is complete.

Finished product
Finished product

How to Use a Circular Saw Without a Table

When using a circular saw without a table, you can either use sawhorses or place the wood on the floor (on top of an insulation sheet).

If you prefer sawhorses, you need to make a pair of sawhorses for which plans are available for free in plenty online.

For the insulation sheet method, you need to buy a rigid foam insulation sheet from a hardware store.

Method 1: Using sawhorses

Sawhorses are an excellent substitute for a work table when using a circular saw.

Two sawhorses
Two sawhorses

They provide steady and comfortable seating for wood or any other material you wish to cut.

One disadvantage of using a sawhorse is that it's hard to clamp the material onto the sawhorses while cutting.

To cut, begin by placing the wood onto two sawhorses.

Make sure the wood doesn't tip over and fall.

Before you make the cut, you need to mark the cut line.

Fix masking tape on the area on which you will draw the cut line

Masking tape on wood
Masking tape on wood

Mark the cut line using a carpenter's pencil and a speed square.

Mark cut line over the masking tape
Mark cut line over the masking tape

Set the blade depth according to the thickness of the wood.

Setting depth of the blade
Setting depth of the blade

Hold down the wood with one hand while cutting with the circular saw to maximize the grip.

Turn on the saw and cut all the way through.

Cut complete with circular saw using sawhorses
Cut complete with circular saw using sawhorses

Since the wood is supported on either side, there is no need for a sacrificial sheet underneath.

Method 2: Using insulation sheet

Unlike the sawhorses, insulation sheets can be used to cut large plywood sheets as well.

What you need is a 4x8 rigid foam insulation sheet (Pink or white usually).

Rigid foam sheets are cheap and do not dull the circular saw blade.

Thus they're ideal sacrificial sheets for using a circular saw on instead of a table.

Placing the form sheet
Placing the form sheet

The sheet provides a soft and thick surface which helps in even using the sheet as a sacrificial sheet.

Begin by placing the insulating foam on the ground and lay the wood to be cut on top of that sheet.

Here, the insulation foam works as both a sacrificial sheet and the work surface.

Before making the cut, you need to draw the cut line.

Use some masking tape to cover the area on which you will draw the cut line.

Fixing masking tape on the line of cutting
Fixing masking tape on the line of cutting

Mark the cut line using a carpenter's pencil and a speed square.

Mark cut line over the masking tape
Mark cut line over the masking tape

Set the blade depth according to the thickness of the wood.

Setting the depth of blade
Setting the depth of the blade

Turn on the saw and cut all the way through.

With this step, you have successfully cut the plywood sheet without a table using your circular saw.

plywood sheet cut using circular saw on the insulation sheet
plywood sheet cut using circular saw on the insulation sheet

Tips for Accuracy While Using a Circular Saw

  • While marking, never mark just as a point. Instead, mark it as a 'tick' mark or a 'crow's foot' mark. Doing so helps in identifying the point to be cut easily.
Tick mark and crow's foot mark
Tick mark and crow's footmark
  • Using masking tape before drawing the mark on it can help reduce splinters and lend a more pleasing finish.
  • Make sure to cut outside of the line, so the wood piece that you intend to use has the correct dimensions.
Blade align with a cut on one side
Blade align with a cut on one side
  • Use a rasp to clean and smoothen the cut after sawing. Alternatively, A hand sander or sanding paper can also get the job done.
Rasp on wood
Rasp on wood
  • Sharpen you circular saw blade when it starts to get dull. Carbide blades cut with its teeth and its sides, you can end up rounding off these edges. So be careful while sharpening circular saw blade.
Carbide teeth
Carbide teeth
  • One way to look out for the dullness of the blade is by examining the cuts themselves. When new cuts are made using a dull blade, they often tend to have rough finishes and take a longer time to complete. The sound of the motor can also be an indicator.
  • Clean your circular saw blade every once in a while.
  • Heat generated while cutting will be excessive in dull blades, and so be on the lookout for burned marks on the cut.
  • Using oil/ lapping fluid prolongs the life of the sandpaper used for sharpening the blade.
Oiling on sand paper
Oiling on sandpaper
  • Make sure the board has a straight edge before ripping. If the board edge is not straight, you cannot use a rip fence to get a straight cut.
  • If you are using wet wood or treated lumber, use a blade that's appropriate for that purpose.
  • Use a sharp blade with an appropriate number of teeth.
  • More teeth on the saw blade means better cut but takes longer to cut and large teeth means quick but rough cuts.

You might be interested in this:

Tips for Safety While Using a Circular Saw

  • Make sure depth is set all the way down before you begin adjusting.
  • Before making any adjustments or changing the blade, make sure the saw is unplugged.
  • If the piece completely seperates from the wood, let it fall. Never try to catch it while holding a runnning saw in your hand.
  • Never stay right behind or too close to the running blade to avoid injury in case of kickback. Kickback is extremely dangerous and must be prevented at all costs.
  • Once the saw is turned on, keep it steady but never try to force it back in case it veers off.
  • Using excessive force will create pinch points in the wood leading to damage for both the user and the saw.
  • Make sure the saw teeth are facing in direction of rotation. (Anti-clockwise direction in case of circular saw).
Correct direction of circular saw blade
Correct direction of circular saw blade
  • While holding the blade between a bench vice, remember to not exert too much pressure as it will bend the blade and render it useless.
blade on the vise
blade on the vise
  • If you can smell something burning, immediately stop sawing and re-adjust the mask and saw blade.
  • Wear sturdy work shoes or boots, long sleeve shirts, and long pants while working with concrete blocks.
  • Using masking tape before cutting can help reduce splinters
  • Always wear ear protection and a mask while using a circular saw.
hearing protection while using a circular saw
hearing protection while using a circular saw
  • Ensure the blade and rip fence are locked in place before starting the ripping.
  • Before cutting any material, especially wood, make sure there are not obstructions such as nails inside the wood.
remove nails like this before starting the cut
remove nails like this before starting the cut

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Should I get a circular saw or miter saw?

A circular saw can make eight kinds of cut and is much less expensive as compared to a miter saw. If your only requirement is to make crosscuts and miter cuts, get a miter saw. For all other cuts, get a circular saw.

Should I buy a table saw or circular saw?

A circular saw is cheaper in comparison with the more expensive table saw. If you intend to make rip cuts often, a table saw might be a better choice while for most other cuts, a circular saw is enough. A circular saw is also easier to use.

Can a circular saw cut a 4x4?

It is possible to cut a 4x4 with a circular saw but not with a single pass of the blade. It will take two passes from either sides of the 4x4 to completely separate it. If the thickness of wood is less than twice the thickness of the blade then it is possible to cut the wood into two with the circular saw itself, if not you will need a hand saw to finish the job.

About V Susan

Hi! I'm Susan. I am passionate about DIY projects and dark chocolates! Welcome to Mellowpine. We play around with beginner woodworking projects, CNC for hobbyists, and general woodworking tips.

If you'd like to connect with me or talk about something you like at mellowpine, drop me a mail at susan@mellowpine.com

DIY Profile
V Susan

Hi! I'm Susan. I am passionate about DIY projects and dark chocolates! Welcome to Mellowpine. We play around with beginner woodworking projects, CNC for hobbyists, and general woodworking tips.

If you'd like to connect with me or talk about something you like at mellowpine, drop me a mail at susan@mellowpine.com

Connect With Me
Thanks for signing up.
Some error occured. Please try again.

Comments

Add Your Comment