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November 22, 2007

How to use a circular saw


Some people would say that circular saws are not for weenies, but they would be wrong. It doesn’t matter where you rank on the courage scale; if you have a molecule of desire to build stuff you can learn to handle this tool with the unflagging authority of a bra saleswoman.

You’ll love the freedom your saw gives you to dream up projects. Whether you want to build a tool shed,a night table, a deck, a sandbox, a raised border or a garden bench, your circular saw will be your favourite assistant. The only thing it can’t do is bring beer.

Putting off learning how to master your circular saw will only keep you from expressing the full range of your creativity (desks, go-carts, cat scratching posts, full-size replicas of Howard Hughes' Spruce Goose) so here’s a quickie tutorial on the features of your circular saw...

P1010189_web Examine your saw. A corded circular saw has more power than most battery operated models. Other than that all circular saws perform the same glorious function. They cut wood in nice straight lines with minimum effort and they do it faster than stink. Plus, modern circular saws have blade guards and electric brakes to minimize danger to your body parts.

The blade protrudes out of a flat metal soleplate. You can adjust the soleplate to expose more or less of the blade. This is an exciting feature. Why? Because the soleplate adjustment allows you to make deep cuts through thick lumber, or shallow cuts through thinner material like plywood.  Loosen the wing-nut (usually at the rear of the motor) to slide the soleplate up and down, revealing more or less of the blade. Then re-tighten the wing-nut. The soleplate adjustment can be sticky, especially if it hasn’t been used often.

Most people don’t bother adjusting their soleplate, ever. But here’s why you'd want to. The blade can bind in your work piece if you have too much blade exposed. Sometimes the saw jerks backwards toward you like Killdozer. This is called ‘kickback’. Kickback sucks.  So minimize your chances of kickback by setting your blade one-quarter of an inch deeper than the thickness of the wood you’re cutting, and never force the blade forward if it’s binding. End of lecture. For now.

P1010180_high_resAnother adjustment that will leave you breathless is the bevel adjustment. It allows your saw to make cuts on any angle up to about 50 degrees. Why would you want this? Well, you might need to miter the corners of your sandbox or bevel the edge of a bench, or you might want to hotdog with a little crown-moulding. To adjust the bevel, locate another wing-nut, usually in front of the motor. It’s ensconced in a little protractor assembly. Loosen the wing-nut and push on the edge of the soleplate to tilt the cutting angle. Oh baby.


P1010175_high_resMany saws come with a ripping guide, a metal t-shaped bar that you affix to the sole plate with another handy wing-nut. The ripping guide runs against the edge of the lumber you’re working on and keeps your cut beautifully square. If your saw didn’t come with a ripping guide you can order one from the manufacturer or call a family meeting and state firmly that the quality of everyone’s lives would improve if you had a ripping guide.



Give your saw the spa treatment by installing an Irwin Marathon blade ($10), the fastest, easiest dang framing blade you’ll ever work with. It has special vents to cool the blade as you're cutting, so the blade won't warp.









Skil_saw_2 When you’re changing the blade, here’s a tip – if the blade is housed on the left side of your saw (as pictured right), the threading is reversed. To loosen the bolt you have to turn it clockwise, not counter-clockwise. The point of the reversed threading is that once you’ve tightened the new blade into position, every time you use the blade it actually tightens itself as it cuts, so the blade can never go flying off. Don’t you feel better knowing that? 

If I've confused you, just know this: No matter which side your blade is on, you’ll be loosening the blade in the direction of rotation, and tightening it in the opposite direction.  The blade usually has a big arrow on it so there can be no question. 

Additional resources:  Watch Mag's Video about learning how to use a circular saw.

French_blue_garden_trug P.S.  We have free instructions for you if you'd like to make Mag's blue garden trug.


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Very, very nicely done!

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