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Beginner’s Guide to Making Precise Cuts with a Circular Saw

How to Use a Circular Saw

Handheld circular saw used correctly & safely cutting wood

Accurate straight cuts are quick and easy with a circular saw. However, getting it right requires the correct technique and a little practice. What’s good to know is that the necessary skills aren’t too tricky. They’re a must for DIYers and professional carpenters alike. 

This beginner’s guide will take you through the techniques required to achieve the perfect cross, rip, bevel & mitre cuts – making optimal results straightforward and safe.

Detailed & instructional circular saw image
Know Your Circular Saw

Understanding Your Circular Saw

Before checking out the cutting techniques, it’s good to familiarise yourself with the components and features of your circular saw. A standard circular saw consists of:

  • Blade: Sharp, rotating disc that does the cutting.
  • Fixed Blade Guard: Covers the top of the blade 
  • Retractable Guard: A safety feature that covers the blade and rotates back when using
  • Base Plate: Also known as the shoe, it rests on the material being cut.
  • Bevel Adjustment: Allows you to tilt the blade for angled cuts.
  • Depth Adjustment: Sets the cutting depth of the blade (not visible above)
  • Adjustable Guide: Principally used for rip cuts
  • Guard Lever: Allows you to rotate the guard back – useful when starting the cut
  • Exhaust: You can fit a dust bag here or better still, a vacuum.. Makes it easier to see the cutting line and removes all the particles and dust.

All pretty straightforward, but knowing these parts will help you make the right adjustments for the desired precise cuts.

Safety First

Safety must be your top priority when working with a circular saw. Here’s our Top 10 Safty Tips

  1. Wear Safety Gear: Always wear safety glasses, hearing protection and a dust mask.
  2. Gloves: Arguably best avoided, but if you do wear gloves, make sure they’re close fitting and have NO loose threads, straps or similar. 
  3. Clothing: Nothing loose that could catch and keep hair tied back.
  4. Setup: Do all your adjustments & set up with the power unplugged or battery removed.
  5. Blade: Make sure it’s the right blade for the job, correctly installed & sharp. 
  6. Secure the Material: Clamp the workpiece (on one side) – you need two hands on the saw
  7. Avoid the pinch: Clamp the material to ensure that as you come to the end of the cut the two sides of the material don’t close together. If this happens, the blade gets pinched and the saw kicks back (not good!)
  8. Nails: Double-check for nails or anything metal in your material. Nothing will damage your saw more, or create a stronger kickback than the blade hitting a nail or screw.
  9. Hands: Keep your hands away from the blade unless it’s definitely unplugged.
  10. Only put the saw down when the blade has stopped turning

While the above list covers the basics that apply to most circular saws, it’s important to familiarise yourself with the instructions and guide that come with your saw. 

Spend a few moments preparing and the perfect cut will follow.


Set Up for Precise Cuts

1. Choose the Right Blade – The blade significantly impacts the quality of your cuts. For precise cuts use a fine-toothed blade designed for the material you’re cutting. For example, a 40-tooth or higher blade is ideal for clean cuts in wood.

2. Adjust the Cutting Depth – Set the blade depth so it extends to about 5-10mm below the bottom of the material. This minimises blade exposure and reduces the risk of kickback.

3. Use a Guide or Fence – A guide or fence helps keep the saw straight and steady during the cut. You can use a straight edge clamped to your workpiece or a commercial saw guide.

Making Straight Cuts & Cross Cuts

1. Measure and Mark – Accurate measurement and marking are crucial for precise cuts. Use a tape measure, a square, and a pencil to clearly mark your cutting line.

2. Secure the Material – Clamp the material on one side so the waste piece will drop.

2. Position the Saw – Align the saw’s base plate with the marked line. Ensure the blade is on the waste side of the line to account for the blade’s kerf (thickness).

3. Steady and Slow – Start the saw and let it reach full speed before beginning the cut. Move the saw slowly and steadily along the guide, maintaining consistent pressure.

Making Bevel Cuts

Bevel cuts are angled cuts made by tilting the saw blade. Here’s how to achieve precise bevel cuts:

1. Adjust the Bevel Angle – Set the bevel adjustment to the desired angle. Common angles include 45 degrees for mitre joints.

2. Secure the Material – Clamp the material to ensure it doesn’t move during the cut.

3. Align and Cut – Position the saw, align it with your marked line, and make the cut as you would for a straight cut, maintaining a steady pace.


Cutting Tips for Beginners

1. Practice on Scrap Wood – Before making cuts on your project material, practice on scrap pieces to get a feel for the saw and improve your accuracy.

2. Avoid Forcing the Saw – Let the saw do the work. Forcing the saw can lead to uneven cuts and increase the risk of accidents.

3. Use Clamps – Clamping your material is essential for good safety. But it also reduces vibrations and keeps it steady, resulting in cleaner cuts.

4. Keep the Blade Sharp – A dull blade can cause splintering and rough edges. Regularly inspect and replace your blade as needed.


Using a Circular Saw for Different Materials

1. Plywood – When cutting plywood, use a blade with more teeth to minimise splintering. Use painter’s tape over the cut line to further reduce tear-out.

2. Metal – For cutting metal, use a blade specifically designed for metal cutting. Secure the material firmly and cut slowly to avoid overheating the blade.

3. Plastic – Use a fine-toothed blade for cutting plastic. Cutting too quickly can cause the plastic to melt, so maintain a slow, steady pace.


Troubleshooting Common Issues

1. Crooked Cuts – Crooked cuts are often due to not following the marked line or not using a guide. Ensure you have a clear view of the line and use a guide for straight cuts.

2. Rough Edges – Rough edges can result from a dull blade or moving the saw too quickly. Sharpen or replace the blade and slow down your cutting speed.

3. Kickback – Kickback occurs when the saw binds in the cut, causing it to jump back. To prevent this, ensure the material is properly supported and avoid forcing the saw.

TOP TIP: The blade cuts on the upstroke. This means you’ll get the best edge/finish on the underside of the material.


Bottom Line

Mastering precise cuts with a circular saw takes practice and attention to detail. By understanding your saw, following safety guidelines, and using the right techniques, you can achieve clean, accurate cuts every time. Whether you’re a beginner or looking to improve your skills, this guide provides the foundation for successful circular saw use. Happy cutting!

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