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How to Use a Circular Saw: Power Tools 101 Tutorial for Newbies! (Includes video)

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This post on how to use a circular saw is brought to you in part by RYOBI Power Tools.

After doing an in-depth review of how to use a jigsaw, I have been dying to do another video on how to use a circular saw.

Watch: How to Use a Circular Saw

 

When I first started DIY’ing, it was all about painting furniture, but eventually, I got tired of just painting furniture. I wanted to cut off legs…make a new top…add wood here and there… The only way to do that was to learn how to use power tools, and so I did.

Now it’s your turn, my friend!

If you’re reading this blog, you’re someone who loves old furniture makeovers, but you crave the freedom to repurpose that furniture, as well as to upcycle it into something that sometimes needs a few tools to do. 😉

That’s where this Power Tools 101 series comes in. This series is all about teaching you what you need to learn so that you can safely and easily use power tools, too. So let’s jump right in!

*NOTE: Be sure you completely read the manual before using your circular saw.

 

How to Use a Circular Saw - Learn how to make your very first cut without the fear or intimidation! - Thrift Diving

What is a Circular Saw Used For?

If you know nothing about circular saws, you’re probably wondering what a circular saw is even used for. It gets confusing, right? With so many saws on the market, why do you need this for your DIY toolbox?

Let’s just say that if you have a circular saw, you can quickly make 9 different cuts with it–cuts that you could also make with a table saw. But which one is more portable? Yep–a circular saw. In my opinion, it’s also less intimidating to use a circular saw it is to use a table saw, am I right?

 

Here are types of cuts you can easily make with a circular saw: 

  1. Crosscut – Cuts that cut across the grain of wood.
  2. Rip cut – Cuts that cut with the grain of the wood.
  3. Dado – A shallow cut that goes across the grain of wood but isn’t deep enough to cut through the wood. You’d make a dado cut for shelves and other things where you need a shallow cut, but not go all the way through.
  4. Groove – A groove is similar to a dado cut, except it’s a shallow cut that goes with the grain of the wood and doesn’t cut all the way through.
  5. Miter cut – An angle cut at 45 degrees on the face of the board, such that when combined with another 45-degree cut, can make a 90-degree corner (etc. picture frames).
  6. Bevel cuts – Cuts that are angles cuts cut on the edge of a board, such as those used to make french cleats like I made to hang up these DIY garden fence planters.
  7. Compound miter cuts – Cuts that are made at an angle on the face as well as having a beveled edge.
  8. Plunge cuts – Cuts that are made in the middle of a piece of a material by plunging your saw blade in an interior part of the material instead of starting your cut from the edge.

 

How to Use a Circular Saw - Circular saws can cut beveled edges. - Thrift Diving
This is a beveled edge, cut with a circular saw.

 

So if you can make all these types of cuts with a circular saw, why would you even need a table saw, right?

Nooooot quite. I think if you’re someone who does a lot of woodworking, a table saw has its place in a workshop because you can very quickly make cuts, repeating the same cuts over and over again, without making any adjustments. That’s super helpful. But you can’t ignore the space-saving and portability of a circular saw.

 

How to Use a Circular Saw - Here are 5 of the 9 types of cuts you can make with a circular saw.
Here are 5 of the 9 types of cuts you can make with a circular saw.

 

What Can You Cut With a Circular Saw?

This is what makes a circular saw so diverse because you can cut the following things with a circular saw:

  • 2×4 pieces of wood
  • plywood
  • MDF
  • metal
  • plastic
  • concrete

What you cut will depend on the type of blade you use. So just be sure you’ve got the appropriate blade for the material you’re cutting. Also, note that not all circular saws can cut concrete. Just make sure you read the manual to know what materials are appropriate for cutting with that particular circular saw.

 

So What’s the Best Circular Saw?

I use the RYOBI brand of power tools because they’re the ones on which I learned to use power tools. Over the years, they came to sponsor some of my projects and send me the tools I need to get those projects done.

It’s hard to say what the “best” circular saw is because it depends on how you’ll use the saw, what you’ll be cutting, and your general preferences. For example, you may be  DIY’er who simply needs a reliable, affordable tool to do occasional cuts for projects. Or, you may be a professional carpenter whose job it is to cut 2x4s all day when framing homes. Those two people will have different wants and needs.

The most important question to ask yourself is, “Does this circular saw have enough power to complete the jobs I need to do?” And if the answer is “Yes,” then it’s the best circular saw for you, whichever one you choose.

I’ve been very happy with my RYOBI circular saws and haven’t had any problems with them!

 

How to Use a Circular Saw - Learn how to make your very first cut without the fear or intimidation - Features the RYOBI One+ 18v brushless 7 and one fourth inch blade! - Thrift Diving

Parts of a Circular Saw

Before we jump into how to use a circular saw, let’s talk about the parts of a circular saw so that you get comfortable with where everything is. I had to split this up into three pictures so that you can see where everything is located. 🙂

 

How to Use a Circular Saw - Parts of a circular saw 1 - Thrift Diving

 

From another angle, you can see some other important parts of the circular saw that you should be aware of:

  1. Which side the blade is on (circular saws come as right-handed or left-handed blade, depending on which side the blade is located. If it’s on the left side, it’s a left-handed blade. If it’s on the right, it’s a right-handed blade. in this case, this is a left-handed blade).
  2. Blade lock button – When pressed, it locks the blade so you can change the blade when dull or by project.
  3. Motor housing
  4. Opening to view – When cutting, this area allows you to peak down to see where you’re cutting.
  5. Ruler and guide on the front of the base.

How to Use a Circular Saw - Parts of a circular saw 2 - Thrift Diving

 

And lastly, there are a few more important parts of the circular saw that you need to know:

  1. The blade depth lever
  2. The on-board allen wrench.
  3. Size of the blade
  4. Number of teeth

How to Use a Circular Saw - Parts of a circular saw 3 - Thrift Diving

What’s the Best Size of Circular Saw?

Circular saws are sized back on the size of their blades.

But here’s the thing: you can’t buy just one circular saw and then put different sized blades on it. Nope. You would buy the size circular saw for the size blade you’d want. For example, I’ve got three different RYOBI circular saws: a 5 and 1/2″ one….a 6 and 1/2″….and a 7 and 1/4″ circular saw.

The standard size is 7 and 1/4″ and I would recommend you consider getting that size. The rule of thumb is that the bigger the blade you’ve got, the thicker the material you can cut.

I’d recommend you stick with the 7 and 1/4″ size, which has a deeper cutting capacity and is going to have more power.

Circular Saw Blades: Which One Do You Use?

Most circular saws when you buy them will already come with a blade already installed, usually a 24 teeth blade. This blade is good for cutting 2x4s and general cutting, but if you want a smoother, more finished cut, or if you’re cutting plywood, you’d want a blade with more teeth.

Blades will tell you on the side of the blade how many teeth it has and what it’s best used for cutting. In the case below, finish work and plywood is what is recommended to cut with this blade.

 

How to Use a Circular Saw - All about circular saw blades. - Thrift Diving

 

The Circular Saw vs Jigsaw

Ahhhh….so here’s a good question to consider: when should you use a circular saw and when should you use a jigsaw?

Both the circular saw and the jigsaw are two of my favorite power tools and I use them interchangeably to cut wood, but the biggest difference between a circular saw and a jigsaw (besides the obvious difference that circular saws would be more powerful) are the blades, type of cut, the thickness of the material that can be cut, and the type of materials that can be cut.

 

How to Use a Circular Saw - Circular saw vs jigsaw - Thrift Diving

 

Blade Differences: Circular Saw vs Jigsaw

Jigsaws have smaller teeth on their blades and are for finer cuts and take longer to cut through wood.

 

Jigsaw blade - How to Use a Circular Saw - Circular saw vs jigsaw - Thrift Diving

 

Circular saw teeth, on the other hand, are much larger and can chew through wood faster.

 

How to Use a Circular Saw - All about circular saw blades. - Thrift Diving

 

Type of Cut: Circular Saw vs Jigsaw

Circular saws can only make straight cuts (although, as mentioned above, they can make 9 different types of straight cuts).

How to Use a Circular Saw - Making straight cuts with a circular saw. - Thrift Diving

 

While a jigsaw can make straight cuts, too, a jigsaw can’t make dado and groove cuts and is inefficient at crosscutting and ripping large pieces of plywood. Jigsaws, on the other hand, can make decorative cuts with lots of swirls and loops, unlike the circular saw, which can only make straight cuts.

 

How to Use a Circular Saw - Circular saw vs a jigsaw - A jigsaw can make decorative cuts. - Thrift Diving

 

To cut out this lighted word sign for my wall, I used a jigsaw and 3/4″ plywood. I never would have been able to cut something like that out with a circular saw.

 

Family wooden sign with lights in the dining room - Cut out with a jigsaw - Thrift Diving

 

Thickness of the Material: Circular Saw vs Jigsaw

Circular saws, depending on the size of the blade, can make deeper cuts than a jigsaw. A circular saw with a 7 and 1/4″ blade can cut wood up a maximum depth (at 90 degrees) of 2.4375″. This means you can use a circular saw to cut a 2×4 board (which is actually 1.5″ thick).

Jigsaws can only cut up to 1″ thick which means it’s perfect for 1″x2″ and 1″x3″ boards (or thinner) because those are actually only 0.75″ thick.

How to Use a Circular Saw - Circular saws can cut up nearly 2.5" when cut with a 7 and a quarter blade. - Cutting a 2x4 - Thrift Diving

 

Here’s a handy little chart to help you see the difference between a circular saw and a jigsaw, the two power tools that I most often use:

 

How to Use a Circular Saw - Circular Saw vs. a Jigsaw - Thrift Diving Blog

How to Use a Circular Saw: Step by Step

So after learning about why you need a circular saw in your DIY toolbox, along with when you would want to use a circular saw (versus when you’d want to use a jigsaw, for example), let’s talk about how to use a circular saw.

There are several ways to set up your workspace for using a circular saw (i.e. using sawhorses, using rigid foam, and clamping your material to a table. After you figure out what will work best for you, the next thing is to prepare to start cutting.

Here are the most important steps to using a circular saw:

*NOTE: Be sure to wear eye protection and hearing protection.

STEP 1: Choose the Right Blade

All blades aren’t created equal. Remember this: the more teeth, the finer cut you’ll get. That’s true for any power tool you’ll use, including jigsaws. Pick the circular saw blade that will give you the type of cut you’re looking for. If you’re wanting to cut plastic or metal with your circular saw, make sure you buy the type of blade that indicates the blade can cut those materials. For this blog post, we’ll only talk about cutting wood.

STEP 2: Adjusting the Circular Saw Blade Depth

Using the knob on the back of the circular saw, lower your blade to no more than 1/4″ below the bottom of the wood. This provides enough clearance to cut the wood, but it also helps to preserve your blade (so it doesn’t dull quickly), and it’s safer to only expose enough blade to make the cut.

 

How to Use a Circular Saw - Blade should be lowered to a quarter inch below edge of wood - Thrift Diving

STEP 3: Start Away From the Edge

Before making a cut, let the blade run at full speed before letting the blade connect with the wood. This makes for a cleaner cut and reduces the risk “kick back.” While your blade is away from the edge, line up the blade with the line (some circular saws have red laser guides and some don’t) before turning on the saw.

Keep in mind that the width of the blade itself is about 1/8″ thick (this is called kerf). So don’t cut directly ONTO your line or else the thickness of the blade will cut into your measurement. You’ll be forever wondering why you can’t ever get a perfect measurement. 😉 Instead, cut a little to the side of your line (i.e. “save your line”), letting your blade slightly cut into the scrap side of your wood beside your line.

TIP: Lay the right side of your wood face down to get the best cut. Circular saw blades cut on the upstroke. Therefore, the wood on the bottom gets the cleanest cut. To minimize tear-out on the back side of the wood, you can use painter’s tape to minimize chipping when making your cut on the painter’s tape.

 

How to Use a Circular Saw - Cut your wood with the blade running at full speed before making contact with the wood. - Thrift Diving

STEP 4: Make Your Cut!

Once the blade is moving at full speed, move the circular saw forward and let the blade do the work. Be sure that there is nothing under your project that could snag the blade. Let the blade fully stop when you’ve come to the end of your cut before lifting it up.

When the scrap board falls away, the thickest part of the base of the circular saw should still be sitting on the wood. The scrap wood should be able to easily fall away, like this:

 

How to Use a Circular Saw - Let the scrap wood easily fall away when cutting with a circular saw. - Thrift Diving

Safety Tips: How to Use a Circular Saw

Here are the general safety rules when using a circular saw:

  1. Always remove the blade before making adjustments to the saw.
  2. Wear eye protection and hearing protection.
  3. NEVER cut a board or any other material down the middle when it’s resting on two supports. This will cause the blade to pinch. Always allow the scrap material to fall away during a cut.
  4. Always wear form-fitting clothes when using power tools; nothing dangly.

It’s Easy to Use a Circular Saw, Right?

Seriously, isn’t that easy?? The hard part is getting over your nervous feelings over using a circular saw for the first time. But if you follow these instructions, read the manual, and watch this YouTube video, you’ll be able to make your first cut!

Win a Free Circular Saw! – GIVEAWAY CLOSED

(Congrats, Jordan!)

I partnered up with RYOBI Power Tools for this tutorial, so they’re giving away a 7 and 1/4″ circular saw to one lucky reader (must be US resident only–sorry to my international friends!). One winner will be randomly chosen and emailed to confirm their winnings on or about Nov. 23. To enter, you must do all three of the following things:

  1. Visit RYOBI Nation to sign up for a free account.
  2. Post a link in the comments section below this post sharing with us which project on RYOBI Nation you would like to make!
  3. Share this circular saw tutorial on Pinterest!

 

 

Did you find this circular saw tutorial helpful? Be sure to click here to save it!


 

How to Use a Circular Saw - Learn how to make your very first cut without the fear or intimidation! - Thrift Diving

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96 Comments

  1. This is such a comprehensive tutorial! I bought a Ryobi to build a closet system for my daughter. I came across your post while googling “how to use a Ryobi circular saw.” Thanks for the tips!

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