How to Choose and Use a Circular Saw

By: Julie Day

Circular saw sitting on concrete floor.

Choosing a Circular Saw

A circular saws consist of:

  • Electric motor with a power cord or battery pack.
  • Circular blade and blade guard.
  • Adjustment knobs for controlling the depth of cut and blade angle.
  • Cutting shoe, which holds the saw against the surface to guide the cut.

Circular saws are designed for making straight cuts only. The size of the saw is determined by the size blade the saw can hold, with a 7¼” diameter blade being the most common size.

A 7¼” diameter circular saw has a maximum cutting depth of about 2½ inches when cutting at a 90° angle. The blade can be set to cut straight up and down, or adjusted up to a 45° angle for beveled cuts.

When shopping for a circular saw, there are several types of saws to choose from.

Types of Circular Saws

  • Worm Drive Saw: These are the largest and heaviest circular saws. The motor is mounted parallel with the blade, and the handle is set farther back to reduce kickback through tough lumber and even concrete.
  • Sidewinder Saw: The most common circular saw for homeowners. Sidewinder saws are lighter and easier to handle than worm drive saws, and they have the motor mounted at a right angle to the blade.
  • Cordless Saw: Cordless models can be very handy, but keep in mind that they are generally less powerful than corded models and can have a fairly short battery life.
  • Trim Saw: These smaller circular saws are great lightweight tools for finish carpentry.

When choosing a circular saw, make sure it’s easy to adjust the height and angle of the blade without the need for special wrenches.

Choose a saw that feels balanced in your hand and that you can handle safely. Look for a saw with high-quality features, such as a cast metal (rather than aluminum) shoe.

Circular saw blades on shelf in store.

Choose the right blade for the material you’re cutting and make sure it’s sharp!

Circular Saw Blades

The blade is the secret to proper cuts with a circular saw. No matter what you’re sawing, there is a blade designed for your purpose.

Use only a sharp saw blade—a dull blade will burn and grind through the wood, rather than cutting it.

Circular saws cut upward through the wood. When changing the blade on a circular saw, always be sure to unplug the saw (or remove the battery from a cordless saw). Make sure to install the new blade with the teeth facing forward, so it’s spinning in the right direction.

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