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Canadian Woodworking

Circular saw

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A circular saw can make crosscuts and rip cuts, and bevel, angled and compound cuts.

Author: Carl Duguay
Illustration: Len Churchill

A circular saw can make crosscuts and rip cuts, and bevel, angled and compound cuts. Equipped with the right blade you can cut wood, plastic, metal and masonry. Sidewinder (a.k.a. direct drive) saws are the most popular. The motor is mounted on the side of the saw with the blade typically on the right side. The most popular are models that take 6-1/2″ or 7-1/4″ blades. Most can crosscut a 2 x 4 at 90° or 45° in a single pass. Compact circ saws have 3-1/2″ or 4-1/2″ blades and smaller cut capacities. Advances in lithium-ion batteries, along with brushless motors, make cordless circ saws a viable alternative to corded models. Features to look for include an electric brake that stops the blade as soon as you release the trigger, a magnesium plate (lighter and stronger than steel), accurate cutline markers, good blade visibility, and easy height and bevel adjustments.

Worm and hypoid drive saws, also available either corded or cordless, are more popular in the construction sector. Their motors are mounted behind the blade, extending your reach when making long rip cuts or cross-cutting sheet goods. These saws deliver more torque than sidewinders but are heavier and more expensive. Worm drive saws need to be oiled regularly to keep the gears lubricated.

Track (a.k.a. plunge) saws are a separate class of circ saws that have a shrouded blade and run on a guide track. (See “Know Your Tools: Track Saws,” June/July 2019.)

Types: sidewinder (direct drive), worm drive, hypoid drive
Power source: corded (120 AC), battery (12V 40V)
Blade size: 3-1/2″ to 10-1/4″
Depth of cut at 90°: 0″ to 3-3/4″
Depth of cut at 45°: 0″ to 2-3/4″
Bevel capacity: of 0° to 56°
Price: $58 to $900

Get the Most Out of Your Circular Saw

Safety comes first

Circ saws are relatively easy to use if you know what you re doing. Take the time to read the instruction manual and always wear hearing and eye protection.

Safety also comes second

Secure the material you re cutting on a sawhorse, 2x4s laid on the floor or another holding device. Material that shifts can bind the saw blade and/or be flung towards your body.

The blade does the cutting

There are blades for wood, metal, plastic and masonry; use the right blade for the job at hand. A dull blade is not your friend. When cutting you only need to extend the blade so it projects about 1/4″ below the material you re cutting.

Call on a friend

To make more precise cuts quickly and safely, make or purchase an edge guide, clamp guide or a speed square.

It’s OK to be square

It’s good practice to regularly check the blade with a reliable try or machinist s square. If the blade is not square to the plate adjust it.

Published:
Last modified: October 8, 2023

Carl Duguay - [email protected]

Carl is a Victoria-based furniture maker and the web editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement.


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