On Circular Saws
When our contractor grandfather was building homes at the turn of the last century, 2 by 4’s were a full two inches by four inches and the material was cut to size with a handsaw. We shutter at the thought of what it might be like if a hand saw was the only means of cutting lumber when building a home today. Yikes! It’s hard to imagine a “construction world” without a portable electric circular saw.
Aside from making the task of cutting wood easier, the circular saw has made quite a dent in make housing more affordable. It allows a carpenter to perform his or her work in a fraction of the time that it would otherwise take when using a handsaw. Thus, a home can be framed in less time and, as we all know, time is money! It’s ironic when you think that a tool that costs just over one hundred dollars can save thousands in the price of a home.
Speed isn’t the only advantage of a circular saw – there are several benefits, not the least of which is the vast array of material that it can cut. With the proper blade it can cut almost any material–wood, metals, plastics, fiberglass, cement block, slate, and brick. On wood it can rip, crosscut, and make angle cuts. It’s no wonder that a portable electric circular saw is probably the most commonly used saw, particularly by the do-it-yourselfer.
The biggest disadvantage of a circular saw is its need to be plugged into an electrical power source. For builders this had created the need for temporary power (or a portable generator) when building a house. For the do-it-yourselfer, it presents several challenges – finding an extension cord long enough to accommodate out-of-the-way projects and, more importantly, avoiding cutting the power cord – something that we both must confess that we have done on more than one occasion.
However, thanks to recent (and ongoing) developments in the power tool industry, say goodbye to power cords and hello to the battery operated cordless circular saw. Granted the cordless models don’t have the infinite supply of power of their corded counterparts, they are extremely convenient, powerful and perfectly suited for the home handyperson.
Regardless of the power source, a circular saw is great for cross cuts (cutting across the grain) on large or thick planks of wood, as well as for ripping (cutting along the grain). We typically make a pencil mark or snap a chalk line and make a fairly accurate cut using the saw freehand (without a guide) as the size of the blade keeps the tool roughly on the straight and narrow. Because of this, the circular saw is a favorite for quick cuts when accuracy is not an issue.
However, a circular saw can also be used for more accurate cuts by using a guide or fence to ensure that it stays on the correct path. Furthermore, when you need to cut a beveled edge (i.e. an angled edge) the circular saw is often your best bet.
To make the circular saw a truly versatile tool, consider purchasing the table saw attachment for your workbench. This allows you to fix the circular saw upside down so that it acts as a cheap table saw. How about that?
When looking to buy a circular saw, consider the following:
- Electric or cordless? Depends on how often you use it and the type of work you typically perform.
- When using the saw freehand, how easy is it to see where the blade is cutting? Many saws now have a “sight” at the front edge of the saw’s base to make guiding the saw easier.
- How easy is it to replace the blade? Some saw manufacturers make this very difficult.
- How large is the blade? The standard size is 7 1/4″: Anything less will limit the size of material that can be cut – especially when it comes to a bevel cut.
- Will the circular saw cut bevels? The typical range should be 0 to 45 degrees.
- Can you adjust the saw table so that it will only cut to a certain depth? This is necessary for cutting small grooves, plywood and material of varied thickness.
- Can you use a dust bag or vacuum attachment with this saw? Circular saws can produce a considerable amount of dust.
- Can you attach a rip fence guide to the saw? This is useful for ripping down planks of wood or strips of plywood.
Just as important as the saw itself are the blades you use in it. Blades vary in number of teeth, style and hardness of teeth to fit a specific job.
When choosing a circular saw blade, consider the following:
- Crosscut blade – As the name implies, this blade is for cutting across the grain of material. It has a series of evenly spaced, medium-sized teeth that are set (bent) alternately to the left and right.
- Rip blade – This blade is designed to cut along the grain of the wood. The teeth on a rip blade are also set alternately to the left and right, but unlike crosscut teeth, they are sharpened on the top, not on the inside. Thus, they are like a series of chisels that scoop out wood as the saw moves with the grain.
- Combination blade – Incorporates features of both the rip and crosscut blades. It’s the best choice for general shop and construction work.
- Plywood blade – Has many small teeth for a clean and even cut through plywood. Crosscut and combination blades can be used for plywood, but can cause splintering.
- Carbide-tipped blade – The crème de la crème of construction blades. For general purpose (like the combination blade), but the cutting edges are made from extra hard carbide steel. Especially good for cutting material of different harnesses.
- Abrasive wheel – Like a thin grinding wheel, these blades are toothless. Great for cutting masonry, fiberglass and light metal.
Finally, a word of safety. NEVER pin back the blade guard on a circular saw. The guard is there to protect you from serious injury.