Cool Tools: Hand-held Circular Saw

The Circular Saw

The circular saw is one of the most widely used power tools (after a drill), and is also very versatile.  Though it technically includes table saws and miter saws, any saw that spins, using a circular saw blade, I will only cover hand-held circular saws today.


What It Is

The Hand-held Circular Saw is a hand-held machine that spins a circular blade at high speeds for the purpose of cutting wood, metal, stone, and many other materials.  It was invented by the founder of Skilsaw Inc., which is why they are often called Skil saws.  Most important, they are easier to use for cutting sheets of paneling or plywood than a table or radial arm saw.

An in-line saw, these are the traditional circular saws I'm sure you've all seen, are the most common.  The worm drive saw (great name, no?) have the motor parallel with the blade and are great for some heavy-duty cutting.

What can they do?

  • Cut multiple materials.  Depending on the type of circular saw blade being used, a circular saw can cut wood, tile and glass, stone, concrete and other masonry, fiberglass, and even metal.  See Matching blades to materials.
  • Cut material up to 6" thick - Saws are sized according to the blade size they can accommodate.  The saw will be able to cut material just less than half the diameter of the blade.  A 16" framing saw, the largest of standard circular saws can cut wood 6¼" thick!
  • Fast and easy to use.  Most commonly used to crosscut plank wood, like 2x4s and 1x8s.  Draw a line and push the saw keeping the line aligned with the saw's line indicator.  Saws with built-in laser lines make this a lot easier.  It is also very common to use a circular saw to rip sheets of plywood.  The best way to do this is with a rip guide or fence (and I'll write more about that below). 
  • Can be cordless.  These days cordless circular saws can be pretty powerful, easily handling any job you throw at it, but get a spare battery so you don't run out of all that power in the middle of a job.
  • Dadoing.  Adjust the cutting depth and use a special blade and you can cut precise grooves in wood with a circular saw. 
  • Bevel cuts.  The saw's base can be tilted relative to the blade for making angled cuts.

Price Range (~$70 to $300+)

Circular saws range from the small basic budget kind to the large cordless saw with all the bells and whistles. Budget saws often don't last very long however.  A quality saw should last a lifetime.

Finally, the best blade is a carbide one.  It's more expensive but will last 20 times longer than other blades.

Make your own plywood cutting guide (rip fence)

I wrote a post on this a while back.  For a huge laugh, check out the video of yours truly using my plywood cutting guide.  I am so preggers in this video!  By the way, now I know the bottom of the saw is not called a "foot", but a "shoe", and the back of my cutting guide is a fence!


Always wear safety glasses to keep sawdust out of your eyes.  A dust mask isn't a bad idea either.  Don't be like me, keep your long hair tied back :).

Projects for a Circular Saw

Most everything you see on Knock Off Wood (I love this site)!

I used a circular saw (and my cutting guide) to cut the MDF sheet used to build my bankable bookcase.

Cutting some of the wood for my medicine cabinet, wainscot nursery and beadboard master bath.

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