If you don't use your power tools on a pretty regular basis, you may need a little bit of help when it comes time to make a straight cut or a smooth edge. We have a few ideas that may make your work a little easier, safer and a lot more fun.
If you had to carry a heavy 20-foot-long board, wouldn't you feel safer if you had some help? Of course. And although an electric circular saw isn't 20 feet long, it can be equally unyielding.
Most circular saws are heavy and cumbersome. With a long board, two people make sense when it comes to handling the load. However, with a circular saw, two people would get in the way of each other. That's why we suggest a wooden helper instead -- a cutting jig. You can buy one or make your own.
No, there is no such thing in the hardware store as a circular saw cutting jig. But stores do sell framing squares, tri-squares and the like.
Most cuts with a circular saw are made at a 90-degree angle. A framing square is a piece of metal with two legs, with each leg at a 90-degree angle to the other. Starting to get the picture? That's it!
Use as a guide
For cross-cuts you can use a square as a saw guide. Place the square so that when the saw blade aligns with the cutting line, the edge of the saw table aligns with the edge of the square. A simple measurement also can be used. Measure from the edge of the saw table to the edge of the blade, say 2 1/2 inches. Place the square 2 1/2 inches from the cut line. Clamp the square in place and you're there. The side of the saw table rides along the edge of the square and you get a cut that is straight, square and true.
For long rips in sheets of plywood, use a strip of wood instead of the framing square. Here's how: First, use a chalk line to mark the cut. You will need to know the distance between the edge of the saw table and the edge of the blade. Snap a second line offset from the first one using this distance. You now have two parallel lines. Nail a strip of wood onto the offset line aligning the edge of wood exactly to the line.
Make sure that the wood is firmly in place. We use nails or screws. However, there will be instances where clamping is preferred. Where it is impossible to make penetrations in the plywood with nails or screws, and where clamping is impossible, ask a friend to hold the wood strip in place while you make your cut. Then, all you have to do is make your cut.
Note: When using a circular saw, always be sure to set the blade depth so that it is only slightly greater than the thickness of the material to be cut. Also, never use any kind of power tool, especially a circular saw, without eye protection.
Be sure that there is a spacer beneath the plywood that will prevent the saw blade from cutting anything other than the piece of wood that you wish to cut. Finally, when you use a circular saw, hold it firmly with both hands. There is a hidden danger associated with the use of this tool. If the blade binds, the saw has a tendency to kick backwards. If you are walking behind the saw when this happens you could easily lose a toe -- no joke.
The cut that you intend to make has a great deal to do with what type of blade should be used. Just like a handsaw, circular saw blades come in varying cutting styles. For long cuts on solid boards a "rip" blade is used. For cutting across grain a cross-cut blade is used.
Most of the carpenters we know use what's called a "combination" blade. It can be used for both cross-cutting and ripping.
Although a circular saw really isn't intended for finish work there are "finish" blades available. A finish blade has more teeth per inch and will make a smoother cut. Also, a finish blade will not normally fray the edge of the cut like the other blades will.
Oh, did we mention that it really is important to keep an eye on the saw's power cord? No, you probably won't get shocked, but you will be shocked by your lack of attention if that high speed blade gets anywhere near the power cord. Always be sure that the cord is out of the cutting path.
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