One of our earlier articles on Obsessed Woodworking was about the tools a beginner woodworker would need for the shop. When we got to power saws, the first one we mentioned was a circular saw. You can find that article here.
Our recommendations for beginner tools were based upon the projects most likely undertaken by a beginner woodworker. Projects like picture frames with mitered corners, a farmhouse table with straight legs, a coffee table, or a birdhouse were those we considered most likely. Our recommendations for the beginner woodworker’s shop were based on these assumptions.
The beginner’s tools would need to rip plywood and break up 2 x 4s as basic tasks, and for the latter, there is no better tool than a circular saw.
Every beginner needs one and needs to become proficient in its use around the shop. On job sites, that is an essential skill. The better you become in its use, the more usable a circular saw will be in your shop.
All circular saws are either electric (corded) or battery-operated. While it is possible to purchase a smaller bladed circular saw, the standard size 7 ¼ “ saw (measured by the diameter of the circular saw blade) and up to the 10” will be more than ample for the beginner. There are larger blade sizes, but for beginner’s projects, these sizes will be enough.
The direct-drive also referred to as “sidewinder,” places the motor on the left side of the blade. This is the side of the cut you want to support, thus allowing the cut piece to fall away freely away from the turning blade as soon as the cut is made.
They are easy to use, versatile, and portable. They are lightweight and don’t strain your hand or arm. They turn on quickly, and the blade stops spinning quickly when powered down, with the added protection of the blade guard. They are also inexpensive, especially when you consider all the cutting jobs they can perform.
In This Article
- What Cuts Can A Circular Saw Make?
- How Deep a Cut Can Your Circular Saw Make?
- What Is The Largest Circular Saw Size?
- Safety Considerations When Using a Circular Saw
What Cuts Can A Circular Saw Make?
A circular saw is an essential tool in any shop and on any job site, capable of making straight and accurate cuts. While circular saws are traditionally used to cut 2x4s, rip plywood, and other lumber, they can also be outfitted with specialty blades that can be used to cut masonry and metal.
Circular saws can be used to make bevel cuts, too. Most are equipped with angle adjustment capability for such cuts, and those adjustments are easily made with one hand to the desired angle. Small French cleats come to mind as I write these words, and in fact, we wrote about French cleats in the past.
The whole circular saw’s blade, blade guard, and motor housing sit on an adjustable shoe or base plate. The plate tilt lever adjusts the angle of the blade, and thus the angle it is capable of cutting for you, measured by an angle scale just like you see on a protractor that you dial.
For cuts that won’t be seen, like 2×4 studs used in framing, circular saw cuts can afford to be a bit ragged and coarse. For cuts that will be seen, that after-market blade (a finer-toothed blade for finish cuts) is a good purchase. You can find them at the large DIY stores for between $7 – $25, depending on the brand and sale at the time of purchase.
It is even possible to make cabinet-quality cuts with a circular saw. All you need is a straight edge guide for the cut, and nothing fancy is necessary. A perfectly straight board clamped to the piece being cut, or a metal straight edge, and the circular saw pressed firmly against it will result in that perfectly straight cut. You’d want a finish blade on the saw for something like a cabinet cut, but other than that, it’s a cut any circular saw can make.
When making cuts of any kind, you want to be sure the blade does not extend below the piece being cut by more than ¼ “ to ½”. This adjustment is also one easily made on a circular saw and is important for safety reasons: the blade is turning, the teeth are sharp, and you don’t want any more of them exposed than is necessary to cut the workpiece. You also want to eliminate the risk of any kickback.
Obviously, the larger the circular saw size (again, measured by the diameter of the blade), the thicker the workpiece can be and still make an accurate and straight cut. Without a straight edge guide, though, the straightness of the cut depends on your free-hand cutting. A steady and confident hand, though, can keep that cut straight, and for longer cuts, the straight edge guide will replace that steady hand for greater accuracy.
How Deep a Cut Can Your Circular Saw Make?
We’ve discussed cutting 2x4s, and the standard 7 ¼ “ circular saw can easily handle that task. Certainly, ripping a sheet of plywood, too, is a job for that size saw.
But some of your projects might include a 4×4 or even larger dimensional lumber. Circular saws are still the tool for the job, within reason. Even a beefy 2×12 will succumb to a circular saw just as easily as a ⅛” piece of paneling.
Let’s look at the various circular saw sizes and chart the maximum depth that can be cut safely. The maximum depth will be determined by the size of the saw, and again, circular saw size has to do with the diameter of the saw blade.
How Deep Can You Cut With a 7 ¼” Circular Saw?
The maximum depth you can cut with the standard 7 ¼ “ circular saw at 90 degrees is 2 ⅜ “. As we mentioned earlier, the saw blade should not extend below the piece being cut by more than ¼ “ to ½ “. While some sources suggest 2 ½ “ depth is possible, we suggest you keep it at that ⅛ “ shallower depth to allow the blade to clear the bottom of the workpiece by as little as possible for safety reasons.
A 45-degree bevel cut depth is less, where 1 13/16” is the limit for this circular saw size.
This size circular saw as we mentioned, is the most common size. It’s large enough to handle the most common cuts you’ll make in your shop and at a job site and still be lightweight and easily portable.
Cutting a 2×4 with this size circular saw is no problem; cutting them in one pass. With a larger workpiece like a 4×4, it will take 2 passes quite easily. Remember that the actual dimensions of a 4×4 are 3 ½ “ x 3 ½ “, well under the 2 ⅜ “ maximum cut for this size saw.
How Deep Can You Cut With an 8 ¼” Circular Saw?
For this size, the maximum depth you can cut at 90 degrees is 2 ⅞ “. At 45 degrees, the maximum depth is 2 ¼ “.
How Deep Can You Cut With a 10 ¼” Circular Saw?
For this size, the maximum depth you can cut at 90 degrees is 3 11/16”, and at 45 degrees, the depth is 2 ¾ “.
While circular saws do come in smaller sizes, even down to 5 ½ “, we’re focusing this piece on the more common sizes you are likely to find in a home workshop.
What Is The Largest Circular Saw Size?
Both Makita and Skilsaw make a 16 5/16” circular saw. The cutting depth of a saw that size is 6 ¼ “, which means you can cut a 6×6 in a single pass. While this is impressive, it most likely has no practical application in the home workshop.
The Makita model will run you close to $900, while the Skilsaw model approaches $700. This is far more than what a 7 ¼ “ standard size will cost at under $60 for many brands.
Safety Considerations When Using a Circular Saw
When making cuts with your saw, pay attention to where you stand. You will want to be off to the motor side of the saw to stay out of the way of a kickback. You also want to keep your head behind the saw, not directly above it.
Safety glasses should be essential work gear when cutting with any power saw, and your circular saw is no exception. Gloves are also a good idea for a firmer grip and to avoid splinters.
The blade guard will protect you, and if you are careful when setting the blade depth to expose less than ½ “ of the blade below the piece being cut, you won’t run the risk of kickback or flesh cuts.
Here’s a video on circular saw basics. With over 1.3M views, we understand why, as the woodworker is very thorough in covering those basics.
We’re pretty sure you already have a circular was in your shop and know it to be an essential power saw. We reach for ours often when working on a project, and those 2x4s get broken down quickly to frame out a desk. It couldn’t be easier.