Tool of the Week: Hand Held Circular Saw

By Amanda Leonard

One of the most popular and heavily used power tools is the hand held circular saw. You’ve probably seen them on just about every do-it-yourself show out there. Believe it or not, stationary circular saws have actually been around since the late 1770’s, though they weren’t available in a hand held form until 1923.

The basic circular saw uses a rotating blade to make relatively straight cuts across a piece of material. Though the hand held version is the type most people think of when circular saw is mentioned, there are also a wide variety of other circular saws such as miter saws, radial arm saws, table saws, and biscuit joiners. The beauty of a hand held version is that, instead of moving the wood across the blade, the blade moves across the wood. This allows for much more flexibility in the angle or length of the cut.

A circular saw blade is composed of a metal disc with teeth near the edges. These teeth are often specialized for the material you are cutting such as wood, plywood, or metal, but there are also multipurpose blades that can handle just about anything with some degree of success. Tip: When cutting plywood or laminate, use masking tape over your cut line and cut with the material upside down. This will help you obtain a clean cut without excessive chipping.

Another feature of the hand held circular saw is the ability to adjust the angle and depth of the saw blade. By adjusting the angles, a DIY’er can create more sophisticated joints in all sorts of projects, from trim work to furniture making. Adjusting the blade depth, on the other hand, simply limits the blades exposure and helps control kickback, which can be dangerous to both person and project. Tip: Set the blade so that the bottom of the blade is no more than 1/8” to 1/4” below the material. Remember to always unplug power tools when making these adjustments.

The hand held circular saw is a very powerful and potentially dangerous tool so always be aware of the blade, which is whipping around at a few thousand rotations per minute, and wear those safety goggles! You also might like to be aware of what’s underneath the material you are cutting. It’s never fun to get have way through a cut and then suddenly slice through the power cord. Of course, if you’re someone who’s prone to such mistakes, you could avoid cutting the power cord altogether by trying out one of the cordless options from the Tool Library.

For more tips and tricks to using the circular saw and other power tools, check out the new Power Tools 101 course offered in partnership with The Tool Library by South Seattle Community College. Amy Ecklund from Amy Works will be instructing the class on using power tools safely and effectively. To sign up for this course and more DIY home maintenance courses, visit

The hand held circular saw (corded or cordless) is one of over 1,000 tools available now at the West Seattle Tool Library, which is free to use and run primarily on user donations. If you or someone you know you would like to be involved in The Tool Library, please consider attending one of our bi-weekly meetups or becoming a member.

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