How To Use A Circular Skill Saw

The Circular Skill Saw

skill saw image

Tough and dependable, a circular saw handles the grunt work of project building with ease.

Why a Circular Saw?

The first step in building any project from wood is getting boards cut down to size. A circular saw is perfect for the job.

Here’s why:

(1)    Price — a good circular saw sells for under $100. You might eventually want to buy a table saw ($500+), but for now, a circular saw will handle just about any job you give it, and at a fraction of the cost of other power saws.

(2)    Easy to use — circular saws are ready to go out of the box. Plus, the newer saws are small, lightweight, and less intimidating than older models.

Circular Skill Saw Controls


skill saw trigger

Most saws have a safety lock—a feature that keeps you from picking up the saw and accidentally starting the blade.

Blade Depth

blade depth adjustment image 2

Some people ignore this setting or don’t realize it’s there. Blade depth makes a big difference in the quality and safety of a cut.


bevel adjustment image 1
It’s not something you’ll use often, but good to have when you need it. However, don’t trust the markings for accuracy.

Top 3 Mistakes Using a Circular Saw

Pinched Blade

pinched blade image

I know it’s tempting to lay a board across whatever’s handy—like two garbage cans or an old chair.

The problem is that the board will bow in the middle, pinching the blade in the middle. A pinched blade can suddenly launch the saw away from the board.

Always make sure your work piece is securely clamped on both sides of the cut line. A simple pair of sawhorses make a perfect worktable for doing just that.

Blade Set Too Deep

blade set too deep image

Some DIY newbies mistakenly set the blade at maximum depth so it will cut through any size board.

That might be okay for 2x4s, but with thinner material it could be a problem—causing chipped edges along the cut line, or worse, launch the saw away from the board.

Keep your blade depth adjusted so you only see about  ¼” of the blade through the underside of the board. This is especially important for getting a clean cut in plywood.

Leaving The Battery In The Skill Saw

leaving battery attached image

It’s easy to remember to unplug corded tools before adjusting the blade—the cord is always there to remind us.  Not so easy with cordless tools.

It’s easy to forget the power is always on—as long the battery is connected. This can be a real danger in the shop.

Get in the habit of always removing the battery before messing with any of the adjustments or controls on your cordless tools. Play it safe with cordless tools.


What You CAN Do with a Circular Saw...


Skill Saw Cross Cutting Image

Just as the name implies, a crosscut goes across the width of a board— effectively reducing the length of that board.

The best way to make crosscuts is with a straight edge guide, like the orange quick square you see here.

Clamp everything down and keep both hands on the saw.

Rip Cuts

skill saw rip cutting image

Ripping means making a cut along the entire length of a board — effectively reducing the width of that board.

You’ll need some type of ripping guide to get a clean, straight edge on the board, either a metal guide from a woodworking supply store, or a shop-made guide cutting guide.

Plywood Cuts

cutting plywood with skill saw

A circular saw is probably the best tool you’ll find for cutting down large plywood panels.

I like to put a large sheet of Styrofoam on the floor, lay my plywood directly on top, and make the cut.

Another option is to clamp the panel on sawhorses.

...And What You CAN’T Cut With A Skill Saw

Cut Curves

cutting curves

Circular saws are made to cut straight lines and not much else, really.

If you try cutting curves, you’ll find your saw getting pinched and bound up in the wood.

Complex Joinery

complex joinery image

You might find people using a circular saw to make more complex joinery (like half laps), although I’ve found it best to leave this type of work for a table saw.


The Circular Skill Saw BLADES...

It’s the Teeth

circular saw blade teethAs a general rule, the more teeth on a blade, the smoother the cut.

For example, a blade with 16 teeth per inch is perfect for building a deck or a shed because of how quickly it cuts through boards.

A blade with 24 teeth, however, will be slower, but leave a much smoother edge. This makes it a better choice for small wood projects.

A blade with 100 teeth will give you a dramatically smoother edge—the kind of edge you need for plywood, hardboard, or other laminated panels.

Must-Have Blades

There are two main types of must have blades for your skill saw:

  1. Combination Cutting Blade
  2. Plywood Cutting Blade

Combination Blade

combination skill saw blade

With 24 teeth, this blade does a nice job of cutting through 2x lumber, although it leaves a slightly rough edge.

Plywood Blade

plywood skill saw blade

With 100 teeth, this blade is perfect for cutting a smooth edge on plywood, hardboard, and laminates.


Blade Adjustments Are Very Important...

Blade Depth

Set the blade depth just deep enough to cut through the underside of the board—and no more. I like to see about ¼” of the blade peeking through the cut.

This keeps everything smooth and clean, as well as preventing kickback from the blade.

blade depth adjustment image 2

You’ll find the blade height knob located at the back of the saw.

blade depth adjustment image 3

Blade teeth should extend about ¼" beyond the underside of the board.

Blade Bevel

The tricky part is getting the bevel set accurately. Sure, most saws come with a bevel gauge, but I like to use something more reliable
(like a protractor) to set the angle. Be sure to make a few test cuts in scrap wood first.

skill saw bevel adjustment image

Look for the bevel knob located at the front of the saw.

bevel adjustment image 2

Keep in mind that changing the bevel changes the cutting depth.

Changing Blades

The good news about changing circular saw blades is that there are only a couple parts that can get lost. The entire assembly consists of

(1) a small screw that keeps the blade from coming off

(2) a washer on each side of the blade.

changing skill saw blageCan the Blade Go on Backwards?

Unfortunately, yes. That’s why you’ll need to pay attention to where the blade teeth are pointing (up and towards the front) and that the printed side of the blade is facing outward.

How To Safely Change a Circular Saw Blade

1) Remove Battery (or unplug from mains power supply).

changing skill saw blage image 1

After finding a flat, clean surface on which to work, first and foremost remove the battery. You might question the need to take this extra step, especially since the trigger switch has a safety lock in place.

My opinion is that small, plastic parts (like the safety switch) are prone to fail, and that I’d rather not take the risk of losing a finger.

2) Lock Down Blade

changing skill saw blage image 2

Anyone new to changing saw blades will quickly discover that turning the wrench also turns the blade.

More recent saws now include a small button (located behind the guard) that temporarily locks the blade in place, allowing easy removal of the screw.

3) Remove Blade Screw

changing skill saw blage image 3

Don’t let yourself be fooled by the reverse-thread screw, that means turning right to loosen, left to tighten.

Once the blade screw is out, remove the outer washer and slip the blade out and away from the blade guard.

4) Replace Blade

changing skill saw blage image 4

Be sure to put the new blade on the same way the old blade came off, with the teeth pointing forward and the printed side of the blade facing outwards.

You might also see arrows on the blade telling you in which direction the blade should spin — clockwise.