Cutting with a Circular Saw

Whether crosscutting 2x4s, ripping plywood, or cutting tiles or bricks with a masonry blade, you’ll do the job better if you follow a few basic rules for using a circular saw. Whenever you cut, allow the saw to reach full operating speed, then slowly push the blade into the wood. Some carpenters look at the blade as they cut; others rely on the gunsight notch. Choose the method that suits you best. Avoid making slight turns as you cut. Instead, find the right path, and push the saw through the material smoothly. It will take some practice before you can do this consistently. This is a powerful tool with sharp teeth, so take care; it demands your respect. Support the material to avoid having the saw bind and possibly kick back at you. Don’t wear looose sleeves or position your face near the blade.

Support the material properly. A well-supported board results in clean, safe cuts. If the scrap piece is short, support the board on the nonscrap side. If the scrap is long, it could bind the blade or splinter as it falls away at the end of the cut, so support it in four places.

Circular Saw and Blades

■ Choose a circular saw that is comfortable. It should have some heft, but should not be so heavy that it is difficult to maneuver. You should be able to see the blade and gunsight notch easily. Check for ease of depth and angle adjustments.

■ If you buy only one blade for cutting lumber and plywood, chose a carbide-tipped combination blade that has at least 24 teeth. It works well for rough work and makes cuts clean enough for most finish work. For more specialized uses, buy a plywood blade, a finishing blade, or a masonry blade.

Square the blade. Turn the saw upside-down, hold a square against the blade, and adjust it. (Be sure to position the square between the teeth.) Cut some scrap pieces and check to make sure the saw cuts squarely through the thickness of the board.

Align the blade with the cut line. Once you have drawn an accurate cutoff line and have properly supported the board, position the saw blade on the scrap side of the line. The teeth on most blades are offset in an alternating pattern. When preparing to cut, look at a tooth that points toward the cutoff line.

Make a plunge cut. Use a plunge cut, also called a pocket cut, to make a hole or slit in the middle of a board or sheet. Set the blade to the correct depth. Retract the safety guard and tilt the saw forward, setting the front of the baseplate on the stock. Start the saw and lower it slowly into the cut line until the base rests on the stock. Complete the cut.


An electric drill enables you not only to drill a hole of about any size with ease, but also to drive screws into wood or metal, buff and grind, and even mix mortar or paint. Experts keep two drills on hand—one for drilling pilot holes and the other for driving screws. That way, they don’t waste time changing bits. A drill with a keyless chuck speeds up a bit change, although you may find bits slip during heavy-duty tasks. In addition to the bits shown at right, purchase a magnetic sleeve that holds inexpensive screwdriver bits. This simple tool will make driving screws nearly as easy as pounding nails.

Choosing a Drill

■ Avoid buying a cheap drill with a 1/4-inch chuck. It will not have the power you need and will soon burn out. A good drill will be variable-speed and reversing (VSR), will have a 3/8-inch chuck, and will pull at least 3 amps. One tipoff to a better-quality tool is the cord. Look for a long cord that flexes more like rubber than plastic.

■ Choose a heavy-duty, 1/2-inch drill if you will be using it to mix mortar. A smaller drill can burn out quickly while churning this thick substance.

■ A cordless drill can make your work go more easily, but only if it is powerful enough to do most things that a corded drill can do.

■ A hammer drill is useful if you need to drill a number of holes in concrete.

Choose the right bit. Use standard twist or spade bits for boring through wood. A carbide-tipped masonry bit drills through concrete or brick. Use a carbide-tipped hole saw for larger holes. A ceramic tile bit will make a hole in tile without cracking it.

Drill through ceramic tile. Wall tiles are usually soft, but floor tiles can be very tough. Nick the surface of the tile just enough so the bit will not wander as you drill. Keep the bit and the hole lubricated with a few drops of oil. Use a masonry bit or ceramic tile bit like the one shown above.

Use a hole saw. Cutting a hole in the middle of a tile is easy to do with a carbide-tipped hole saw. Measure to the center of the hole (you will need to make two measurements), and place the tile on a flat surface that you don’t mind damaging. Nick the center point to keep the starter bit from wandering. Keep the drill perpendicular in both directions as you drill, and don’t press too hard.

Drill into masonry and concrete. Use a masonry bit when drilling masonry surfaces. Usually brick is easy to drill into and concrete is more difficult. Check the bit often to make sure it’s not overheating. Stop if you see smoke. Spraying the bit with window cleaner as you work keeps the bit cool, and the foaming action brings debris up and out of the hole.

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