On-Site Carpentry with a Circular Saw
Cutting in place saves time and trouble.
Synopsis: Readers of Tips and Techniques will recognize the format of this article. It offers a number of well-illustrated tips for using a circular saw on the job to save time. Written by a West Coast carpenter who favors a worm-drive saw.
The portable electric circular saw isn’t just a labor-saving device. It’s a tool that can do things which would be impossible with a handsaw. The circular saw is hazardous, and its electric cord tethers you to an outlet, so you’ve got to organize your work differently than you would if you were using a handsaw. But if you can develop the right habits, tricks and sequences for moving materials, nailing and cutting, you can work safely and also save time and energy.
I think worm-drive saws are best. They are better balanced, harder to stall and, most important, the blade is on the left, so a right-handed person can see the cut in progress. If I were left-handed, I would investigate sidewinder models with the blade on the other side.
Whenever wood binds on the blade, a circular saw will kick back toward the operator. Always support the workpiece in such a way that one part will fall away after the cut. Cut framing lumber near the floor, supported on your foot, as shown below, not on a sawhorse. A right-hander should hold the wood with the left hand, supporting the end closest to the cut on the right foot, with the right hand a little to the right of the body. Make sure at least part of the foot of the saw is always resting on the work.
Cutting in place
If you set out to build a house you must realize you’re going to have to move its entire weight from wherever the material is dropped to the site. This consideration should dictate how the carpenter organizes his or her work. One of the first things you realize is that the circular saw is best used for cutting in place. In addition to reducing physical labor, cutting in place can reduce the necessity for measuring and marking on site and at the lumber pile.
Before you move anything, consider the stack of lumber as a convenient place to cut many pieces to the same length — say, 30 studs for a low wall. First square up one end of the stack by beating on the ends with a hammer and checking with a square, then cut across the top or along the side at the uneven end. If you cut across the top of the stack, the depth of the blade will exceed the thickness of the wood enough to score a guide for cutting the next layer. Be sure your cut is square.
Another way is to square down the side of the stack across the edges of the lumber. You must be able to get at both edges to complete the cut. This method means you’ll have to move more material, but it is usually more accurate and faster in the long run.
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