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June 2008
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The Circular Saw - Making it Square

As I mentioned in Plumb Square and Level, our goal is to produce the best projects we can. Cutting things square in the beginning is the best way of getting your projects to turn out well.

It’s great watching shows like Extreme Makeover, where they bang up a 6000 square foot house in only 7 days. Makes for great television, but what you don’t see is the months of planning, that goes into getting the plans, permits,  site, materials and appliances and furniture  ready for 400 workers to descend on a jobsite, and get it done in that sort of time frame.

Doing home improvement  projects are made a lot simpler and easier with a few techniques.

If you are going to do it yourself, the Circular Saw is a must have tool. They key to successful projects is to take your time. Take Your time. Take Your Time.

Making a 90 degree or square cut would seem to be as simple as setting your saw at the zero mark. Like Dirty Harry says “Do you feel Lucky?” You might, but in my experience of owning dozens of saws over the years, (production framing and cutting wears them out. dropping them off roofs hurts too), there has always been room for improvement.

This is my corded Skilsaw  I have only had this one about six months. I cut a lot more than you probably ever will.  Most saws come with a cut guide stamped into the front of the ‘shoe’ or baseplate. Your saw probably has similar markings. The bottom of the photo shows the front edge of the saw with a series of stamped marks. The shoe is a piece of steel that is stamped and rolled.  Mass production at work. The 0 mark has a notch, which in a perfect world would allow you to cut perfectly. It is not and you won’t. We will fix that.


The width of the notch indicates the cut line for 90 deg. (degrees) and may have some other use such as being the other side of the saw kerf. Behind the notch on this saw, is a cutout with a couple of teeth which should provide you with good cuts. Don’t count on it. The variety of blades and the thicknesses from various manfacturers make this a vague guide better suited to letting you know which way is the cutline.

Setting your saw up to cut square is easy.

Step 1. UNPLUG IT! Make sure that you can see the end of the plug or the business end of the battery. There are no exceptions to this rule! Unless being called STUMPY is your idea of a good time


To check your saw, turn it upside down. Clamp the blade guard out of the way, adjust the factory guide to 0 degrees which is a 90 deg. cut.

This is my skilsaw set at 0 using the factory guide. The wingnut is the lock for the bevel adjustment.


Using the speed square, with the thick part flat on the shoe, we check our blade along the face between the teeth on the edge.

This is the real set of the blade using that guide. It is off 1-2 deg. Anything that you cut like this will have a bevel. One side will fit tight the other will have a gap. It is not square.

You can fix this.

Step 2.

See Step 1. First

Adjust the saw so the blade is at its maximum extension. This is where the body of the saw is closest to the shoe, or base plate. Turn the saw over. Clamp the saw behind the blade guard so that it is out of your way.

Note: This is the only time you should ever mess with the blade guard.

Clamp the saw behind the blade guard. You do not want to bend it, or break it.

Step 3. Loosen the bevel adjustment. (the knob at the front of your saw) Using your square, gently tap the shoe until the square is flat against the blade. If you cannot adjust the saw like this, Return It!

Tighten the wingnut. You are almost ready to cut. Here is my guide after tuning the saw. Almost the thickness of the stamped line.

Step 5.Release the clamp, letting the blade guard cover the blade, and turn your saw over. You are now ready to cut material. Every so often recheck the blade.

Happy Cutting.

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