Circular Saw Safety Tips

This useful tool can be used safely if you know what to do (and what to avoid).

| April 2, 2009

  • Circular saw safety
    An example of dangerous sawing: pulling the saw (straight toward the operator) with no support under the plywood.
  • sawing marks
    The first thing you do when preparing to cut a board is to make a mark for the cut. About 90 percent of the carpenters I know make a mark with a speed square and cut on the left of the line sometimes and to the right of the line other times. Who knows?The small straight mark on the right is the exact place you want the blade to cut and is the correct way to mark a board, the wing mark on the left of the small mark is the waste side.
  • cord safety
    Get some Wite-Out and paint the wide prong side white (wide — white). This is the white (neutral) wire in the cord. Then you won’t have to look each time and try to figure out which way the prongs fit.
  • saw gauge
    I marked on the back of my saws the depth of cut plus one-eighth inch. 1 1/2 inch is actually 1 5/8-inch depth of cut (to be sure it cuts through the thickness of the board). This saw is set for a 1/4-inch cut but the actual blade depth is 3/8 inch.

  • Circular saw safety
  • sawing marks
  • cord safety
  • saw gauge

Last year, more than 250,000 saw-related injuries required emergency room care. The circular saw is the most dangerous, misused and abused tool in a do-it-yourselfer’s tool shed. Here’s what I have learned about safety, proper techniques and maintenance from using a saw for 50 years.

Some History

When portable, electric circular saws were first made, the motor was on the right, the blade on the left and the handle was above the blade. When you got to the end of a cut, the weight of the motor would naturally make the saw fall off to the right and butcher the end of the cut.

Then someone came up with the bright idea of putting the motor on the left and the blade on the right. This shifted the main weight of the saw and the majority of the base to the stable side of the cut. But with the blade on the right, a right-handed person has to lean over the top of the saw to see the line of the cut.

A few years ago, Porter-Cable came out with two models (345 Saw Boss and the 423 Mag) with the blade on the left — and moved the handle so the saw is balanced. Craftsman also has a similar 5 1/2-inch saw. Now some other manufacturers are seeing the light.

If you use your right hand to run a saw, buy one with blade on the left; if you use your left hand, buy one with the blade on the right. You need to see where the blade is cutting to make an accurate cut; and working in a good position is important. The position of making a cut with an electric saw is the same as making a cut with a handsaw or hacksaw: The cut line, the blade, your forearm, elbow and shoulder should all be in one straight line.

Preparing to Cut

Now we come to one of the most overlooked, but most important procedures in using any power tool — plugging in the cord to a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) power cord. (See Image Gallery.)

5/24/2015 9:22:37 PM

I just wanted to share this with anyone that has a concern about circular saw safety or ease of use. It's called Saw Guard Dog and there running an Indiegogo campaign at the moment and it's worth checking out here's the link.

3/16/2011 3:40:28 AM

I have a problem with them changing the side of the saw the blade is on. When you are end cutting a board you can not hold the board still. If you cut on the otherside, the saw rest won't be on the board. I almost lost 4 of my fingers 2 years ago. I was cuttig the end of a board with a cordless saw. I had the saw rest on the wood so now the blade is at the end of the board in my right hand. I started the cut, the board started to move. I reached with my left hand to hold the board, Right into the blade. If this was a saw with the blade on the right I would have been cutting on the otherside of the wood and the board would be able to hold with my left hand. The sewed my fingers back on but I have permanent nerve damage. I have been using circular saws for 30+ years and that was the first time I have had an accident. I swear to never use a saw like that again and I will tell everyone else the same!

4/22/2010 2:58:36 PM

As a journeyman carpenter, I worked 10 years as carpenter foreman for the Texas prison system (as employee, not inmate) where I learned quickly a convict can make anything out of nothing 'n usually successfully hide it but for intelligence, they usually put selves and others at safety risk without lot of effort, which brings up a safety issue often overlooked by amateurs, laymen, and incarcerated felons -- never, ever use an inverted circular saw with blade guard restricted 'n mounted underneath a plywood base as a makeshift tablesaw. Not only is it unsafe without the guard, it's a surefire way to cutoff fingers, a fate an inmate accomplished, by accident, while working for one of my employee supervisors. If there is anything worthwhile about his incidental negligence, it's this: he won't be picking anymore locks in the free world when he makes parole.

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