How to Cut Plywood with a Circular Saw: 5 Beginner Tips


You might be interested in DIY projects that involve woodworking, and cutting wood plays a big part in that. This can include using a circular saw to cut plywood in your home shop, but is this tool going to be easy for you to use? You’ll find all the answers here that will give you plenty of tips and tricks while using a circular saw with confidence.

How to Cut Plywood with a Circular Saw?

Using a circular saw to cut plywood is an easy task if you know how to use this hand tool correctly. It’s designed to cut wood just like a table top circular saw except it works in reverse. A tabletop wood saw has a blade that’s angled upward and wood is run over the top allowing the saw to rip through the wood. But this isn’t always ideal if you have limited space in your home shop or garage.

A circular saw is a handheld electric tool that had a handle and the saw blade is angled downward so you cut through wood of varying thicknesses. You apply pressure using your arm while pressing a trigger to operate the saw itself. Because this kind of saw can be adjusted for thickness, there is a locking slide that allows the base plate to adjust for the correct cutting depth.

This base plate can also be angled so that the cutting blade will allow for select cutting angles. Most cuts are always 90 degrees to ensure that each cut is perfectly vertical and straight. The only consideration is going to be the type of plywood or wood you’re cutting. The rest will depend on how your wood is supported since you will be cutting the wood from above. This is where the use of sawhorses will be ideal for getting the best cutting results.

But aside from that, there is vital information that makes using a circular saw ideal for wood working projects. There is also the issue of safety and tip for getting cleaner cuts. Let’s dive in deep to find out how you can be a master at using a circular saw properly.

Tip 1: How to Cut Straight

Before you jump right into cutting wood, there are some important things you’ll want to know about the circular saw. Whether or not your circular saw is powered by a cord or is battery-powered, you need to have a good understanding of all the parts on your saw. There should also be a checklist of safety precautions you need to follow while using the saw and before you start using it. Here are the most important points to follow:

· Use Safety Precautions

Even though a circular saw has some built-in safety features, it’s still a dangerous hand tool if you are being careless. Too many times you can be injured from not following basic wood working practices when cutting wood with power tools. The first is wearing proper safety glasses. They should be OSHA-approved and have plastic lenses that protect your eyes from flying debris.

Even a splinter or small wood chip can cause lots of damage to your eyes if you aren’t wearing safety glasses or goggles. Always be sure that any goggles you choose have excellent airflow so they don’t start fogging up. I can tell you from experience that plastic goggles are haphazard, so pick a pair that are comfortable and allow air to get in. If they are safety glasses, they should not slip down and fit your face snugly, but not overly tight fitting.

· Setting Up Sawhorses

If there is one thing that every garage needs if you do any kind of wood working is a good pair of sawhorses. Buy the kind that is sturdy and can fold up easily when you aren’t using them. I know that not everyone can afford enough shop space, so folding sawhorses are worth their weight in gold and can hang on a wall, taking up less space in return. Depending on how much you work in your home shop, you might want to have 2 to 4 of these handy.

This is best for supporting larger pieces of plywood or long beams. Sawhorses help you support wood at a level that is comfortable for the position of your arms. Most sawhorses are one meter tall (36-inches) which will make using a circular saw comfortable to handle. You won’t need to focus on the weight of the saw while you’re cutting until you reach the end of a plywood sheet or single beam.

Keep in mind that long sheets need to be supported on each end with one sawhorse in the middle to prevent bowing. It helps to keep the entire sheet nice and flat while you cut it. I personally recommend using sandbags on top of a plywood sheet to keep the sheet from slipping. These should be placed at points where the wood is touching the sawhorse. This just adds more weight to your wood so your sawhorses and wooden sheet won’t slip.

Another trick is to use bricks, paint cans, or anything handy that sits flat on the wood. Even though your circular saw is ripping through the wood, the pressure of pushing the saw and the saw’s vibration is enough to make your wood slip around. If you have any additional wood clamps, you can use them to clamp down edges to your sawhorses too. In my experience, using a combination and testing how sturdy your set-up is beforehand is a must.

· Using the Cutting Guide Slot

At the very front of the base plate (also called the shoe) there is a slot that you can clearly see leading to the cutting blade. This is to help you see where you should align your saw with the wood so you can cut on your cutting line. This can seem very tricky at first since you don’t want to cut down the center of the line. This is why this slot is your exact guideline. Either side of that line will give you an exact cut line for left or right side cuts.

Not every circular saw will have the same kind of guideline marking so you can make straight cuts. Some attachments can be added to the saw itself that help your saw glide on a runner. This is a conversion kit that will limit your saw to become a rip-fence or circular saw sled. These are especially handy if you’re making long cuts on the wood sheet, but are virtually useless if you’re cutting short straight cuts.

Don’t be fooled by those laser-guided circular saws, they’re about as useful a wet toilet paper and won’t give you an accurate cutting line. The best way to cut any wood is to use a red sharpie to draw your cut line. Using a pencil is fine, but the problem that I’ve found with this is that the line needs to be very dark to see it. If you’re worried about using a red sharpie, then use neon chalk. This can be wiped off with a shop rag easily enough.

Tip 2: How to Cut Without Tearout

One of the easiest tricks that you can use for cutting wood with a circular saw is the masking tape trick. But this is where it starts to get murky and not all masking tape is going to work well for you. The type of tape that you want is something called painter’s tape. The difference is that painter’s tape is tackier and thicker than masking tape. It’s designed to be used along the edges of walls where color is masked off.

But unlike regular masking tape, it won’t lift up so easily when it’s laid down. This is better for wood surfaces to reduce splintering. You can buy the yellowish painter’s tape, but it does come in a cool blue color too. Choose at least 2-inches wide so you can separate your cut line right down the middle. This will keep both sides of a cut piece to have reduced chances of splitting. On single beams, you can wrap the tape all the way around for cleaner cuts.

Now here’s the real truth on getting the best cut for your wood. You need to have a cutting blade that is sharp and not showing any signs of wear. Dull-cutting blades will certainly leave splinters if they aren’t taken care of. But the one thing that I can tell you is the most important is the type of saw blade you’re using. Blades with larger teeth will not be suitable for certain wood, especially if it’s plywood which is made of layers of wood veneer and glue.

If you want to avoid splintering on plywood, it’s better to use a saw blade that has a higher tooth count. Wooden beans that are more solid will do just fine with fewer teeth and can use a rip blade instead. You can always use blades that have higher teeth count for cleaner cuts- hands down. It goes without saying that any blade that has more teeth will give a finer cut. This also gives you an edge that you don’t have to do any sanding or clean-up later.

Tip 3: Use Full support

On Foam Insulation

Alright, this is where you need to know exactly what foam insulation is. Most people get the visual image of blue foam or pink foam that is used to insulate walls in between your walls. It’s the same kind of stuff that is put into refrigerators and helps ice boxes keep in heat or cold from getting out. It can appear in all forms depending on the density weight. It can also have a foil covering on the outside to further prevent the heat or cold from passing through.

This foam can be cut using any decent razor knife but this might not be a perfect 90-degree angle. So you use a precision foam blade that will pass through the foam easier. This blade is called a dust-free foam insulation cutting blade. CenterFire is a brand name that I have to admit does a great job at keeping the dust level to a minimum. But when cutting any kind of foam still requires that you wear a dust mask.

These tiny particles that can get into the air aren’t very healthy to breathe since the particles can make you cough. They can also contain traces of isocyanates if the insulation foam is urethane-based. In that case, you should do cutting in a well-ventilated area so there is continual fresh air. If you have a helper using a vacuum cleaner, the dust can be kept to a minimum with less need for cleanup afterward.

On 2x4s

If you’re cutting 2x4s these are usually made from spruce, fir, and pine. More than likely, youll find that Douglas fir is the best for framing, but Hemlock is a good choice too. You can use a typical rip blade that makes a good cut if you make a nice steady motion while cutting. If you want to keep the cuts tighter, you should pick a cutting blade that has more teeth for finer edges.

Honestly, to prevent any splintering on the 2×4 when you cut should use a finer cutting blade. You can also wrap the outside of the 2×4 with painter’s tape to prevent any splitting chips or splinters on the leading cut edge and backside. You also have to be careful with wood that is greener than others. Cutting 2x4s that are still green can be problematic since the cut end will show the saw teeth unless you use finer blades.

Depending on where you live, you have to determine if you want green wood due to the desired moisture levels. This will count if you live in dry climates where it will be optimal for wood to retain moisture content a bit longer. Kiln-dried wood can be pricier and can be better for precision projects where 2x4s are used. You also can consider fresh beams that are pressure treated. The ends of these beams colored, indicating how it was treated.

These are very good for using outdoors and will resist insects and rotting a lot more. This type of wood is also excellent for locations where moisture is going to be higher than usual. Basements and places that have high humidity will have more use of pressure-treated beams.

Tip 4: Best Blades to Use

Let’s talk a bit about circular saw blades and why buying quality saw blades is going to be vital for your circular saw. There is also the issue of a brand name that makes a big difference in how well your saw blade holds up. I’ve always been a big fan of Sears Craftsmen’s 5-pack of circular saw blades. Their quality is hard to beat and the price is especially attractive. However, there are bigger name brands that hold up just as good.

There is DeWALT that isn’t very pricy for wood working and then there is Bosch that is excellent with a big price tag attached. If you want to find a good middle-of-the-road brand Makita is your best choice. It does depend on what kind of wood you’re working with, so that counts for a lot. I recommend having a second circular saw that has a dedicated saw blade on it. This way you don’t have to change the blade on your circular saw so often.

Tip 5: How to Cut Straight Freehand

Using a circular saw is like handling a powerful and vibrating machine that is hard to get used to if you aren’t being careful. Pulling back on the trigger button will almost give you a shock from the power thats unleashed. Now, to get a nice straight cut, all you need is a steady hand and a locked wrist. You’re essentially guiding the saw with the strength of your forearm and slowly pushing it forward along a path. This is when you’re sawing flat pieces of board.

Whenever there is a short piece of wood such as a 2×4, this will require that you need to rest the tip of the shoe on the wood beam. The blade needs to be about half an inch from the wood so you can align where you’ll make your cut. This shortened cut will be brief and steady so you need to have a good hold on your saw so it doesn’t drop after the end of the cut. This is why I recommend cutting on a sawhorse so your work surface is just 1-meter tall.

Be careful when your cut produces a cut-off. The piece of plywood on the end left to fall to the ground. This is one reason that you will want to fully support the sheet as you cut. If left to fall at its will, the action could cause some tear-out as it falls before the cut is finished. This is my last safety tip, and I hope that this guide has given you a better understanding of circular saws. Now you’ll be able to cut plywood and 2x4s with better confidence.

Some Circular Saw recommendations

Ridgid Circular saw. Buy online or from The Home Depot, these saws are surprisingly rugged for the cost. Package it with a lifetime warranty (after registering the tool) and you will have a saw that will last many years. For the beginner, I strongly recommend purchasing corded tools over the more expensive cordless tools. Your arsenal of tools will grow faster and you will be happier with the tools. Here is a link to a sawOpens in a new tab. that is similar to the one I have been using for the last 5 years or so.

John McCormick

I have been woodworking since being introduced to the hobby in High School. I enjoy woodworking as a hobby and would like to share some of what I have learned with the world. I have recently built a CNC router system and I have enjoyed learning this new dimension of the hobby.

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