What is a Circular Saw?

Dana Hinders
Dana Hinders

A circular saw, sometimes referred to as a buzz saw, is a tool used for cutting wood, plastic, metal, or masonry. Typically, a circular saw is easily identified by the presence of a metal disc or blade with teeth on the edge and a mechanism that causes the disk to spin. The tool can be either hand held or table mounted.

Particle board being cut with a circular saw.
Particle board being cut with a circular saw.

When buying a circular saw, it's important to choose a tool with a motor that is powerful enough to meet your needs. For example, a woodworker should choose a saw with enough power to cut through everything from wet lumber to dense hardwood. If the motor in the saw you select doesn't have enough power, the blade heats up and begins to dull. In addition to creating poor quality cuts, this can become a safety hazard if the blade starts to climb out and push the saw back towards the user.

Reading product descriptions can provide a basic estimate of a motor's power. Amps indicate the amount of electricity the saw's motor draws, while horsepower accounts for rotational force. However, price is often the most reliable way to determine the quality of a circular saw. Generally, you can expect to spend several hundred dollars for a top of the line circular saw. Luckily, with proper care, you can expect your saw to last for 20 years or more.

Other features to look for when purchasing a circular saw include large lever locks, knobs that can be tightened with the whole hand, and cast-metal shoes with reinforcing ribs on the top surface to prevent damage if the saw accidentally hits the ground when you're working. Since the weight and feel of a saw can vary among manufacturers, it's also helpful to spend some time testing a few different models to see what fits your personal preferences.

Circular saws, like other power tools, can cause serious injuries if they are not used properly. Familiarize yourself with the owner's manual before attempting your first project. Make sure you are wearing safety glasses to protect your eyes from flying debris and ear protection to guard against hearing damage caused by the noise of the motor. If you are left-handed, you must be extremely cautious when operating a circular saw, since most saws are designed for right-handed operation. It's also a good idea to make sure your saw is unplugged from the power source before attempting to make any adjustments to the blade depth.

Dana Hinders
Dana Hinders

Dana holds a B.A. in journalism and mass communication from the University of Iowa. She has loved being part of the wiseGEEK team ever since discovering the joys of freelance writing after her son was born. Dana also hones her writing skills by contributing articles to various blogs, as well as creating sales copy and content for e-courses.

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Discussion Comments


@drtroubles - I guess it comes down to personal preference and ability, but in my experience, it is almost cheaper to throw away the old blades and buy new ones than it is to have them sharpened. This is even true with the carbide blades. By the time you invest in the files and time, you are only getting a small value.

I have never sharpened circular saw blades, but how exactly do you do it? I have done chainsaw blades before. Is it kind of like that, where you have a jig that fits over the blade, so that you are sure to keep the angle? If you don't sharpen the blade at the right angle it really takes away its effectiveness.


@stl156 - You can indeed buy cordless circular saws. I don't know what the quality was like, but I actually saw a set the other day that had a whole cordless range of tools. There was a Skil circular saw, drill, sander, and flood light that all could use the same battery.

As for the amp and horsepower guidelines, I don't really remember what works for what jobs. Whenever I bought my circular saw, the place had a display that told about all of the different measures and what worked for what projects. Obviously, if you are cutting through masonry or metal you will need different specifications than if you are cutting through wood. I'm sure if you search online, you will be able to find what you need.


I just found myself wondering, do they sell cordless circular saws? They sell cordless versions of about every other tool, so I figure they do for circular saws, too, but I don't think I have ever seen one.

Assuming they make them, how much would a portable circular saw cost compared to a regular one? How well do they work?

When you are going to pick out a circular saw, what type of estimates should you be using to make sure you get a saw that is powerful enough? The article talks about looking for amps and horsepower, but what are some of the basic guidelines for those measurements?


@tigers88 - I can see how they could be one of the more dangerous tools. I have never personally cut myself with a power tool or know anyone who has, but I think the issue with a circular saw is that both your hand and the saw can be moving at the same time.

With a table saw, you just have to keep track of your fingers moving toward the blade. With the circular saw, it is much easier to accidentally overextend your reach, have the saw slip out of the cut and have an accident.

I know a couple of people who have removed the blade guard from their circular saws. I think this is a really bad idea, as that is the only line of protection between the saw and your fingers in most cases.


I am in the market for a new circular saw and I am hoping that someone can give me some advice. I want one that is small and light weight and that can accommodate a number of blade sizes.

In the past I have had both a bosch circular saw and a hitachi circular saw. I liked them both but I had reservations about both. I would like to try a new brand if anyone has a recommendation. Cheaper is always better too but I don't want to sacrifice quality.


My dad was a cabinet maker and had a small shop where he employed a couple of other guys. They had and used a lot of circular saws. I spent a lot of time around that shop and I have to put in a word of caution. Most of the injuries and many of the worst injuries that we saw involved a circular saw. They seem to have a way of finding your fingers. It is possible to use one safely and still have something go wrong. They are unpredictable. So know what you are getting into before you fire one up.


@drtroubles - There are a lot of instructional videos online that you can watch that will show you how to sharpen your circular saw blades by hand. It can be tricky business, but if you've sharpened other blades before you shouldn't have too much trouble.

If you have a blade though that has silicon carbide cutting teeth you are going to have to take your saw into a saw repair shop to get it sharpened professionally. Silicon carbide is very hard and you're not doing yourself any favors by trying to sharpen it yourself unless you have the diamond-tipped tools needed on hand.

Also, just remember one really important thing if you do go ahead with sharpening the blades yourself. The bevel that is on the teeth of your saw blade will alternate every other tooth, so make sure that your going at the right angle when sanding, or you will damage the blade.


Should you do circular saw blade sharpening yourself or is there a place that will do it for you?

I have found recently that my circular saw blades are getting rather dull and they are starting to snag on the wood I am using. I need to get this fixed fast, as I am currently working on a DIY project that I want to get finished before it gets too cold outside.

Also, I would prefer to sharpen my blades by hand if possible, as I don't want to have to pay for an expensive sharpening tool if there isn't an outside place where I can get my blades sharpened.

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