Some tools appear to be so simple that we don't feel that they need much instruction to begin using them. Actually there are a lot of little details that can make all the difference in the world between getting by with a power tool or enjoying it's use.
Sheri Kowall agreed to be my apprentice by cutting with a circular saw for the very first time in front of the studio cameras. Because TV time goes by so fast we couldn't cover much but we did get her doing some basic cutting.
Saws come with blades on either the left or the right side
First we showed that saws have changed over the last few years and now you can get the blade on either the right or the left side of the motor. There are many reasons for a pro to want to use one or both of these saws, but for the general user, the blade should be on the side of the dominate hand. That puts your free hand on the side with the motor, which is the side that sits on the stable piece of wood with the other side falling away.
If you need to cut into large panels, simply place them on 2x4s sitting on the floor and adjust the height of the blade to barely cut through the panel into the 2x4. This will allow you to climb right onto the panel and prevents anything from falling anywhere, a good stable working environment and you are not reaching out over a table beyond your control.
How to use saw notches
Put the notch in the shoe on the pencil line, then look around to where the blade will hit the wood and line it up with the pencil line. If these two points are on the line, you will get a fairly straight start on your cut line. The left side of the notch is for a 90 degree cut. The right side of the notch is for a 45 degree bevel cut.
Don't let the shoe rise up
The biggest mistake for beginners with both circular saws and jig saws is that they tend to lift up the back of the saw shoe. Go to the middle of a cut. Turn off the saw. Now rock it forward and backward until you get the "feel" for when it goes flat. You must always use a saw with the shoe in solid contact with the wood. Raising up can give you the wrong depth of cut or even cause the saw to come out of the slot and go skittering back across the panel.
The angle of pressure from your arm to the saw handle is mostly forward and slightly downward. Do not allow yourself to lift up.
The best way to get straight cuts at exactly the right place every time is to make a jig for your saw. Simply take a piece of masonite about 18 inches wide. Find a piece of plywood about 1/2 inch thick with one very straight edge and about 4 inches wide. I make these jigs 4 and 8 feet long. Glue and screw this to the masonite as you can see in the photo.
Set the saw on the masonite with the shoe butted up against the straight plywood edge and cut off the excess masonite. Now this jig perfectly matches this saw. Any time you clamp (or screw) this to a panel, the cut will be exactly on the edge of the masonite (you don't even have to draw a long straight line), and it will be straight without checking notches or where the blade is going to enter the wood. Jigs are the key to all good woodworking. They usually guide the tool or guide the wood, but they give you measured control to accomplish a specific job and they can often be made out of simple scrap.