Power Cutting Tools

Take a look at the most common power tools used to cut trimwork and determine which ones are right for you and how to safely use them.

There are three types of power saws that together can accomplish almost everything you'll need to do. The most useful is a circular saw. It will crosscut lumber and plywood to the right size, making straight cuts with ease. The most common saw uses a blade with a diameter of 7-1/4 inches. Most come with a steel-tipped combination blade, adequate for all the projects in this book. Steel blades dull quickly, though, so purchase a more durable carbide-tipped combination blade as a replacement. If you buy only one power saw, this is the one to get.

A jigsaw (sometimes called a saber saw) also crosscuts and rips lumber, though not as fast as a circular saw. Its chief characteristic is its ability to cut curves. Some models feature variable speed control, which is handy for cutting materials other than wood, such as plastic or metal. Some jigsaws feature orbital cutting; the blade moves forward and back in addition to up and down, making the saw cut much faster than one without orbital action.

A reciprocating saw is handy for demolition work. It utilizes a variety of blades with teeth designed to cut different materials, including wood, nails, screws, and even steel pipes. Its blade can reach into tight places to make a cut, such as between framing members.

Circular Saw: Buying one that's right for you

There are dozens of models of circular saws on the market. Here are some tips for selecting the one that's right for you.

First, look for a good-quality saw in the popular sidewinder or helical-drive style, so named because the motor shaft is aligned beside the blade and drives the blade through gears. The blade is usually to the right of the handle, but some models come with the blade on the left. Find the model that's most comfortable for you. A good one will easily handle any basic project.

You probably don't need a worm-drive saw. These heavy, relatively expensive tools are designed to withstand all-day framing jobs. The worm-gear drive places the motor behind the shaft that drives the blade. This makes it easy to see where the blade is cutting but awkward for novices to use.

Second, don't concern yourself with a saw's horsepower rating, which is usually measured when the saw is not under load. A saw's amperage rating is a better indication of its power. Find a saw rated at least 12 or 13 amps.

The saw should have a solid extruded or cast base, rather than a light stamped-steel base. Check that the tilt and height adjustments work smoothly and tighten easily and firmly. Large knobs or wing nuts tighten easily; levers work even better.

Finally, make sure the saw is comfortable to use. If you can try different saws at the store, make some test cuts. Make sure you like the grip and the position of the switch and safety-guard lever.

Using a circular saw: Crosscutting

To make a crosscut with a circular saw, draw a line across the piece, then cut on the waste side of the line. Support the piece so the waste falls freely away from the blade and the wider part of the saw's base (or shoe) rides on the part of the board that is supported.

Using a circular saw: Guided crosscutting

If you need a precise cut, use a layout square as a guide. Line up the blade with the drawn line at the edge of the board. Then hold the square across the board with one edge against the side of the saw base. Push the saw along the square to make the cut.

Using a circular saw: Cutting plywood

Mark your layout lines with a chalk line. Support the panel on both sides of the line with a series of 2x4s on a pair of sawhorses. Clamp a straightedge or board on the piece as a guide for the bottom plate of the circular saw. Set the saw to cut slightly deeper than the plywood thickness.

Safety First: Preventing accidents and injuries

The importance of safety for home improvement and remodeling projects cannot be overemphasized. Mistakes can have serious consequences. Before starting any project, review all the steps involved. If you are uncomfortable with any procedure, find a carpenter or other knowledgeable person to help you.

Safety equipment should be among the first tools you purchase. Start with a pair of safety glasses or goggles. If you wear prescription glasses, get goggles that fit over them or invest in a pair of prescription safety glasses. Try them on before purchasing. Find a pair that is comfortable so you won't mind wearing them whenever you're working. Make a habit of wearing safety glasses whenever working, period. That way you won't be tempted to make "just one quick cut" without them.

Next is hearing protection. There are many types of earplugs and earmuffs available. Earmuffs provide more complete protection. Again, try them on, if possible, to test for comfort.

Dust masks are necessary during demolition and drywall finishing. Check the label before you buy and match the mask to the type of work you are doing. In general, masks with a single strap are rated for nuisance dust. These keep sawdust out of your lungs. For sanding drywall or ripping out plaster, you'll want a mask rated for fine dust. These thicker masks usually have two straps for better protection.

Protect your hands with work gloves when handling work such as unloading materials, demolition, and cleaning up debris. Do not wear them when you are working with power tools. You are more likely to lose your grip or fumble a tool or piece with gloves on. In addition, gloves may get caught in a spinning blade or drill bit.

Finally it is always a good idea to have a first aid kit on hand.

 

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