Arrow-Straight Circular Saw Cuts With or Without a Guide! Freehand or Track

Last Updated:  June 18, 2022

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A few months ago, I made a video showing you how to make a straight cut with the jigsaw. But, the circular saw is a tool you will use much more than the jigsaw, so I want to show you how to make nice, straight cuts with the circular saw with or without a guide.

Guide Method

I’ll start with my preferred way to make straight cuts with the circular saw and it also happens to be the easiest. But, if you find yourself without a guide I also want to show you how to make the straightest cut possible by cutting freehand and I’ve got a technique that I’ve never seen anyone else use, so stick around for that. 

General Straight-edge

The first type of guide is a straight edge of some type. You can use anything that has at least about 1/4″, or so, of thickness and it needs to actually be straight. The edge of the the circular saw base should ride along the straight edge without sliding over the top of it.

Now, you need to measure the distance between the edge of the circular saw base and the blade. When you measure make sure you measure to the edge of a blade tooth as that will be the edge of the cut. You can write that measurement on the top of the base with a paint marker so you don’t forget it.

After making the marks for the dimension of wood you want to keep, add the width of the saw base and make that mark at each end. Clamp the straight edge in place, right on those lines, and put the saw in position to make sure it’s going to cut where I want it to.

This technique takes time and it can be inaccurate with so many measurements involved, so let’s talk about a couple of different ways to make a track that fits your circular saw.

DIY Track Guides

The first one is modeled after saw guides for sale on the market and it’s specific to your saw. The wonderful thing about this is that you simply measure and mark for the piece you want and put the guide in place right on those marks and clamp it down. That easy. The saw rides up against the fence and cuts a perfectly straight line. 

I made a detailed video on how to make a DIY track guide, so head over there if you’re interested in this method.

But, I want to show you a similar way to build a guide that takes even less time to make.

Start with a 1×2 and drill 3/4″ holes side-by-side to allow for a spring clamp to fit. Not every workpiece will be the same width, so drill the notches wherever you need them to be for clamping surface. I also find it helpful to completely notch each end of the 1×2 to give me more area to clamp on the ends.

Next, take a piece of plywood with a factory edge that is straight and then glue and brad nail our 1×2 to that edge. Then, I’ll clamp it down and make a cut with the circular saw. Just like that we’ve got a makeshift saw guide that you can make on the spot, just about anywhere, as long as you have some scrap wood.

Freehand Method

Getting a nice, straight, freehand cut will take some practice, but you can get great results if you know the right technique. 

The first thing you want to do is get the saw in place. You will have the most trouble starting the cut accurately because you don’t have anything to reference the base on. The saw could be angled or tilted and you don’t realize it.

You also want to account for the thickness of the blade or what’s called the kerf. If you try and cut down the middle of a line, you’re going to cut into the piece you want to keep and its measurement will be off. Line your blade up so that the outside of the tooth touches your line on the waste side; the side you’re cutting away.

I use a technique that can transform the way you start freehand cuts. Use a razor blade or knife and cut into the piece in the exact location of the mark. Now cut over into the waste side a little wider than the saw blade and make a notch between these two cuts.

This takes an extra few seconds, but it gives you a flawless way to start your cut without missing the mark and cutting the corner of your workpiece. It also prevents tear out on that corner.

Freehand Tips

The blade guard on the saw is designed to be pushed up by the workpiece as you push through the cut, but this will result in you pushing hard into the cut and twisting the saw one way or another. Instead I pull the guard up just enough to clear the workpiece. Then, I can let go of it after the guard is on the workpiece or just hold it through the cut.

When you start the saw the blade should never be touching the workpiece. Back it up about 1/2″, start the saw, and then slowly push it into the cut, erring on the waste side of your notch, and then ease the blade over to the line. Keep even pressure throughout and keep the saw steady.

Once you get the blade into the cut, because it’s so wide, it will want to stay straight as long as you don’t jerk back and forth.

Ignore the gauge on the front of the saw unless you’re making a rough crosscut. It’s not accurate enough or precise enough for straight cuts. It would need to not only be right on, but you would also need to keep the correct angle when viewing it throughout the cut.

Focus on the point where the blade is cutting into the workpiece and never stop pushing through the cut. This will also contribute to slight shifts side to side resulting in a wavy edge. Plan the cut so that you have continuous access to get all the way through without stopping. 

If you have to stop and reposition yourself, make sure you keep the saw completely still as it winds down and then carefully move into the next position so that you don’t bump the saw. Carefully back it up about 1/2″, start the drill, and then finish the cut. This isn’t the ideal way, but sometimes you aren’t able to make a long cut in one motion.

The last thing I’ll to mention could be the difference between an OK cut and one that could almost pass for square. Use a scrap piece of wood with a square edge and place it flat on the workpiece. Once the saw is in place push your makeshift fence up against the saw base and apply light pressure toward the saw to keep it steady during the cut.

You’re essentially acting as a manual straight edge in this situation, but it gives you more flexibility and takes much less time to get in position. This is great for starting a cut and, depending on your positioning and how long the cut is, could be used through the whole cut. It will take quite a bit of practice, however.

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