November 1, 2012 12:45 PM   Subscribe

Why does my circular saw keep jamming up?

This is the first time I've ever used a circular saw. I'm using a Ryobi 18v to make a cut through about 30 inches of 3/4" pine.

Everything is secured with clamps, and the edge that I am cutting is free to fall off (i.e., I'm not making the cut in the middle of where the wood is supported). Per the instructions, the blade clears the bottom of the piece of wood by about 1/4 inch.

I have tightened the blade securely.

I'm using another piece of wood, clamped to the wood I'm cutting, as a guide for making the line. To the best of my ability to tell, the flat plane rests appropriately on the wood I'm cutting, and I'm going straight forward, not trying to curve or anything.

Basically I get an inch or two in and the blade seizes and stops. I've made it through about six inches and figured it was time for actual guidance.

You may read a brief history of other power-tool based travails of mine here. The primary cause of that particular problem was that I was overcompensating for what I thought was a lack of strength, and not really having gotten a feel for the tool. That could also be the deal here, but if I should be pulling back (easing up on the trigger/speed?) I can't tell, and the circular saw is scarier than the drill.

Also interested in any other tips on using this tool. I am aware of: don't wear flowy clothes, don't wear gloves, tie back your hair, two hands on the circular saw, wear eye protection, don't be drunk, don't invite pets or small children. (It's taken me about three weeks to work up the nerve just to use the thing.)
posted by A Terrible Llama to Home & Garden (34 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Sounds like a dull blade. It doesn't take much--if you hit a staple or nail in the wood it will dull the blade instantly.
Is the wood smoking or burnt before the saw quits? Smell it. That's a dull blade. Put in another blade and try it again.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 12:53 PM on November 1, 2012

I had the same problem when I first started using a circular saw. A new saw blade and going slow but steady fixed the problem for me. Or it could be that you're trying to drive the blade in too quickly and the motor can't keep up, particularly since it's battery powered.

If the blade is good, sharp, and mounted nice and tight the next place I'd look is the battery.
posted by Quack at 12:54 PM on November 1, 2012

Relief of internal stress often causes dried lumber to warp and bind when ripped. Big saws just power through it (with associated risk of kickback) but a battery saw will bog and stop.

Use a shim in the end of the kerf to reduce binding.
posted by seanmpuckett at 12:55 PM on November 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

The two things that come immediately to mind:

First, are you sure the edge of the saw is parallel to the blade? If it's off even a small bit, using tha tedge guide means that you'll bind the blade.

Second, how wet is the wood? Wood often has internal stresses that get released when you pull bits of it off. If you're cutting long rips with the grain, especially with construction grade lumber, you'll rarely get wood that ends up straight. If this is basic shelf pine that came from home depot, you'll probably have to actively shim the lumber, as seanmpuckett suggests.
posted by straw at 12:57 PM on November 1, 2012

Sounds like a weak battery. Is the saw slowing down significantly after you start the cut? It shouldn't. Try going really slow.
posted by exogenous at 12:58 PM on November 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Are you pushing against the rotation? Some people try to feed the wood in the same way the blade is moving, and in that case it's common for the blade to seize up. There are other failure modes, too, which can be very dangerous. (My mom cut off two of her fingers that way one time, because she didn't know any better.)

You should always push the wood against the rotation of the blade!
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 12:59 PM on November 1, 2012

It sounds to me like you may be pushing too quickly, particularly with a battery saw. Battery saws have low torque and so can't be pushed too fast.

Try moving more slowly. If the pitch of the saw drops too much, you're pushing too hard.
posted by bonehead at 1:01 PM on November 1, 2012

If you are going to make consistent rips in the future, a corded circular saw is rarely more than $40........ and you'll have no more concerns about power.

(My guess is that a fair number of your neighbors have a corded circular saw that you can borrow for this current project.)
posted by lstanley at 1:06 PM on November 1, 2012

seanmpuckett has it. Those cordless saws are convenient for small jobs, but blade pinch is a big problem, especially with the thin blades.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:08 PM on November 1, 2012

My last memory of using the Ryobi battery saw is that it was absolutely awful. At full charge, it managed to cut through about one sheet of plywood. All the advice upthread is good, but the cheapest corded saw you can find will likely do a much better job(I have the cheapest, smallest Skilsaw because I have tiny hands - it's wonderful.).

An additional piece of advice re: circular saws - you'll pretty much always be aware of where your hands are, but make sure you keep track of where your thighs are, especially if you're using low sawhorses or other support material that makes you bend your knees a bit. Alternately, make sure the blade is only ever low enough to cut through the piece you need cut and doesn't extend much further.
posted by sawdustbear at 1:12 PM on November 1, 2012

Seconding bonehead, and make sure you have the proper type of blade in there. It seems obvious to us but you should check to make sure you're using the right blade before you go any farther.

Also, you mention trigger pressure. I'm not a power saw whiz, I tend to default to manual hand tools, but my experiences with a circular saw have been that the trigger should be fully depressed if you're cutting anything. I'd venture to say this may be even more important with a battery powered saw (even though I've never used one personally).

Using a power tool is much more a process that has to be done right the first time and smoothly, otherwise you might want to consider going back to a handsaw or something else that you can work a bit slower and safely with. With that in mind, here's how I'd approach this in a step by step fashion:

Clear work area, affix safety gear to self, line up work and secure it as/if needed, picture the movements required in your head, firm grip on tool handle, ensure free hand is clear, fully depress trigger, push firmly and smoothly into the cut, remember to breathe, support the free end of the wood as you cut if possible (use a helper or sawhorse if needed), cut through to end of cut, release trigger, wait for blade to spin down, smile or frown as needed at the job you've just done.
posted by RolandOfEld at 1:12 PM on November 1, 2012

Make sure the blade is on in the correct direction. Both the blade and saw body (adjacent to shaft) should have an arrow indicating correct direction of rotation. Does it bind when both ripping and cross cutting?
posted by Muted Flugelhorn at 1:14 PM on November 1, 2012

You don't mention how big the cutoff piece is, but it can flex and bind the blade as it starts to fall away. But you'd encounter this problem closer to the end of the cut than at the beginning.

You'll want to support the cutoff piece as well, unless it's small, both to avoid binding and to avoid splintering of the last 1" or so as the weight of the cutoff piece tears it from the main board before you can finish your cut :(

This means you can use up to 4 sawhorses - two to support the main body of the board, and two more to evenly support the cutoff piece, so that when you're cutting both parts stay where they are and remain fully supported. It's more like "separating two parts" than "cutting off a piece."

Also, as others have mentioned, the battery-powered circular saws (it's probably only a 4" blade?) really suck at doing real cuts - anything more than cutting the end off a 2x4" and you need a corded, full size (7") circular saw.
posted by jpeacock at 1:18 PM on November 1, 2012

Okay, I've tried slowing down -- didn't make a difference, still snagged and stopped. I'm going to charge up the battery, see if that helps at all.

The blade is 5 1/2 inches....I think the whole thing is new, I don't remember ever using it before in our house -- I think it was a Christmas gift from a few years ago that no one in our house previously had the nerve to try.

Soo....anyone want to recommend a corded circular saw, or a go-to brand for power tools in general? I'd kind of like to start buying better tools.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 1:41 PM on November 1, 2012

Please buy Craftsman products from Sears.
posted by lstanley at 1:42 PM on November 1, 2012

This video from Stihl is about chainsaws but the How to Use Your Chainsaw section (begins around 32:00) contains good info on how power saws can buck, kick back and bind. It might be helpful in figuring out what's going wrong.

lstanley, I've had mixed results from Craftsman's power tools. Their hand tools are pretty consistently good but all kinds of Chinese power tool crap now (since the K-Mart acquisition, mostly) carries the Craftsman name. Just because it's made in China doesn't make it crap, but an awful lot of crap is made in China. Don't rely on a brand name.
posted by workerant at 1:51 PM on November 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

To answer the followup, I'd suggest a table saw over a corded circular. Though that depends on how often you'll be cutting and how big you'll be cutting, and your budget.

I have a circular saw, and use it to rip sheets of plywood that I then put on the table saw to finish in the other dimension. If I had enough room and patience to build a larger table for my table saw, I might never pull out the circular saw.
posted by k5.user at 1:57 PM on November 1, 2012

Take a look here. It's a decent resource/starting point for you tool purchase if you want something that includes "Made in America" which, as workerant says about China, does not imply quality. A lot of quality stuff is made in the USA but just because it's Made in the USA doesn't make it quality.
posted by RolandOfEld at 1:57 PM on November 1, 2012

Please do not buy Craftsman products from Sears.

Fixerated for correct power tool advice. Sears has great hand tools (screwdrivers, wrenches, etc) but mostly mediocre power tools, budget rebranded stuff, in my experience.

Go to a place that has a bunch of saws (any big box place like Home Depot is fine) and grab one from a decent brand like Dewalt, Makita, Milwaukee, etc that feels good to your hands and is in your price range. Lighter is better than heavier, and a stronger motor is better than a weaker motor, but both of those will cost you money. Glancing at the Home Depot website, there are a bunch of fine choices in the under $100 category; as long as you stay with a good brand and buy a two-pack of spare blades while you are there (under $10 when I bought some a couple of days ago) you will be fine.

The missing piece of safety equipment you didn't list is ear plugs. Circular saws are loud and especially indoors can damage your hearing.

Be slow and smooth, and as mentioned above be aware of where the saw would go if it kicked back or if the piece dropped off the table -- people tend to hurt themselves by sawing through the piece and into their leg or left hand. Don't do that! And as with pretty much every tool, a sharp blade is far safer than a dull blade -- they are cheap, so drop in a new one as soon as the old one starts getting dull.
posted by Forktine at 1:59 PM on November 1, 2012

Came to say: do NOT buy Craftsman products from Sears.

If you want a good tool, buy contractor grade rather than homeowner grade. It will be sturdier, last longer, and have more features that you actually want. I bought all my tools as used (though you have to inspect it to make sure the motor and batteries are good) Makitas and they've been wonderful.
posted by ethidda at 2:03 PM on November 1, 2012

I own the same saw you have and have use a great many circular saws in my time. It's handy when you absolutely need a cordless saw, but as far as building a project it's totally worthless. That 30" of 3/4" pine has already drained your battery.
posted by cmoj at 2:11 PM on November 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

To determine whether your blade is dull, apart from using your nose (toasted wood=no good) look at the shavings. If the stuff coming out basically looks like very fine dust, the blade needs re-sharpening, or to be thrown away, depending of the type of blade. Yes, and make sure that the blade is turned the right way around.

How exactly your saw binds depends also largely on in which direction your cut goes. If it is along the grain, you'll have to use less force pushing (flexible wrists, no death-grip. Let the saw guide you - up to a certain level...), have even more patience, and make extra sure that you're not getting off course. Also, in length-wise cuts, if there's any inner tension in the wood, it may well be that the cut-off piece bends inwards, jamming the blade. You would see this when taking the saw out: the cut would be looking narrower than the blade is thick. Wedge it apart, saw inserted, at the end, with a slender wedge made of softwood.
Cross-grain cuts should not present that type of problems; if that's what you're doing, your blade is likely gone.
posted by Namlit at 2:12 PM on November 1, 2012

OP, unless you are contractor there is ZERO reason to spend a lot of money on power tools. Craftsman, Ryobi whatever will do exactly what you need: e.g. homeowner grade repairs and projects. I read your link and you are the customer that many entry level tools are designed for.......

Craftsman is perfectly acceptable, and Sears and Craftsman have a remarkable return policy.

(Tool recommendation is second in vitriol only to discussing religion and politics at the dinner table. I'd take my Craftsman tools to the end of the earth)
posted by lstanley at 2:19 PM on November 1, 2012

Forktine's advice is the best for powertool purchases! The tool that feels most comfortable for you and works well is going to be much better for you than some super awesome and pricey contractor grade tools. In addition, some tool brands are great with certain tools and not so great with others.

I'm a small lady with not an awful lot of arm strength(but it doesn't really matter with power tools!) and very small hands and these are the tools I own and work with(hobby-work now, but I previously did stage carpentry to pay the bills). They're all from different tool brands. I've used many contractor grade tools, but I don't like owning them because they're big and heavy and I can't work with them for a long period of time without getting tired from just lifting them. I wouldn't generally list my recommendations, except I think we might be kinda similar in what we'd find comfortable to use, so here's what I've got:

Drill: 12v DeWalt. I own 3, but the older ones that look like this. I find that they're perfectly balanced for my hands. The larger 18v ones are good too, but I get tired using them after a while. I've also liked using Makitas, and hate Skil and Craftsman drills.

Circular Saw: I own a 13amp 7-1/4" corded Skilsaw, which I think is the smallest they make.

Chop saw: DeWalt 12" Compound Miter Saw. This saw is my best saw friend.

Jigsaw : I have a Bosch jigsaw, although I can't remember which one off the top of my head. I've used several and liked them all, so I probably bought the smallest one. I've also liked Porter Cable jigsaws.

Staple guns and air compressor: All Porter-Cable, although I admit I bought them in a moment of desperation without any comparison shopping because I thought the compressor looked like an adorable red robot. It has served me very well, though.

Reciprocating Saw: Sawzall(Milwaukee?). Everyone calls reciprocating saws Sawzalls, anyway. I've never worked with a non-Sawzall.

I own an assortment of other less-used tools and they're all mostly De Walt, which is kind of my go-to brand, but I still wouldn't recommend them for absolutely everything. But then, I also have a Barbie Dream Welder, so my advice may be a bit suspect.
posted by sawdustbear at 2:23 PM on November 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

The tool that feels most comfortable for you and works well is going to be much better for you than some super awesome and pricey contractor grade tools.

I totally agree, with the added caveat that low-cost is good, but low-quality isn't. My guess is that the cheapest or second-cheapest models of any of the good brands (Makita, Dewalt, etc) would work perfectly for the OP, without costing more than a lower quality option.

I think it says something that I am a large man with large, strong hands and my list of tools is very similar to sawdustbear's (totally different for the circular saw, but strikingly similar down the rest of the list). Well-designed tools have a good balance and are easy to use for all kinds of people; badly designed tools are awful for everyone, though you can often force them to work with enough strength and effort.
posted by Forktine at 2:32 PM on November 1, 2012

Sears's remarkable Craftsman return policy does not apply to power tools.

This is an excellent circular saw. I recently bought one to replace a trusty old Makita that I'd abused to death. Also, Lowes carries the same model so you can probably get it locally.

As to brands, Craftsman, Ryobi, and Black & Decker are consistently low-end. Dewalt is generally pretty good but my favorite for almost nothing. Ridgid and Porter Cable make some nice tools, and some that I don't care for. Makita and Bosch are generally excellent. Milwaukee used to be uniformly heavy, with iffy ergonimics, strong and bulletproof, but in recent years has started sticking their name on some less robust products.
posted by jon1270 at 2:44 PM on November 1, 2012

This is the first time I've ever used a circular saw. I'm using a Ryobi 18v to make a cut through about 30 inches of 3/4" pine.

I bought this same saw last month to replace an ancient Black & Decker that I bought for $1 at a yard sale 20 years ago, and whose handle was partially melted by some previous owner with worse luck than yours.

Out of the box, with a brand new blade, cutting a 2"x"4", it did the exact same thing yours is doing. A lot of the Amazon reviews mentioned this, but I figured they were doing something wrong.

I went back to the ancient Black & Decker and had much better luck.
posted by mudpuppie at 3:58 PM on November 1, 2012

(Oops, I see now that you have the cordless saw. Mine is corded. I guess this means beware of Ryobi saws in general. I have a Ryobi table saw that's just fine, but between your experience and my own I'll be reluctant to buy one of their circular saws again.)
posted by mudpuppie at 4:00 PM on November 1, 2012

Craftsman's tools are fine. You get what you pay for no matter what name is on it. And usually what you pay for is features and warranty/longevity.

I would be surprised if a battery operated circular saw was even designed to go through 3/4 wood. Check the manual.

But I've had this problem with a regular saw, and it was because the cheap blade that came with it was terrible. It was like a new machine when I put a good blade on it.

Other things:

-Make sure the blade is sharp. The teeth should have nice square points where they bite through the wood. The teeth should also be slightly offset from each other, where one is bent a little to the right, and the next is bent a little to the left. This is called kerfing. This is so the width of the cut (the kerf) is slightly wider than the thickness of the blade so it doesn't bind up. If it's not sharp, or doesn't have kerfing, go get a new blade that is appropriate for the type of cut you are making. A hybrid or all purpose blade should be fine for pine stock.

-yeah, make sure the blade is in facing the right direction.

-Make sure the sides of the blade aren't covered in some kind of cosmolene or lacquer that is making it bind up. If you go out to buy one, make sure it doesn't have that problem.

-Make sure the blade is the right kind of blade for wood. It should have fairly large teeth. I like the ones with the little teeth welded onto the disc of steel.

-Make sure the edge of the bed is parallel to the blade. If it isn't, you'll be trying to cut through the wood at an angle, and as you fight it to keep straight against your straightedge, you are binding it up.
posted by gjc at 4:06 PM on November 1, 2012

It was the battery! Yay! I had to cut each side of a long piece of wood to even some edges out, so it went through 30 inches of 3/4 pine, twice. I'm recharging the battery again now but I did feel like it could have kept going if I weren't on my way out to dinner.

I'm quite psyched -- I didn't think it could be the battery because it started so loud and seemed powerful enough, but then it would just give up so I thought it had to be either me or the equipment itself.

I do think that in the future I'm going to pay better attention to brand and look to getting some more appropriate equipment in general, but right now it did what it needed to do and I'm pretty exhilarated to be the able and relatively non-terrified user of a circular saw.

Thanks everyone.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:29 PM on November 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is a common problem with battery tools, in my experience. A low battery will give you a quick shot of voltage, enough to sound fine, but poop out almost immediately. If you're having power problems, a first quick check is to throw the battery on the charger.

I agree with jon1270's assessment of names: Craftsman, B&D, Ryobi are bottom of the barrel. DeWalt, Porter-Cable (now just a marque for Stanley, the also the owner of DeWalt), Rigid are all decent middle tier, Makita, Bosch are generally excellent, but expensive.

I've had a Porter-Cable circular saw now for more than a decade. Light and lots of power. It's one of the best tools I own.
posted by bonehead at 5:27 PM on November 1, 2012

There are few things in life worth spending a premium for, power tools are one of them. Battery powered circular saws rarely have the amperage or duration to handle much more than 1/2 inch ply or osb for more than a few length wise cuts, even if the blade is sharp and true, partially due to material density but also due to the power available in the things.

An 18v circular saw can do a few quick jobs but really 3/4 ply is a job for a plugged in model. If you really want a battery powered job stick with milwauke, or dewalt or Makita. Otherwise a plug in model, even the cheap ones will have the power to cut through.

The most important lesson with power tools is you should never have force it. If you are forcing the tool it is not doing its job and will get unpredictable quickly.

If you are going to do a lot with your circular saw look in to a worm or screw drive model which has dramatically more power.
posted by iamabot at 6:27 PM on November 1, 2012

My descending order of desire for power tools is: De Walt; Makita; Bosch; AEG; Ryobi; Black&Decker; GMC; Ozito.

For rarely used tools I'm happy with Ryobi. For my always used drill I have a makita, and saw I have Bosch. I've sworn off the really cheap Chinese stuff apart from my air compressor.
posted by wilful at 9:43 PM on November 1, 2012

If I may make a suggestion: Find a Festool dealer that will let you play with the tools. Go make some cuts with that circular saw. Yeah, it's way over your budget, but it'll give you a base line of what you could be paying for, and you can figure out what you're willing to pay for and what you aren't.

For me, Milwaukee's about as low as I'll go, DeWalt, Makita, Bosch are the next step up, but when I don't buy at least the Festool or Fein I'm eventually conscious of the failings of the tool.
posted by straw at 8:29 AM on November 2, 2012

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