Q. Sometimes we cut sheet goods and also large heavy timbers. The table saw and radial arm saw seem to give us some problems with getting a straight cut or long enough cut. The circular saw we have also seems to wander a bit and we get splinters on the top face. Any ideas?

A. I am not sure of your experience in the wood business and the size of your business, so I do not know of your familiarity with wood saws and if your use the required saws often enough to make purchasing special equipment worthwhile. Certainly, safety is a critical issue with any equipment you use that is not designed well for the specific job.

For sheet goods, perhaps you should visit a large box store (Home Depot, Lowe’s, etc.) that supplies wood and wood products. They often cut large sheets for their customers, so ask to see their sawing apparatus (sometimes called a panel saw) to do this. If this saw seems to be what you need, get model numbers and see if you can afford it or perhaps afford an even a better model with features that you need. This machine is especially suited for making repeated cuts of the same size without having to reset or adjust the machine.

A second option is to use a portable electric circular saw (which is often commonly called a SkilSaw), with a fence. That is, this type of saw does not have to be used “freehand” but instead the edge of the base plate of the saw rides against the small fence that you make using a sturdy straight edge and a few clamps.

A similar option is to use a commercial fence or track that fits the saw’s base plate with the saw running in this track that you position and secure to the piece being sawn. This is commonly called a track saw. Of course, safety is a big issue, so if this is new to you, check the Internet for some videos showing this technique; check several videos in case the first one is not the best.

Regarding the splintery cuts, the easiest way to avoid this, when only one side needs to be perfect, is to turn the piece upside down. The number of teeth in the saw also determines the surface quality; more teeth is higher quality.

If only a few pieces are being cut, you can try a very shallow cut initially which only cuts the surface and will be without splinters, followed by a second cut that goes all the way through. There are other techniques (including using masking tape and also scoring the cut prior to sawing) that are mostly used when cutting a few pieces. In all cases, a very sharp blade is essential. (You can get oodles of ideas by Googling the three words, “splinter saw cut.”)

Finally, always use a saw blade designed for the type of equipment you are using. That is, use a radial arm saw blade for a radial arm saw; a circular table saw blade for the circular saw; a SkilSaw blade for a SkilSaw; etc. The tooth angle varies for each type of saw to avoid a hazardous and uncontrolled situation.

Speaking of SkilSaws, here is a brief introduction: Although circular saws were invented in 1777, the portable circular saw was invented by Edmond Michel in 1924. He, along with his partner Joseph L. Sullivan, started Michel Electric Handsaw Co. The name was changed to Skil Corporation in the 1950s, from which we derive the common name today of SkilSaw.

SkilSaws come in various sizes and styles, including left-handed models for “southpaws.” In all cases, the saw moves (rather than having a stationary saw and moving the wood, so, unlike a circular table saw, the wood being cut must be well secured. Although the saw may be a bit heavy, if the wood is properly supported, the saw rests on the wood for most of the cut and the operator only steers and pushed the saw forward to do the cutting. The saw blade's tooth angle is such that the saw neither kicks back or pulls into the wood being cut.


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