Circular Saw Kickback: What Causes it & How to Prevent it?

One of the scarier things about using any powered saw is the potential for kickback. Kickback is a common occurrence with both table saws and circular saws, and unfortunately, it results in hundreds of emergency room visits every year without fail.

The good news is that once you understand what causes kickback you can take steps to greatly reduce the odds of it occurring – as well as keep yourself safe when it does happen.

I’ll break down circular saw kickback in detail, including what causes it, how to properly brace your workpiece, and what to do if your saw starts to kickback while making a cut.

What Causes Kickback?

Generally what happens in a kickback scenario is the blade encounters stronger than expected resistance causing the entire saw to veer backward and upward towards the operator. This can be extremely unsettling if you’ve never experienced it before and has the potential to cause serious injury to the unprepared.

The actual cause of the resistance can be a number of different things including a knot, cutting into embedded nails or screws, pinching from improper workpiece support, and even a worn-out sawblade.

Some of these things can be prevented or avoided with proper setup – like properly supporting your workpiece – while others like knots are more difficult to avoid entirely.

Other things that can increase the odds of kickback are starting the saw with the blade touching the wood, not gripping the saw with both hands, and trying to force a saw back into a cut line once it’s started to veer off course.

Steps to Prevent Kickback

There multiple steps you can take to prevent the odds of kickback when using your circular saw. Let’s look at these in detail.

Proper Saw Use

This might seem like an obvious one, but proper saw usage will prevent a lot of kickback from happening.

Whenever you’re making a cut, make sure the blade gets up to full speed before making contact with whatever you’re cutting. If you have to stop halfway through a cut, make sure the blade stops spinning completely before retracting the saw from the material.

If you’re having trouble cutting through a piece of wood, don’t try to force the saw through the cut. Instead, take your time, examine the wood for knots and check that the saw blade is sharp and not gummed up with resin.

Supporting your Workpiece

Probably the most common way kickback occurs when using a circular saw is when cutting through a material that’s improperly braced.

The typical scenario where newbies encounter kickback is when cutting a board supported by sawhorses on either end. Instead of cutting the piece near the edge where the waste side can easily fall away, cutting down the middle causes the wood to come together and pinch the blade. This leads to kickback as well as chipping and a poor-looking finished cut.

Instead of that, you’ll want to brace the material your cutting by supporting it as close to the cut as possible. This essentially eliminates flex in the material, reducing the chances of kickback occurring.

supporting wood while cutting diagram
Cutting with the blade in the middle like the top image will lead to pinching and kickback. Instead, make cuts with your material supported like the bottom image for clean cuts.

Whatever you’re using to support your workpiece whether it’s sawhorses, a workbench, or a tabletop, you’ll want to clamp down the main portion of the board so it can’t shift while you’re cutting.

Another thing to consider is you want the main body of the saw to rest on the non-waste side of the board when cutting. This ensures the saw stays in place after the cut and won’t fall away with the waste piece.

cutting with the motor side resting on non-waste material
The main body of the saw should rest on the non-waste portion of your work material.

Keep in mind that there are both blade-left and blade-right circular saws, so the right saw position can depend on whether your saw is a sidewinder or a worm drive.

Correct Blade Depth

This applies to just about anything you’re going to cut with a circular saw and is just an overall good thing to do to avoid mistakes and accidents.

Set your blade depth so the blade protrudes about 1/4 -inch past the bottom of your workpiece. This will ensure you cut cleanly through your material but won’t damage anything beyond it.

setting circular saw blade depth
Setting the correct depth will improve your saw’s performance and reduce the odds of kickback.

The correct blade depth means your saw will cut more efficiently while also minimizing the amount of exposed blade surface. This reduces the potential for damage if kickback does occur.

Body Positioning

Another thing to keep in mind is your body position in relation to your saw. You want to keep your body off to the side of the saw (on the motor side) rather than directly behind it if possible.

This is particularly true when making long rip cuts as standing to the side will allow you to hold and move the saw easier. This isn’t always possible though, and sometimes you’ll need to adjust your body position to whatever it is your cutting.

Other Safety Tips

In addition to the above, there are a few other tips for reducing the odds of kickback as well as general circular saw safety.

  • Mind the saw’s cord. This one might seem like an obvious one, but many a carpenter has made the mistake of not being aware of their cord before making a cut. This can result in an unpleasant surprise, and an expensive repair.
  • Keep your blade clean. More often than not, when a saw blade starts to perform poorly by binding, chipping, and burning, a thorough cleaning can restore it back to its former cutting ability. This is especially true for modern carbide-tipped blades that will last for years before the teeth become dull.
  • Replace dull blades. Of course, once a saw blade is dulled, you’ll want to replace it or sharpen it before you continue making cuts. The same goes for blades with chipped, missing, or damaged teeth – which can happen if you frequently use your blade for cutting metal embedded materials.
  • Don’t pin back your blade guard. This is another one that really should go without saying, but pinning back your saw’s blade guard is a bad idea and drastically increases the potential for serious injury. You’ll sometimes see workers do this on a Jobsite to make the saw faster to use, but in my opinion, the small amount of time you’ll save is not worth the risk. If you do need to retract the blade guard to make a plunge cut or something similar then do it by hand and allow the guard to return to its normal position after.
  • Wear the proper safety gear. Eye protection, ear protection, a dust mask, and even steel-toed boots will keep you safe and lower the risk of injury when using your saw.

What to do if your Saw Encounters Kickback?

So, what should you do if you’re making a cut with your circular saw and you encounter kickback?

The first thing to do is not panic. Panicking is what leads to poor decision-making and injury.

When your saw starts to kick back, maintain your grip on it with both hands and release the trigger. This will cause the blade to stop spinning – stopping the kickback and returning the saw back to its proper position.

When you’re using a circular saw, it’s important to keep in mind that there is a potential for kickback to occur. This will keep you aware of the possibility and allow you to calmly handle it if kickback does happen.

Denis Gardner

I've loved tinkering and fixing things for as long as I can remember. So, naturally, I gravitated towards DIY and home improvement when I bought my first home. Nowadays you can find me writing about my passions or messing around with my newest tool!

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