How to Cut a Groove in Wood with a Circular Saw?

While there are certainly more efficient tools for cutting a groove in wood, you can still get a fairly good result using just a circular saw and a few basic hand tools.

Routers are probably the most commonly used tools for creating this type of groove or dado, with table saws being a close second. If don’t have access to these tools, then don’t worry about It – you’ll still be able to create a nice-looking groove without them.

I’ll break down exactly how to accomplish this in step-by-step detail, so you’ll be able to cut your own groove in wood with a circular saw in no time.

Tools & Materials

  • Circular saw with rip fence
  • Speed square
  • Pencil or pen
  • Clamps
  • Chisel
  • Hammer or mallet
  • Sandpaper

Cutting a Groove in Wood with a Circular Saw – Guide

The basic process of using a circular saw to cut a groove in wood is fairly straightforward and can be repeated with different materials and dimensions depending on what you’re trying to accomplish.

I’ll be making a groove across the length of a board using a rip cut, but you can also use the same principles to make a groove using a cross cut.

For making a groove along the length of a board, a rip fence is going to be your best friend – as it’ll let you make near-perfect straight cuts with any circular saw. For cross-cut grooves, you can use the edge of a speed square as a guide for cutting the edges of your groove.

Step 1: Mark Edges of Groove

The first step is clearly marking the edges of your groove.

marking groove lines with speed square
Marking edges of the groove with a speed square.

I used a speed square and a pencil to mark the edges and a straight ruler to extend the line across the length of the board.

Step 2: Set the Saw’s Blade Depth

Next up, you’ll want to set the saw’s blade depth to your desired groove depth. Most circular saws have an indicator telling you how deep you’ve set the blade, but you’ll want to double-check to make sure it’s cutting to your desired depth.

circular saw blade depth set to cut groove
Blade depth set to desired groove depth.

You can test the cutting depth on a scrap piece of wood to be sure it’s accurate.

Step 3: Position Saw and Set Rip Fence

Next, line up your saw’s blade with the inside of the cut line you drew earlier. You want to keep in mind the blade’s kerf when positioning the blade.

circular saw in position and ready to cut groove
Saw and rip fence in position and ready to cut groove.

Then line up the rip fence so it’s flat against the edge of the board and secure it in place with the screw or lever.

Step 4: Make a Test Cut

Make sure the board is secured with a pair of clamps and make a tiny test cut with your saw. The goal here is to make sure the blade is properly lined up with the cut line you drew previously.

If it’s off, then reposition the saw and rip fence, and proceed to the next step.

Step 5: Cut the Groove’s Edges

Now, turn on the saw and run it along your line until you reach the edge of the board. Pay particular attention to the end of the cut as this is where people commonly mess up.

board with groove outer edges cut
Outer edges of the groove cut.

Now that you’ve got one outer edge of your groove cut, you’ll want to repeat the same process for the other outer edge.

Step 6: Hollow out Groove with Saw

Once you have the two outer edges cut, you’ll want to hollow out as much material as you can by making a series of cuts inside the groove area.

groove hollowed out with saw cuts

The goal here is to remove as much as possible, as the more material you leave behind, the more work you’ll need to do when cleaning up the groove.

Step 7: Clean up Leftover Material with Chisel

When you’ve removed as much as you can with your saw, use a sharp chisel along with a hammer or matter to chisel out the leftovers. Keep the chisel flat against the bottom of your groove when chipping away to avoid gouging too deeply into the wood.

cleaning up groove with hammer and chisel
Cleaning up the groove with hammer and chisel.

When most of the material is removed, go back over it with the chisel once again, shaving away any excess wood protruding out of the bottom of your groove.

Step 8: Clean up Groove with Sandpaper

Now comes the part where you need to use a little elbow grease!

hand sanding groove
Hand sanding the groove.

Use a piece of medium to rough grit sandpaper to clean up the groove and sand any imperfections smooth. This is a bit of a tough job as you’ll probably have to hand-sand the groove smooth – as powered sanders are unlikely to fit inside your groove.

completed groove up close
Finished groove!

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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