The classic 2×4, which is wood that is cut to sizes of 2” of depth and 4” of width with varying lengths, is one of the most common sizes you will find in the lumber yard. They are most often used in construction, particularly framing, but they have many other uses as well. Cutting 2x4s to the length that you desire will take the proper type of saw.
Actual Size of a 2×4
Although called a 2×4 which means 2” in depth and 4” in width, the actual size is different. This may seem strange at first, but the actual size of a 2×4 is really 1-1/2” x 3-1/2”. This means that you have a half-inch less on the depth and width compared to what the name states.
This is important information when considering what size saw to use when cutting 2x4s. It means that using a saw or blade that is not quite up to cutting 4” can be used if you can have it cut 3-1/2”. But more importantly, understanding the exact dimensions of a 2×4 can help you plan out your projects with greater precision. It is true that in many cases the ½” does not make much of a difference, especially in structure or framing projects. It may in terms of getting a precise measurement for certain jobs.
Power Saw for Cutting 2×4
Today, power saws are the most commonly utilized to cut 2x4s. This is because power saws are easy to use, accurate, and considerably faster compared to hand saws. What follows are 5 most common types of power saws that you can use to cut 2x4s to their desired lengths.
Circular Saw with Speed Square
The circular saw is a portable power saw that uses a circular blade. You push the blade into the material as opposed to a table saw where you push the material into the blade.
You can use the standard 5 ½″ circular saw to cut 2x4s. Mark your cutline on both sides and make the cut on the first side. Reverse the 2×4 and pass the blade through the marking to finish the cut.
If you want to cut the 2×4 into half in a single pass, you need a 6 ½″ circular saw, which will give you just enough depth of cut to slice through it. A 7 ¼ -inch circular saw will cut through the 2×4 wood even at 45° bevel.
Arguably, a miter saw is better in terms of accuracy and speed, but a circular saw can work quite well if you have a speed square that lines up your cuts. The circular saw is mostly used to cut straight lines and angles into the wood. While not as quick or efficient as the table saw, the circular saw is far more portable and can be used on wood that is risky for a table saw to cut.
Use Speed Square
A really good technique to get straight cross-cut with a circular saw is to use a speed square. You can either clamp it in position or hold the speed square with your free hand and move the saw against it to get a perfectly straight cut.
This type of saw is used for cutting precise angles in the wood. The miter saw is the best saw to cut 2×4 lumber precisely with excellent repeatability. It can cut the lumber into half (cross-cut), angles (miter), and bevels with clean cut-edges.
The standard 10-inch miter saw can cut the 2 x 4 at 90 degrees as well as 45 degrees.
The miter saw is made for precision, repetitive, productive work with multiple 2x4s or other pieces of wood. It is a lot easier to use a miter saw to make accurate crosscuts and angled cuts on 2 x 4s. The ability to cut precise angles and bevels is convenient when want to join the wood together.
The downside is that the miter saw is expensive compared to a circular saw. Also, it is and not a handheld tool, which means if you want to trim wood that is already assembled, then a miter saw may not be the right tool.
Table Saw with Cross Cut Sled
The table saw is a fantastic tool for ripping. However, if you are using it to cross-cut 2 x 4 wood, use extreme caution. The miter gauge that came with the saw may have play in the slots and could result in serious kickback.
The solution? Crosscut Sled.
When using a cross-cut sled, you can efficiently cut 2x4s with ease. The sled allows you to feed the wood into the saw properly and get the angle you want for efficient cross-cutting.
Unlike all the above tools where the blade spins, a reciprocating saw is one where the blade moves back and forth. You can use a reciprocating saw to cut 2×4 lumber easily. However, you can’t make a precise cut like a miter saw or Skilsaw, and cut edges are usually rough.
A Reciprocating saw or Sawzall is an excellent portable saw for demolition and remodeling work. You can also use it to trim and size wood where accuracy is not the main criteria.
Hand Saw for Cutting 2×4
If you do not have an electric or power saw available, you can use a hand saw to manually cut 2 by 4 lumber. While they demand more elbow grease from you, most hand saws are inexpensive and safe to use. If you only need to cut a few wood pieces for your DIY project, then I recommend either of the following hand saws.
A backsaw looks like a typical hand saw. The difference is that it has a rib on the back of the blade for greater strength and control. The back saw is generally used for precision work and is often paired with a miter box.
The back saw also has teeth on the blade that are closer together so that more precise, clean cuts can be made into the 2×4.
Japanese Pull Saw
This unique saw looks more like a meat cleaver in its design. It consists of a long, straight handle with the blade on the end. Unlike most European saws that cut on the push stroke, this blade cuts on the pull stroke for greater precision. This makes for a narrower, cleaner cut that is perfect for cutting apart 2x4s.
The downside is that it is difficult to get your weight onto the blade for faster cutting. Plus, the pull saw is designed for softwoods as hardwoods tend to be too difficult for it to cut efficiently.