Tune-up accuracy, safety, and up your miter saw game.
By Mark Clement
The ownership of a miter saw is nice. Reading the instructions is a pretty good idea too.
However, there’s more to it than the manual and just eyeballing your cuts.
While a miter saw is a mainstay for many rough carpentry projects such as this lovely loveseat or this porch bed swing, its primary focus is precision cutting. Getting the cuts you want might take a little prep and practice.
Yes, you can buy miter saw stands. They fold up like a giant sawhorse that can be hung on the wall when you’re done. I understand what they’re trying to accomplish, but to me, their shortcomings outweigh their convenience. I like a site-made situation better. And it doesn’t have to be complicated to be awesome.
I made this miter saw work station the first (only?) time I was on DIY Network, but you can keep it even simpler than that.
From the bottom up, start with two sawhorses. Bridge them with three 2x4s, laid flat. Cover those with a sheet of ¾-inch plywood.
Then, cut six 2×4 blocks, 16-inches long. From the underside of the plywood, fasten three on each side of the miter saw extending out to the end of the plywood. Most miter saw decks are 3 ½-inches tall, as are most 2x4s.
What you’ve gained here is continuous support for long pieces, short pieces, and medium pieces. When you’re done, it all comes apart. It’s cheap and easy to make, use and store.
If you’re installing crown molding, an 1/8-inch off might as well be a ¼-mile. It’s a miss.
The way to minimize mistakes, random chance and our own humanity is to make crisp lines you can see clearly. The best way to do that is to have a sharp pencil, which you can learn how to do in 46-seconds.
You can’t make good cuts if you’re not reading the tape accurately. It makes sense of course, but always having a nice, crisp edge to measure to isn’t always possible. We can manage this a couple of ways.
For what we call “inside to inside” measurements—say between two walls for base molding—you roll the tape into the inside corner. This works but it’s not necessarily precise. The tape doesn’t lay flat, there’s a shadow, you’re looking at it from an angle, the numbers are upside down, for example When in doubt, add 1/8-inch to whatever you think the measurement is. Go cut that on your fancy new worktable and see how you did. You can always make them shorter.
More fundamentally, learn to read your tape. Not just 1/8s and 1/16s but 1/32s. As you DIY more and more, you’ll notice that you can dial in the measurement when you start seeing that something is 28 ¾ +.
The blade has thickness.
You don’t cut through a mark. You cut to the “waste” side of it otherwise the piece will be short.
Depending on how you orient the piece in the saw, determine which side is the waste side. I prefer the piece extending to my left. This way I can better see the blade come down on the “waste side” of the mark before I actually make the cut.
I think I prefer it this way because of how easy it is to see past the saw.
Whatever the reason, position the blade on the correct side of the mark before cutting.
With my head right behind the blade, I sight straight down the blade plate through the louvers on the blade guard, and I line up a blade tooth with my mark.
It sounds like a lot of effort. But, looking at how a round blade hits a small mark on a square board from an angle doesn’t work. But if you get right behind the blade, you can see how all the pieces intersect.
Another thing you can do is to cheat or sneak the piece up to the cut mark. This is a bit more advanced: get the blade close to the mark on the waste side and just start a cut. See where your cut is in relation to the piece, then nudge the piece over a tiiiiiny bit and repeat the process until you’re right on, then boom, you’re a miter master.
Note: When doing this, I keep my “nudge” hand rested against the fence of the saw. It keeps the piece stable and ensures there’s a physical barrier between me and the blade.
I could keep going. I love this topic. Knowing what the cuts you’re making are is really helpful. Accepting that the blade that comes with your already expensive saw is, in most cases, garbage, helps. A little simple geometry that even a lunkhead like me gets.