How to Cut Wood at an Angle With a Hand Saw or Miter Saw
3 Ways to Cut Timber
Making accurate square (90-degree) and mitered (angled) cuts in timber is an essential skill when making joints in furniture and in building construction. Even if you don't attempt any serious DIY, the need sometimes arises to cut a length of timber reasonably accurately. For instance, architrave may need to be cut around a window or doorway, skirtboards (baseboards) at the base of a wall have to be renewed, or a board from the cladding on your home or shed gets damaged and must be replaced. This article shows you three methods to cut timber.
How Do You Cut Wood at an Angle?
- Mark and cut by eye. This is not terribly accurate, but it's ok if measurements and squareness aren't critical.
- Use a miter box. This guides the saw and gives better results. However, you can only make 45- and 90-degree cuts.
- Use a miter saw. This is the most accurate method of cutting lengths of timber at any angle.
Note: 'Miter' is spelled 'mitre' in British English
Method 1: Cut Without a Guide (by Eye)
The most basic method of cutting timber is to simply mark it and cut by eye. For basic work where accuracy isn't important, this is quite adequate. However, unless you have a good eye and have become skilled from years of practice, the results are variable, and beginners will end up with crooked cuts on the end of timber.
Step 1. First Mark the Dimensions on the Timber
Use a sharpened pencil to produce a thin marking line on the wood. Hold the tape close to one of the edges and mark the required dimension.
Note: If you buy lumber from a store, the end will likely be a 90-degree cut, but check it beforehand with your carpenters square. If it isn't, initially follow steps 2 to 4 of the marking out and cutting instructions below to remove a small section at the end of the timber (keep about 1/2 inch in from the edge). Once this is done, you can continue to measure, mark and cut the required length.
Step 2. Use a Carpenters Square to Mark Top Side
A carpenters square allows you to make a right-angled mark across the timber. You can also use an engineers square or a triangle (set square in UK English). Hold the "stock" or handle of the square tightly against the wood while marking. Ideally, you should position the tip of the pencil on the mark you made initially when measuring, and slide the square so that it butts against the tip, then mark along the square.
Step 3. Mark the Two Vertical Sides
Continue to mark the two vertical sides of the timber.
Step 4. Hold the Wood Securely and Cut With a Hand Saw
If you have a vice, use this to hold the wood securely while sawing, alternatively use your knee and a stool, low table, Black and Decker Workmate or whatever.
Use the pencil lines on the vertical surfaces of the timber as guides while sawing and try to keep the saw blade straight.
How Can You Measure Angles?
You can use a protractor or a These are useful for DIY and construction if you need to measure an angle between two sides, or transfer the angle to another object. You can use this as a replacement for a bevel gauge for transferring angles e.g. when marking the ends of rafters before cutting. The rules are graduated in inches and centimetres and angles can be measured to 0.1 degrees. digital angle finder.
Method 2: Using a Miter Box
This gives improved accuracy when cutting. A miter box has slots in its vertical sides which act as guides and prevent the blade of a saw from sloping from the vertical. Metal, wood and plastic versions are available. Some need to be held in a vise while others have a "hook" or raised edge on the underside which can be butted up against the edge of a bench.
A miter box enables you to make 90-degree cuts in timber and usually 45-degree cuts also.
Note: When cutting timber, cut on the waste side of the line rather than the center line.
Using a Tenon Saw
A tenon saw is shorter than a "normal" hand saw and is less cumbersome to cut with. It also has smaller teeth (the pitch is greater), which reduces the tendency of the blade to tear or chip the ends of wood fibers whilst cutting. Thirdly the rigid spine of the saw stops the blade from curving and warping too much while cutting. All this helps to give better results, which is important if you are making furniture or other stuff where accuracy and finish are important.
When cutting, position the blade and teeth of the saw so that you cut on the waste side of the pencil line rather than cutting along the center of the line. The kerf or width of the saw cut can produce "gaps" if you are cutting joints or doing other fine work. The slight error in length due to the kerf of the saw when cutting on the center of the pencil line, can accumulate and cause a greater error (e.g. if several pieces are cut to size and placed side by side).
Making and Using a Marking Knife
A pencil is fine for rough work, however, a marking knife never gets blunt and produces a fine line, allowing you to produce more accurate results when cutting joints. You can make one by cutting a 45-degree angle on an old dinner knife with an angle grinder and then sharpening it. You could use a Stanley knife, however, the advantage of a long-bladed, flexible knife is that it can reach into tight spaces. (This knife also comes in handy for spreading silicone sealant and putty!)
Method 3: Using a Miter Saw
A miter saw is a power saw designed to produce rapid and accurate 90-degree and angled (mitered) cuts. It's a virtually essential tool when framing, i.e. building stud walls. A basic saw will cut timber up to 4 x 2 in size, but a sliding miter saw has a cutting head which slides on a rail, allowing timber up to 9 x 3 to be cut without requiring a huge diameter disk.
Blades are available for miter saws with a varying number of teeth. Coarse-toothed blades cut rapidly through timber and are ideal for structural work. Blades with lots of fine teeth are slower at cutting but give cleaner results with less splintering, important when cutting architrave, shelving, baseboard (skirting).
It's usually possible to calibrate a saw by way of adjusting grub screws to ensure that the saw actually does give a square cut. You can check your cuts with a carpenter's square to see if the saw is cutting accurately and make adjustments as necessary.
The kerf, which you'll remember is the width of the saw cut, is normally wider, typically 2 or 3 mm (1/8") for a miter saw blade than it is for a hand saw. So it's more important to cut on the waste side of your pencil line to avoid inaccuracy.
Like any power tool, a miter saw can be dangerous. Follow these tips to reduce the risk of injury while using a miter saw.
- Make sure the guard on the saw is operating correctly and covers the blade when the cutting head of the saw is returned to its rest position
- Hold timber securely against the back fence of the saw while cutting, and ensure that long lengths of timber are adequately supported so that they don't overbalance the saw or rise up and hit the blade. Usually, clamps are provided on the saw for holding timber in place while cutting
- Don't work with power tools if you are tired. Poor concentration can cause accidents
- Don't use a blade with blunt teeth or teeth which have lost their tungsten carbide tips. A blunt blade can snag in timber causing an accident. It also gives a ragged, splintered cut on the edges of timber.
- Don't work in wet conditions
- Keep your hand clear of the blade while cutting. You might lose fingers!
- Always wear safety glasses in case you hit knots or nails/screws in waste timber. If you are doing lots of cutting, wear ear muffs or plugs and a dust mask
This (formerly Hitachi Power Tools USA) is great value at $99. It's an entry level corded power saw with a 15 amp, 1950W output and is suitable for cutting rough or planed lumber up to 2 x 6 cross section and also light timber boards, skirting, architrave etc. 10" compound miter saw by Metabo HPT
Note: This is a non-sliding miter saw so it can't cut 2 x 9s or 3 x 9s, however other models are available with this capacity.
Tips for Cutting Wood Using Hand Saws and Power Saws
- Keep your hand saws clean. Remove any rust with wire wool or sand paper. Lubricate with light oil, Vaseline petroleum jelly or a candle.
- Keep pencils sharp so that they produce a fine marking line and timber can be cut more accurately.
- Timber, especially softwood, swells somewhat in damp humid weather conditions, for example if it's indoors in an unheated garage or warehouse. This can result in gaps in floorboards or paneling as it shrinks on drying. If possible allow timber to dry indoors for a few days before using.
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This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
Is there a better saw to use for cutting at an angle than a Miter saw. Will the boards will be short?
You can clamp the boards to a table, bench or whatever and use a jigsaw, but the result won't be as good. The blade on a jigsaw will flex somewhat and never give a perfectly square cut, but whether that's important depends on whether the cut edges will be exposed and the degree of accuracy you require. I can mark an angled line on a board using a protractor, roofing square or protractor and easily cut the boards with a hand saw to an accuracy of +- 1 degree of 90 degrees, but that's after years of practice! You could try this on a scrap and see the results, but of course, if you have a lot of boards to cut on a continuous basis, it wouldn't be practical.
I've never seen them, put possibly miter boxes are available for boards as wide as 6". If not, it wouldn't be difficult to make up one from timber as a jig and use it as a guide for cutting the boards. Then you could use a hand saw, or reciprocating power saw to cut them.
Edit: Look up "Talking Tools," my Facebook group. There are lots of experts there who might have further suggestions.Helpful 3
I need to cut 2X6 boards with angles at the top. The boards are cut down to 8 and 12-inch pieces. Picture the tops looking like a roof. This is for crafting. Will a miter saw work for a 6-inch wide board?
Yes, a miter saw will cut boards this thick and wide. However because they're so short, it could be difficult to hold them by hand and push them back against the fence of the saw. So make sure you use the clamp on the saw, if fitted, to hold down the boards when cutting, or at least a corner of them. If the blade on a saw is blunt, it can potentially snag on a board and pull it up into the blade, which could startle you and cause an accident, so your hand needs to be well clear. When cutting long lengths of timber, this is less likely to happen because of the weight of the board. Lower the blade slowly and advance slowly to lessen the chances of this happening.
Note: If the saw has mounting holes, it's a good idea to screw it to a bench, at least temporarily, for stability, so that it doesn't tip over or slide when you're cutting.Helpful 2
© 2014 Eugene Brennan