One Great Tip » Jake’s Tips for Making Miters
There are a lot of folks who “live to breathe sawdust” or just like to “sniff” a little once in a while, but are frustrated or intimidated by the high cost of those beautiful precision tools available in the market place.
Take heart fellow woodworkers. May I suggest that we can do a lot with what we’ve got and be accurate. There is an old saying that the job is only as good as the guy/gal on the end of the wrench! And, the person makes the tool, the tool doesn’t make the person! We can do it!
I recently had to do some work on a cabinet door that had to be repaired and made smaller. One of the difficulties was this delicate, hand made molding that had to be cut down and refitted to the door panel.
This is an old vanity from a bathroom renovation that has been converted to a rolling miter saw table. The saw is an inexpensive one from the big box stores. If anyone asks, I’ve been told they are manufactured in Southern California. Notice the white tops of the extension tables and the movable stop on the left table.
You can see that it is very easy to make underneath storage with very little cabinet making skills. In the case of this one, I think I left all my cabinet making skills at the door. No one cares, it’s your shop.
Since I have a small shop, I have no space for a long layout table for a miter saw, so I had to improvise. These very inexpensive wings installed to support the movable extensions do the job
As a necessary after thought, I installed some leg leveling screws to adjust and level the wings.
Accuracy, the real challenge. (or, Ahhh…, the good part, we get to make a jig!)
The real problem was how to safely and accurately measure and cut the small molding. They measured 1/2 inch by 1/4 inch. A zero clearance fence is an essential must in material this small. George Vondriska has demonstrated some zero clearance techniques before, but I have never seen one specifically for mitered cuts. So how do you make one that won’t fall apart when changing angles?
I made this one out of 3/4 inch cabinet grade plywood. I had to be careful to put the fasteners far away from the future cut lines for obvious reasons.
A past encounter with a 1-5/8” drywall screw cut lengthwise, that now sits proudly on a shelf is a painful reminder of haste-makes-waste, not to mention the cost of resharpening a 10 inch 40 tooth carbide tipped saw blade. I was going to include a picture, but it would be too painful.
This is a better view of the fence. To make it, attach the plywood fence to the miter saw and then make the 45 degree angle plunge cuts.
Note: the plug cut should be just deep enough to score the base of the auxiliary fence. All this will ensure that the piece of molding will be supported completely during the cut of such a small piece. And, the fence won’t fall apart or become misaligned during use.
Next step: Accurate measuring and marking will affect the end result. Let’s discuss two techniques for determining the length of a piece of molding.
1) Measure the distance from corner to corner and transfer the measurement to the outside edge of the molding. Of course there is always the chance for slight errors with this technique, not to mention the dreaded “I read the wrong side of the number because I was looking at the rule upside down.”
2) Cut a miter on the end of a piece of molding, then place it in the corner and make a mark at the other end where it meets the other corner. I think the second method is more accurate. It’s more of the WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get).
The next challenge is to transfer that mark to the face of the molding, which is necessary so that the cut will be from the front to the back. Even though we are using a zero clearance fence, there is always the chance of a little tear out as the blade exits the cut. (Note, I am demonstrating going from the back to the bottom because it more clearly depicts the transfer of lines thing. To cut this molding I was able to go from the back to the top to mark the molding for the face cut, but the principle is the same.)
Transferring a mark may sound simple, but even the thickness of a 0.5m pencil lead can throw off the cut and wind up with a piece of molding that is too short.
When placing a square up to the mark, you need to be aware of the position of the pencil lead as it rests on the straight edge.
I note the slight angle of the pencil lead as it rests on the straight edge as it aligns with the mark on the adjacent mark. Hold that angle as you draw the line.
This may be something you do routinely without thinking about it. But, verbalizing may be helpful sometimes.
Now for the BIG FINISH, the cut!
Take your time and “sneak up” on the line to cut. I have seen George Vondriska demonstrate this technique before, and Norm Abrams did it many times routinely with out even mentioning it.
Position the cut line just outside of the saw blade, then make a slight cut to locate the exact position of the wood to the blade.
Notice that this cut is still just a bit long. Shift the piece as needed to meet the cut line and make an accurate cut.
A second technique would be to make a cut to the outside of the line and check the fit. If need be, go back to the saw and shave off a hair’s breath more. (That is an engineering technical term I’m sure!)
This piece just needs a little more cut off.
The blade bump technique
I learned from George Vondriska a great way to remove a small amount of wood is to slide the piece up till it contacts the blade, hold the piece, raise the blade, then cut down on it. The slice removed is the thickness of the set of the saw tooth. (Maybe that is the definition of a hair’s breath!) Needless to say, you do the bumping thing with the saw OFF! But you all knew that.
An added bonus of this “bump the blade“ technique over the first one is that you don’t have to guess at how much to slide the piece when the blade is up, and risk taking off too much wood.
Fits like a glove!
There, mission accomplished. And no molding was destroyed during the making of this article. I hope you are encouraged that you too can do a lot with what you’ve got.
A final note. The only down side – After my miter saw heard she was going to be featured in an article, she threw a huge fit and demanded a make over! I’m still waiting for her to pick out