If you are just getting into woodworking, a miter saw is one of the most useful tools you can own. I consider it so handy, that the first few projects in my Weekend Woodworker course are built without a table saw, using just the miter saw. In fact, if you’ve never built anything before, and are looking for a great first project…one that you can build in a weekend, I want to you to download my free set of plans to build this practical, sturdy mobile workbench, the BMW. Head over to basicmobileworkbench.com and start your woodworking journey today! No experience necessary.
Clean up board ends.
When you buy boards, chances are the ends aren’t in great shape. They’ve been standing around in bins and have probably experienced a lot of moving and handling by the home center or lumberyard but mostly by customers trying to find the best pieces. And in some big box stores, finding a quality, straight, the usable board can take a long time.
The ends of almost any board will be chipped or maybe have a split running a couple of inches down. And if they are in pretty decent shape, there is a chance that they weren’t cut square at the mill.
I just make it a rule to always chop a little off each end of every new board to get to the good wood. It’s kinda like digging past the first few slices to get to the good bread.
Examine the ends and if there are any splits, cut just to the point where the split ends. If you have a pretty decent board, you may need to just remove less than a centimeter to square it up and get a good clean end.
Use Stop Blocks
Using stop blocks is the number one way to make your miter saw more efficient. Just about the only time I don’t use stop blocks are when I only have a single board to cut…and that’s pretty unusual. So much of woodworking is about making multiple pieces all the same length…4 table legs, 4 box sides, a pair of drawer handles…the list goes on and on.
Setting up a block is simple. Determine how long you need your workpieces to be and clamp a scrap of wood to the fence at that spot. Now you can just line up the board against the stop block and start cutting. All your pieces will be exactly the same length.
Make an Extension Fence
Stop blocks are great, but what if you need to cut boards that are longer than the length of your saw’s fence?
Find a straight board and attach it to your saw’s fence. You might not have even realized that there are usually holes in the fence for just this purpose.
Just drive some screws in place, making sure they don’t poke out the other side. You want to make sure you drive two screws on each side of the blade split. An added benefit of making an extension fence is that it also creates a zero clearance slot that will make your cuts cleaner with less splintering.
Once you’ve got the fence in place, you can clamp a stop block in place anywhere along its length. The nice thing about the fence is that you can clip the end of your tape measure in the slot and measure the length of your cut. Just make a mark on the fence, line up your stop block, clamp it in place and start cutting.
Make a zero clearance table
If you like the clean cuts your getting with the extension fence in place, you can also improve the table the same way. Most miter saws have insert blades with a very wide throat so there’s room for a tilted blade when making bevel cuts.
Sometimes, usually when cutting small pieces, this can be a problem. Not only can the workpiece splinter, but tiny pieces can drop into the slot.
Just attach a piece of plywood over the entire table. One way to hold it in place is to slide it up against the fence, then screw the extension fence on top of it, sort of clamping it in place. Another method is to stick it in place using double-sided carpet tape.
Holding small pieces
There are times when you need to cut very small pieces. Maybe you need to cut some dowel pins. You can feed the wood through just fine while it’s reasonably long, but once it gets down to a few inches, don’t let your fingers get any closer to the blade.
You can use any long piece of wood or even a push stick to safely hold the short workpiece in place, but I find that using a pencil works great. It’s long enough to keep your fingers safe and the eraser grips the wood and holds it still.
Cutting to a line
There are times when you just need to make a one-off cut so there’s no need to set up a stop block. Measure the length with a tape measure and draw a line on the board. But keep in mind the thickness of the kerf or thickness of your saw blade. A common rookie woodworking mistake it to draw a line and cut right down the middle, which will leave your board a little shorter than you intended, usually about 1/16” since a blade is typically ⅛” thick.
Always keep in mind which side of the line represents your measured length of the workpiece and cut just to the edge of the line so the line remains on your board. If you cut on the other side of the line, you will be ⅛” short. That can make a big difference in the success of a project and how it fits together
Shaving a board down
Sometimes you might cut just outside the line and discover that the board is just slightly too long. Maybe it’s a cross brace for a tabletop and needs to fit perfectly. A good way to shave off just a paper thin amount is to press the end up against the saw blade, causing it to flex just a little. Hold the board in place, then raise the blade back into its upright position. Now when you bring it down it might cut off just what you need. This is a great way to sneak up on a prefect fit and lower the chance of cutting off too much.
Cutting boards that are just a little too wide
One of the limitations to a miter saw is that it can’t cut wide boards. About the widest board you can cut will be a little more than the radius of the blade due to the fence and the way the head swings down.
Sometimes you might encounter a board that is frustratingly close to cutting all the way through, but just not quite enough.
Try this. Raise the workpiece just a little using a scrap board. That’ll give you just a little longer cut…maybe just enough.