Introduction: Cutting Precision Miters in Ten Minutes or Less

Picture of Cutting Precision Miters in Ten Minutes or Less

Cutting miter joints can be an involved process that can take hours and practice to perfect.  With a simple set up on a table saw, you can cut all of your joints quickly, efficiently, and accurately without having to worry about measuring cuts with the rip fence.  After making all of your cuts, a quick assembly can be accomplished using a few tools.  For this example we're going to make a simple cube.

Tools and Materials Required:

Six pieces of wood cut to the exterior dimensions of your cube
Scrap M.D.F. cut the length of your rip fence
Brad gun
Bar clamps
Wood glue
Blue painters tape

Step 1: Setting Up the Fence

Picture of Setting Up the Fence

For a left tilt table saw, the fence needs to be placed to the left of the blade (do the exact opposite for a right tilt table saw).  Attach the M.D.F. to the side of the fence facing the blade using the bar clamps.  It is important that the clamps be positioned far enough apart so that they will not hit the blade, and high enough so that they will not interfere with your material. 

Place one of your pieces of wood against the M.D.F. and draw a line at the top of your material.

Step 2: Setting Up the Saw

Picture of Setting Up the Saw

For making these miter cuts, you will need to remove any blade guard, splitter, or riving knife from the saw.  Tilt the blade to 45 degrees (or desired angle).  Move the fence close to the blade and adjust the height so that the top of the teeth are in line with the mark on the M.D.F.

Turn the saw on, and push the fence into the blade until the top tooth is fully inside the sacrificial fence.  Adjustment may be required, so feel free to turn the saw off and check for proper alignment.

Setting the saw in this position will allow you to remove the perfect amount of material from your wood to produce a miter cut.  It will also greatly reduce any tear out on plywood or other veneered lumber.

Step 3: Making the Cuts

Picture of Making the Cuts

With the saw on, run the edge of the material along the M.D.F. and through the blade.  It is important that the material stays flat against the table, and square against the fence.  Do not force the material; let the blade do the cutting.  A feather board (not pictured) can be installed on the fence before the blade to keep the material down, accounting for any warping.  When finished with the cut, simply rotate the material, and cut the next side.  Repeat this until all miters are cut.

Important Note:  Do not stand directly behind the blade when cutting miters in this fashion.  The cut off pieces of material will not be pushed fully past the blade, but instead will eject back toward the operator.  Occasionally this can happen at a high velocity, so make sure that you stand off to the side, and that any bystanders are clear of the area around you.

Step 4: Quick Assembly

Picture of Quick Assembly

Assembling items of this nature with screws takes too long, and often requires the use of clamps or a friend to hold the sides in position.  Using a pneumatic brad gun and painters tape will greatly reduce assembly times.

First, take the piece that will be used as the bottom, and attach strips of blue painters tape to the face.  I prefer the painters tape as it doesn't leave adhesive residues that will need to be removed for finishing.  Once the strips are on, flip the piece over. 

Take a side piece, and butt it against one of the edges, making sure that they are aligned properly.  Press the side piece downward, so that the tape adheres to it as well.  Spread glue in an even layer along one of the edges.  Note:  putting glue on both edges can cause the joints to slip, meaning that the edges will not stay aligned.

Once the glue is applied, simply fold the side piece up, and fire a few brads into the joint to hold it in place.  Repeat this process until all the sides are attached.  Then just lay the top in place, and finish the cube with some more brads.


CeltiKaos (author)2012-03-29

Any mention of safety would have been nice.. Goggles? Removing the blade guard? Uh.. No.. no thanks..

corycar (author)CeltiKaos2012-03-29

I'm sorry - it seems that for every "ible" there is a "safety police" person. If anyone is on Instructables and doesn't have enough common sense before embarking on a project like this - then in my opinion - let darwinism take it's course.

With all due respect, your concern is appreciated, - but sheesh, really?

dzurn (author)corycar2012-03-29

Well, if the original poster ignores safety, then someone else should point that out, for all the new woodworkers who haven't seen how to work safely, and why.

These Instructables aren't restricted in viewing to only experienced woodworkers (or any other trade), but anyone (including my kids!) could eventually find these and try it, possibly causing serious harm to themselves.

Once again, the readers are responsible for the adult supervision which is otherwise lacking on the website.

Next week, I'll show you how to trim your hedges with just an electric lawnmower!

Week after that, I'll show you how to remove the stitches without anesthetic.

Kactapuss (author)dzurn2016-04-13

Agreed that saftey is important, I still have all my fingers and intend to keepnit that way... But Instructables is not safety school. It is your responsibility to supervise your children on the internet, regulate their access to power tools, and teach them enough common sense to know not to try advanced techniques with potentially dangerous shop tools it they don't have experience.

oldanvilyoungsmith (author)dzurn2012-03-29

"Week after that, I'll show you how to remove the stitches without anesthetic."

That's easy. I remove stiches myself anytime I have them, never go back to the hospital to have them do it, just one more chance to get a highpowered hospital infection.

Now putting them in, that's another story...

Sooo,,,, Just how experienced are you at removing your own stitches?

Well, I can't remember ever going to the hospital to have my stiches removed (and I've been getting cut or busting my head since I was rather young). Before I was old enough my dad did it, and when I was around 13 or so I started doing it.

It's easy, all you need is pointy scissors and tweezers, and it doesn't hurt, no anesthetic needed, take your scissors and cut the stiches, and take your tweezers, grab the knot and pull it out. It feels a little weird, but doesn't hurt.

Then you just put some tea trea oil on it, and keep it bandaged for the next few days.

Easy peasy.

CeltiKaos (author)corycar2012-03-29

I've seen many instructables for otherwise hazardous procedures, and almost all carry a disclaimer 'follow this at your own risk' or some such, if only to try and indemnify the originator against litigation from the 'less able' who need telling something is dangerous. While to you and I it may be obvious, to some it isn't.

mlowinske (author)CeltiKaos2015-11-12

This process cannot be done with the blade guard in place. LOTS of other processes cannot be done with the blade guard in place either. Beyond that, a lot of people with a good amount of experience in woodworking will tell you how worthless the blade guards really are and more of a hindrance than a help. I know very few professional woodworkers who ever have the guard on their table saw. Even my woodshop teacher way back in high school thought they were pointless and he taught us how to be completely safe in the absence of one. Common sense and a solid knowledge of how to work on tables saws will protect you more than the blade guard ever would.

ChrisT158 (author)2016-03-04

Thanks Instructables. This method works perfectly. Nice clean cuts with no significant chip out. I notice the demo setup featured a SawStop saw. If you can afford one of these puppies then your fingers are safe. For the rest of us common sense and care must prevail.

sfrob (author)2015-08-16

Awhile back, I saw a carpenter ripping some miters in this fashion. He would gap the sacrificial fence, off the saw table, an 1/8" less than the materials thickness. (So if he's ripping 3/4" stock, he has a 5/8" gap beneath the sacrificial fence). The blade ate up the 1/8" and the off-cut fell beneath the fence instead of being trapped between the fence and blade.

wade.utley (author)2015-03-22

That was a awesome way of doing a precise cut, 45 angles were always tough to do but this right here is a sweet way to cut precisely so thank you

nerd12 (author)2014-05-27

What would be a good method for cutting a miter in a long strip of plastic? I don't have a mitre saw, only a drill and dremel.

FreeMan49 (author)2012-11-26

excellent and well explained...thank you

wisegye (author)2012-04-21

This is my favorite technique for cutting mitered boxes but it is not for the beginner ... the potentially pinched scrap projectile can be "exciting". Usually the scrap just sits there ... but every once in a while it goes ballistic. "Kudos" to TechShop for publishing this one. I have done this cut in a production shop beveling hundereds of panels a day ...1970's making George Kovacks marquetry lamp bases. We didn't concern ourselves with silly things like safety. Luckily I still have 99.9% of the 10 fingers I was born with ... and I haven't gotten cancer (yet) from painting polyurethanes w/o a mask. Were those really the good ol days?

bricabracwizard (author)wisegye2012-10-01

I agree with you! I have been using heavy machinery, breathed in the worst fumes etc, etc and I would not recommend this to anyone! I still have my 10 fingers and pushing 60 I still am doing 'dangerous' things. ....always cautiously, not talking while I'm working, not listening to music and careful to not have any distractions around. If some machines have kick back....staying out of the line of fire. Using all your senses and staying focussed. Unfortunately these skills seem to be lacking of late. Especially not forcing things, that's one of the quickest ways to lose a limb!

poocolonel (author)2012-04-07

This technique is a much safer way of ripping miters on a right hand tilt saw. This way traps and ejects the waste piece, the standard method traps the stock which you are holding on to. I've had the stock come back in my hands and put a splinter right through my palm. Chances are the stock is heavier than the waste and comes back with a lot more force...a lot more!

This method is nothing new, and has been used successfully by many woodworkers for a very long time. I build a lot of cabinets with non parallel walls and this is the best method for cutting miters on panels with no right angles. A router/shaper works but with slow feed rate and a lot of bit wear on large projects.

snworks (author)2012-03-29

I get perfect results cutting bevels for a box or cube ( I would not call this a miter ) by putting the fence in the normal position away from the blade tilt and cutting the pieces to size with the blade set at the appropriate angle. Why cut twice, plus get involved with the time and risk of this set up. If there is a tiny discrepancy - well, that's what a razor sharp block plane is for.

shallnot (author)snworks2012-03-29

This setup, with my fence raising suggestion, allows you to cut mitres for rectangular material with only one setup. For that matter you can cut mitres for all your pieces (same thickness though) regardless of panel size with one setup. For that matter this is how to mitre panels that have more than four sides (e.g. pentagons, hexagons, septagons, etc.).

"putting the fence in the normal position away from the blade tilt"---this is a bit unclear: if the blade tilting away from the fence or toward it?

snworks (author)shallnot2012-03-30

I'm saying blade tilting away from fence for simple cuts on pieces that are not complicated by other factors.
My take is that in many cases you can rough rip the material and cut it to size with the blade at your chosen angle and get it done without setting up a jig. If you are using smaller pieces leftover from another project, might not have to rough cut.
I guess my point is to avoid a special set-up unless you really need it.

pfred2 (author)2012-03-24

Ha ha ha good one! April Fools! Sweet that they featured you too. I hope people post pictures of wood embedded in themselves, other people, walls, I want carnage!

Did the Allstate Mayhem man put you up to this or what?

grd (author)pfred22012-03-25

I believe it's a prime example of risk homeostatis. He's got a nice fancy SawStop, so there's a decent level of protection from cutting off your hand with the blade directly (according to the sales blurb I've seen) so that protection has been balanced out by one of the dodgiest setups I've seen.

kenkaniff (author)grd2012-03-26

The Sawstop prevents Severing your fingers, but you will still get cut if you touch the blade.

Regardless, I don't care how good your saw is, it'll hurt when that waste kicks back...

pfred2 (author)kenkaniff2012-03-27

Being careful prevents severing my fingers. Whenever anyone asks me if I'm any good at woodworking I always hold up my hands, display all of my fingers, and say, I must be, I can still count to ten without taking my socks off.

corycar (author)pfred22012-03-29

Excellent reply Pfred2!!!!

pfred2 (author)corycar2012-03-29

I've met plenty of guys who couldn't count to 10 with just their fingers anymore. So it is no joke! We ain't starfish so we can't be too careful about the appendages we were born with, if we want to be buried with them too.

Nothing in the workshop is worth getting hurt over.

shallnot (author)pfred22012-03-29

With only four fingers and counting in binary you can count up to 15...

pfred2 (author)shallnot2012-03-29

You still fall short in the digital age though.

corycar (author)pfred22012-03-29

I was at a woodworking show last year, it was KIND of hard not to laugh, I was one of the few that HAD all my fingers... but SAFETY is PARAMOUNT for sure... accidents DO happen! I just keep forgetting that what is common sense to me... may not be for all...

pfred2 (author)corycar2012-03-29

Familiarity breeds contempt. That goes for woodworking as much as anything else. You get too comfortable and in a moment you can change your life forever.

Some method, technique, or setup which seems to do a good job, and usually does, only has to backfire on you once. Which is what prompted me to comment on this article in the first place.

I don't care how many times this works, all I care about is the one time it doesn't.

kenkaniff (author)pfred22012-03-27

lol agreed.

pfred2 (author)grd2012-03-26

That could be it. Their equipment is so nice it allows such to work? All I know is it'd never work for me. I'm just lucky that way you know?

see spot run (author)2012-03-27

Having used this set up a gajillion times, it does work. This technique is very advanced and should only be used by people who know better than to try it.
99% of the pieces that shoot out end up on the floor right in front of the saw. Watch out for that one in 100 though.............

Standing behind the table saw directly behind the blade is foolish no matter what the setup--always smarter to have your body on the opposite side of the blade from the fence. Absent a crosscut sled which would be a safer way to cut, this setup is safer than trying to crosscut the example pieces with the rip fence. ..........

The miter looks more closed on the outside if the saw is set a little more than 45 degrees to make sure the outsides meet up........
Sawstops only help avoid cutting your finger. You are totally on your own in Avoiding being impaled.

shallnot (author)see spot run2012-03-29

People here should not be put off by the statement "technique is very advanced and should only be used by people who know better than to try it".

As long as you raise the sacrificial fence (as mentioned elsewhere here by me) and be mindful of where the blade is and where your hands are and don't let the blade penetrate the sacrificial fence higher than the thickness of your stock this is actually more like a "beginner ready to become an intermediate woodworker" technique.

You can even mark with vertical lines the two positions where the blade enters and exits the table. You can even colour the zone between the two lines yellow or red to remind you where danger may be lurking.

8psinker (author)2012-03-29

Sounds like there's some peps that shouldn't try this method. I'd have to say it's probably the best way to get straight mitered rips when using a feather board to hold down the piece right where it counts. And as far as loosing the edge that rides the fence after the blade, just don't miter to a sharp point. You're gonna sand the corners anyway so leave a just a frog hair square. As for the piece flying out, just be ready for it. Sometimes a board is being ripped into many thin strips that are too thin for a push stick and you have to be ready for a flyer. The length of the piece being ripped should be considered though because the longer the rip the greater the chance the scrap could break up and whip over the top of the blade. Don't know where it'll end up then.

allen (author)2012-03-25

A couple of other considerations ought to be part of the instructible.

First, your stock has to be pretty close to perfect if you want the cube to come together without annoying gaps and misalignments. That means you've got to prepare your stock with dead square cuts cutting the pieces to as nearly identical width and height as you can manage. Even 1/64" difference in either dimension and finished cube will be noticeably out of whack and if the blade in the saw wasn't square you'll probably have wasted the stock as well.

Second, the piece of MDF covering the rip fence needs some preparation.

Since your stock coming out of the blade will be reduced in width you'll have to be very careful to maintain the stock parallel to the rip fence guide as it emerges from the blade. That's not going to be easy with the side emerging from the blade being unsupported by the fence.

If your blade is 1/8" thick the work piece will be about 3/16" off the fence and waste piece as it emerges from the cut. As you progress through the cut you'll have less and less material ahead of the blade, bearing on the fence, to keep the work piece properly aligned. Put a little more pressure on the edge of the stock away from the blade as you push it through the saw and you'll spoil the cut because there's not much to keep the stock aligned. The work piece will rotate a bit but enough to spoil the final fit.

A crosscut guide will keep the stock aligned provided the stock's not to big. Building up the rip fence cover to provide support past the blade would also work although that'll complicate making the cover.

A crosscut guide sled would work best but that's even more work then fixing up your rip fence attachment.

Perhaps you have better hand-eye coordination then I but I have a real problem keeping unsupported stock properly aligned.

shallnot (author)allen2012-03-29

"Since your stock coming out of the blade will be reduced in width"

As long as the point where the blade intersects the MDF sacrificial fence is at or lower than the stock thickness your stock will not alter dimensions. If that point is higher than your stock thickness then yes you will have a problem.

Imaging putting a mitre on a 3/4 inch thick 12 inch square piece of material and the point where the blade meets the MDF fence is only a 1/4 inch above the saw's table. You will end up with material that has whose thickness will have a 1/2 inch flat and a 1/4 inch mitre but it will still be 12 inches square.

jreidy1 (author)2012-03-29

So do you actually score the MDF during step two? I didn't quite understand that.

shallnot (author)jreidy12012-03-29

Yes, hence the term sacrificial fence. The blade only needs to be embedded into the MDF until the apex of the teeth touches the MDF.

shallnot (author)2012-03-29

Raise the bottom of the sacrificial MDF fence to about the width of the blade below the top of your stock. This will provide a space for the offcut to float freely. Be careful if you're cutting several panels as the free space might get clogged up with offcuts.

This method, when accompanied by thought and due care, is much safer than many other methods I have seen people attempt. I know professional furniture makers with 30+ years experience who use this method without trouble.

sabojeep (author)2012-03-29

Thanks for the Ible. I have used this method before and it works great, it takes all the quess work out cutting the proper size board and all miters are identical.

There is alot of talk about the waste that shoots out in the direction of the operator, IMHO it really isn't an issue. It's the surprises that get you injured. When you know the waste piece is going to come out and where it's going to come from then you really dont have to worry, just be prepared. I would also like to add that folks who are not comfortable with this method of cutting miters, should not attempt it. Working in a shop always has inherent risks and everyone should take the proper precautions and work within thier skill level.

Thaks again for taking the time to create this IBLE

LittleMonkeyMojo (author)2012-03-29

You *NEVER* trap the waste piece between the blade and the fence. It's the perfect setup for creating a little wooden missile.

butynski (author)2012-03-27

i cant wait to try this...thanks Justin.

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