If you make enough things you’ll eventually need to cut a piece of wood. Projects like mounting photos on wood blocks, making bag handles from dowels, and framing all make use of wood, but if you’re like me you probably don’t have easy access to a well stocked wood shop. That’s where a mitre box and tenon saw can come in handy – they’re a small, inexpensive way to cut wood at perfect 90 and 45 degree angles.
I picked this mitre box and saw set up at a big box home improvement store for less than $10. It cuts from the top at 90 and 45 degree angles, and it has a slot on the side to cut at a 45 degree angle through that side of your stock as well. You can find much larger and fancier mitre boxes that allow for all sorts of angles, but I like this one for ordinary every day use.
See how it’s set up on my beautiful wood surface? Don’t do that. It’s only here because I want you to have pretty pictures to look at. There’s a chance that the tip of the saw will hit what the box is on, leaving a nasty scratch/cut mark. Set your mitre box on something you don’t care about.
I’m right handed, so I’ll be operating the saw with my right hand. I set the larger/heavier side of the stock (a wooden dowel in this case) to the left side of the saw so I can old it in place with my left hand. It’s pulled to the side closest to me because that’s easiest for me to hold in place. Make sure whatever you’re cutting is pushed up against a side wall, otherwise your cut won’t be at a perfect angle.
Use safety glasses for sure – if I say “splinter in your eye” that should be enough motivation. You’ll also want a pair of gloves, especially if your stock is kind of rough. As with any organic material, there may be tension and pressure points you don’t expect within your material. It’s possible for wood to crack, spring and splinter as you cut it.
Also think carefully about where you place your hands. Keep the holding hand well clear of that blade. It’s much safer to use this than a power tool, but the blade on this saw could still leave a pretty serious cut.
The saw blade will turn 1/16th to 1/8th of an inch of wood into sawdust. Be sure that the mark you are cutting to is placed to the side of the blade, not centered under it, to make the piece of wood the size you want it to be.
When you’re using a saw there’s a pull stroke and push stroke. To start the cut you’ll want to use the pull stroke. Lift the saw over the stock and push it all the way forward from your body. Set it down on the wood where you want the cut to be, hold the wood tightly with your other hand and smoothly pull the saw toward yourself. It should leave a nice little bite into the wood as shown (it might take a couple tries if your saw has been used a lot.) The pull stroke is easier, and it pulls the wood toward the side of the mitre box ensuring a nice square cut.
After the cut is started you can cut with the pull and push strokes. Let the saw do the work – pushing down on it won’t help it cut faster but it might get it stuck in the wood. It took me less than 2 minutes to cut through this dowel.
When you’re nearly through the piece of wood you’re cutting make sure your holding hand is tight – the last bit of wood will want to break because of gravity pulling down on whatever is hanging off the edge of the saw. Holding it tightly at the end will prevent that breaking and splinter, making your cut neat all the way through.
My cut dowel – a few seconds of sand paper use and it’ll be ready to go!
You can use a mitre box to cut any size piece of wood that fits in the box.