Lessons Learned #5: Cutting guides make the world go 'round

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Blog entry by sry posted 10-23-2008 05:23 AM 1343 reads 0 times favorited 6 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 4: Wax makes things not stick Part 5 of Lessons Learned series no next part

As a beginning woodworker without a large shop full of tools, I’m was at first skeptical about my ability to get by and produce interesting things without tools like a table saw or band saw. One of the things that’s really helped me get by is the cutting guide.

I built a massive 8’ long cutting guide for my Ryobi circular saw, which makes it about 1000 times easier to chop up plywood without being dependent on the table saw I don’t have. I decided this evening that I wanted to make a small guide for my jigsaw as well, for smaller cuts or situations where I don’t want to throw dust everywhere. So I took a few pictures and thought I’d walk through the (very simple) process of creating one. Hopefully this isn’t too basic or common knowledge…

  1. I chose a relatively straight piece of 1×3 pine to form the “spine” of my cutting guide, and a 48” wide piece of 1/4” ply for the base
  2. The pine is what guides the straight cut, so to ensure that it’s straight, I clamp it to my level until I can get it attached to the ply:
    Ensuring the guide is straight
  3. Flip the whole deal over and attach the ply base to the pine. I used some #6×3/4” screws here, about every 6”
    Attached the guide to the base
  4. Flip it right side up and run the saw along the guide to trim the ply to size. I put some blue tape down here to limit chip out on the top face (the jigsaw blades I use leave a very clean bottom face)
  5. Finally, we’re left with a beautiful new cutting guide. Don’t forget to label it so you know what saw it goes with
    Finished cutting guide

If you look closely, you’ll see that the whole thing is resting on the base for the workbench I’m finishing up right now (to be posted soon)
Thanks for reading

6 comments so far

View lew's profile


12061 posts in 3755 days

#1 posted 10-23-2008 02:42 PM

Your abilities look pretty good to me!! Can’t wait to see the finished work bench!!

-- Lew- Time traveler. Purveyor of the Universe's finest custom rolling pins.

View Rick's profile


144 posts in 3509 days

#2 posted 10-23-2008 03:56 PM

Steve – I did the same thing, only used MDF to help with the initial straight edge. I have one 8’ and one 4’. I have since purchased a table saw, but still find the guides useful. Sometimes, it’s easier to use a guide than feed a sheet of plywood over the table saw by myself. (depends on how much of the garage I get to use on any given day!)


-- There are many tempting parking places on the road to success

View BuilderT's profile


3 posts in 2352 days

#3 posted 01-09-2012 02:15 AM

Okay, here’s a crazy newbie question…why different guides for different saws?

View sry's profile


147 posts in 3608 days

#4 posted 01-09-2012 02:28 AM

The purpose of the guide is to help you know exactly where the saw will cut. In the bottom picture, for example, the taller piece (with sharpie on it) guides the edge of the metal saw base plate while the bottom piece shows the edge of the saw blade. Different saws have different offsets between the edge of the base and the edge of the blade.

Without such a setup, you’d have to either a) try to follow a line with the blade, or b) measure an offset based on your saw’s base plate and clamp a straightedge to that for the saw to follow.

Hope this helps


View BuilderT's profile


3 posts in 2352 days

#5 posted 01-09-2012 02:58 AM

So If I want to make a guide for my router, I want one that is going to butt up against the base plate.?. Did you permanently attached the guide to the table or do you clamp different ones on when you’re using different saws?

View sry's profile


147 posts in 3608 days

#6 posted 01-09-2012 05:13 PM

For each cut, I clamp the guide in the appropriate position.

Here’s what I’d recommend, since this is what I did when I was starting: check out the Fine Woodworking getting started in woodworking videos. The guides I talked about in this post as well as the workbench I built came directly from their advice. I’m sure they can explain much better on video than I can typing.
Here’s the link:

In particular, the “Rabbets and Dados” video gives some router examples that are probably more useful than this style of guide (although you certainly could use this style). The “How to Build a Workbench” video shows step by step how to build the sort of guides I showed in this post.

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