Trying really hard to make straight cuts

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Forum topic by Bag_of_daggers posted 08-18-2012 11:39 AM 7483 views 0 times favorited 20 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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7 posts in 2107 days

08-18-2012 11:39 AM

Hi All,
I am having trouble making square straight cuts. I am building a changing table for my impending son. The problems I have run into involve long cuts and miter cuts. I have a $30 sabre/jig saw(not sure if those names are interchangeable)and a $7 plastic miter box with handsaw. neither of these will give me square, straight cuts. I have tried to use the sabre saw in combo with various types of rails to to make long cuts. I can stay straight on the line but the way the blade moves seems to cause problems. And my cheap miter box, well its cheap. So what are my alternatives? I can’t afford much. Would a circular saw and rails give me straight, square cuts? Would even a cheap one be better than the sabre saw? And where does one get a really good miter box? i have see a “clamping miter saw” at home depot for about $50, is that any good? Is the only way to get really clean miter cuts a compound miter saw that costs at least $150? I have been using a combination of a hand plane and belt grinder to try and square things up a bit. This is has worked well enough for me to continue to cobble together my project, but I would love to cut something and then not spend hours making it right. I’ve tried really hard to keep my frustration out of this post, but don’t think I’ve done a very good job. i would greatly appreciate your advice.


20 replies so far

View chrisstef's profile


17381 posts in 3002 days

#1 posted 08-18-2012 11:46 AM

A circular saw and a speed square will get you straight cross cuts at a decent price. Lay the sqaure on your stock and butt the edge of the circular saw to it and cut away. Long rip cuts can be made with a circular saw and a straight guide edge clamped to the workpiece. Of course your stock will need to be sqaure from wherever you buy from as well.

For miters you can use the speed square to mark it and using the miter box make your cuts ensuring youre at 45 degrees or whatever. There’s also something to be said for learning how to cut straight with a hand saw. For about $3 you can find some vintage ones at tag sales and have them sharpened.

-- Its not a crack, its a casting imperfection.

View Don W's profile

Don W

18710 posts in 2563 days

#2 posted 08-18-2012 12:40 PM

I agree with Chrisstef. And if you want even cleaner miters buy a used handplane, clean it up and sharpen it and make yourself a shooting board.

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

View RussellAP's profile


3104 posts in 2282 days

#3 posted 08-18-2012 12:49 PM

A good miter saw is a must. 12 inch dewalt comes to mind.

-- A positive attitude will take you much further than positive thinking ever will.

View Nicky's profile


695 posts in 4087 days

#4 posted 08-18-2012 02:37 PM

As mentioned a circular saw is needed for strait cuts, although as mentioned, learning how to use a handsaw is a good alternative. Speed square is a good addition as well. You could make saw guides that will serve you well. Take a look at for an example.

Make your own miter box. Its easy to build and will be orders of magnitude better then the plastic one you have. Check out for an example.

You mentioned you had a plane, a shooting board will help fine tune your miters and other cuts as well. See

You don’t need a shop filled with tools to produce nice work.

-- Nicky

View a1Jim's profile


117090 posts in 3573 days

#5 posted 08-18-2012 02:53 PM

Hi Steve
It’s hard to do quality work with out at least the basic tools. A jig saw is very tough to get long straight cuts ,it’s made to do smaller curving cut’s .If you could afford a $150 miter I’d suggest you get a used table saw instead. There are lots of post here on buying table saws. A $150 table saw would not be high end but it would be better than what your using now by far. I see one for less than a new circular saw .
This one is from the town where I grew up
If you decide to get on take a look on post here on Ljs, you tube ,and some of the woodworking magazines about using a table saw safely . Feel free to send me Pms with questions I teach adult woodworking.
This Table saw would be great they might even take $150

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View rockindavan's profile


299 posts in 2632 days

#6 posted 08-18-2012 03:07 PM

You will thank yourself by picking up a circular saw and miter saw. I picked my first miter saw up at a pawn shop for $35 and I still use it today for cutting 2×4’s. A used circular saw shouldn’t cost a bunch either. Make a jig for the circular saw with some plywood. Cut a thin strip (2” or so) off the factory edge. Then cut another strip (12” or so). Glue and screw the thin strip in the middle of the larger one. Then you trim the edge placing the circular saw edge against the factory edge of the thin strip. You can clamp it to plywood or whatever to give you a nice straight cut.

View JSZ's profile


37 posts in 3058 days

#7 posted 08-19-2012 12:06 AM

I’m going to go in a different direction with this reply, since it shows up in the hand tools forum.

I really suggest a decent hand plane, decent meaning nicely tuned up, and with a sharp iron. Making an accurate shooting board as Don W suggests above will take care of out-of-square crosscuts, and the accuracy you will achieve with miters will surpass anything you can obtain with a miter box OR a compound miter saw, regardless of price.

It sounds as if you are after accuracy. If that’s right, start developing skills with hand tools, and use the corded tools for rough stock preparation. It does take some time, but ultimately you will be happy you followed this path.

-- -- Do Good Work. Jeff Zens, Custom Built Furniture, Salem, OR.

View 47phord's profile


182 posts in 2233 days

#8 posted 08-19-2012 01:10 AM

I have a tablesaw, but I use a circular saw and a homemade straight edge similar to what rockindavan described to break down large sheet goods and it works fine. I agree with a1Jim that if you must buy a saw, go with a good used TS and skip the miter saw-you can make all the same cuts with a TS that you can with a MS, plus you can rip long stock and many tablesaws will also accept a dado blade. Keep the faith and remember, as the person building your project, you know where all the flaws are, the average Joe seeing the finished project probably won’t see them. The first major project I did was a bookcase and I can assure you that there isn’t a square joint in the whole damn thing, but people still come over and compliment us on ‘that nice bookcase’.

View cutworm's profile


1075 posts in 2789 days

#9 posted 08-19-2012 01:11 AM

I’d look for a used benchtop tablesaw on CL. My first saw was a Skil benchtop. $54 on Black Friday at Lowe’s. It did a pretty good job ripping and on crosscuts.

-- Steve - "Never Give Up"

View sikrap's profile


1121 posts in 3354 days

#10 posted 08-19-2012 02:07 AM

I agree with Jeff that learning to use hand tools will be better for you in the long run. From your post, I get the impression that you need to get this piece built fairly quickly. If that is the situation, I suggest you see if there is anyone here that is close enough fro you to either borrow some tools or go to their shop and get some help/instruction. If you’re anywhere near Albany, Ny drop me a PM and we’ll set something up.

-- Dave, Colonie, NY

View crank49's profile


4030 posts in 2966 days

#11 posted 08-19-2012 07:10 PM

About the best new hand saw for the least money is the Stanley Sharp Tooth. It is usually $10 to $12 dollars and cuts as good as any American style saw out there.

It ain’t pretty, the handle is plastic, but it works well. You need to build a good saw bench to lay your work piece on that is the proper height (I like mine about 26” and I’m 5’-10) then a little practice.

That same saw will work well with a homemade miter box as well.

For ripping, you need at least a circular saw. If you get a used one, that’s fine, but plan on buying a new blade for it.
A used table saw like a1Jim suggested is a great idea, but I think I detected your desire to keep the budget really low so a circular saw is the next step up from a jig saw in my opinion. Well, a hand saw can rip with the correct blade, but it’s really hard work.

For the best accuracy, the plane and shooting board are really good suggestions as well, but again, can be a little spendy.

In the begining all I had for wood cutting for many years was a jig saw, a hand saw, a couple of chisels and a block plane. The next power tool I got was a circular saw.

A good trick for cutting sheet goods is to lay some 2×4 s down on the garage floor and lay your plywood to be cut on top of them. Then set the circular saw blade depth so it just barely cuts through the plywood. You can re-use these same 2×4 s over and over. This, in combination with a cutting guide , as described in post #6 by rockindavan, is better than any other method , short of a panel saw, for cutting large sheet goods in my opinion.

View Bag_of_daggers's profile


7 posts in 2107 days

#12 posted 08-24-2012 06:05 AM

Thanks Everyone,
Lots of great info here. I especially like the shooting table. The changing table is almost ready for staining. I just need to get wood to make the shelves with. I will post some pics soon. Thanks again!


View rance's profile


4258 posts in 3156 days

#13 posted 08-24-2012 07:31 AM

+1 to what A1Jim said. That last TS he listed is one I have. It would be a GREAT start. Understand that tools have a primary purpose, and other purposes. A jigsaw is meant to rough-cut the inside of a donut. A bandsaw is meant to rough-cut the outside of a donut. A miter saw is meant to cut square or angled cuts on ‘sticks’, etc, etc, etc. You can use many tools for alternative purposes, but they may not give you as good of results, or safety may be compromised, etc. Once you understand the caveats, then you are on your way to success.

I havn’t used my jigsaw in years. I have grown to understand what it is… a rough cut tool. When I need it, I won’t hesitate to pick it up and use it. I’ve mostly moved on from that kind of work or have better alternatives for those operations.

-- Backer boards, stop blocks, build oversized, and never buy a hand plane--

View Brett's profile


660 posts in 2678 days

#14 posted 08-24-2012 03:56 PM

The free online book “I Can Do That” from Popular Woodworking has a lot of good information on getting started with a basic set of hand and power tools. You might find some helpful information there for your next project:

-- More tools, fewer machines.

View Surfside's profile


3389 posts in 2169 days

#15 posted 08-24-2012 04:03 PM

How about a band saw with good wood cutting blades? There are a lot of good saws in a very affordable price.

-- "someone has to be wounded for others to be saved, someone has to sacrifice for others to feel happiness, someone has to die so others could live"

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