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For my first real woodworking project I'm making a desk for my day work. I've roughly cut - with tenon saw and mitre box - the legs to more than the required length, as it's hard to store 4m lengths in my house.

I notice my rough cuts are a bit angled, which explains how I destroyed my mitre box. Now I want to make fine cuts so that the legs fit into the apron, how can I ensure my cuts are straight?

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  • Does this answer your question? When using a hand saw, how do I cut a straight line? – Graphus Feb 17 at 22:47
  • I've voted to close based on this being a duplicate of the above, but you mention this is your first real woodworking project. How much instruction have you looked at up to this point, and/or how many woodworking books have you read? I would presume that every single learner resource will cover crosscuting in some detail.... as well as subsequently presenting at least one of the techniques to clean up and perfect the cut face (since it's nearly never the case in hand-tool woodworking that you use a crosscut straight from the saw for anything other than carpentry). – Graphus Feb 17 at 22:59
  • No instruction and a couple of books. I also saw that other question but I believe he is asking about keeping the saw straight, whereas I am asking about the angle vertically. – Adam J Richardson Feb 18 at 8:21
  • Well may I suggest that looking at further instruction should be your first port of call? You need to bring yourself up to speed b4 tackling important stuff (and, apologies, it's clear the books you've read up to this point haven't done this). If you want a YT recommendation if I had to choose one it would be Wortheffort. I can highly recommend him for his clear, no-nonsense approach with concise presentations of solid techniques. Last year he began a ground-up series of vids that should suit you perfectly. [I want to add that I don't care for him personally and I'm still recommending him.] – Graphus Feb 18 at 10:57
  • "I also saw that other question but I believe he is asking about keeping the saw straight" Yes I think that was the initial thrust of the Q but the Answers cover your need (in spades). There's also this. – Graphus Feb 18 at 10:57
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Now I want to make fine cuts so that the legs fit into the apron, how can I ensure my cuts are straight?

Using a hand saw for fine work is a skill that takes some time to develop. But furniture makers did all kinds of crazy stuff by hand before power tools (or even power!) were available, so it can be done. I can't claim to be that good myself, but here's what I'd do if I were going that route:

  1. Use the right saw. Tenon saws can be set up for ripping, i.e. cutting along the grain (which is what you do when you're cutting the sides of a tenon), or for crosscutting, cutting across the grain. If you're cutting a workpiece to length, you probably want a crosscut saw.

  2. Mark your cut lines. Use a marking gauge, preferably one with a cutting wheel instead of a point, to mark a fine line where you want to make the cut. Figure out which side of the line is the "waste" side and draw an X there. Your goal is to make a cut that lands exactly on that line, but the saw kerf has some width, so you really want the side of the kerf to be on that line. The marks, by the way, should be on the top and front and back sides of your work, so that you can easily track both the side-to-side ("yaw") and vertical ("roll") angles of your cut.

  3. Use a guide. Clamp something with a flat, vertical face to your workpiece so that the face lines up with your line. This gives you a handy reference surface that you can run the saw against. It'll help you stay on your line and train you to hold the saw vertically at all times.

  4. Cut slowly. It's easier to nip a problem in the bud, so go slowly and keep a close eye on your line. Stop every few strokes when you're starting out and look at how you're doing: Are you on the line? Are you keeping the saw in line with your guide?

  5. Pay attention to your form. I'm no expert, so I won't try to give you too much advice here, but it's safe to say that you want the arm holding the saw to be moving in line with the cut, so your shoulder and elbow should both be lined up on the cut line. Even more important than that, though, is to be aware of what you're doing and how that's affecting the cut. If you find that you get better results some other way, do what works.

  6. Use a shooting board. For really clean results, consider cutting just to the side of your line and then cleaning up your cut with a plane and shooting board, or (if cutting tenons) a shoulder plane. If you haven't seen one, a shooting board is just a panel that has a fence to support your workpiece, and a surface that your hand plane rides on on to cut at a fixed angle to your workpiece. It's a basic piece of kit for anyone using hand tools. Check YouTube for videos about how to make and use one; it's not complicated.

  7. Practice, practice, practice. Those folks who can make a clean cut on a line without a guide and without stopping didn't start out any better than you, they've just spent a lot more time working at it. The more you do it, the better you'll get.

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  • I've noticed that there are a variety of guide blocks that can be clamped to your work piece that include rare earth magnets to hold the blade against the guide. While these will definitely hold the blade in the right plane, I wonder how they do for actually developing the skills necessary to work without them. (somewhat off-topic...) – FreeMan Feb 17 at 18:52
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    @FreeMan Yes, I know Veritas makes some nice ones. Haven't used one; it could be that they help you get a feel for how it should feel to saw properly, or it could slow you down, or they might work so well that you decide to just always use them. Seems like an individual choice. Even without magnets, a guide limits how you can move the saw; with magnets, it's just a little more of the same. A shooting board does a similar job for a plane, so I don't think there's any harm in using a guide with or without magnets if it helps. – Caleb Feb 17 at 19:19

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