How to Saw Straight

July 16, 2013 at 8:02 am
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Another fundamental technique to master is making straight, square and accurate cuts when sawing. Neat, tidy and accurately measured cuts will not only improve the finish of your work, but will reduce the time, effort and cost of materials if work has to be redone due to sloppy, careless cuts. You’ll also avoid putting yourself in the tricky position of ‘compensating’ later in the project as things don’t quite fit or line up.

It is often tempting to turn to a jigsaw or circular saw in order to get a ruler straight finish, but with just a little practice and the correct technique(s), you will soon consider these power tools an inferior substitute to a well made cut with a handsaw.

Tools

A SHARP Handsaw (all the technique in the world won’t correct the wanderings of a blunt saw)
Wood

Instructions

  1. Measure twice, cut once. If you follow none of the other steps in this guide, do follow this one. It won’t matter how straight, square or neat a cut you make, if it’s in the wrong place because you haven’t measured it correctly, then the cut is as good as useless. If you cut too long then you’ll have to redo it, too short and you’ll probably have wasted the materials as well as having to redo it.
  2. Use a carpenter’s pencil if you have one, or if not, a sharp, dark pencil will suffice. Marks made in ink, or by scratching with a screw, nail or other sharp object aren’t ideal – they often aren’t straight (the scratching object will often follow the grain of the wood) and can’t be easily erased if you need to adjust your mark for any reason.
  3. Use an accurate tape measure and make your marks using something straight. A square is the best tool to use if your cut is intended to be at 90 degrees to the edge of the wood. You can then use the back of the saw blade, or a level of appropriate length to finish your mark.
    TIPS: 
    •  Avoid using other bits of wood as your straight edge. Although they will look straight to the eye, it’s very likely that they won’t be as straight as you imagine, which you may discover further down the line.
    • Don’t forget to mark the edges of the wood too, so that when you cut the wood, it’s square in all 3 dimensions too.
  4. Starting the cut neatly is crucial to a professional finish. If you’re using a crosscut saw, place the teeth nearest the handle slightly to the side of your pencil mark and make a few gentle backstrokes – be confident though and apply gentle and even pressure, as you don’t want to see the saw wandering around at this stage and making ragged marks on the wood. If you’re using a ripsaw, use the finer teeth at the far end of the blade instead.
    TIPS: 
    • Remember that you’re not trying to cut exactly on top of your pencil line. You should be aiming to just graze the line.
    • You can use the thumb of your other (non-sawing hand) to guide the blade and prevent it wandering, just keep it well away from the teeth of the saw.
    • Extend the forefinger of your sawing hand down the blade. This will help you aim the saw in the right direction.
  5. Once you’ve got an opening in the wood, stop and check that it’s following your pencil line. If not, this is your opportunity to restart the cut, ensuring that it’s correctly aligned. If you try and adjust mid-cut, you will not achieve a straight edge.
  6. As far as possible, use full, long strokes through out the cut. If you notice that you are straying from your pencil line, don’t try to correct the cut by twisting or bending the saw as your cut will not be straight. Stop, return to the point where you started to stray and start again.
    TIPS: 
    • Keep checking the position of the saw blade in comparison to the line, not forgetting that you must keep the saw straight in all 3 dimensions to achieve a perfectly square cut.
    • Use the full length of the saw blade. Anybody who took woodwork during their secondary education will have heard something akin to ‘The school has paid for the whole saw, so you may use all the teeth…’. It’s good advice though, as using as much of the blade as possible in one stroke is not just more efficient, but tends to keep things straighter than lots of very short strokes.
    • Keep your elbows close to your body, as this will help to keep a straight back and forth motion and stop the saw from twisting.
  7. The end of the cut is just as important as the finish. Slow your sawing action at this point, using gentle strokes. If you are sawing too enthusiastically as your saw blade approaches the edge of the wood, it’s very likely that you’ll tear the last few millimetres, rather than cut it, leading to a ragged edge. 
    TIPS: 
    • If possible, keep the ‘waste’ section of the wood supported, especially towards the end of the cut, as you do not want it to snap under its own weight and leave a ragged edge, as this will almost always damage the section that you wish to keep.
  8. You can lightly sand the edges to finish, but remember that a lot of sanding will compromise your straight edge. If you find that you need to do lots of sanding, your saw may need sharpening, or your measuring has not been accurate.

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