Learning how to miter tight corners separates a skilled craftsman from a hobbyist, without requiring you to learn an overly technical skill so it’s a great place to start for an aspiring craftsman.
Mitered corners are usually thought of as 45-degree angles that create a 90 degree or right angle when they’re placed together, but many times 30 and 60-degree angles come into play. Another common mitered angle is 22.5 degrees—half the standard 45-degree angle that creates those nice right-angle corners. The 22.5 will build an octagon shape when assembled.
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Today we’re going to give you an overview of three main methods for achieving mitered corners, with the final one being the most precise way. The method you choose to use for your mitered corners may also vary depending on the tools you have available to you.
Once you’ve mastered how to miter corners, you’ll be able to apply the technique to future woodworking projects with ease. If you need a little inspiration, these easy woodworking projects from ManMadeDIY can get you started.
Method One: The Miter Saw
The first method, and by far the easiest is to use a miter saw. If you’ve heard of a chop saw, the miter saw is quite similar but there are a few key differences, including the actual blade. A miter saw is specifically designed for cutting wood whereas a chop saw is better for cutting metal, and a miter saw is better for cutting at precise angles (which is something you’ll want for your mitered corners!). If you only have access to a chop saw, you can still use it, in this case, to cut mitered corners from wood, but the miter is preferred.
A miter saw is a table-mounted saw that has preset angles at 22.5, 30, 45, and 60 degrees. Once you’ve selected the angle you want for your corners, set the saw and grab your wood. Double-check the angle with a triangle to ensure accuracy, then all you have to do is cut your first wood piece at the selected angle down to the length you want. Repeat with the second piece of wood and you’re done!
A 12-inch sliding power miter saw – Photo Credit: ManMadeDIY/Randy Tucker
If the blade is sharp, and you have the material firmly set against the fence you can’t miss with this method. The only margin for error is if you don’t measure the distance between the two mitered ends correctly.
The second method is a hand-powered miter box. This is the tool that carpenters have used for centuries. It has been responsible for some of the most fantastically constructed architecture in the modern era. Doorways in Washington D.C, constructed with a fixed (hand-powered) miter saw back in the early 19th century remain as pristine an example of woodworking as you’ll find anywhere. Hand-operated miter boxes differ in complexity.
Method Two: A Hand-Powered Miter Box
The second method is a hand-powered miter box. This is the tool that carpenters have used for centuries. It has been responsible for some of the most fantastically constructed architecture in the modern era. Doorways in Washington D.C, constructed with a fixed (hand-powered) miter saw back in the early 19th century remain as pristine an example of woodworking as you’ll find anywhere.
Hand-operated miter boxes differ in complexity.
A fixed miter box is just a flat board with a pair of vertical boards fastened at right angles to it. An initial 45-degree cut is made, and that sets the pattern for all other 45 degree angles with the box.
Colonial-era carpenters used separate miter saws for 22.5, 30, 45, and 60-degree angle cuts. The hardwood verticals guiding the saw at these angles are weakened when too many miter angles are cut into a short piece of wood.
Inexpensive modern miter boxes are usually made of sturdy plastic or possibly metal, with those same 22.5, 30, 45, and 60-degree markings already cut in place. They’ll typically handle stock up to 2×6 inches in size. If you’re new to woodworking, the miter box is going to be your most affordable option of all the tools as well so you might want to start with a hand-powered miter box before investing in more expensive tools.
To use the miter box, start by clamping it to a flat, sturdy workspace. Most modern miter boxes will come with mounts for you to do this with. Using a pencil and carpenter’s square or triangle, mark the cut length on your piece of wood.
Place the wood into the miter box and secure the piece to box so it doesn’t shift as you cut. Starting with light passes, begin to cut the wood, increasing the pressure as you go until the wood is cut through. Repeat this process with the second piece of wood, or however many pieces you need to cut.
The standard for high school wood shops and upper-end personal shops for generations before the powered miter saw took over the market was the adjustable steel, bench-mounted miter saw. This tool was a thing of beauty, and often the focal point of the shop. If you have access to one now, it’s going to be the tool you want to work with.
Method Three: Bench-Mounted Miter Saw
The standard for high school wood shops and upper-end personal shops for generations before the powered miter saw took over the market was the adjustable steel, bench-mounted miter saw.
This tool was a thing of beauty, and often the focal point of the shop. If you have access to one now, it’s going to be the tool you want to work with.
It typically comes with a large 24 to 36” fine-toothed backsaw. The metal table swivels on the mounting with pre-set notches that lock into place at 45 degrees to the left and right of the table. It will have those set at 22.5 degrees as well.
A fine-toothed backsaw cuts tight corners. – Photo Credit: ManMadeDIY/Randy Tucker
The angles were adjustable on this device just as a modern power miter saw table is. If you have a unique angle to cut, mark that angle with a sliding T-bevel and transfer it to the miter deck.
When the angles match, lock in the table, and then carefully saw the angle with the hand-powered backsaw. The cuts with a fine-toothed back saw are always fine, with few chips pulled from the board.
Bonus Method: A Miter Saw & Coping Saw Duo
Here’s a final trick with a miter saw. You can overlap coved floor or wall trim with a miter saw, and a coping saw.
The trick is to cut a knife-edge angle with the miter saw, then follow the bevel you’ve just cut with a coping saw. Cut at an inward angle to the mitered cut. When you’re finished you have an overlapping cover exactly in the pattern of the cove. It fits better in the corner, requires just a single cut, and allows you to place straight-edged pieces on one wall, with the covering lap on the other section. Done correctly it creates an invisible corner where the two edges meet.
Now you’ve got all the information you need to achieve mitered corners like a pro.
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