Fundamentals of Woodworking: The Mighty Miter

Mighty_Miter_OpenerWhether you are making a picture frame, trimming out your dining room or just embellishing a piece of furniture, into every woodworkers life a few miters must fall. The fact that they are highly visible puts fear into many woodworkers! A poorly fit miter can undo an otherwise perfect project because it’s right out front for the world to see. But miters aren’t that difficult once you understand the basics.

Regardless of whether your saw is powered by hand or electron powered, the tips and techniques in this article will tighten your miters, and remove all your angle anxiety.

Begin By Bisecting

If you’re primarily furniture based, most of your miters are going to take place on outside corners. What I mean by outside corner is where you’re working to match two miter cuts to form a 90° corner. (This is different from an inside corner, which in most instances should be a coped joint – one piece has a square end cut  that runs tight into the corner, and the second piece of molding is mitered and coped to fit.)

Whether you are applying molding to the inside or outside of a case, how square that case is affects how easily you can cut your miters. Let’s face it, most miter boxes whether electric or hand-powered have detents at 45°, places that automatically align the saw to cut a perfect 45° angle. But what do you do if two perfect 45° angles won’t work because your case isn’t quite square?

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10 thoughts on “Fundamentals of Woodworking: The Mighty Miter

  1. Really great article Chuck.
    That sandpaper trick on adjusting the miters at the saw was excellent.
    Thanks !

  2. Chuck, I certainly learned something. The shim video was excellent. The application of the two strips on a non square case was an eye opener for me. Very good. Now I know why I signed up for 360 woodworking!



  3. Hi Chuck

    If I am using a shooting board to match my miters on those angles that just aren’t right can I use a shim on the shooting board? Do I use the same principle in setting the shim against the square face of the board? Or do I use the shim on the side I am sliding on? I hope that makes sense. I supposse I could just sit down and do a few to figure it out. Thanks!


    1. Chuck,

      I probably could have made that clearer in the article, but you can definitely use shims with shooting boards. In fact, Ron Herman did an article for us on shooting boards and in the video he shows the “nickel trick.” As a member, you can go back and check it out.

      The shim goes between the work and the fence, not between the chute and the plane. The idea is you want to modify the angle of attach of the plane to the molding. And you use the shims on the shooting board the exact same way I showed in the video, pressure and all.

  4. Chuck: the dynamics there are pretty instructional. Great job in explaining that. However, I for one would be pretty nervous about having my index finger so close to the blade on a powered miter saw. Probably you should have shown that with some long narrow hold-down sticks, etc.

    1. Bill,

      The placement was exaggerated to show the effect. I’d probably be more inclined to double up the shim and give myself (or more accurately, my fingers) some breathing room.


  5. Chuck. Excellent. I have used a similar sand paper trick for years but never thought to use it for all 4 sides as needed. The large hutch I’m building with the crown moldings were too large for my 8″ miter saw. So I built a jig for my 50 year old cut off saw which has a 12″ blade. It was a little hairy to use so I think I should consider a bigger miter saw. What size saw would you suggest?


    1. Bob,

      Early on, when sliding saws had just come out, I purchased a Porter Cable 8″ slider and it worked (and still does) great, but I found it to be too small for most of my crown molding. I’ve had a Dewalt 12″ sliding, compound miter saw in the shop now for years, and I’ve cut all kinds and sizes of moldings with it. It’s an absolutely wonderful saw that has done any job I’ve ever thrown at it, but it was starting to take a beating being used as the primary miter saw for my school. A few years ago Bosch came out with the glide saws. I tried one at the Woodworking Shows and was instantly hooked. I now have the 10″ model in my shop and love it. I don’t think you could go wrong buying either saw, but if the 12″ blade on the Dewalt causes some trepidation, you wouldn’t be sorry purchasing the Bosch. What I like best about it, other than the absolutely smooth action, is it takes up far less space in the shop because you don’t have to allow room for the slide bars out the back of the saw.

      1. Thanks Chuck. After looking at the prices and thinking about just doing furniture crown moldings, would you suggest a dual or single miter saw. My 8″ is dual but I can’t even remember when I used the dual cut.

        But thanks for the good info on size and brands.

        1. Bob,

          I haven’t looked at the cost difference lately, but if it isn’t huge I’d go for the compound. You may not need it often for furniture, unless you’re making a kas like the one pictured in the article opener, but it would stink to not have that capability if the price difference is small. If it’s a considerable amount, I’d scrap it in a heartbeat because there are other ways to make the cuts. Hope that helps.

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