Ditch the Miter Box

I own 2 miter boxes. They are cool tools to have around, but I’ll be honest I rarely use them. In fact I have deterred several folks from getting one when asked. It’s not that they are not useful, but like any fixed tool their function is limited by the capacity of the tool. The truth is that with some basic control of a hand saw you are able to make cuts just as precise without the miter box. The way I see it is that regardless of how I do the sawing, I’m probably going to clean up the saw marks with a few plane passes anyway so why lug out the miter box when I can just use a bench hook and back saw. I keep my miter boxes around for the times when I need to make a lot of the same angled cut, but most of the time it collects dust.

This video shows one of many techniques to precise sawing and I find it particularly useful on wide or thick stock where a little deviation will translate to a very errant cut.

Your Turn

What is your preferred technique for precise saw cuts? Do you own a miter box and if so, how much do you use it?

13 Responses to “Ditch the Miter Box”

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  1. Ethan says:

    I use my miter box all the time – at least every other time I’m in the shop it seems like.

    I suspect it is a crutch, to some degree. I am not as accurate when I saw free-hand and I don’t practice at it like I should because I know I can get a dead-nuts accurate cut on the miter box.

    Last night I was making 10 degree angled cuts (or… 80 degree angled cuts; I forget which way that goes) on the ends of some legs for a saw bench and I decided to free-hand the cuts. They definitely needed a bit more work with the block plane when I was done, and planing that much endgrain isn’t fun.

    I’ll try to make the opposing cuts next time I’m in the shop and I suspect I’ll continue making them free-hand, because I know I need to practice.

    But I still like using the miter box. Maybe it has to do with the fact that I took a rusted, worn piece of junk and cleaned it up into something of beauty and precision.

    I do have more miter boxes than I need, because people have given me some, for some reason, so I’ll be getting rid of a few (that I didn’t need or ask for in the first place). But I won’t get rid of all of them.

    I think they have a place in the shop – at least one should, anyway.

  2. Dennis Vaughn says:

    I do own one but only use it for odd angles, which is rare. I don’t bother with it for 90’s and 45’s.

  3. Andrew Margeson says:

    I agree with you that you don’t need a miter box, but I have and use one regularly. Quick, convenient, reliable–they are an asset to have in the shop if you have the space to leave it set up with a “table” on either side to support the work. Probably not worth it most of the time if you have to get it out and set it up due to limited space.

    I have a Langdon Acme which is one of the most beautifully engineered and manufactured devices I have ever owned. I paid $5 for it and spent another $20 on a lightly used big old Disston saw for it.

    Chris Schwarz is a fan of miter boxes: http://www.popularwoodworking.com/woodworking-blogs/chris-schwarz-blog/precision-gizmo-langdon-mitre-boxes

    Bottom line: Face it, most of us have tools we “don’t need.” If you have the space to leave it set up, miter boxes are a nice addition to the shop.

  4. Ford says:

    I only use my miter box for cutting the miters on stuck moldings. I held off buying a miter box for a long time because I didn’t think I need one. However, once I started sticking moldings for case pieces I realized that I couldn’t mark a 45 deg line on the molded face to saw to.

    I think this is what the tool was designed for and it does a very good job at it. That is probably why there were literally millions of them made.

    I agree they are unnecessary to make angled cuts on square stock, just mark a line and saw to it.

  5. Lynn Bradford says:

    Since I discovered the knife wall technique, my Jorgensen mitre box sets, with an occasional use. By making a back cut on the scrap side of the knife line, with a knife, or chisel, that knife wall will guide the saw nicely. By sawing on the two visible knife cuts – across the top and down the side at an angle, and then doing the same on the other face and top, finishing with sawing out the ‘V’ cut created by these two cuts, the saw cut comes out nice and clean.

  6. Steve H. says:

    I beg to differ with you Shannon. I use my Stosh 358 as often as I can. It cost me (with a great, sharpened saw) $35. Needed some TLC to clean it up, but my cuts are more accurate than I can do freehand. Once we move to our new Southern HQ, I will have oodles of room, so it will be set up all the time.

    The saw is almost at Bad Axe level of quality. The cuts barely need any touch up with a plane.

  7. John Verreault says:

    I picked up my pre-WWII era Stanley mitre box with its original saw at a Sally-Anne (Salvation Army) store last summer for a mere $17. It needs some minor work on both the box (the sacrificial base plate needs to be remade) and the saw (missing one of the split-nut handle bolts) but nothing major,and besides, I enjoy fixing up old tools. I have given it a go as is and the blade guides posts/slides work, the detentes and protractor lock are fine, and, despite needing a sharpening, it cuts straight. A bit of TLC, sharpening and some oiling and it will be right as rain. So, if you will pardon the expression, for the next little while I’m just going to sit on the fence to give the whole issue (and me) a bit more time ruminate.


  8. Bryan Robinson says:

    I have a Miller’s Falls Langdon miter box and big Disston miter saw that I use for moldings and for picture frames.

  9. Ray says:

    Thanks for the information. I have had to make some angled cuts by hand and was surprised at how well it worked. I thought I was simply lucky and did not expect to try it again unless I had no other choice. Your video has given me the courage to free hand cut more often.

  10. Dylan says:

    You would not be able to rip my miter box from my cold dead hands! I use it every time I’m in the shop. Maybe when I improve my sawing skills I will not use it as much but for now, it has been one of my best shop additions. I virtually never use my power miter saw anymore.

  11. Ron Bontz says:

    Good to see old house carpenter techniques never die. :) Once the three lines are drawn, I have also seen a short scrap piece of wood, with a jointed straight edge, laid across the line as a guide for both horizontal and vertical start. Thanks for the post. Best wishes.

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