When I first started building and getting comfortable using my miter saw I’d often wonder why my cuts were off.
I was using that little laser line to get everything lined up, so why was everything coming out long? Or worse, a little short, resulting in a wasted piece of trim?!
As the saying goes, measure once, cuss twice…
Turns out I was making a lot of little mistakes.
To save you the same trial and error here are 5 ways to increase your odds of getting an accurate cut the first time. I’m still learning as I go, but these tactics will take you far from the very beginning.
Disclaimer: this post includes affiliate links to products I use and recommend. If you purchase anything I will make a small commission at no additional cost to you. For more, see my disclosures.
Tip #1: Practice Reading Your Measuring Tape
I’m not ashamed to admit that "How To Read a Measuring Tape" was one of the first things I Googled when I started doing DIY projects. Knowing how to read your measuring tape down to the 1/32ndof an inch, followed by consistent practice, will serve you well.
Our inclination is to round up or down to the nearest even marker, but this is a bad habit to get into because it will throw off any corresponding cuts. If you’re only making one cut then it may not be a big deal, but if you’re cutting something to fit into a tight space then even 1/8 or 1/16 of an inch difference will be a problem.
As you progress in your skills, you may try working with someone else’s building plans, which means you’ll definitely need to know how to cut something perfectly.
Need a little help getting started? I'm a visual learner myself. See my tutorial below on using a measuring tape.
Tip #2 : Revisit Your Knowledge of Fractions
Okay I realize this is elementary school stuff. But it's REALLY important when you’re trying to find the exact middle point of something or trying to shave off a sliver of wood with your table saw.
I didn't realize how dumb I was until I started working with random increments like 11/16" or 3/8". Nooooooo!
Here’s a great example. Let’s say you’re making shelf dividers for your Ikea Kallax Built-ins. As I show you in this tutorial, the width of a single Kallax cube is 13-1/8”. After I subtracted the combined width of my divider wood, I was left with a width of 12-3/8”.
Let’s be real: 12-3/8” is not a fun fraction. Now I have to divide this number by four. AHHH how do I do this?!!!
Breathe Erin. (I talk to myself a lot).
Step 1: Convert your mixed fraction into one solid numerator over one solid denominator. 12-3/8 is actually 99/8. I multiplied 12x8 and added 3. This number goes over the original denominator.
Step 2: Multiply your new fraction by the increment you need. (1/2, 1/3, ¼, etc)
Fraction form: 99/8 x 1/4 = 99/32
Step 3: Convert your fraction back to a mixed fraction. 32 goes into 99 three times with a remainder of 3. Our new fraction is 3-3/32. Another way of saying this is that 12-3/8" divided by four is 3-3/32".
Pretty intricate, eh? I felt like I had solved the meaning of life when I finally figured this out...I would definitely not win as a contestant on Are You Smarter Than a Third Grader?
Tip #3: Remember to Account for the Width of Your Blade
I know, DUH, right? Well, let’s just say it took me an embarrassing length of time for me to figure this out. I heard someone else mention it in a YouTube video and I just about smacked my forehead.
Most blades are about 1/8”. Depending on which side you’re cutting your piece of wood, you’ll need to move it so that your blade swings directly to the left or right of your mark.
It takes a little practice, but once you’re used to accommodating the width of your saw blade, you’ll get much better at cutting right on the mark.
Tip #4: Design your Cutting System to have Built-in Accuracy
By this I mean investing in equipment intended to give you the same cut every time. For example, Brad from Fix This Build That incorporates a Kreg system with a flip stop and stop block on his mobile miter stand.
I love learning from the pros because they know so many valuable tips and tricks! Garage envy is a thing.
Another great tool I recommend is a simple protractor. A lot of times when you’re installing molding your corners aren’t going to be a perfect 90 degrees. Let’s say your outside corner is 143 degrees. Subtract 143 from 180, which gives you 37 degrees. Your two mitered cuts are going to be 18.5 degrees (37 divided by 2).
A protractor will help you determine the angles in your corners so you end up with a much more accurate fit!
I'm getting carried away though...what can I say, crown molding is my jam!
Bonus Tip #5: Know Where to Measure Before Making Your Cuts
The kind of piece you're cutting determines where to mark and cut. By this I mean you'll be lining it up at a very specific location with your saw.
For example, when cutting a piece of crown molding, you'll measure along the bottom of your crown when making your cut mark. Accordingly, when figuring out how long to cut your piece, you’ll measure the wall about 3 inches down (or wherever the bottom of your crown will sit).
Baseboard is a different animal. After you’ve measured your wall for baseboard placement, you'll actually place your mark on the top of your baseboard.
I will save this topic for a later post, but trust me when I say that getting an accurate cut entails more than just marking a board and throwing it under your saw.
I hope this gives you a leg up on the building process! If you'd like to share your own tips and tricks, comment below or join the Top Shelf DIY Handywomen Facebook Community. I love collaborating with like-minded handy women!