Newbie needs help with measuring and cutting

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Forum topic by Captjohnboyd posted 12-07-2015 02:44 AM 1316 views 0 times favorited 17 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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2 posts in 1819 days

12-07-2015 02:44 AM

I’ve looked all over Google and haven’t really found anything that answers my specific needs. Basically I’ve just recently gotten into woodworking and have been slowly amassing my tools.

Right now I have a fixed/plunge router, circular saw, hand plane, several good chisels, a drill, pocket jigs, try square and several levels

My problem is (in addition to barely knowing how to measure super accurately, although I’m trying) no matter what I do I find my cuts and measurements are never as accurate as I need. I don’t have any store bought cutting jigs but let’s say I’m trying to cut a 2×4 to build a simple shelf or something I usually measure several times then screw down a block of wood to rest my saw against for the straight cut but they never seem to be as straight as I’d like

Perhaps my try square isn’t actually square but it’s really hard to tell one way or the other. I’m also just using scrap lumber so far would y’all suggest buying good lumber for some beginner projects? Do I need to purchase a better square? Any techniques a beginner can use to assure accurate cuts?

I feel like I’ve tried all the tips on the web but perhaps not. Thanks in advance

17 replies so far

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1304 posts in 3806 days

#1 posted 12-07-2015 02:53 AM

There are several videos on how to check your square for accuracy.
I usually scribe my cut line with a marking knife. I then fill in the cut mark with a 0.3mm lead.
the lead is for old eyes. If you are sawing with a “hand saw”, body position and stance are very important.
Accuracy comes with practice. Check the net for shooting boards. Properly used, one can square an end cut.

-- Sawdust and shavings are therapeutic

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7207 posts in 2991 days

#2 posted 12-07-2015 03:07 AM

If you’re cutting with a circular saw, your cut will only be as straight as the line you’re following.

So if the scrap you’re using as a guide is clamped on a bit crooked, or the piece is not straight, you’ll not get a straight cut.

My humble suggestion considering where you are in your skills is to
1. When measuring a 2×4 for example, don’t measure down the middle of the board. Measure each edge. Then take a known straight edge (see below) to connect the two marks.

2. buy a speed square (under $20.00) and use it to draw your cut line. That will give you the 90degrees between the board length and your cuts. They are simple but very very very useful. Check out youtube for how to use one.

3. If you’re marking the cut lines with a pencil, get in the habit of always cutting to the left of the pencil line if you’re right-handed. This makes up for the small gap and avoids trying to cut through the ‘middle’ of the line.

I hope that makes sense. Ask away if it doesn’t.

Oh yeah, and don’t rush and don’t ‘eyeball’ any measurements. You’ll regret it as the project goes along.

-- No, I don't want to buy the pink hammer.

View a1Jim's profile


118144 posts in 4493 days

#3 posted 12-07-2015 03:18 AM

Hi there John
Sometimes it’s our cutting skill that hurt accuracy and sometimes it’s how well we measure and or the measuring tools we use. About your square,here’s the way to check it. find a board with a straight edge hold you try square (or any other square) with the leg along the straight edge ,with a sharp pencil draw a line along the long edge,the flip the leg(the wood end ) to the other side and see if it matches the line you made. If it doesn’t match the line your square isn’t square,if it does match it’s square. When you measure and make a mark where you want to draw a line hold your pencil on the mark you want to make and carefully slid the square up to pencil and then mark the line. You can also use a knife to make your marks for a very fine line even a utility knife works .It’s good to have a 6” rule you can keep in your pocket to do a little finer measurements for short distances,also a good combination square works well as a square a depth gauge and a center finder. You might do a little search on you tube for folks demonstrating good measuring techniques.


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1691 posts in 3540 days

#4 posted 12-07-2015 03:25 AM

I on k y have one suggestion. Measure, mark and make your line. Now measure again to see what side of the line to cut. That is it.

-- Made in America, with American made tools....Shopsmith

View Kennethjg's profile


50 posts in 1850 days

#5 posted 12-07-2015 03:50 AM

Something handy I learned doing construction is using a speed square as a fence for you circular saw. Just set the square up against the workpiece on the left side of the saw (if you’re right handed) then run the saw along the side of it. Usually makes for pretty square cuts on 2×4’s and 2×6’s.

-- It ain't custom unless you fucked it up.

View Captjohnboyd's profile


2 posts in 1819 days

#6 posted 12-07-2015 03:54 AM

Thanks for the replies guys. So far I have most of the tools I need (2 combo squares, several levels, tape measure, depth gauge) I think maybe part of the problem was I wasn’t sure if I had anything with a “true” straight edge to check my squares. They aren’t garbage squares but They’re not the most expensive either. I definetly will be finding something to check them with though, especially your tip on flipping trick Jim. I think using scrap lumber without a jointer or planer has hurt too. May have had some boards that were bowed or something so while one measurement with the square looked good it wasn’t aligned with the next. Does this matter much? If I need to cut a board in half is it better to measure the distance each time to the middle a number of times instead of marking the middle once and marking the line straight down the middle perpendicular to the board? I also bought a hand plane but truthfully it needs a good sharpening and I’m not even certain it’s the type used for planing or just chamfering some edges. Guess I need to look that up

View woodbutcherbynight's profile


6624 posts in 3325 days

#7 posted 12-07-2015 04:22 AM

When cutting lumber you just bought, square the end 1ST. Just because they say it is square does not mean that it is really square. That done then you measure and make your cut to whatever dimension you have. Now both ends of the board are squared off by your own saw.

-- Live to tell the stories, they sound better that way.

View bondogaposis's profile


5891 posts in 3267 days

#8 posted 12-07-2015 04:47 AM

Something handy I learned doing construction is using a speed square as a fence for you circular saw.

Bingo! Get a speed square, they are invaluable.

-- Bondo Gaposis

View MT_Stringer's profile


3183 posts in 4147 days

#9 posted 12-07-2015 05:26 AM

Make sure you are using a sharp blade. If crosscutting, a good 40-60 tooth blade should make smooth cuts. For rips, a 24 tooth blade is better.

Freud 60T

There are videos showing how to make cutting jigs for cross cutting.

Or, you can buy one of these.

-- Handcrafted by Mike Henderson - Channelview, Texas

View ajw1978's profile


165 posts in 2337 days

#10 posted 12-07-2015 05:37 AM

First of all, welcome to LJs, John. You’ve come to the right place. The folks here—especially the incredibly experienced ones—are beyond welcoming and helpful, and they never seem to mind even the “dumbest” question. I mention that because, like you, I’m new to the hobby and I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned just by reading the forums and other people’s projects. And I’ve asked some doozies myself.

As for your issue at hand, I know where you’re coming from and the best advice I can give you is keep trying. I’d also go out and purchase a good straight-edge or rafter square. My problem is, I spend all the money on tools but suddenly become a cheapass when it comes to the little things like squares, fasteners, etc.

Also, part of the issue—especially with dimensional lumber (which is my usual stock, too)—is that while your straight edge may be square, your stock may not be milled properly.

Practice makes perfect. Just make sure you’ve got a cold beverage near by!

-- May the good Lord help me if I ever actually have a shop, garage or basement.

View JoeinGa's profile


7741 posts in 2923 days

#11 posted 12-07-2015 01:04 PM

Using your 2X4 example … one way I was shown years ago is to make a mark on both the wide side, AND the narrow side. NOW the trick is to watch BOTH LINES and keep your saw on them while you make the cut.

I also tried using a block to follow and it was pointed out that no matter how you try, you will start your cut flat with the block and somehow you will subconsciously lean the saw away from the block and your cut will go crooked down the board.

-- Perform A Random Act Of Kindness Today ... Pay It Forward

View JoeinGa's profile


7741 posts in 2923 days

#12 posted 12-07-2015 01:04 PM

Oh yeah … WELCOME to LJs !

-- Perform A Random Act Of Kindness Today ... Pay It Forward

View a1Jim's profile


118144 posts in 4493 days

#13 posted 12-08-2015 12:05 AM

View ajw1978's profile


165 posts in 2337 days

#14 posted 12-08-2015 12:48 AM

a1Jim is right. And a good moment to tell you to avoid anything that has to do with “Ted’s Woodworking.”

-- May the good Lord help me if I ever actually have a shop, garage or basement.

View Stewbot's profile


199 posts in 2000 days

#15 posted 12-08-2015 01:03 AM

like mentioned, make sure the end your measuring from is square.

Using a sharp pencil mark the wood, then use a speed square to draw your line across.

When cutting I reccomend not cutting the line, but cutting right next to the line, just barely kiss the line with the blade on the waste side.

Depending on where your blade meets the measured mark, your cut can be thrown off up to an 1/8”.

Rough work you can learn to eyeball the cut with practice, or use the speed square trick as a guide as mentioned above.

-- Hoopty scoop?

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