Getting Square for a beginner

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Forum topic by kleinmattd1 posted 06-01-2020 02:15 PM 513 views 0 times favorited 5 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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1 post in 478 days

06-01-2020 02:15 PM

I’m brand new to carpentry. I’ve made a good solid work bench and in-wall shelving a few years ago that went well. I went out and bought a mitre saw, flat saw and jig saw last week. I’m working on my first project the “Ana White Rustic X table” My question is I did a pretty good job getting my cuts accurate. I put together the two ends and than attached with 4 pieces the ends together. It was tremendously out of square. There was practically a gap of an inch on 1 side.

I used a square through the process but never checked with a tape. Also I feel that while drilling the wood tends to move a little. Once the screws were in….if I had checked I assume the ends would have been out of that point what can be done? I’ve already created 8 holes in the wood.

When do I add the glue? How do you keep square while drilling? Should I always pre-drill? I was using self-taping screws.

Thanks for the advice


5 replies so far

View canantas's profile


6 posts in 975 days

#1 posted 06-01-2020 02:29 PM

Hi Matt,
Can you send some pictures?

Off the head, I always pre-drill my and make sure i clamp the 2 pieces to each other with 90 degree square piece so that they will stay square (rockler does have some good clamping squares for this purpose)

-- Canan, Madison AL,

View Madmark2's profile


3061 posts in 1803 days

#2 posted 06-01-2020 06:13 PM

Buy a band clamp to hold it assembled during dry fit.

A band clamp will hold things together while you work

Use a couple of square corner blocks to keep one corner perfect with clamps.

Corner clamp block – under $15 at Rockler

Pre-drill your screw pilot holes in the outer piece on a drill press or with a hand power drill. Use this as a guide to pilot the inner pieces. Finally enlarge the pilot holes on the outer piece to clearance holes.

Use correct pilot bits for each screw size, invest in a drill & tap set. 1/16” increment drill sets do not make proper pilot holes. Snapped bits & screws will always occur.

Use a nail to punch your start points.

Start drilling slowly until the direction/position is firmly established.

Use brad point or Forstner drills.

Brad point bits start cleaner with less drift.

Use a slower speed power driver instead of a fast drill for driving the screws. Do not power drive brass screws.

Brass screws need to be gently turned by hand into properly piloted & lubed holes and even then it takes some practice to get the right feel.

Seat the screws just under the surface. Hardwoods may need to be counter sunk prior to driving.

Use a little bar/liquid soap or paste wax on the screw threads prior to driving as lube.

The diagonals need to be the same in both directions for it to be square. 1/8” difference is too much.

Use a stop block when cutting instead of cutting “to the mark” as errors accumulate and consistancy is key. If the block isn’t the perfect dimension little harm is done as long as all the pieces are off by the same amount.

-- The hump with the stump and the pump!

View Walker's profile


465 posts in 1687 days

#3 posted 06-01-2020 06:37 PM

Just a heads up, Ana White is pretty reviled around here. Her designs often do not account for wood movement, and thus are prone to cracking or falling apart. Glancing at the plans for the “rustic x table” for example, it suggests screwing the top directly into the apron using pocket holes, but makes no mention of how to allow for seasonal movement—very difficult to do with a pocket hole, if even possible.

Fortunately, there are about 1000 ways to attach a table top properly. Do your research on joints and wood movement, and you should be able to correct the flaws in the plans.

-- ~Walker

View theart's profile


233 posts in 1769 days

#4 posted 06-02-2020 01:27 PM

The quick route to square:
- Start with straight boards.
- Check your miter saw for square, since it might not be out of the box. For what you’re building, this isn’t super important, but it’s worth doing anyway. I do this by first checking with a straightedge that the two sides of the fence are coplanar. Then trim off the end of a board. Flip it end over end to the other side of the saw and cut off about a half inch. If that piece you cut off is uniform in thickness, your saw is square. If it’s a wedge, see the manual about adjusting the fence.
- Cut opposite sides to the same length by measuring and cutting one side, then scribing that length onto the other. Put an X on the offcut side of the line, so that when you take it to the saw you know to cut on the right side.

When drilling pilots for your screws, use a corner block as suggested above. Or make your own by screwing some cleats onto a scrap of plywood. And always pre-drill. Softwoods are usually able to compress around a screw without a pilot, but if you’re near the end of the board you could still split it.

View Bill_Steele's profile


775 posts in 2946 days

#5 posted 06-03-2020 03:11 PM

My guess is that you made a measuring or machine setup mistake somewhere along the way. Perhaps you can re-make the faulty part(s)?

I only apply glue once I’m happy with the dry fitting.

I use a drill press or a drilling guide with my hand held drill to keep the bit square to the material. I would suggest using a punch to create an indent in which you can start the bit to help avoid wander

I think for best results always pre-drill screw joints. I would suggest drilling a clearance hole to avoid thread jacking. Self-tapping screws are ok to use and you may be able to get away with no drilling if you use them—but I doubt your results will consistently be as good or better than pre-drilled.

Try to cut all parts that need to be the same dimension at the same time—before changing the machine setup. So if you have parts that all need to be the same width—set your saw fence to the width needed and rip all the parts in one session. The reason is because it is not easy to return the fence to exactly the same width setting once you move it.

Always dry fit your parts before final assembly. Dry fit along the way during the build to ensure that you are still on track.

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