Calibrate Your Tape
I'll bet you have dropped your tape measure a time or two. Look at the tip of the blade. See if the little prongs that grab onto the end of a piece of wood are bent. If they are, your tape is going to read wrong when you translate an inside measurement to a length! Take two pliers and carefully straighten the tape prongs.
A simple pencil mark can be confusing. Sometimes the line is slightly curved. Where do you cut? Finish marks should be crisp arrow points. The tip of the arrow is the exact mark. Just remember what side of the line to cut on!
Support Your Work
If you are using a miter box saw and cutting long lengths, they will flop around and cause you fits. You may need three of my carpenter's benches, one for the saw and the other two as outriggers to catch the ends of the lumber being cut.
Cut Upside Down
Are you making cross cuts across grain? Trimming down a door or cutting finish plywood? If so, you can reduce splintering if the circular saw blade cuts up through the finish grain. This means cut plywood with the good side facing down. If both sides are good, then make a fine pencil line and use a straightedge and razor knife to score the wood first.
Straight Cross Cuts
Clamp a thin metal straightedge to a piece of plywood or other material to get long straight cuts. The bottom platen of the saw butts up against the straightedge and uses it as a fence. All you need to do is calculate the blade offset so the cut is the right length. Do this on a test piece of lumber.
If you are working with tall baseboard, it can be a nightmare to create miter joints. You can eliminate miters by using decorative corner blocks at inside and outside corners. This is a fancy trick for crown molding as well!
Crown Molding Tips
Crown molding fits into a saw differently. Place it upside down in the saw. It sits in the saw at the angle that it rests at on the wall. Cut 16 inch long test pieces that slide into each corner that tell you how out of square each corner actually is. Nail triangular scrap lumber into the wall/ceiling corners. Nail into the wall top plate. These blocks allow you to use shorter nails in the crown and you can nail anywhere you like instead of hunting for ceiling joists.
Glue and Stain
If you are staining woodwork, watch out for excess glue. If you wipe glue off with a wet rag, the glue can get into the wood pores and block stain penetration. Be careful with the glue!
If using conventional nails, watch out at the ends of pieces of wood. Regular nails are pointed and they can easily cause splits. Either dull the nail tip or pre-drill a small hole to avoid splitting.
If you are trying something new, always practice the cut or technique first on some scrap wood. If you are doing miters for the first time start inside a closet, not at the main door of the house. Make mistakes where people will not see them.
By Tim Carter