St. Roy showed me the light!

So I was watching a rerun of The Woodwright’s Shop the other day and on it (as usual) St. Roy was explaining something that I had never heard of, but probably everyone else knows about: how to make super sharp, accurate cross cuts with a saw.  No jigs, no fancy implements of destruction (sadly), just wood, a ruler, a straight edge and a saw.  Well, a pencil, too.  I rewound and watched that little segment over and over about 5 times and nearly screamed “Eureka!” as it dawned on me how simple and logical the process was.

Up till today, I had no use for the technique.  See, we’ve been in our House on the Hill here for about a month or so.  For two weeks after closing, we ripped up floors (linoleum, and two layers of it, really SUCKS) and installed tile and waterproof subfloors (we loooove Ditra), changed out outlets, installed lights and ceiling fans, etc.  In fact, when the plumber came to give us an estimate on how much it would cost to rip out the tub (it was a really screwy postiion, secured in a questionable fashion with inaccessable pipes, and we were just a bit nervous about going at it with our usual DIY bravado), he looked at the prepped subfloor and said, “Man, it looks like Mike Holmes came through here!  I love this Schluter stuff…”  YEah, we were all smiles after that.

But my point is, there wasn’t a lot of woodwork to be done on our limited remodel list of projects (other than trimming door frames to fit tile under).  Then we had trim the bottom of some doors to go over the tile flooring we installed.  Finally.  With the help of my dad and my sad little make-do bench, we rigged up some jigs, used the circular saw and cut the doors with laser precision.  Score one for me—Sara was impressed.  I ended up cutting something like 6 doors.  Roy Underhill’s tip was bouncing around in my head, but I had no use for it yet, so I filed it away.  I had used power tools, but no handsaw work.

Until today.  Finally time to install the transition trim from the tile to the carpet in the bathroom/hallway area upstairs. Image

I decided to put St. Roy to the test.  Most of you more experieneced woodworkers out there are going to laught hat I’m going through all this trouble to document a single cross-cut, but dammit, this made my day and if there’s one person out there who might pick up something, then all the better.  Plus, y’all can laugh at my skills and what I call a “sharp” cut 🙂

Okay.  So, first thing, I measured out the length I needed, 32 1/16″.  Made my mark…and then extended it across the wood using a combination square.


Next  I used a sharp knife to trace the line using the square and made a few nice light passes, just to get a perfect straight line and then start to deepen it.


Then I went a few mm to the waste side of the cut line and made a 45* angle cut with the knife, slicing back towards the original line.  This very quickly popped out (like using a chisel) a thin section of wood.


This left a nice notch in the wood, an angle on the left leading to a straight wall (the original line).Image

Which was the perfect groove for me to put a nice fine-tooth hacksaw into.  The blade was guided perfectly along my line and had nowhere to jump.  It was a nice fit.Image

And the end result was just about the smoothest cut with a saw, straightest, and right on the money (lengthwise) I have ever pulled off!


Now, I’ll have to keep practicing at this, because it took me nearly 10 minutes to get this right (granted, I had to stop and wipe the sweat off because it is just NASTY hot and humid right now) and St. Roy did it in about a minute and a half and he was using something like oak or hickory (where I’m using “guaranteed hardwood”).  But, all things considered, I’m pretty happy!  Now I just have to stain it (oh boy) and install it…


About Steven M. Vaught

A native son of Delaware, now living in Illinois, Steven is a writer, family historian, amateur astronomer, sometimes-gardener, woodworker, father to three wonderful children, husband to a wonderful wife, and caretaker of one cheeky vizsla.
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