Sawing timber

The first important rule about sawing timber is that you should always saw on the waste side of the cutting line. Where accuracy is vital – as in furniture or shelf making – this means that you should always allow 5mm-10mm waste wood between one piece of timber and the next. For this type of work never be tempted to economize by simply dividing the timber into the required lengths – inaccuracies creep in, compounding as you work down.

Your sawing position is also crucial: get this right and you are well on the way to getting a perfect cut every time. Fig. A shows the correct stance. Note that you should stand slightly ‘sideways on’.

If your timber is at all damp, you can make sawing easier by lightly rubbing over the saw blade with a candle.

Starting the cut

Make sure that your workpiece is firmly held and will not ‘jar’ as you saw. If you are using a bench hook, arrange the workpiece so that as much of it as possible is supported on the bench. Use your free hand to press the timber against the raised lip of the bench hook as you saw.

To start the cut, line up your saw blade against the cutting line and rest it against your thumb. Keeping your thumb still and the saw at the optimum angle of 30 to 45 degrees, make a few short strokes towards you until you have grazed the wood. As you do this, look along the saw blade and keep your face side and face edge cutting lines in view.

As you get into your stroke – that is, start sawing in both directions – try to saw in a ‘bowing’ motion to keep the cut firmly fixed on both cutting lines. Keep the saw at right-angles to the workpiece, to ensure an accurate cut across the timber.

Well into the cut, lengthen your stroke to make as much use of the saw blade as possible. At the same time, bring down the heel of the saw to ensure that you follow the lines on the two visible surfaces. Use short, sharp strokes to stop the undersurface of the wood from fraying as you finish off the cut.

Sawing with the grain

The need to saw a piece of timber lengthways with the grain can usually be avoided, simply by buying the correct-sized timber to start with.

But if long-grain sawing is unavoidable, place the timber or board across two trestles at about knee height. Support the timber with your free hand and knee. Position your body so as to give free movement to your sawing arm with your body weight balanced over the cut.

Use a cross-cut or panel saw for boards up to 15mm thick and for all man-made boards: use a rip saw on heavier timber.

If the timber begins to pinch the saw blade – causing inaccuracies – open up the kerf with thin wedges.

Although the optimum cutting angle for long grain cuts is normally 45 degrees, cut thin sheet material and plastic-faced boards at 10-15 degrees to the workpiece.

If the saw wanders to one side of the line, gently bend the blade back in the opposite direction until correct cutting line is achieved.

Making 45 degree cuts

To make 45 degree cuts quickly and accurately, carpenters use a mitre block or box. These are available quite cheaply from DIY shops and builders’ merchants.

Hold your workpiece firmly against the block as you cut. Rest the block itself against a bench hook or, alternatively, clamp it in a vice.

Always use a backsaw to do the cutting, keeping the blade flatter than usual – although the cut may take longer, you will avoid accidental damage to the box itself.

Hand-sanding timber

Nearly all hand-sanding work should be done with a cork sanding block – available cheaply from most DIY shops. You have a wide choice of woodworking abrasive paper – including Garnet paper, Glass paper and Silicon Carbide to name but a few. But each carries a grading number on the back referring to its grit size, which is a guide to its abrasive pro- perties. Often, there will also be a more general classification – coarse, medium or fine.

Coarse grade paper is too abrasive for most sanding work, so you should rely only on the medium and fine grades. Try out the fine grade paper first and if you find that this works without too much effort, stick to it for the entire job. If you have to use the medium grade paper, remember to finish off with the fine grade.

To economize on abrasive paper, fold each sheet into six, equal-sized rectangles and cut it up. Each rectangle will give you just enough to wrap round the sanding block.

The key to sanding along the length of a piece of timber is to use long, uniform strokes – keeping with the grain at all times. Short strokes tend to create hollows and ridges.

Always start by smoothing down the four edges, keeping your paper flat on the bench. This will stop them from fraying as you block-sand the rest of the grain.

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