Help with cross-cutting technique/tools

Welcome! Forums Project Series Dovetail Boxes Help with cross-cutting technique/tools

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    Hey guys. I’m new to Woodworking and just joined the site (which looks awesome btw).

    I’m starting with the Dovetail Boxes project since it looks like it’s the easiest one.

    I’ve a very basic question for you, when I’m cross-cutting timber I can’t get the cut to be straight/square. It always has the tendency to get far away from me as I go down. I go really slow, using the weight of the saw and cutting with the knife those walls as Paul suggests and focus on always having the saw square as I move it but I’m not happy with the results, the cut is clean but not square at all. I guess I can fix it afterwards but I’m wondering If you have any tips for me so I can improve my cuts.

    I also should say that I don’t have a dovetail saw and it seems I probably won’t be able to get one in my country. I’m attaching a picture that shows some test cuts and the saws I used, they are very sharp but maybe they are too big for the job or require more skill to handle but since I’ve never used those smaller back saws I really don’t know.

    Any advice on how to improve my technique, comments on my tools or links are very much appreciated.


    Practice practice practice!

    I don’t think the cuts don’t look that bad, they just need to be cleaned up. You should look into building a shooting board to help square up the ends. I believe Paul has a video on shooting boards here.

    Btw, you have come to the right place to learn how to work wood! I wish I would’ve found this site when I started out in this hobby.

    As far as tools go, I would search Paul Srllars blog on his recommendations. If I knew about his blog I would’ve saved a ton of money.

    Other than that, keep at it!


    First of all, welcome!

    the first part of making nice straight cuts is the knife wall, sounds like you’ve got that down. Almost *any* saw will cut; some are just better than others.

    I’m far from an expert, or even very experienced, but one thing that helps me is to make a vertical line down the side of the board as well…helps me keep the saw in line.

    Another thing that may help is to move both your entire body and your perspective slightly in the same direction that your cuts tend to wander.

    And lastly, like anything else, practice, practice, practice.

    Hopefully some of the other guys can offer a little more than this, but I hope it helps.

    David Gill

    Hi Gonz
    Welcome to the site, I find as long as I produce a knife wall on all 4 sides and then saw to length leaving a witness of the knife cut I can plane down to the line usually using a shooting board

    Wigan, Lancs. England :


    Hey Joseph (@admin), this gives me an idea for a video series you or Paul could do on “Correcting common beginner mistakes”. Have you got any tips for crosscuts that go offline has the cut goes down?

    Robin ... Richmond, Virginia, USA


    Hi Gonz
    One thing that helped me was to watch the reflection of the wood in the saw. When it runs continues through the saw plate you are square in all planes.

    Dont hold the saw to tight, the tighter you hold it the more it will go of line.

    Mark Armstrong

    Welcome Gonz
    The saws you show in picture look a little aggressive the Stanley not ideal but probably the best to use out of what you have.
    Use knife all sides.
    Grip stance all quite important as mentioned above by other members. I was taught to put your nose inline with the back of the saw.
    Like David says above if you are doing dovetails you need to use a shooting board to get ends perfectly square. Paul has a video on how to make shooting board on this site. A good little project and a very handy tool to have.

    Dagenham, Essex, England

    Philip Adams

    Sounds like a good idea @robinhc, I will see what Paul thinks.

    A couple of pieces of advice re sawing:
    Double check you are dropping your hand as you are crosscutting like Paul does, it should help you keep in line with your knifewall. If you start to go out of square on any cut, try stopping and going back up the cut to where you where square and saw lightly to get it back on track. Once you have done a certain amount you will find yourself getting more an more accurate, don’t worry.
    Hope that helps.

    I work alongside Paul to plan and produce the videos for Woodworking Masterclasses


    Guys, thank you for all your tips and welcome messages, to be honest I wasn’t sure if I should open this thread or not, since maybe my question was “too basic”. I’m happy I did post it 🙂 I’ll look into making a shooting board and of course keep practicing.

    Paul Sellers

    All too often, Gonz, I find that there are issues surrounding the saws and especially lower end intro saws. It’s a strange thing that some less expensive and even disposable saws, panel saws for instance, can knock the socks of expensive handsaws. For instance I used a panel saw made by a well known but relatively new to saw making maker and was extremely disappointed because I expected more from a $150 panel saw. I then went to a Bahco panel saw that cost £9 and it cut like a dream. What was the difference. Well, the plate of the US saw was too thin and buckled with each forward thrust and and wobbled with each pull. The Bahco saw cut a pristine cut. On another occasion I bought a Two Cherries saw made in Germany for the US company Robert Larsen supplier that turned out to be over set with the worst punched-out teeth I ever encountered. It produced terrible work no matter how I used the saw and anyone using it would or could think it was them not the saw. The difference between Bahco and the US maker was that Bahco saws are throwaway saws, which are fine if you use them on laminates and kitchen tops made from pressed fibre board or other manmade boards. I like saws for life, not disposables.
    It’s highly likely that what you are encountering is overset teeth, a lightweight saw and a little over self expectation. Relax (psychologically and physiologically), press a little harder to compensate for the thin steel back and if necessary remove some of the set by tapping the teeth between two hammers doing both sides. This will leave exactly the right amount of set if you don’t hit too hard.

    Paul Sellers

    Also, Gonz, here on this forum, the only dumb question is the one that’s never asked. I am amazed and impressed by the standards the contributors make in ensuring a helpful and none-judgemental answer comes forth. Also, the hardest question to answer, I find, is the one that’s never asked.

    John Purser

    Thanks Gonz. I’ve suddenly started having trouble sawing even CLOSE to square vertically (I’m okay horizontally thanks to the knife wall) and while I think I found one of my problems (the boards weren’t horizontal because my bench was on a slope. My cut was “vertical” but the board wasn’t horizontal so the result was out of square) the answers you received here tell me there’s more to sawing square than I appreciated yet.

    John Purser
    Hubert, NC


    Hi Gonz, Thanks for asking this question. I am having similar issues with some saws I bought on ebay, and I wasn’t sure if it was the saw or me causing issues in how straight I can cut (still not sure really). The saw I tested always cuts to the left of my knife wall no matter what I seem to do. With all the advice in this thread, I now have a ton of things to check and hopefully I can get to the bottom of this whether by fixing myself of the saw itself.

    I can manage to cut straight most of the time with the veritas dovetail saw I bought new, so I am thinking I need to check the set and sharpness of the ebay saws in addition to practicing to get good straight cuts. Thanks for bringing this up and all the advice that came with the question should prove very helpful to me, and all the others that come along and read it after.

    -Tim Anderson, UT, USA

    Charles Cleland

    One thing I have done is follow this advice, works really well to reduce the set evenly as I don’t have a very fine saw set. I just use a small bench vise with two plates of smooth steel I had left over from another project.

    Get a Consistent Set on Your Saw With Paper

    After trying out a Lie-Nielsen thin plate tenon saw a couple of weeks ago, which I liked very much, I took a pair of calipers to the plates of a couple of home store miter saws I had hanging up. Finding one that was about 0.023″, slightly over the LN’s 0.020″, I filed the stock teeth off as they were poorly stamped and ridiculously over set. I then refiled the teeth in at 11 points per inch, sharpened per Paul’s progressive rake method, and set the saw. After using the vise trick above, I couldn’t be happier with the way this saw cuts. Of course the handle is much too large, and I think the steel is a bit soft, but it will work for now with frequent re-sharpening.

    Washington State, USA
    My own humble blog:


    I just cut the ends off of my benchtop. While sawing I realized I start cuts at the corner and cut two sides at the same time. I will be cutting the top and the side. I am not explaining it very well. I start at the edge where the top meets the side and saw down into both k ife walls at the same time.

    Robin ... Richmond, Virginia, USA

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