Use Stop Blocks; They're Dead-on
When you begin a woodworking project and start to move through it, you’ll often come to a number of pieces that need to be cut to the exact lengths. Drawer dividers and shelves are the best examples.
There are a number of ways to cut these pieces. The one that pops into most minds is to cut or trim the end, measure from that end to the size required, then position the stock at the saw to make the second cut.
That works fine for a single piece , but when you do these steps for a number of pieces, you’re apt to mark the measurement incorrectly or miss the layout line with the saw blade at some time. Either problem results in different lengths in the finished cuts. That’s not good.
I also see many woodworkers attempting to group their pieces and make one cut for many pieces of stock. This, too, is not an acceptable method because the chances of any one piece sliding are high. Not only that, but often the pieces won’t be square to the fence or the ends won’t be flush to one another, and the cuts will be off.
So, you need to find a method to make repeated cuts that bypasses these problems. That method is to use a stop block. A stop block is attached to a fence, or some other part of the woodworking tool, so the end of a board can butt to the stop block, which achieves a repeatable, exact cutting length.
What woodworking tool do you choose? For years, I used my table saw and a sliding panel-cutting jig to make this type of cut. Then, I moved a miter saw into my shop. From that day on I have made all my crosscuts , at least those that are less in width than my saw will cut , on the miter saw. It’s a safe tool that was designed with this type of cut in mind.
How is the miter saw safe for this operation? Simple. You’re working with stock that is surfaced on all four sides (S4S) therefore there is a straight edge of stock fitting tightly to the saw’s fence. The blade is above the stock and as it is introduced to the material, the spinning blade pushes the stock down to the table of the saw and also back against the fence. Everything is snug and fit without any movement of the stock, except from side to side , that’s the woodworker’s responsibility.
Now that we know the best tool for the task begin by squaring one end of each of the pieces that you need to cut to the specific length. Even if they are different widths the setup is the same , the length is what we are going for with this method.
Take the first piece and measure from the squared end to the length that is needed. Mark the stock. I like to mark my pieces with the point of an arrow. This stems from my days in the homebuilding industry.
Next, align the point of the arrow with the left side of the miter-saw blade while the majority of the stock is set to the left of the saw. Look at the saw blade. Generally, one tooth will point to the right, one to the left. Pick one that points to the left to set to the mark. If possible, clamp the stock in position or, at minimum, hold it to keep it from moving. Then, slide a scrap (the stop block) against the squared end of your piece and secure that to your fence or table.
Test the setup by cutting the first piece of stock to length. If the measurement is dead-on, you’re ready to complete the remaining cuts. If need be, make slight adjustments to the stop-block position and check the cut a second time. (Of course this can only be done on stock that is too long after the initial cut, so be right or be long.) Once the setup is accurate, it’s a matter of sliding the squared end of each piece of stock tight to the stop block and making the cut.
There are a couple pitfalls to watch for while cutting with a stop block. First, always make sure that the stop block is firmly attached to the fence or table. If the block slides even the smallest distance, your cuts will vary in length. Second , and this one’s the hardest to remember , as you continue to cut pieces there is a possibility that sawdust will gather at the stop block. If that dust prohibits your stock from making contact with the stop block, there will be variations in the cut lengths. Make sure to keep the area clean and free from dust or chips.
Also, after you make the first cut there sometimes are small fuzzy ends of wood still attached to your stock. If these ends get folded back against the stock and get sandwiched between the stop block and the stock, it will affect the cut as well.
From the first cut to the last, no matter how many pieces are in between, you’ll get consistent lengths if you adopt this method.