In Chris Schwarz Blog, Sawing Techniques, Saws

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Of all the power tools I own, I think my scariest, oops-I-crapped-my-pants moments have been with a power miter saw.

When knocking down rough stock, miter saws have a tendency to “armadillo” , or leap straight out of the cut, sometimes kicking your work around. This happens when the stock pinches on the blade, which can occur for a variety of reasons (some of which are impossible to control).

Also, when mitering small pieces, the waste piece can be shot around like a bullet, even with all the safety equipment engaged.

While I still use my Makita miter saw, I do so sparingly. Nowadays I rough out my stock using handsaws and sawbenches. I have yet to have a handsaw kick back at me.

And for mitering, I turn to my No. 16-1/2 Langdon Mitre Box, which I bought about five years ago for $125. I overpaid, but I don’t care. This saw in some cases replaces even my table saw to crosscut small parts.

The box cuts more than 4″-wide at 90Ã?°. And it will miter a 3″-wide piece. As a result, making face frames and doors is a snap with this tool. And the quality of its cut is tremendous. It’s not as glass smooth as that from a table saw, but it’s good enough for a tight joint.

I also like the saw because it’s safe enough for my daughter Katy to use it.

In fact, I’ve used this tool so much that the 16″ backsaw that came with it (made by Simonds) is now filed too short to work with the miter box. It’s used up. (Right now I have a 14″ English carcase saw in the box. I need to replace that because 14″ is too short.)

The good news is that you can replace the saw with another vintage saw, or even a new one from Lie-Nielsen or Adria or another manufacturer. As long as the saw’s back is no thicker than 3/8″ you’ll be OK.

These mitre boxes can be tough to buy on eBay. Essential parts are missing. They might be ragged out. They cost a bunch to ship. I’ve found the best place to buy them is at tool swaps, such as those run by the Mid-West Tool Collector’s Association. Or from tool dealers.

– Christopher Schwarz

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Showing 23 comments
  • Decided to post about my own miter box, a lowly Craftsman. Or is it so lowly?


  • Shannon Brown

    While I agree that power miter boxes are a pain, but I replaced mine with a 10" radial arm saw. I honestly feel RAS are one of the most under rated tools ever. I love mine. Ok love is a bit much, but I really like it.

    I do own a modern miter box. It’s good, but I liked the old ones better. The thin blades on the new ones tend to bend and deflect too much.

  • To avoid those little wood missiles for my students I screw a piece of mdf to the fence and cut through it to provide a zero clearance plate. I also emphasize to my students that they must wait for the blade to stop before lifting the saw.

  • Matthew Given

    I agree! Love my Stanley #358 with huge Diston saw. Use it all the time instead of table saw.

  • gdblake

    I lucked into a Miller Falls Langdon miterbox a year ago while doing construction management in Terre Haute, IN. It is a size 2 model 72. The saw that came with it is a 22" Disston. I had the saw hand sharpened as soon as I got it home. Very sweet setup. Smooth cuts, very accurate (way more than my Dewalt compound mitersaw), and of course, quiet. Paid $47.50 plus $15 to get the saw sharpened. It’s one of those tools you wonder how you did without for 30+ years.


  • Mark

    I’ll hop on the bandwagon here: the old MF Langdon Acme Mitre boxes rock. Mine is a pristine 75C with a 30" Simonds saw I used quite extensively for the cutoffs and shoulder cuts when I built my Roubo four years ago–and just like others have posted, my Makita miter saw has gathered dust ever since. I’ve also discovered that the smaller miter boxes made by Stanley, Millers Falls, Dunlap and others with the hoop frame for the saw and wooden base work quite well for quick cuts on smaller stock. I like using the Veritas/Lee Valley bench dog system to stabilize my big miter box. Just flatten a thick chunk of wood to screw the box legs onto, and use the bench dogs to secure the slab it to your benchtop (the bench dog system also works well with the smaller boxes with no need for a slab). Cheers ~ Mark

  • Ed Furlong

    I love these mitre boxes! I have a Standley w/ 28" back saw, and I used it for a lot of exterior carpentry as well as more fine work.

    Chris I like the fact that you mounted your mitre box to a nice base. I’m inspired to do the same this weekend! Mine has a scarred old base that could use upgrading.

  • Ok a bit of a rant…First I have yet "while paying attention" ever had a kick back with a power mitre saw. Mine’s an older Makita. 2nd my cats think the power cord is a chew toy, so not only do I have to pay attention while using it I have to check the cord each time before using it to avoid a shower of sparks, and the nitwit at Makita that designed the handle/cord area was a sadist. Best time on replacing the power cord (3 times and counting) 3 hours. Last but not least I have two mitre boxes and the one I use the most is an old Stanley with a beautiful Disston saw. I made the mistake of having it sharpened locally. The front 2"-3"s of this saw has no teeth. (____/\/\/\ The metal here is even with the bottom of the teeth. I explained to the guy don’t mess this up! Sure no problem…\/\/\/\ Next time it goes to Bad Axe. I do agree with the cut results, mine are just as good as the power saw maybe a little better. The noise, dust and little fingers are none, less and much safer.

  • Josh B

    I picked up a Stanley #150 mitre box a couple years ago, sadly missing it’s original companion saw. Found a 26" Warren and Ted Superior mitre box saw to use with it some time later. I really lucked out with the saw, which turned out to be virtually unused, which was a blessing because the teeth only needed a light touch up instead of reshaping which at 12ppi would be 26 inches of agony 😉

    Using the box is a pure joy, with the saw sharp it cuts clean crisp miters that require very little clean up. I’ve used it a lot for cutting molding to apply to case pieces.



  • Roger Nixon

    Chris, email me. I have a Langdon saw (no mitre box)I can give you.

  • Darnell Hagen

    Re: Lee Valleys Swedish Nomex mitre box- I’ve used the smallest and the largest. The smallest’s clamp is a screw activated arm, and is a pain to have to switch from side to side, and it doesn’t hold the saw up while positioning stock. The largest is a much better tool, but the clamps are fragile, I broke one. The blades on both are impulse hardened, they need to be replaced when dull.
    I snagged a Stanley 2246A for $20 a year ago, I would’ve paid twice that for the saw, a beautiful 26" x 4" that I would guess is Disston made.
    I do trim work every now and then, and like to use my mitre box. The lack of noise and dust is appreciated by my clients.
    I’ve asked Lie-Nielsen to consider making one. If anyone else thinks this is a good idea, please let them know.


  • Ethan

    I recently found my Stanley 358A on Craig’s List (and just 10 minutes from my house) for $35. The saw is a 28" Disston replacement, so it doesn’t have the hang clip on the end of the saw blade and it is missing the 5th foot. But those two things aside, it is in great and otherwise complete condition.

    I really like the way you mounted it to a thick board and then just clamp it to the bench top when in use. Hope you don’t mind if I steal that idea…

  • James Watriss

    I had a customer who was a full time finish carpenter, and this was all he used for cutting trim. Because the buildings in and around the Boston Metro area are so old, nothing is really square or straight or plumb anymore. So he had no need for a saw that can repeatedly cut a proper 45 or 90 degree angle. And, lacking that, he had a similar lack of desire for a tool that weighed a lot more, and was harder to move around indoors, particularly in places like the Beacon Hill area, which is famous for its beautiful old buildings that have narrow, windy staircases.

    (There are companies that specialize in cutting couches in half, and reconstructing them in people’s apartments, because that’s pretty much the only way to get them moved into Beacon Hill apartments.)

    Last but not least, with a sharpened saw, it really doesn’t take any more time, or much more effort, to use an old school miter saw.

    I was convinced…

  • Casey Gooding

    I have recently been using my Millers Falls mitre box pretty much exclusively lately. I picked it up locally for $20 (maybe less). A little sharpening and it was ready to go. Works beautifully and the settings are right on. I just wish I had a dedicated place for it.

  • Gary Roberts

    Yup… I wholeheartedly agree. I have one of those sweet little Langdon mitre boxes, picked up at Brimfield years ago. It’s by and far my favorite. The original saw I never used. It’s just too much a shame to file it down to nothing. I’ve been using a replacement Atkins Silver Steel and I wouldn’t give up the mitre box or the saw for any reason.


  • Bjenk

    I have been looking for one for quite awhile. I should ask Tony if he has seen one.

  • Rob

    I agree with your assessment Chris. My Bosch compound miter saw sees very little action since I found a mint Millers Falls Langdon-Acme at a garage sale for $10. It included the original 28" Disston saw with MF etching. I had the saw sharpened up and it works like a charm. I’ll save the CMS for heavier chores like building decks. The Neander approach suits my shop better.


    This looks like a nice one Chris-
    I found an old Stanley No. 116 at a local yard sale for $15.00 last year. It’s Canadian made and not quite as fancy as this one but really does a great job.
    As far as miters on a chop saw I couldn’t agree more-back in the set building days it was always something that came with a pant load of fear- 😉

  • Adrian

    How does this compare to the Swedish miter saw that Lee Valley sells? (I have one of them, and it seems to work pretty well, though I sometimes have trouble with the workpiece moving during the cut.)

  • Josh

    I just acquired a Atkins model with a 26" back saw for $30. Freshly sharpened it does a great job.

  • Dana

    My grandfathers big old langdon miter box that’s sititng in cabinet in the basement has a tiny 28 Inch backsaw. of course its duller than snot. 🙁

  • Christopher Schwarz

    I am using the Benchcrafted tail vise. Those just happen to be the dogs that were handy.

    Still need to review those….


  • Joe Frucci

    So, is that one of the new Veritas bench dogs I see? Why wouldn’t you just snug it down with your Benchcrafted vice?


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