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Make a Miter Saw Work Station: Part 1

No matter how much or how little you invest in a miter saw, the quality and enjoyment of your work will depend more on your saw stand than on the miter saw itself.

A miter saw stand is more than just a place to set your saw—it’s a work station.

Manufactured stands are available that are easy to set up, transport, and store, but if you’re working at your home, in a couple hours, with $50 or $60 in material, you can make your own. In this chapter, I’ll show you how.

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Chapter 1: Part 1

A serial publication of excerpts from Trim Made Simple by Gary Katz

Training techniques for apprentice carpenters and serious DIYers

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(Note: Click any image to enlarge. Hit "back" button to return to article.)

Trim carpentry depends almost entirely on cutting clean tight miters at precise angles and measurements. You can cut miters in most small moldings with a miter box and hand saw, but for large profiles, especially tall baseboard and crown molding, a power miter saw is the only way to go. Because power miter saws are now so affordable, anyone with an interest in carpentry should own one. If you’re changing the moldings in your home, at the very least, consider renting one.

But there’s no need to drain your savings account for the best saw. No matter how much or how little you invest in a miter saw, the quality and enjoyment of your work will depend more on your saw stand than on the miter saw itself.

Why you need a saw stand

A miter saw stand is more than just a place to set your saw—it’s a work station. The stand must have continuous extension wings, so you can support different lengths of material. It must have a clean flat surface, with a lip for clamping material. And the ends of the extension wings should be crisp and square, so they can be used for measuring.

Manufactured stands are available that are easy to set up, transport, and store, but if you’re working at your home, in a couple hours, with $50 or $60 in material, you can make your own. In this chapter, I’ll show you how. Along the way, I’ll demonstrate how to use a variety of finish carpentry tools.

Tools

1. Tape measure, for measuring: A stiff 1 in. x 25 ft. tape is best for finish work.
2. Cordless drill for drilling holes and driving screws.
3. Counter Sink bit, Phillips driver, & square driver, for drilling counter sunk holes and driving screws.
4. Clamps for securing material while working with tools.
5. Pocket Hole Jig for cutting pocket holes—the fastest method for precise joinery.
6. Miter saw for cutting moldings and millwork.
7. Carpenter’s Square for marking and measuring boards and trim.

Material List:

1. 1 x 16 x 8 pine or fir or plywood board, for the base of the miter-saw stand.

2. 1 x 12 x 8 Top pine or fir or plywood board for the top extensions wings on the miter-saw stand.

3. 1 x 4 x 8 pine or fir supports, ripped to the exact height of your miter saw minus 3/4 in.

Measuring, cutting, and drilling

This miter saw stand (see photo, right; click to enlarge) is made from three main parts. Only one needs to be cut precisely. The base and top can be cut to any length and width, but the supports must be ripped to exactly the right height.

If the material you’re using for the top extension wings is 3/4 in. thick, then make the supports exactly the height of your miter saw table, minus 3/4 in. If you don’t have a table saw, or can’t make these rips yourself, have your local material supplier rip a piece of 1×4 or 1×6 to that width. You’ll be able to cut all the pieces needed from one 8-ft. board.

Be patient with yourself while working on the projects in this book. While building this miter saw stand remember that craftsmanship depends on the process as much as the finished product.

Step-By-Step Instructions

1. Center the saw on the base. Set the 1×16 on top of a pair of saw horses, then place the saw in the center. Measure from both ends to center the saw.
2. Use blocks to support your workpiece. Once the stand is finished, you won’t need blocks, but for now, stack up a few blocks so the 1x support board rests flat on the miter saw.
3. Cut 6 support pieces. The support pieces should be 10-12 in. long. You may have to slide the stack of blocks forward as you cut the supports.
4. Mark repetitive stop line. After cutting the first support, and before moving it from the saw, mark a pencil line at the far end on the miter saw fence.
5. Move workpiece to line and cut. After each cut, slide the board to the pencil line and make the next cut. All the supports should be exactly the same length.

Use a miter saw safely and accurately

Power miter saws are loud, sharp, and frightening. They’re dangerous if they’re not used correctly. Make precise cuts on your saw safely by following the four tips below, plus others that I’ll be including in later chapters.

1. Protect your hands. Never place your hands closer to the blade than the ends of the miter saw fence. Hold your fingers against the fence so your hand won’t move, then wrap your thumb over the work piece.
2. Protect your eyes and ears. Miter saws are loud, so always wear ear protection. Sometimes miter saws shoot out small pieces of molding at extremely high speed, so always wear eye protection, too!
3. Make precise cuts. Always make your first cut a practice cut, wide of the measurement mark. Once you’ve located the exact position of the blade on the board, use your thumb to creep the measurement mark slowly toward the saw blade.
4. Split the pencil line. With your hand locked against the miter saw fence, you can position the measurement mark precisely where the blade cuts. For the best accuracy, try to split the pencil line in half. Always let the blade stop before lifting the motor.

(In Part 2 we’ll finish up the miter saw stand and share some tips for souping up your saw.)

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THISisSafety

Please don’t try anything you see in THISisCarpentry, or anywhere else for that matter, unless you’re completely certain that you can do it safely.

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Comments/Discussion

23 Responses to “Make a Miter Saw Work Station: Part 1”

  1. 3pinner

    I built something similar years ago to transport from job to job.
    I took a 3′ x 6′ sheet of plywood, mounted the saw in the center, then made the outriggers so that they were removable. Added Kreg saw stops on the outriggers.
    The 3 x 6 table is supported on heavy duty folding table legs. Saw and outriggers have tee nuts underneath so I can quickly bolt the beast together. It all fits in the van with room to haul materials.

    Reply
  2. wdwrkr88

    I think every trim carpenter worth his salt has always looked at all the miter saw stands on the market, with prices in the hundreds of dollars, and thought, heck, all I need is a sheet of plywood and a couple of saw horses. My own designs have evolved over the years, but I’ve yet to see the commercial stand that comes close to the portability and versatility of my shop built one. Good article!

    Reply
    • Gary Katz

      While I haven’t used a stand like that on a jobsite for years–I prefer one that connects the side of my saw is an is more portable, it’s a great alternative and I know a lot of carpenters that, like I once did, carry them around in the back of their trucks or on their lumber racks. And yes, there are advantages to using saw horses and a solid stand like this on a jobsite. The reason I wrote the article is because I’m a firm believer is the necessity of having a miter saw work station with full extension wings. You can’t do good work without full extension wings, you can’t enjoy yourself, and you can’t work quickly. And this stand is, as you’ve suggested, not only a good way to start, it’s the way a lot of carpenters perfer to work. And it’s easy to build.

      Reply
      • wdwrkr88

        I agree. I build the main stand at about 5′ in length, then build extension wings with folding legs that clamp or screw to the main table on either side. I can easily support a 16′piece of MDF base or casing. Also, when working on a staircase, I can lay a 6′x 12″ piece of plywood on the horses in front of the saw and I have a handy work table for laying out those pesky easing cuts.

        Reply
  3. wdwrkr88

    One other note, one thing that I’ve always found is that by using sawhorses and leaving them extend 12″ or so in front of the saw stand, I have a place to set a bundle of base, casing, or a long piece of handrail.

    Reply
  4. Michael

    “Training techniques for apprentice carpenters and serious DIYers”

    Does this line refer to the book itself or to this series of articles?

    Reply
    • Gary Katz

      Both, actually. The department we’ve created is meant to fulfill that need, and the book I wrote for Taunton: Trim Made Simple, which we’ll be taking excerpts from to get this department started—that book is focused on the same audience and purpose—training.
      Gary

      Reply
  5. Sternberg

    It is too low. I raised mine up to 40″ and my backaches went away.
    It is also going to bow in the middle over time, and need replaced unless that single 1x gets supported some how.
    I built a box section 8″ tall our of plywood, and 18″ front to back. It usually sets on my 4′ fold up scaffold’s second rail from the top. It is 8′ long. It has room for a drawer below the saw to hold blades and tools. It also has 36″ bottomless drawers on each end on slides, so I can slide those out and use them as supports for sticks up to about 12′ without needing any other support.
    The bottom of the carcase is very much skeletonized to save weight, so I can get it in and out of the truck by myself.
    The carcase is also glued with urea formaldehyde so the glue joint will not creep and sag.
    I think Mr. Katz is great, but I have seen too many people go down this road is giving us his map too.

    Reply
    • Gary Katz

      This is not the stand I use on jobsites, though it’s similar to one I used to use. This is a stand I recommend for folks who work primarily in their garage/home shop. It’s light enough to move alone, and suits most purposes. In part 2 of this story, you’ll see that it also has a rudimentary repetitive stop. I included this stand in the Trim Made Simple book, published by Taunton a year ago, because I believe that anyone who want to learn how to do nice finish work, and anyone who wants to really enjoy the process, needs to have a stand with continuous wings. This is a first step for any serious carpenter. Today I use a portable fold-up stand and have for over twenty years, which is much more elaborate and more difficult to build, but it takes up far less space and is easier to carry. We’ll soon be publishing a story by another carpenter, Larmar Horton, who built a cracker-jack portable miter saw stand, all from wood. Look for that story in a couple more weeks.
      Gary

      Reply
  6. jack wilson

    I saw Gary’s road show today and the stand he used was much simpler and, (it looked to me) much more portable. Why the difference?

    Reply
    • Gary Katz

      Jack,
      You’re right. Read the comment I left for Sternberg.

      Reply
  7. brad owen

    Gary,

    Thanks for sharing ideas with so many of us younger, hungry carpenters.

    I have made two miter saw tables using a 14″ by 16 foot I- joist.

    They are arrow straight, light, and they were taking up space in our company storage area.

    Reply
  8. David Tuttle

    I have to ditto what Gary says, I’ve been using the Steel and Aluminum stand Lamar refers to for years and I don’t understand how any “professional” could ever think of working with out solid wings. Lamar’s set up is now published and it is very sweet, and looks more “custom Kool” than my metal set up.

    Reply
  9. Jim McCorison

    Great looking stand and a good article, with one exception. You state “For the best accuracy, try to split the pencil line in half.” The sentence is a little confusing, especially for a beginner. I know what you mean, and you know what you mean, but a beginning reader may not. I think it would be best if you stated that the edge of the blade on the good side of the board (as opposed to the off-cut) should split the pencil line leaving a shadow of the line on the good side. Or something like that. I’m sure you can word it a lot better than I did.

    After all, no matter how experienced, we all still periodically leave the line on the wrong side of the cut. Usually on expensive trim. Usually on your last cut without enough extra to cut a new piece.

    Reply
  10. Jack Baker

    Dear Gary,
    I really appreciate that you’ve made this plan available online in addition to print format. I’m a literature professor who has picked up woodworking as a hobby this past year, and one of the things I realized very early on was that making cuts on my miter saw was going to be a great challenge unless I had a stand. Thankfully, I found this site and had a friend who gave me a good deal of free wood to get me started, so I just built my stand according to your plans for no cost. I’ll be adding the fence and repetitive stop guard later. Perhaps I’ll cantilever the stand to the wall–I’m less concerned with portability and more concerned with stability. Any thoughts on how best to attach this stand to the wall?

    Blessings!
    Jack

    Reply
    • Gary Katz

      Jack,
      I’m glad you made one of these ‘starter’ stands. Honestly, a miter saw is worthless without a stand, and continuous wings make a huge difference in easy of use, quality of cuts, and enjoyment. Yes, they’re a little more awkward to carry around, especially a full length table like yours, but I did it for years, on the top of my lumber racks, and was always glad to have it.

      Mounting the stand to a wall is very easy. Just attach a cleat to the wall that is ripped to the I.D. (inside dimension) of the stand–so that it fits inside between the top and bottom bed. Make a few corbels or brackets from plywood. Mount the corbels to pieces of 1×4, fastening through the back, so you can fasten through the face of the corbel-cleats into a few studs beneath the stand. Piece of cake.
      Gary

      Reply
  11. Jack Baker

    Thanks for the ideas Gary. I went ahead and made the corbel system out of some spare plywood and 2×4′s I had around. One of the things I’m also learning as a new woodworker is that my ideas seem to be good, but my thought process is sometimes off a bit:) I built the first corbel at 16″ because this is the size of the bottom plank of the stand–what I didn’t account for was the dust collection orifice on the back of my saw. If I made the other two corbels at 16″, I would have only had a few inches of material to screw through the stand into the corbels. So I made the other two at 21 1/2″; adjusting for the 3 1/2″ of wall 2×4′s, I then had 16″ more inches. I slid the stand out enough for my saw to balance just fine on the corbels and screwed in from the top of the bottom plank of the stand. It is solid and leaves a very small footprint.

    I made my first project yesterday and was blown away by how streamlined and precise the cuts were. Surely there are many more people who have built this stand but just haven’t commented…I’ve reposted your link to facebook and told many of my DIY-er friends about the plans as well.

    Reply
  12. George Ruckstuhl

    Good article, thanks. Has anyone noticed any of the plywood moving/warping, particularly the top wings that run wild on the ends from being in a garage that is not allways heated.

    Reply
    • Gary Katz

      Zach,
      I thought I mentioned that in the article, but I’d suggest taking a piece of 1×4 and pocket screwing it on edge to the extension wings, in both directions, and using that 1×4 to clamp stops to.
      Gary

      Reply

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