Beginners Guide to Cutting Miters

A long, long time ago I did my first baseboard job.  And I’m not too proud to admit I sucked at it. I made a lot of silly newbie mistakes.

The reality is though, that cutting miters on baseboard or other moldings with your miter saw is really not that hard to do.

Here are three simple tips for people new at cutting miters and hopefully I can save you from making a few of the simple mistakes that I made.

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Direction of Miters

In a nutshell, there are two directions a miter can be cut: Inside or Outside.  There can of course be different angles on the corners, but that’s another story.  For now, we’ll just assume that all of your corners are 90° angles.

One of the most common mistakes people make when first cutting miters is cutting the wood at the opposite angle from what you need.  This mistake can be frustrating and wasteful of your wood but it is easy to remember your angles with these simple tricks.

Usually when you are measuring for baseboard, you will go around the room with tape measure, pencil and notepad in hand.  Measure each wall and note down the miter angles for each piece to be cut.  Here is an example:

This example might not make sense quite yet, but don’t worry, it will in a minute.

ic: Inside Corner

  • Measurement

oc: Outside Corner

SIDE NOTE: I know, adding the ‘c’ to each one of these measurements doesn’t really make sense but it’s what I’ve always done. A lot of my tricks I’ve learnt from master finish carpenter Gary Katz as well as others and somehow picked up this odd way of writing it.  Anyways, doesn’t really matter how you write it as long as it’s correct and you understand it.  

So now you head to your miter saw with notepad in hand with all your measurements written down neatly.  One of the biggest problems I have seen with people new to using a miter saw is trying to visualize in their head what direction the saw must be turned to for an outside or inside corner.  Here is a simple tip that I always use and have taught many people.

I’ll explain this a little further if it doesn’t make sense to you.  Let’s say you have an inside miter on the left side of the baseboard.

Place the baseboard on the saw with the left side in the blade area.  Change the miter angle of the saw to 45° to the RIGHT or INTO the piece of wood.  Conversely, if you were cutting an insider miter on the right hand side of the board, you would place your wood on the right and set the saw to 45° to the LEFT or INTO the wood.

See the trick here?  Don’t think of left or right miters, think about whether you are cutting INTO the wood or AWAY from the wood.

Inside Miters First

Here’s another little trick that I picked up rather quickly that will be a large help to beginners.

Let’s say you have a baseboard that has an outside miter on one end and an inside miter on the other.  In this case, ALWAYS cut the inside miter FIRST and here’s why:

If you cut the outside miter first, you have nowhere to hang your tape measure, making it much more difficult to measure and mark the cut on the other end of the board.

Cutting Two Outside Miters

So now you might be asking what to do if your board happens to have two outside miters.  How do I measure the second cut after making my first outside miter cut?

Here’s the trick:

After making your first outside miter, place the board upside down on the miter saw and line up the inside tip of the miter you just cut with the edge of the fence on your saw.  By doing this, you can now hook your tape measure on the edge of the fence and measure down the board to mark your second cut.

Summary

Doing improvements to your home yourself can not only be fulfilling but can save you a lot of money by not hiring out the work to someone else.  It will also increase the value of your home.

Adding new baseboards or moldings to your home is one of the quickest and easiest ways to spruce it up, and as you’ve seen here it isn’t all that hard to do.  Take your time and you’ll be surprised at how quickly the whole process becomes simple to do and understand.

If any of my tips have helped you or if you have other questions on this subject, we’d love to hear from you below.

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