Beginner - making accurate 90 degree cuts by hand

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Hi, I'm making a housing for an electronic musical instrument - basically a box, sloping down from back to front, with a metal faceplate on top instead of a lid. I'm using black walnut. I want to use what I think are called box joints or finger joints to join the four side pieces. I've marked up my pieces, and I did the same on some scraps and tried cutting joints as a test. Now I'm doing this by hand with a basic dovetail saw, as I don't have a table saw, and I don't see how to make sure that I'm cutting straight, and perpendicular to the top edge.
In my test, I tried clamping two pieces together, offsetting them by the width of the saw blade, and cutting into the waste sections, so doing both pieces at the same time. The cuts were often not straight enough.
Two problems: 1. Marking up. The vertical edge of my piece of wood is cut by hand, so it won't always be exactly square to the bottom horizontal edge. So if I use a 90 degree square from the vertical edge to mark up the horizontal join cuts, they won't always be exactly parallel with bottom edge. 2. It's difficult to cut in a straight line!
Any tips? Should I be using a saw guide of some kind? I have a feeling I will get better results just cutting one piece of wood at a time, instead of trying the two clamped together trick.
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A saw guide would make it quite a bit easier. Here's a few workable but cheaper ones. The price goes up from there. http://www.leevalley.com/wood/page.aspx?c=1&pR321&cat=1,42884 http://www.leevalley.com/wood/page.aspx?c=1&pQ155&cat=1,42884 http://www.leevalley.com/wood/page.aspx?c=1&pR366&cat=1,42884 http://www.leevalley.com/wood/page.aspx?c=1&pQ869&cat=1,42884
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snipped-for-privacy@gmail.com writes:

You have two choices - by machine or by hand.
The cheapest "machine" jig for making box joints I know is a router and a set of templates. It's about $25 by Woodhaven:
http://www.woodhaven.com/SearchResult.aspx?CategoryID%2
You also need a router bit and guide bushings.
If you do it by hand, then you will need to practice. You need to learn how to draw a thin line, and saw so you just follow that line exactly.
Also make sure all ends are square and parallel.
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I have a handheld router, but I thought I would need to invest in a router table to do this. I'll look into the options.
Squaring off is pretty difficult when you're using a handsaw. I think this was one of the main problems with my test run.
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beatbox wrote:

That's what saw guides are for. Not to mention low angle block planes.
You might want to give up on the box joint idea until you are able to get an end that is square in all directions. First things first IOW...
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If you have a hand held router you should look into a template. You can then do box joints or dovetails.
Here is the cheapest template system I could find http://www.rockler.com/product.cfm?Offerings_ID !14
But this is probably better but $130 http://www.woodcraft.com/family.aspx?familyidR79

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Thanks all, useful ideas in there...
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22g2000hsm.googlegroups.com:
<snip>

A decent router table can be made, for at least many uses, from a piece of good, flat plywood. Drill a hole large enough for the bit, and screw the router to the ply, with the bit extended through. Set it on sawhorses, a Workmate, or screw it to a workbench...
Lots of the kitchen cabinet folks use such tables in the field all the time. Upside: cheap, portable, quick to make. Downside: chip collection.
A fence can be as simple as a straight piece of stock clamped where it needs to be.
I've done this with a Porter Cable 69x series router, and it works well.
<back to your regular programming>
Patriarch
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Thanks, I think I will try this at some point.
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The way this box jig works, you need some spaced blocks, and clamp and route both ends at the same time. There is a offset you need for one of the boards, to make sure the joint lines up.
I think I used a backing board out of pieces of plywood, some spacer blocks, and four clamps.
I seem to recall that when I bought this, there was a complete set including router bit, guide bushing, etc. for something like $50.
But I don't see this option any more om the web page. The picture shows the setup
http://www.woodhaven.com/Images/Category/BoxJointTemplates.jpg
But it's a thumbnail. :-(
Perhaps you can call them for more info.
But I think this is one of the cheapest machined box jig you can get. (You CAN make your own.....)
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For a nice straight edge on a hand cut board cut the board by hand about 1/8" long. Use a framing square to clamp a straight edge perpendicular to the long edge of the lumber. Use your router with a straight bit to trim the cut edge to a perfectly straight end.
For box joints get an adjustable dovetail jig.
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Or take a couple of classes and learn to cut them square by hand. Three days at Homestead Heritage or a similar school will leave you with the knowledge and skill to do it. http://www.homesteadheritage-woodworking.com/index.html
I'm sure Woodcraft will have weekend classes.
If you take this approach, you will save a lot of money on tools.
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About a year ago I took the one day course Woodworking With Hand Tools at Homestead Heritage. That's a really fantastic course, and if someone is truly interested in learning to do things with hand tools, you just can't beat this course for the amount you'll learn for the price[2] at $100. While this course doesn't specifically teach someone how to make box joints, it does teach one how to do dovetails. I've adapted what I learned in making hand cut dovetails to doing hand cut box joints.

Not necessarily. :) I think my collection of *quality* hand tools has doubled since I took the Woodworking With Hand Tools course. I believe this is what many refer to as "the slippery slope".
At some point I would like to take the whole Foundation Course as well as a number of the other courses they offer. For anyone that's living in or near to Waco, TX--you owe it to yourself to check this place out.
[1]: http://www.homesteadheritage-woodworking.com/foundational.html [2]: https://www.homesteadheritage-woodworking.com/woodworking-course.html
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wrote: snip

Now that is the slippery slope. I've taken both of their rocking chair classes and I'm going to the Windsor chair class in October.
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<snippage>

I would chip in in agreement here. There's much more invested in my handplane assortment than in a new Unisaw with goodies and stuff. Add to that handsaws, chisels, etc., and you find the slope well slicked...
Back to your regular programming...
Patriarch
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:> : Or take a couple of classes and learn to cut them square by hand. Three : days at Homestead Heritage or a similar school will leave you with the : knowledge and skill to do it.
And three hours with a router and a jig will cut a bajillion box joints cleaner and better than pretty much anyone could cut them by hand.
AFAIK, box joints were always traditionally cut by machine.
    -- Andy Barss
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wrote:

What in blazes does making box joints have to do with this string?
If I want to make box joints I do it on my cs. If I want to make dovetails I have the choice of doing them by hand or on my Leigh jig. If I want to make m&t joints I have a choice of making them by hand or on my cs and bs. The question was how do you cut a square end on a board by hand. When you are finishing a project and need to make small adjustments to your piece, having a few hand skills is a real advantage. :-)
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If you're going to "hand cut" boards with a hand saw, then you may as well clean up the edge with hand tools as well. In which case the way to do that is with a shooting board and plane.
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Polish the saw blade to a shiny (mirror) finish. Mark a line square across the edge and along the face as deep as the box joint goes. When cutting follow either line but make sure that the reflected image on the saw blade is dead straight. The cut will be 90 in both directions. A trick taught me by an old framing carpenter more than 35 years ago. It works.
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On Aug 17, 1:40 pm, snipped-for-privacy@nycap.rr.com wrote:

Nice tip, thanks.
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