How to Make Perfect Miter Joints [7 Tips From Professionals]

Making a miter joint is something that most new woodworkers struggle with. When was the last time you looked at a wooden picture frame and felt it was absolutely perfect? Can’t remember it? You are not alone. Neatly joined wooden frames where there’s no end grain showing: that’s what perfection looks like, right?

Well, when you take a look at it, surely the miter joints feel rather simple to do. And, truth be told, it is easy. Only if you know the right way to do it!, In this article we will teach you how to make a perfect miter joint?

What is a miter joint used for?

Anything that is made using two or more pieces of wood has a miter joint. It’s the joint made using two edges at an acute angle of 45 degrees cut on the face of the wood. It is used so that the wood’s end gran remains hidden. You can most likely spot a miter joint in a wooden box or wooden structures that carpenters mostly rely on.


Steps to Make the Perfect Miter Joint

Here are the ten simple steps to make that perfect miter joint for your window and door trims, picture frames, and other openings. 

Step 1: Get the right tools for the job

The tools that you use for the miter joint depend on what you are cutting. For standard, basic cuts, a hand saw and miter box suffices. For anything that is more complicated than that, you will need a table or circular saw. Radial-arm saw, sliding compound saw, or compound miter saws are also great for miter joints.

Do not miter inside corners for the crowns and baseboards. It will not fit properly and the joints will end up separating.

Step 2: Get the miter angle right

Start by measuring the complete angle change and divide it by the number of pieces you need to make the turns. The number that you get as a result is the angle to which the miter must be set. 45 degrees is the most commonly set miter angle on the saw.

Verify the miter angle by making two cuts as a test and check the resulting corner using a square.

Step 3: Measuring the starting points

After the cuts have been angled, one side of the wood would look longer compared to the other. For instance, the inside will be equal to your wall but shorter if it is an outer corner piece. It will be the opposite in case of an inner corner piece.

Make sure to keep track of which side goes where when you start taking the measurements.

Step 4: Measuring the angle gap

Since the cut pieces will have to look longer on a side than what it actually is, you need to calculate the amount of extra material that will be needed in the end. So, for instance, if the corner has an angle of 45 degrees, the end needs to have a gap that is equal to the depth of the wooden piece. 

For those who are not working with a 45-degrees angle, there’s a bit of calculation to be done. Find the Cos and Sin for the angle that you are using. Divide Sin by Cos and multiply the result with the depth of the wooden piece. The number you get is the extra space you need. 

Step 5: Cutting the wood with the saw

Set the saw to the angle at which it will cut. Every machine comes with its own set of instructions. It is best to place the wood on the machine in a way that it’s upside down, as often as possible. Clamp the wooden pieces in place if the pieces are not big enough to be held by hand (also, when you want to keep your hands at safe distance). No need to put those fingers in danger!

Keep the hands away and don’t press very hard when you lower the saw. Your job is to guide the saw where it has to do and let it do the work, not to press down on it with all your weight.

Keep a scrap piece of wood near at hand for testing. Thank us later for this tip!

For more such practical and useful woodworking tips read this article

Step 6: Keeping the material joined

Clamps: The joining method that you prefer using is completely up to you, but it is important to keep it steady using clamps at the time when it sets. Now, even clamps are available in different sizes and styles. Your local hardware store can guide you about the right kind of clamps for your project.

Nails and glue: The simplest way of joining the pieces is by gluing the angles, fitting them together, and finally, nailing them in place with a good nailer. This method works the best when you want to nail the pieces into something like a window frame. If you cannot make the nails reach far enough, then set the nails with nail setter, and fill in the holes using wood putty. You can also paint the putty so that it matches the color of the wood.

Dowel holes: Drill in dowel holes and put dowels at the joints if the wood does not seem thick enough. Not only would the joint become stronger, but it will also get an added support. Join the wood pieces after you have covered the dowels with wood glue. Keep the dowel size smaller that the thickness of the pieces.

Notch: Going for a notch joint is completely up to you. Bu, this is a modern method and looks really nice if done right. After you join the ends, cut up a notch at one side of the joint and fill it with a triangular shim of the right shape and size.


Pro Tips to get the Perfect Miter Joints

So, now that you know all the steps, here are seven pro tips to make your work even more perfect.

1. Using a disc sander for micro adjustments

Want to shorten that piece by just a hair? Want to adjust the angle by a teensy-weensy bit? Get that disc sander to the rescue! It can work wonders as far as tweaking the fit is concerned. Using the miter gauge can be a lot of trouble. To make it easier, you could just put a paper shim between the piece and the gauge for the minute adjustments.

2. Customize your own drafting square

Drafting squares are accurate and inexpensive tools that come in handy for miter joints. It is easy to customize them as you need because they are made of plastic. What you can do is file a couple of notches on the square so that the saw does not interfere with the setup. 

For more such professional woodworking tips read this article.

3. Perfect edging is of course possible

Miter edging is perfected easily when the miter guides are clamped properly in place. You can simply take the edging stock for guiding the fit of the pieces. Keep the guides clamed in place and glue every piece in place as you move around the table. Make sure to remove the adjoining guides immediately after gluing and clamping a part of banding. It is a whole new level of hassle if you accidently glue those adjoining pieces!

4. Your fingers feel way more accurately than your eyes

The opposite sides of the box have to be of the same length for it to be perfectly joined. If you fail to do that, even the best miters will not be able to make much of a difference. So, to make sure that the lengths are okay, hold the two parts side by side on a flat surface and feel it with your hands. Your eyes might not tell the difference but your fingers will definitely know what’s wrong.

5. Moistening the wood can be helpful while cutting it

The spinning blade on the miter saw has a tendency to just pull or push the pieces along the fence. You can use clamps to stop this creeping, but molded stocks are difficult to clamp. All you need to do is to moisten the back of the wood. This makes it less prone to slipping off and easy to keep in one place.

6. The one-minute squeeze rule to the rescue

Your hands are your best clamping tools when the parts are too small and difficult to clamp. All you need to do is put some glue on the parts and rub those parts together so that the glue gets evenly distributed. Now, hold these parts together over the table for at least a minutes (it will seem like more than a minute, but be patient!).

Be careful while releasing your hold. If the pieces move, then quickly hold it together again for half a minute. After that, leave the joined pieces aside for half or one hour before working with it again.

7. The secret to success lies in the grain match

The secret to good looking miter joints lies in how well the color and the grain of the wood matches. Thus, it is better to use one board for building picture frames or banding the tabletops. It is easier to match the straight designs rather than the wavy ones. Get it as closely matched as you can.


Conclusion

If you are a beginner then doing a perfect miter joint can be a bit difficult but you don’t have to be perfect the very first time. Keep trying and read the rest of my how to guides to master the art of woodworking. Make sure you follow all the safety procedures and let me know in the comments how was your first miter joint. 

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1 thought on “How to Make Perfect Miter Joints [7 Tips From Professionals]”

  1. There are so many joints that aren’t mitered your statement “ Anything that is made using two or more pieces of wood has a miter joint.” is just baffling and wrong. Like absurdly so. If anything butt joints are more commonly seen and there are literally hundreds of books out there on the subject.

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