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In theory, to cut a 350mm piece out of a longer board, I would have to mark the line at 350mm + half of blade width. So if I have a 2mm hand saw, the line would be drawn at 351mm. How does that work in practice? Should blade wiggle be taken into account? Is it even reasonable to expect such precision in home conditions?

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up vote 36 down vote accepted

Yes, you might want the highest precision possible - for example when you build furniture which benefits greatly from precise cuts. The most convenient way would be to draw the line that will signify the edge of the piece you want cut so that the blade cuts the line and whatever material is on the far side of the raw board. Something like this:

 |the detail you want|line|remaining material|
 |                   |blade cuts here|

This is quite easily achieved with power saws even without a guide and will be more of a challenge with hand saws.

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+1 for the ascii art. – BMitch Jul 12 '11 at 11:21
Perfect. Always cut on the waste side of the line. +1 – shirlock homes Jul 12 '11 at 21:42
My mitre saw has a laser on it, and it is set up so the left edge of the laser is exactly where the left edge of the blade will cut, so it's very easy to cut where the piece is on the left. If I need to cut from the right, I usually just bring the blade down (not spinning) and make sure the widest part of the tooth lines up with my cut line on the right edge, then cut there. Shirlock has it though: cut on the waste side. – gregmac Jul 13 '11 at 21:39
Another tip: if you're cutting multiple pieces from one board, and want to be precise, measure, mark and cut them one-by-one. Don't measure and put the marks down at the start, because you'll lose the width of the kerf for each cut (and if you're ever off even a bit on one cut, the rest are instantly wrong). – gregmac Jul 13 '11 at 21:42

You're looking for a precision cut, with a non-precision tool.

It's better to cut the piece slightly larger than what you need, and sand/plane to the final dimensions. This will allow you to compensate for blade wiggle, blade bevel, human error, chip out, etc.

The old adage should go Measure twice, cut once, sand to fit.

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+1. You're not going to get <1mm precision with a hand saw unless you are some kind of a wizard. The better solution is to cut proud/long and use another tool to adjust the fit. – Alex Feinman Jul 12 '11 at 13:42
A good answer, but not applicable to me, since I don't have a machine for sanding. Doing it by hand is not reasonable. – Moshanator Jul 12 '11 at 14:30
@Moshanator, not even with a finely honed block plane, then minimal hand sanding? Honestly, doesn't take anytime with a properly sharpened block plane (a few fine shavings & you're basically done). IMHO. – Mike Perry Jul 12 '11 at 15:26
This is just simply not true. A hand saw can be one of the most accurate tools with proper tuning and SKILL. Tenons were cut with hand saws for hundreds of years with less than 1mm accuracy. 1mm off for a tenon can be the difference between a good fitting tenon and a sloppy tenon. It is a skill that not many have these days though. – Cody C Jul 14 '11 at 15:20
@Cody C: You are correct, however, not many folks can cut tenons by hand these days without some minor adjustment. I would say even master woodworkers have to make slight adjustments from time to time. It's safer to cut long and adjust, then cut short. – Tester101 Jul 14 '11 at 16:06

I would mark the line at 350mm and cut with the edge of the saw against the line, away from the edge you measured from. That way you're not trying to keep the middle of the blade on that line, you just keep the edge on the line, and you don't need to know the width of your saws.

With a circular saw the leading edge of the cut from directly above is obscured by the saw guard anyway, so you have to watch the cut from the right hand side, which would make keeping the cut in the middle of the mark very difficult.

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Most power saws have marks/notches on them, so you don't have to look at the blade while cutting. – Tester101 Jul 12 '11 at 12:37
@Tester101 true, although on my saw the notches are about 3 mm wide and I can't get it straight to start with. Although that's still probably more accurate than my measuring ;-) – Ben Scott Jul 12 '11 at 12:54
3mm is likely your blade width, so the notch is showing you exactly where the blade is. Use the edges of the notch to line up, don't try to keep the cut line in the middle of the notch (which is what people tend to do). – Tester101 Jul 12 '11 at 13:22

I always take saw blade thickness (and pencil mark thickness, for that matter) out of the equation entirely by thinking of each as having a single reference edge.

The blade, in this mental model, doesn't "take out" a blade width, it cuts an edge and leaves "slop" on the other side (doesn't matter if the blade is 1/16" wide or, in theory, 3/4" wide... what's chewed is slop and all that matters is the reference edge). Similarly, the pencil line doesn't have a width, it's merely there to locate an edge, the other side of which is slop.

When I'm using a chop saw, for instance, I'll draw my line on the material (one edge of which is my reference), then I'll sight down the edge of the blade (accounting for the actual "bite" edge of the teeth, which are often alternated right/left slightly). Depending on what I'm cutting, I might even take a tiny nip to be sure the blade is biting where I thought it would, then I'll commit with the full chop.

When you're marking and cutting, think about edges--not centers or widths. Both your marking and your cutting will be much more precise.

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As previously mentioned, it is best to cut so your blade chews into the left-over side of the wood. Sometime it is awkward to do this, but some tools (like my mitre saw), include ruler lines that account for the default blade width.

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