How do carpenters and other construction pros efficiently and quickly cut beams, joists, rafter tails, etc when they need to be flush with the members around them (thus restricting use of many power tools).

I have one such rafter tail here: Rafter tail - view 1

This is a 3-1/8" thick glulam and I need to rip cut it down to be flush with the joists (rafters?) of the patio ceiling next to it (the 2x10s).

I was able to cut out a chunk already by the time I took the photo using a combination of a circular saw and reciprocating saw. The circular saw was notably restricted both in its length (could only reach maybe 1/3 of the rafter) and its depth (2-1/2" of the necessary 3-1/8"). The reciprocating saw punched through the entire thickness and could go even farther along the length, but it too couldn't go all the way due to the body of the saw conflicting with the flush rafters.

There was a little more room on the back side, but not enough to get either of the two previous saws in use:

Rafter tail - view 2

This side at least had enough room for me to fit an oscillating tool with a wood blade in there. With that, I could (very slowly) plunge half the thickness into the rafter along the remaining length. After all that, I was able to pound a demolition bar into the artificial crack and rip the rest of the piece down along its grain line.

In the end, then, I was able to rip the rafter tail flush with the patio ceiling members but it took me well over an hour with lots of head scratching and multiple tools. Surely there is a far easier way to do this.

How would you have done this?

  • 2
    Question is why that one is so much deeper than the others. Measure twice and cut once is good to know. Can get long(10, 12 inch) blades for reciprocating saw.
    – crip659
    Oct 23, 2022 at 23:51
  • 5
    Was that beam deeper because the extra strength was needed, or did someone just use whatever was handy? (That's an expensive left over!) I think the answer is - cut it before you install it. Otherwise, you spend an hour hacking at it afterwards.
    – FreeMan
    Oct 23, 2022 at 23:57
  • 2
    If not planned ahead and cut before installing (or at least before installing the obstacles around it) a good sharp rip-tooth handsaw works wonders in terms of fitting where power tools don't like to go (andboth the sharp detail and the rip-tooth detail help with cutting fast, if the only handsaws you've met are dull and rusty and don't work well.)
    – Ecnerwal
    Oct 24, 2022 at 0:23
  • 1
    @Ecnerwal That is almost an answer. These days handsaws are almost not thought of anymore, but should be perfect for that work.
    – crip659
    Oct 24, 2022 at 11:19
  • The beam is notably thicker than the others because it is one of four hip rafters, which may or may not be comically oversized. The entire point load is resting on the corner of the house and everything afterwards is just tails. Yeah, the true answer to this is definitely "cut before installation" but the architectural and structural plans were too different for me to properly visualize this until it got to this point. Oct 25, 2022 at 17:14

1 Answer 1


You used the right tools. There is nothing I can come up with that would work better for that job.

The way pros would do it is to cut it properly before it was installed (as eluded to in @freeman's comment). I expect that maybe the plan changed to have the overhangs enclosed after the roof was built. Either way, the way you did it was the best way given the situation.

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