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I need to make a cut about 24" long x 5" wide inside of a longer piece of common board 1x12x~7ft. So basically cutting out a smaller rectangle inside a bigger rectangular piece of wood. I believe this is called a pocket cut since it does not extend to any edges but I am not certain.

The application here is to mount a window bracket for an AC onto the piece of wood which will close the gap of a sliding glass door. It needs to be very precise! Otherwise the plastic AC window bracket will not be supported properly.

I am a total beginner with woodworking. I have a corded circular saw and a cordless sawzall reciprocating saw. The former I've used mostly for basic cuts using a piece of scrap wood as a guide. I can't cut straight lines without a guide at this point. The sawzall I've mostly used to cut up trash objects for disposal. I also have a 24" 8TPI hand saw.

What's the way to make this cut that requires the least craftsmanship and ideally could be done with a saw guide?

I am open to buying new tools, especially if they would come in handy for other projects in the future.

So far my research has shown the following:

  1. Use the circular saw to make a plunge cut into the wood.

The issues I see here is that I can't see how I would use a guide when holding the circular saw above the board to make the plunge. Also, since the circular saw is circular, it won't cut to the same depth on both the top and bottom of the board. Finally, one side of my pocket is only 5" so it I would need to only plunge the circular saw in about halfway or risk cutting too far - seems a bit tricky.

  1. Drill pilot holes and use a jigsaw

Jigsaws seem good for pocket cuts but I'm not convinced that it would be precise enough for someone as inexperienced as myself. Every video I've seen of using a jigsaw with a guide seems somewhat wobbly compared to the circular saw.

Are there other tools and/or techniques that would make this task easily done by an unsteady beginner like myself? Perhaps variations of the two above?

Thanks

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    Have you considered building a frame instead of cutting a large hole in a board?
    – spuck
    Commented May 16, 2023 at 17:14
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    I'm thinking of something like a picture frame, built with 4 sticks of wood attached at the corners. Each of those sticks of wood would be sized accordingly to put the hole you're looking to build where you want it inside the 7'x12" space you are filling.
    – spuck
    Commented May 16, 2023 at 17:39
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    I thought this was a literal "pocket" but based on clarification comments and a quick search which found youtube.com/watch?v=P-uIBg72Bu0 apparently "pocket cut" can refer to a hole in the middle like this. Which means the other answer is correct and mine is now deleted. But the picture frame idea could work too. Commented May 16, 2023 at 17:54
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    Beginners with woodworking should use hand saws. "Power tools for every task, even though I have no experience or feel for the task or materials" are an unfortunate millennial thing, and a recipe for blood. As an experienced woodworker who has earned my Popeye arms and uses power tools generally, circular saws and Sawzalls are two I consider most dangerous/hard to control, and avoid them myself where not essential. Commented May 16, 2023 at 21:11
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    Skill isn't gained instantly. You have to bear with it and apply yourself. You get better, if you try. I get the allure of a power machine as a "magic skill replacer" but that's not real. Commented May 17, 2023 at 19:59

3 Answers 3

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My plan in the same restrictions would be

  1. with a pencil and ruler, mark out the area to be cut as precisely as possible. Measure multiple times and be sure.
  2. Go away and come back later
  3. Redo the measurements while standing on the OTHER side of the workpiece. Are they still right? If not, re-do.

Now you can have confidence your markings are correct.

  1. Drill four holes in the corners of your waste area. Be careful to go straight down, and avoid blowout on the far side. You could do this with a smaller ~4mm pilot bit all the way from one side, and then follow up with a larger drill bit from both sides in turn.
    Ideally you want the holes to not-quite touch the lines.

  2. In the middle of your long sides, chain-drill a series of holes so they are inside your line, but just touch. This is where you will get your saw into the work without doing a plunge cut.

  3. Use a Chisel or file to remove any waste that is stopping you from getting the saw into place and lined up for a straight cut.

    • If you're going to use the powered saw, get a spare length of timber and check it for straightness on one edge. Put the unplugged saw in the access hole, and take your time lining it all up so the straight edge is in a good position and clamped down. This can be fiddly, so don't rush it.
      Also make sure your power saw has a depth of cut sufficient to go through by ~5mm or so. You don't want a lot of spare blade out underneath, or to only cut a trough.

Remember - a powered tool lets you go wrong faster and easier. Take your time.

  • If using a hand saw, do the cut in sessions. Aim for a long smooth arm movement using most of the saw blade, and if you hit the line stop, back up the saw and cut straighter. Don't try to "recover" a cut that is off-course. Rest when tired.
  1. Make the cut. Stay INSIDE the line - you'll clean it up later.

    • If powered, stop moving when your blade enters the corner hole. Let the blade spin to a stop then lift out.

    • If hand-sawing, you can lift the blade more vertically and cut right to the corner.

  2. Then repeat in the other direction to the other corner.

  3. Then do the same again for the other long side, two separate cuts to each corner.

At this point you have two long very straight cuts and the waste is held at the ends only.

  1. Add some support under the middle of your work. Moving a sawhorse inward and sit on the work to hold it still.
  2. Now a choice - you could use your reciprocating saw to cut the shorter cut, or if you feel confident with the circular saw you could repeat the same method that worked for the long cuts. Either way, remember to stay inside the lines.
    When one end is cut completely, the waste will move if not supported.
  3. Reposition so the waste is supported, then do the remaining short cut.

Great - you should now have an undersized hole.

  1. Check your markings again, and use a coarse file or rasp to remove the high spots. A chisel and hammer can work here too. You could also use a wood plane for the accessible parts.
  2. At some point you will want to do a dry-fit and see how the bracket goes. Hopefully it doesn't quite fit, and you can see where the binding points are then address those. Repeat till the bracket fits. For very slight material removal, move to a finer file or use sandpaper on a sanding block.
    Use the file or chisel to square up the corners if needed. The bracket may have rounded corners already.

Tools you need that you don't yet have or didn't mention:

  • Pencil and ruler/measuring tape
  • Drill and drill bits. Could be electric but a hand drill is workable. Or a bit and brace.
  • Wood File or Wood Chisel+hammer.
  • (Optional) a wood plane
  • If power saw, then at least 2x clamps. F clamps or G clamps would be fine. A long piece of timber or metal that has a straight edge and a flat side
  • Sandpaper, say 60-80 grit for coarse and some 200 grit for final smoothing. And a block to hold it.

Now if you blow the hole and have gaps, use your saw to cut some thin wedges or shims to fill the gaps. There are also gap fillers that come in a cartridge, which would be a good idea to use anyway. Foaming gap fillers will not help, you want a sealant product instead.

Once the hold is done but before final assembly, the wood surface should get a sealant or finish. I normally sand all sides and edges, and round off any sharp corners/edges. Then I dust it and brush on some water-based clear varnish. One coat is enough for items that don't get touched much, but frequently-handled items would get at least 2 coats. Obey dying times as per the can. You might choose a spray paint can finish, but they aren't as hardwearing. Oil-based varnishes are harder wearing again, but they stink and take a lot of prep and dry time so are best avoided.

  • Water-based clear varnish, paint brush, water for cleanup, and rags for spills. Newspaper or cardboard to protect the floor. Time to allow varnish to dry undisturbed.
  • Gap filler/sealant, and perhaps a cartridge gun. Sharp knife to open the cartridge. Rags for cleanups. Gloves can help too - this can be messy.

If something feels off, stop and reevaluate. Come back here and ask another question, with photos if possible.

Take your time, think ahead, and don't stress. You can do this.

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    If you have large (1") sharp chisel, use that for cleaning up the long edges of the hole in preference to abrasives. Blades want to develop straight cuts, which is in your favour here. Pare gently with the blade angled to contact the previous surface, walking down the cut---and getting a flat edge is as easy as cutting cheese. You can cut cheese, right? :) (Youtube doubtless has many helpful videos demonstrating paring, and it's a great technique for truing up square holes). I'm assuming the long edge is with the grain. Don't try to pare across the grain, at least not yet.
    – 2e0byo
    Commented May 17, 2023 at 11:19
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    The advice to measure from both sides of the workpiece is invaluable...
    – 2e0byo
    Commented May 17, 2023 at 11:20
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    Thank you, what kind of hand saw would you recommend for this purpose? I am using pine common board. The different types of hand saws I find even more confusing than the various power saws.
    – Dan
    Commented May 17, 2023 at 18:47
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    Step 5 with the chain drilling of holes is the most "I can't believe I didn't think of that" part.
    – Dan
    Commented May 17, 2023 at 18:54
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    @dan for $18 its just a general purpose saw. Advert-copy claims to have three tooth profiles, so it likely has both rip teeth (the ones with flat tops) as well as crosscut teeth (which come to a point) and maybe rakers to help clear chips. That saw will be fine, it just might be slower than two dedicated saws. Take your time.
    – Criggie
    Commented May 18, 2023 at 2:03
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Out of the two tools you mentioned, a jigsaw would be the way to go. A circular saw has some downsides (as you mentioned) for a beginner:

  • It can make a straight cut, but it's not guaranteed
  • Plunge cuts can be unsafe; I wouldn't recommend that on your first try
  • It will be difficult to make the short (5") cuts
  • They are aggressive and can be intimidating

The jigsaw will cut as straight as you are able to guide it. If you've never used one, I would recommend marking the hole you want, then also mark a hole inside it shorter by 1-2" in each direction. Use that smaller hole as your practice run and to get a feel for how the tool works. Then tackle the larger hole.

Give yourself a generous margin of error: remember you can always cut more.

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    A straightedge is not usually used with a jigsaw, as the thin blade and it's ability to follow curves is usually a desired feature, but there's no reason you couldn't use one. Take your time with the "practice" hole and don't force the saw, move it where you want it. You can do it!
    – spuck
    Commented May 16, 2023 at 17:42
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    “don’t force the saw” means don’t use excess pressure moving it forward. It’ll cut and make forward movement easy. As noted, practice cutting to a straight line in your waste material. Commented May 16, 2023 at 18:05
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    And I’m not a fan of guides and jigsaws, as even good ones with fresh blades can deflect off your line. Commented May 16, 2023 at 18:06
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    Well, practice practice practice. In place of that, you cut almost to the line and sand to exactly the line. (Use a sanding block.) The knife cut won’t actually help much. (And maybe my experience with guides won’t match yours: feel free to try it on scrap.) Commented May 17, 2023 at 0:37
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    Note that a jigsaw often has an adjustment for how easily the blade deflects -- make sure its on its least flexible setting.
    – rrauenza
    Commented May 17, 2023 at 5:08
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Build a jig consisting of a frame to use as a guide for a router with a template collar and straight bit. The frame will need to be larger than the cutout you want in order to account for the offset created by the thickness of the collar and the gap between the collar and the cutting edge of the bit.

You will need to drill one or more start holes within the area of the cutout. After the cutout is complete you will need to square the corners using a chisel.

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  • That article is a bit beyond me at this point, having never used a router, but I can see how using a router with the correct setup would make this task a very quick and easy one.
    – Dan
    Commented May 18, 2023 at 16:30

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