I'm building a small shelf for organising my desk, using sections of 42mm*19mm hardwood. I've cut the pieces to appropriate length using a hand saw, allowing some tolerance for the kerf. Now I'd like to ensure the cut ends are square.

Using a sanding block with some garnet paper, and a try square for checking, I'm trying to shape the cut edges. However, I'm finding it difficult to get a good perpendicular line with the sanding; it seems that I'm rounding the end off too much, rather than sanding perfectly perpendicular to the piece.

Back in high school woodwork class, we'd do this with a disc sander mounted into a solid table, ensuring that the sanding is done in a flat plane. Unfortunately, having left high school some 13 years ago, I no longer have access to one of these.

So, does anyone have a good technique for sanding the edges square? Or should I give up on sanding and use some other method? Or bite the bullet and buy a small disc sander?

  • clamp your sanding block to a table so that it is at 90 degrees, then slide the shelf back and forth along the table.
    – mike
    Oct 31, 2013 at 16:11

4 Answers 4


You don't say what saw you used to cut the wood, but if you use a tenon saw you should get a cleaner cut in the first place that requires less sanding. This is because the saw has finer teeth for a smoother cut and a stiffening spine that means you get a straighter cut.

Clamping a second piece of wood to use as a guide is another alternative.

Alternatively you could use a plane to remove the excess wood - but make sure that you clamp a piece of scrap wood to the end of the plank to avoid it splitting:

------> direction of plane
|         |   |
|    ^    |   | <- Scrap
|    |    |   |
|    |    |   |
  direction of grain
  • I used a tenon saw (15tpi) in a small miter box for the original cut. Would you suggest a finer saw for this? Feb 23, 2011 at 13:57

Cutting the ends square really should be done in the cutting process, not the sanding stage. If you don't have access to a chop saw, (miter saw) then you could use or make a cheap manual miter box. The only sanding you should be doing on the cut ends is for smoothing or removing small burrs. A fixed sanding disk machine would work, but you don't have access to one. I use the sander to adjust for small angles or custom fits. Another technique you could use in the absence of the proper power tools would be to clamp a guide board to your work piece perfectly square and use it as a guide for you hand saw.

  • I used a miter box for the cut, it's pretty close to square, but not perfect. Perhaps I'm just being too pedantic? Feb 23, 2011 at 13:54
  • Good advice about the cutting process rather than sanding, I'll work on that instead. Feb 23, 2011 at 14:03

If you are keen on doing this with hand tools, then you might have better luck with a planer than sandpaper.

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  • Yup. A good plane and a shooting board should make quick work of these. Jan 15, 2012 at 0:18

I have most of the required tools to do this type of work, but back when I didn't I would mount my board to a square chunk of wood, like a 4" x 4" and tape my sandpaper down on a flat surface. I would carefully rub it back and forth vertically. If you are rounding the edges you are probably not keeping your sanding block square with the surface, but are allowing it to drift off the edge, which will wear down the edges. Sometimes I'd have the square stock on the flat surface and I'd rub only the cut wood on the sandpaper. It worked okay for the few items that I needed to make sure my work was square, but I totally agree with a previous answer about not needing to sand it straight...that should happen with the saw. I have used with good results the method he mentioned about clamping down a straight board to use for cutting. Clamps are a wonderful beginning to a home shop as they can work like an extra pair of hands; help keep the work straight and restrained from moving. They keep your work where you want it to work on it. Good luck.

  • Good advice, but holding a shelf perfectly vertical in order to sand the edges and get them square is quite difficult without a fence assembly of some sort, no?
    – FreeMan
    Aug 31, 2022 at 11:48

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