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Looking to build a utility/storage shelf in the unfinished area of my basement. Considered dropping the $170 to get the metal unit from Home Depot (in the U.S.), but thought that now that we have a home, it'd be fun to build one on my own. I already have the design sketched out and have figured out how much material I need, but now I'm stuck with this question: what sort of saw should I invest in to cut the 2x4s (I plan on either purchasing the plywood pre-cut or else having it cut to spec at HD)?

Originally, I considered purchasing an inexpensive power miter saw, but then wasn't sure if I'd use it again (i.e. I don't have any plans for doing work with crown molding in the future, and the only possible work we'll be doing to internal finishes in the future will be to create some decorative framing squares below the chair rail in our dining room...something using stock that a hand saw would have no troubles handling) and also wasn't thrilled about the space I'd have to find to store it in our basement (we have a townhome; while not small, I'd like to minimize the amount of space I need to take up in the unfinished utility area, since I'm building the storage shelving to get things organized and make space that doesn't exist now). Not uncomfortable using it, but also lack the workbench space to use it properly. So then I started thinking about it, and wondered whether getting a hand miter saw (the kind that is pre-attached and swivels as you turn the blade), a miter box and tenon saw, or inexpensive jig saw (provided I'm using a guide to maintain a square cut) might also work for cutting the 2x4s to length, while not taking up space and minimizing the odds that I'll lop off a finger inadvertently while working with a less than ideal workbench set-up.

I'm sure my wife would find some crafty uses for the jig saw, and saving the money I'd spend buying a power miter saw would allow me to upgrade my drill driver from the crappy NiCad Black and Decker I have right now (though I do have a nice Craftsman impact driver). At the same time, I've read of folks having issues with the blade bending the cut with the jig saw, though I'm not sure how much of an impact that would be for making cuts to 2x4s on utility shelving. Part of me does like the appeal of using a handsaw (e.g. general inexpense, space saved, and etc.) to make the cuts...although I wonder if modern hand saws (I only remember using them when I was younger, and they were older blades) are relatively "easy" to use and make cuts. Does it feel like a lot of work to make cuts in 2x4s with hand miter saws?

Anyone have any ideas? I apologize in advance for the lengthy question, but wanted to put it all out there in the event that someone else has been in the same position. Look forward to reading your ideas and hearing your thoughts. Thanks!

  • Thanks for the feedback, everyone! I ended up being able to find a used (power) miter saw on Craigslist for $40 (one of several that popped up this weekend), as well as a folding work table for an additional $5. While I won't have enough room for a table saw (and thus won't be able to tackle some of the more ambitious efforts), this will be a good start for what I need to do with the shelving... and also provide me with a mobile working surface I can use later with a router, hand planer, and etc. Thanks for all of the community feedback! Appreciate the support! – poliscimonster Jun 27 '16 at 2:41
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I agree that for cutting 2 x 4's you absolutely do not want to use a jig saw. While a jig saw is handy to have. As Ed mentioned, you cannot get square cuts and are generally used for thin material and scroll work unless you shell out the money for a professional model with massive power.

A compound miter saw is a better choice than a chop saw. I believe that Ed may have been describing a miter saw but wanted to point this out as they are two very different things.

A chop saw is 'like' a miter saw in that it allows you to make 90 degree cuts in materials but is usually intended in a shop environment for chopping metals.

A compound miter saw allows you to make angled cuts from over 45 degrees to straight 90 degrees perpendicular to the work piece. It also can tilt to make angled cuts at varying degrees. The compound part allows you to do both at the same time. The sliding part allows you to make cuts while the blade slides on a rail allowing you to make wider cuts than a typical miter saw. You can cut 2 x 10's with a sliding version where you could only cut 2 x 6's with a non-sliding version.

You can pick up a very good entry level compound miter saw at your local Lowe's and Home Depot's for around $130 (7 1/4 inch versions - may not handle 2 x 10 cuts). While they have a slightly bigger footprint than your average manual miter saw/box combos you will get much better and lightning quick results. Plus you will find that you can actually do a lot more around the town home with it.

And best of all, these work just as well on the floor as they do on a work bench.

If a small hand unit is all you really want however. Get a power saw (a.k.a circular saw). You will get square cuts (no blade curve) and will take a fraction of the time. Not as accurate as a miter saw but much better for 2 x 4 than a jig saw. You'll save time and have better cuts using a framing triangle with the power saw.

Hope this helps.

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    You are correct I call a compound miter a chop saw+ – Ed Beal Jun 26 '16 at 13:58
  • No worries, I've been known to call my miter saws chop saws too. But would hate for someone to inadvertently get the wrong one that may not know better. – Jared Jun 27 '16 at 12:35
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Wow that was a long question! First welcome to the stack exchange , now to try to answer your questions. First if you want to spend just a little $ and do trim and framing Don't get a jig saw! Your cuts will not be square. A chop saw that can tilt can be purchased for a few more $ and it can cut square 2x4's and miter cuts. Chop saws cannot rip lumber and I have never seen a jig saw cut a totally square edge on anything thicker than 1" but if making arcs or circles a jig saw is the way to go. Chop saws are available from 7-1/4? To 12". A 10" one should do most of the miter cuts and square cuts you need and look professional in a few seconds for each cut. If you get a saw that has the angles on the frame you can quickly change and cut from 45 to 90's I Have several depending on the size of the job, trim the small one, framing the 10", plank siding the 12" or the slide 10" . Other than this a good skill saw are what I have used and most the contractors I have worked with use. Hope this helps but a jig saw would be my last option unless I was doing some curved work. Where I say chop saw I do mean compound miter thanks to @jared for pointing this out

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    I agree with everything here except the usable thickness with a jig saw. Even with common 3/4" thick lumber the jig saw will likely not cut without the blade angling off and making a non-square edge. I try to confine jig saw use to 1/2" or less except for the rare case where that style of tool is the only choice. There are good reasons there are so many kinds of saws for the many types of cutting jobs. – Michael Karas Jun 26 '16 at 8:42

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