Manual Miter Box and Saw Excel Where Electric Saws Fail

Cutting with Manual Saw and Miter Box
Cutting with Manual Saw and Miter Box. Sabine Thielemann / EyeEm / Getty Images

Who uses a miter box and hand saw anymore?  Electric miter saws are so cheap, you might wonder why anyone would ever buy--much less use--a manual device over a fast-cutting, low-effort one.

Believe it or not, these little tools still have great qualities that cannot be replaced by electric saws.  Lower cost is certainly one reason to use these manual tools; but their functionality extends far beyond that.


Buy on Amazon - Stanley Clamping Miter Box and Saw

What Is a Miter Box and Saw?

  • Miter Box:  The miter box is not really a box in the true sense that has four sides and a top and bottom. A miter box is more like a tray that helps you hold wood in place while you make angled cuts with the miter saw.  This "tray" has slits on the sides that allow you to fit the saw in, and grooves on the bottom that allow you to cut all the way through the wood.
  • Miter Saw:  The miter saw is short, fine-toothed, straight, and typically has extra support along the top to keep the saw blade from buckling.  Technically, it doesn't have to be used only for miter work.  But because that upper brace limits how deep you can make your cuts, miter work tends to be the main type of project you can do with this saw.  If you have a miter box but not a miter saw, you can use a conventional hand saw in a pinch.
  • Options:  Some products--including the inexpensive Stanley miter box and saw combination, come with clamps to assist you in holding your trim pieces tight while cutting.  You can also use your own spring-loaded clamps to hold down the work material, as long as it is reasonably flat (i.e., not crown molding).

    Bottom Line

    Miter box is a device for holding wood in place for precise cuts.  While it has been used for many years by woodworkers, it still has a place in the modern home's workshop.
    Manual miter saw is a special saw for making fine cuts because it has smaller teeth and a bracing bar at top to prevent the blade from bending.
    Mostly used for thin, light pieces of wood, such as crown molding or quarter-round.
    Straight cuts, 45 degree cuts, and even 22.5 degree cuts are possible.
    Expensive miter box and saw not necessary.  For most homeowners, a plastic box will work.

    What Would You Use It For?

    Manual miter boxes and saws are for making fine cuts on millwork (crown molding, quarter-round, etc.). The most common cut is a forty-five degree angle to allow two pieces of wood to join at right angles.

    Some miter boxes split the angle even further and help you make a 22 1/2 degree cut, but it is unlikely you will use that angle often.

    All miter boxes will cut ninety degree angles. Even though this is a very simple cut that does not require a miter box, the box makes the cut more precise.

    Clamping Box Best For Crown Molding (or Use the Electric Saw)

    With oddly shaped pieces like crown molding, it is essential to get a clamping miter box.

    The problem is that one side of the crown has to be set up against the side of the miter box. Ad hoc clamps and supports simply will not work. Your cuts will off-angle.

    Alternatively, crown molding is one type of trim cut that works best with an electric miter saw.

    Larger-sized lumber like 2x4s can easily be cut with electric miter saws, but should not be used in miter boxes.  A better bet is to mark off the cut with another cheap device called a Speed Square and make the cut with a circular saw or conventional hand saw.

    Plastic vs. Wood Miter Boxes

    Stanley miter boxes are the staple of many workshops.

    Made of plastic, their saw slits will eventually get gnawed away by the relentless pressure of the miter saw. But this is just a fact of life with miter boxes. In fact, all miter boxes are built so that they give way before your saw does. 

    For most DIYers, plastic boxes are just fine because it's not common that you will make miter cuts.