What saw(s) and other tools do I need to cut these notches in some 2x4s?
May 26, 2015 10:26 AM   Subscribe

I am looking to build something that requires cutting 1 1/2" - 2" notches in some two by four or two by six beams. My existing set of tools could be charitably described as minimal (see within), and I'd like to do this as inexpensively as possible and still keep it safe.

I am looking to build a wooden pergola that will stand on a wooden deck. This will essentially consist of a 4x4 post at each corner, upon which will sit a grid of 2x4 or 2x6 beams which are notched to fit together (sort of like Lincoln Logs - I don't know any technical terminology in carpentry). Here are plans for the overall project; here is a page that describes the notches I need to cut.

My question: what do I need to buy or borrow in order to cut these notches (and the angled ends, for that matter) cheaply and safely? I am relatively comfortable around power tools but I have to admit handheld saws are my least favorite / most nervous-making thing, which is why I have put off acquiring them as I've built up the tool arsenal in my relatively new home. In fact, all I really have is a drill / power-driver set, an array of screwdrivers and ratchets, a couple hammers, and a Dremel. Oh yeah, and some sawhorses and a couple dozen spare beams and boards so I can set up an ad-hoc bench. The general plan is to go to Home Depot or wherever and get the raw lumber cut to the right length, then come home and do the precision cuts like notches, etc., since they won't do these at the lumber yard.

Please be as specific as you'd like with saw recommendations, and don't hesitate to suggest exactly how to use each thing you recommend. Thanks!
posted by Joey Buttafoucault to Home & Garden (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: You can do it quite easily with a skillsaw.
posted by xingcat at 10:28 AM on May 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Yeah, a handheld circular saw (AKA "Skil Saw") is the way to go, followed by a chisel to clean out the notches. Cut the notches to match the thickness of the lumber that the notch has to fit over, which may be slightly different from the 1 1/2" widths on the drawing. Since you'll be making a bunch of hopefully-identical notches, it might help to make a jig to position the saw consistently rather than trying to lay out and eyeball each individual cut. Don't one-hand the saw like the guy in the video does, and don't position your body directly behind the saw while cutting.
posted by jon1270 at 10:53 AM on May 26, 2015

You could do these with a hand saw since you're sawing across the grain - just carefully cut each end of the notch and then hit it with a hammer to clear out the wood you don't need.

A jigsaw or circular saw would make those cuts go a lot faster, though.
posted by chocolatepeanutbuttercup at 11:04 AM on May 26, 2015

Use a circular saw and chisel. Using this technique you can stack all of your boards together and do the cut at the same time, so they are identical.

Circular saw will also be better for the angled cut.
posted by Diddly at 11:07 AM on May 26, 2015

Best answer: You can do it with a Skilsaw but personally I would much prefer to do it with a sliding miter saw. They are one of the most versatile tools you can own, at least among saws, and I personally use it far more often than I do my Skilsaw. (About the only thing I do with the Skilsaw is rip plywood.)

Not clear exactly how many you are cutting but it might be worth investing in a dado set rather than just making tons and tons of cuts with a regular blade.

In my area, tools can be acquired much less expensively off of Craigslist than retail. This is sort of the wrong season (best time is fall) but if you hunt around you can probably get a sliding miter for somewhere in the $150 range for a decent one, and a dado set for under $50.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:11 AM on May 26, 2015

And for heaven's sake, unlike the guy in the first video, wear safety glasses and hearing protection.
posted by plinth at 11:18 AM on May 26, 2015

Standard Stanley hand saw, about fifteen bucks. No eye or hearing protection needed. Very low amputation potential. Can't beat it for cheap. This saw doesn't have weirdo tooth geometry, and can be sharpened when it (finally) gets dull.

If you discover that it's cutting too slowly, you can just add beer. Try that with a power saw and you'll be looking around for your fingers.

Speaking of cheap, you can cut your own lumber to length, rather than paying Home Depot by the cut. In that case you might need a carpenter's square, too.
posted by the Real Dan at 11:44 AM on May 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

you can do this with a hand saw, but with all the ntoches that is going to get old quick. i would set it up so i could cut the edges of all the notches with a circular saw at once. if you don't want to figure this out, hand saw, chisel and hammer will be fine. with the chisel at the bottom of the notch, hit it once with the hammer and it will break out like magic, then you can clean the notch with the chisel so it is roughly square...

also, ryobi circular saws are total garbage, if you can stand it, try to get something else on craigslist or check out pawn shops for the finest in stolen construction equipment (but check prices ahead of time, often people want you to pay new for used.)
posted by ennui.bz at 12:19 PM on May 26, 2015

Crosscut hand saw. Scribe lines on the wood where your notches are, clamp the piece of wood to a sturdy surface so it doest skate about, use the saw to cut on the inside of the scribe line down to the end of the notch. Use a sharp chisel to get the waste out of between the cuts. Basic chisel techniques here.
posted by Namlit at 12:39 PM on May 26, 2015

Most lumberyards will do 1 cut on a piece of lumber for free.
posted by theora55 at 3:05 PM on May 26, 2015

Response by poster: Thanks all! I will probably go with either the hand-held circular saw, or the miter saw, with a dado set. I did say I was going for cheap, but I might balance at least that much in favor of convenience rather than tedium.
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 3:28 PM on May 26, 2015

Most lumberyards will do 1 cut on a piece of lumber for free.

Home Depot will actually do 2 per, at least at my local branch, and additional cuts are only 50 cents, which is not a bad deal especially for butchering down plywood or MDF sheets. I'd much rather pay half a buck to somebody to use their panel saw than set up a bunch of sawhorses and a straightedge and everything else.

However, they won't cut notches or dados or anything else more complex than a straight cut, which is what the OP needs, and I've never been to a lumberyard that would. So I don't think that will work in this instance.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:31 AM on May 27, 2015

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