The Miter Box


Joshua and I have been working on pine boxes this week. As you might have heard, we’re producing a commemorative set of Issues One through Ten to celebrate the magazine reaching this milestone. This collection will come in handmade wooden boxes, which we’ve been building in the shop. Batch production is a great way to hone particular skills (as we discussed in the podcast the other day), but it’s also a good place to dust off a few jigged tools to work on those repetitive operations. I pulled out the old Millers Falls miter box to cut all our stock to length.

The basic concept of the miter box has been around for a very long time, but the adjustable cast-iron version was invented in the mid-19th century by Leander Langdon. After a decade or so of failed marketing of his design, sales picked up and the idea caught on when Millers Falls Manufacturing started selling it. Langdon maintained his independence from Millers Falls until 1907, when his brand became a subsidiary of that much larger tool manufacturer. The company sold some iteration of this design until the 1970s, and other toolmakers produced their own versions as well (I have an early-20th century Stanley version – it works great).

Miter boxes have gone downhill since the introduction of the powered miter saw (aka “chop saw”). Nowadays, about the best you can find is a plastic box with slots at various fixed angles, accompanied by a short, plastic-handled backsaw. This tool can cut small molding or trim with a bit of a struggle, but it certainly can’t reproduce the smooth cutting action or capacity of the older miter saws (which can handle 10”-wide stock).

I clamped a simple stop made from scrap wood to the saw fence, allowing identical pieces to be cut without measurement. Numbers will inevitably mess you up when making multiples, so patterns, jigs, or story sticks can ensure consistent cuts without even thinking about it (while individually measuring each piece would create variations and errors). Even with the predictable, jigged action of the saw, it takes some practice to get into the groove and make efficient cuts. But once things get going, the work proceeds quickly, dust doesn’t fill the air, and shop banter can continue without the rude interruption of a powered tool.

You can check out the details of our commemorative boxed set here.

-Mike