A square is such a basic tool. In fact, it’s one of the six primary construction tools. With it and a level, ruler, hammer, saw and drill, you can build just about anything that’s made from wood. It may take you a while, but you can get it done. The square’s only purpose is to establish an accurate 90 [degree] angle and – in the case of a miter square like this – a 45 [degree] angle too. For cabinetmakers and furniture makers, determining square is absolutely essential. It is the geometric imperative of most wood joinery. Without an accurate square, good craftsmanship is all but impossible.
For some woodworkers-barn builders come to mind – the square is somewhat less important. If confronted with the choice between a level and a square, the barn builder will always take the level. But for those of us who want to pursue high-end joinery, as well as executing accurate layouts and performing precise machine setups, this tool is hard to beat.
Like the other instruments in this special woodworking section, our square is made of Honduran mahogany and trimmed with solid brass. If carefully constructed and well cared for, it should define squareness in your shop for a very long time. And best of all, you won’t have to lend it to any barn builders!
Begin construction by cutting to size a piece of 3/4 x 1 3/8-in. mahogany. Then, set up a table-mounted router to cut the finger grip on both sides of the handle. Put a 3/8-in.-rad. core box bit in the router and adjust it so it projects 1/8 in. above the surface of the table. Then, position the fence 11/16 in. from the center of the bit and clamp two stopblocks to the fence. The space between them should be 9 3/8 in., centered on the router bit.
Make the cut by holding the workpiece against the fence with the right end against the stopblock and the left end elevated so the bottom face clears the bit. Turn on the power, lower the raised end to contact the table, and then slide the workpiece to the left stop. Turn off the router, flip over the piece and use the same technique to cut the other side of the handle (Photo 1).
The next step is to rout the rabbets for the brass plates on the lower end of the handle. To form the curved shoulder, first build the routing jig shown in the drawing. Then, install a 7/16-in. guide bushing in your router base and a 1/4-in. straight bit in your router collet. With the bit adjusted for a 1/16-in. depth of cut, make the first pass following the template (Photo 2). Then, remove the rest of the waste by working freehand with the router. Be sure to tack nail the workpiece to the jig to keep from sliding.
The 45 [degree] miter on the top end of the handle must be precise if the tool is to be of any real value. So, proceed with great care. Use a miter gauge or a mitering jig to make the cut. Once you are set up for the cut, make a test miter on a piece of scrap to make sure the angle is correct. To verify the accuracy of the cut, cheek it with a quality protractor. When you are satisfied, make the finished cut (Photo 3).
Next, set up a tenoning jig on the table saw and adjust the blade height and fence position to cut the 1/16-in.deep rabbets for the brass plates on both sides of the handle. Clamp the work to the jig with a scrap block behind it to prevent splintering (Photo 4).
Cut the slot in the handle for housing the blade using a band saw with a fence clamped to the table. Check the thickness of the brass blade, then set up the saw and fence to make a matching cut. Use index cards as shims, as required, between the work and the fence to obtain the precise kerf width (Photo 5). Read more Miter saw reviews
Cutting the brass
The blade and handle faceplates are cut from a .064 x 2 x 12-in. brass strip. For practical purposes, the .064 thickness can be considered 1/16 in. Keep in mind that the brass stock we used is ostensibly flat. But in cross section the 1/16-in.-thick strip reveals slightly rounded areas near each edge. To achieve a truly flat surface, first attach the strip to a piece of 3/4-in.-thick scrap wood. Use two countersunk brass screws driven in the waste at diagonal corners. Then attach a woodblock handle for a positive grip, and sand the surface on a bench-mounted belt sander. Work from 120-grit through 220- and 320-grit sanding belts. For a satin-smooth finish, complete the sanding by rubbing the work over 400- and 600-grit papers taped to a flat surface (Photo 6).
The saw is substantial. It weighs 60 pounds, and at 2 feet square, it has a footprint nearly twice that of the DeWalt. If you plan on using this saw with amiter stand, you’ll want to make sure it fits first. The 1290 comes almost completely assembled right out of the box. After installing the dust bag and hold-down clamp, I had the tool up and running immediately.
This saw’s bevel adjustment is located above the bevel pivot, making the adjustment lever visible from the front of the saw, unlike the knob or bolt located behind the pivot on most other compoundmiter saws. The improved location makes it easier to change settings, because you don’t have to reach around to the back of the saw while holding the motor assembly. By releasing the lever with my left hand and steadying the motor and slide assembly with my right, I can change bevel settings on the MS1290 without changing my body position (see Figure 1). Setting common bevels is made easier by a pin-type lock with detents at 0, 22 1/2, and 45 degrees, but you can override the detents by simply rotating the pin 180 degrees to deactivate it.
[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]
Using a lever-type control similar to the bevel lock, the miter adjustment has 11 presets for common angles and a slick override system activated by a thumbwheel on the locking lever (Figure 2). Unlike the typical spring-activated detents used on other saws, the thumbwheel will remain in the off position if you prefer. But remembering to reengage it after changing the miter can be a challenge. Both miter and bevel scales are etched into easy-to-see, high-contrast metal plates and include adjustable indicators. A nice touch is a chart on the miter scale showing miter and bevel settings for cutting crown with a common 38-degree spring angle on the flat (Figure 3).
[FIGURES 2-3 OMITTED]
The single greatest advantage of sliding compound miter saws is their unsurpassed crosscut capacity, and the MS1290 is no exception. It has an impressive, 13-inch crosscut capacity at 90 degrees and almost 10 inches at 45 degrees. It miters to 60 degrees left and right and bevels to 50 degrees left and right. I was able to cut 5-inch crown in place against the fence, but cutting 5 1/4-inch speed base against the fence was a problem. The bolt and washer that secure the blade interfere with the cut, stopping it at the final 1/4 inch.
The MS1290 has some features that are lacking on other saws I’ve used. It includes a cord wrap, so you don’t trip over the cord when carrying the heavy saw. Its large and reasonably effective dust bag hangs on a metal frame, so it keeps its shape and holds more dust. Carrying handles are placed on top of the cutting head and on the front of the table. The two front handles are cast into the housing, almost guaranteeing that they’ll never break.
The clear plastic guard retracts quickly and, since it doesn’t hold a lot of dust, doesn’t obscure the cut line. Another welcome feature is the massive table that prevents the saw from tipping and provides ample room for even the biggest stock. The rear fence has wings that adjust for bevels and handy white inserts for marking repeat cuts with a pencil; they’re erasable with a swipe of your finger. The MS1290’s manual is easy to understand, contains all the pertinent information, and effectively describes the adjustments for truing the saw.
The biggest surprise on the 1290 was the blade. I’m used to manufacturers putting the lowest-quality blades on their saws to keep the price down, but the 60-tooth carbide blade was quiet, didn’t wobble, and cut a variety of materials surprisingly well for a standard crosscut blade.
Although most of the controls are excellent, the depth stop needs a little refinement. I found it clumsy to set and got inconsistent results when making multiple dado passes (Figure 4).
[FIGURE 4 OMITTED]
The MS1290 is surprisingly quiet and has some nice features. I especially liked the excellent bevel and miter controls. It has a larger crosscut capacity than my DeWalt, and it was accurate right out of the box. My initial concern that the massive 15-amp motor would trip breakers proved groundless–even when I tried to bog it down. My biggest complaint is with the saw’s size and weight. Granted, a saw’s capacity has a direct relation to its size, and a bigger saw will weigh more than a smaller one. But this saw is a bear to carry around. Although the front-mounted handles are meant to make it easier to carry, I bumped the saw housing against my legs with every step.
Nonetheless, it’s clear that Ridgid did its homework designing this saw. With the exception of the depth stop, all of the adjustments and controls are improvements over previous designs. For my work, it’s too big and heavy, but if you tend to work on big jobs for longer periods of time, or if you need a good miter saw for the shop, it would be an excellent choice. The Ridgid MS1290 sells for $600 and includes a lifetime warranty.
Apply masking tape to both sides of the brass to prevent marring. Then, mark the surface of the tape for cutting. Outline the faceplates and the blade. Then, cut the pieces to the outside of the layout lines using a hacksaw and a blade with at least 18 teeth per inch. Once the pieces are cut, use a disc and belt sander to smooth the edges. Remember that it’s more convenient to sand the curved edges on the lower plates before they are cut from the larger piece of brass (Photo 7).
To safely finish sand the pieces on the disc sander, secure them to a piece of wood with pan head screws and washers (Photo 8). Next, cut the two edge wear strips to size. To do this, first sand a 3/4 x 12-in. brass strip flat. Then, cut the pieces about 1/4 in. oversize in length to allow for finish sanding of the ends flush to the wood.
Use a hacksaw fitted with two blades to cut the short blade slot on the top end of the inside wear strip. Follow up with a needle file if necessary to obtain a slip fit. Because these strips are attached with screws and epoxy later, bore the screwholes now. Just tape the strips to the handle and bore a 1/16-in. pilot hole for each screw. Follow these with 7/64-in. shank holes and finish up with countersunk holes for the screwheads. We used 1/2-in.-long No. 4 fh brass screws.
Attaching the brass
For good adhesion, score the back of the brass pieces with 100-grit sandpaper. Then, start assembly with the faceplates. Working with fastsetting epoxy, attach only one piece at a time. Apply the epoxy sparingly to both surfaces and use masking tape to hold the pieces in place.
After the adhesive has set, carefully sand off any squeeze-out. Then turn to the wear strips. Attach the inner strip with epoxy and screws. But install the outer strip with screws only at this point. It will be attached permanently with epoxy later, after the blade is installed. This avoids the possibility of epoxy getting into the blade kerf and clogging it.
Use a disc sander to flush sand the edges of the strips to the top and bottom of the handle. And use a belt sander to shave the screwheads flush. Always work in quick passes to avoid overheating the piece, which could loosen the epoxy.
Secure the blade with three brass rods that serve as rivets. To ensure a precise right-angle setting of the blade, make the simple fixture shown in the drawing for boring the rivet holes through the handle and blade. When the jig is set, insert the blade into the handle. Then, snug the blade and handle assembly firmly against the corner of the control block. Nail one batten against the blade and one against the handle to prevent any movement.
Set the fixture on the drill press to bore the three 1/8-in. holes (Photo 9). Also, bore two rivet holes in the lower faceplates. To provide space for the rivet heads to spread, countersink each hole slightly, no more than 1/32 in. deep.
Cut five 7/8-in.-long rivets from a 1/8-in.-dia. brass rod. Push them into the holes, allowing the ends to project about 1/16 in. Rest each rivet on a vise anvil and round over the end by tapping with a hammer (Photo 10). Unscrew the outer wear strip, apply epoxy and reattach it to the handle with screws. When everything is assembled, tape scrap strips of 1/4-in. plywood over the blade to protect it from accidental marring. Sand the rivet heads flush to the surface, using a belt sander (Photo 11).
For our finish, we applied a coat of Behlen’s Solar Lux medium red mahogany stain and then two coats of Deft Semi-gloss Clear Wood Finish. After each coat dried, we rubbed lightly with 0000 steel wool. We completed the square by applying and buffing out a coat of paste wax.
* 3/4 x 2 3/4 x 12-in. Honduran mahogany, No. 11825: The Woodworkers’ Store, 4365 Willow Dr., Medina MN 55340; 800-279-4441.
* .064 x 3/4 x 12-in. brass strip; .064 x 2 x 12-in. brass strip; 1/8 x 12-in. brass rod: Armor Crafts, P.O. Box 445, East Northport, NY 11731; 800-292-8296.
* Behlen’s Solar Lux medium red mahogany stain, No. 99P10.03: Garrett Wade, 161 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10013; 800-221-2942.