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SkilSaw Method for Strip Cutting ... a primer

Jul 18, 2016
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Bowmanville, Ontario
Jim Dodd suggested I write up something on making strips with the "Skilsaw Method" .... this will be that something, hopefully useful to some.

I first saw this method in a post by Jim Dodd (he doesn't claim credit for it, just passes it along), on the BearMountain builders forum, I had just finished my first canoe and had done my strips for that build on my RAS and it took much sweat, setup and 2 people to get that part of the build done. Keeping the board flat to the cutting guide was in a word a PITA.

The idea with bigger saws (bigger saws = RAS/Table/Band), is to use a longer cut guide to give accurate, straight cuts and for its intended purpose it works very well indeed. However, when cutting canoe strips, the boards can get fairly long, typically 16' - 20' ... something that long will rarely have a perfectly straight edge. So having this long cut guide is now going to cause issues with trying to cut even strips with a board that has a slight curve to it (and most will), the longer the guide the worse the issue.

The second issue with using a larger saw is the need for infeed and outfeed tables, most of us are not going to have ~40' of available shop space, so that usually moves things outside (which has it's own issues), not to mention making up the tables.

Enter, the "SkilSaw" method of cutting strips, attaching a shorter guide to your circular saw and making use of your strongback as a work surface ... sounds too good to be true, is something that simple is going to actually work? It actually works very well and is easy to setup ... so lets take a look at how to make that happen.

These are the important points of how the skilsaw method can be done, in this case with examples from my projects and equipment, the idea here is to present a workable method, you can take that and adapt as required to your individual situation, the method is very flexible.

Equipment Required

- strongback form with attachment blocks in place
- circular saw
- 12" - 16" piece aluminum angle (1/2" - 3/4") ... use what material you can get, my neighbour had this piece kicking around
- 1" x 3" strapping material ~8'

A look at the aluminum piece, note the slight bend in the edge part (will mention again later). This piece will be riding to the side of the wood, think about the thickness of the wood you usually use ... if the aluminum is thicker than the wood, it will hit the sacrificial strips, I like 1/2" pieces for that reason, it is however, entirely at the users discretion. This guide piece is fairly important, being shorter allows it to follow the edge of the wood, so even if the wood has a curve, the blade will track just fine and produce an even strip start to finish. Obviously there is a limit to the amount of curve that can be handled, but it is surprising how much curve this setup can easily handle on a long piece.


Attachment to the saw with 2 "C" clamps, you can use C clamps, visegrips, actually drill and bolt ... I have seen all these variations, you will need to figure what will work best for you.


Just a few words about blades ... you are ripping wood, this pretty much mandates fewer teeth on the blade. The fibers are being cut length wise and need more room to help them get ejected from the cut. DO NOT think you need a finer blade (more teeth) for a better finish, this lowers the space between the teeth and clogs the blade, impeding the cut. You will be doing a thorough sanding of the hull after installation, so the finish on the strips is pretty far down the list of objectives.

I suggest you get a thin kerf, 24 tooth (or less) blade (mine is a 7 1/4") ... a Diablo Demo Blade 7 1/4" 24 tooth thin kerf from Home Depot works well and is fairly inexpensive. That is not a recommendation for that blade, just an example of what to look for.

The "Thin Kerf" reduces the width of the cut (the one above is less than 1/16" wide) which reduces the wood being removed which reduces waste and loading on your saw (less wood removed = less power required).

Set your strip width so it is even across your angle guide. Also note here how that little bend is oriented, this keeps that sharp tip from digging into the wood and allows it to slide smoothly.


Cut some sacrificial 1" x 3" strips, 18" - 24" long and attach to the form blocks on the strongback


The wood piece has to be held while being cut, so we need to add a few more pieces to hold things in place. I just use a few pieces of scrap angled up to catch half the thickness of the wood being held ... these keep the wood from sliding back


We also need to keep it from moving forward and that is done with another scrap piece at the end


You also need to provide the skilsaw with a base of some sort to run on. Initially the wood piece is fine, but as you cut strips, this becomes narrower and at some point does not give enough of a base to be stable. Fortunately, multiple boards are almost always being cut, so add in one of the "other" boards and cut against that one, allowing you to cut to end of the piece


the strip on the left is 1/4", the waste is quite small on this board


Operation is pretty straight forward, hold your saw guide flat to the wood and start your cut, holding the saw against the side of the wood and keeping a downward pressure ... walk the saw the length of the wood piece and continue past to complete the cut. If you use a corded saw (like me) then you may have to do some cable management as you go ... when you get a bit of experience you can finesse your setup a bit to minimize this.

The method is quite versatile and in wood working there are a lot of applications for cutting strips.

Here I replace the end angled stop piece with a glued "hook" for cutting 3/8" x 3/4" x 18' cherry gunnel blanks




Or 1/8" x 2" x 8' ash strips for paddle making




Strips for steam bending, bent laminations are a breeze with this method, producing even strips that require little prep for use, usually a light sanding and go.

I recently broke down a popular 2" x 10" x 10' into 1" x 2" framing material, much easier to lay the piece out on the strongback, add the standoff and cut strips with a circular saw.

If you haven't at least tried this method for cutting strips, you may be pleasantly surprised if you do ... certainly it is something I am glad that i added to my "bag-O-tricks" for wood working ... if you have adaptations or comments on how you use the method, please post it here ... maybe we can make a nice collection of experience for all to benefit from ....

I really need to try that for curing strips for various project!!
Excellent Brian ! I was impressed by your mounting system for your strongback !

For one, it sets the plank away from the strongback, and prevents tripping on the strongback legs, with my clumsy feet.

The angled support is perfect.

The only addition I'd make ? I like a Small Visegrip as the front clamp ! It gives you a safe place for your other hand,

I know others are fearful of an exposed blade. Care just has to be taken !

Lastly I like a 5 gal. bucket to set my saw in. Better than laying it on the strongback, or the ground !

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Good write up Brian. There are at least 2 safety concerns with this method of cutting strips, one of which Jim has already mentioned with the exposed blade. It might be worth wearing the chainsaw chaps if you have them or can borrow some. Bad news if that blade comes in contact with your leg. My arm gets quite fatigued eventually.

The other issue is with the dust created using a circular saw. I wear my respirator and definitely cut the strips outside. Western red cedar sawdust is very very bad for your lungs and most circular saws have no provision for collecting any dust, and most of them spit the dust right in front of your face. Personally, I wouldn’t cut strips indoors unless you want thick dust on everything. Any way of doing things has its pros and cons, it’s just good to be aware.

Hi Mark ,,, both good points and the cut depth of the blade is poorly represented in the pics. As with any cutting operations, that blade is adjusted to the thickness of the material "plus a bit" (I usually add about an 1/8") so there really isn't much blade exposed when cutting ... with the supports underneath the work piece you would have to work a bit to get that saw near your leg. Totally concur that all sawing operations have risk, and this is no exception, I am just not sure this method presents any additional risk as a process when compared to any other sawing operation.

My circular saw spits the dust down a bit and I end up with a dust blanket on my legs and shoes, if there is a breeze, I adjust my setup so it mostly blows away from me and that helps a lot. Your point is a good one though, think about your dust management before you start the operation. As far as arm fatigue, whether you are pushing wood or a saw, take a break .... the break is a good time to sweep and tidy up the work area a bit, you typically are going to be pushing that saw through ~1200 feet of wood ,,, that takes some time and effort.

As far as dust goes, I have cut strips indoors and outdoors and it is definitely a lot more comfortable in the drive and sweeping is an easy cleanup. Concur that cedar is not good for you, but would add that most sawdusts are not good and a good respirator (not just a paper mask) is a must for all power operations. Some of the risk from sawdust is particle size related, sanding is another risky operation as the "dust" is much finer and more likely to penetrate further in the respiratory system ... even if your sander has collection, unless it is powered, stick with that respirator.

Dust inside a workshop IMO is inevitable ,,, I think that's why you need a neighbour with a leaf blower you can borrow for 10 minutes each month (and use the respirator again).

Brian, I should have been a little clearer. I’m not worried about the saw while cutting, but at the end of the cut when the saw is unsupported and the blade is still spinning. If the guard were in place it would protect you for those few seconds, instead you are exposed. I’m not being critical here, just trying to identify potential safety issues, and this is certainly one of them.

There is is a lot going on when you cut strips this way. The cord needs some of your attention and sometimes the strip can kick a little right at the end. With the cumulative fatigue on you forearm your attention might be drawn away for those seconds.

I agree Mark.

Fatigue, is an issue, with a Skilsaw, or Table saw.

I always cut outside. Always wear a Good 3M Respirator. I have the cord over my shoulder, and whip it out of the way, before cutting a strip. ( Watch the video)

The blade guard could be modified , so it would spring back in place.

Your points are well taken, and I'll set about trying to remedy the blade guard.

The Vise grip does ease fatigue, and keeps your hand away from the blade.

Strips cut by someone, trying to push a plank through a Table saw, has it's share of hazards also.

If anyone, doesn't feel safe using this method ? By all means don't do it.

Over the years , I've used this method for at least 35 canoes, mine as well as others. Not once have I sustained any injuries.

Good observations Mark !

you can get cleaner cuts with less waste if you use a veneer blade, and with most modern saws you can remove the sawdust bag and add a dust port for a vaccuum.
you can get cleaner cuts with less waste if you use a veneer blade, and with most modern saws you can remove the sawdust bag and add a dust port for a vaccuum.

Remember you're ripping along the grain. The strips are as clean as they can be in my experience with the thin kerf, 24 tooth blade. In my experience a fine tooth blade wouldn't work for this. Personally I haven't seen a circular saw with a bag, although one of my circular saws has a port. The port shoots about 40% of the coarser stuff in a slightly different direction, but most of that ends up on you or on the top of the board. Even so, I can't imagine what a pain it would be to try and manage a dust collection hose while cutting strips. All this is just my opinion, I could be wrong about all of it.

Right on Jim. The only better way I've seen to cut strips with little dust is the way Nick Schade does it with a feed roller on his tablesaw. For that you need a large shop, the big saw, the roller feeder, a good dust collection system and infeed and outfeed tables. If anyone ever gives me all of those things I'll switch over, until then it's the skillsaw method for me.
True Mark !

I questioned Nick on why he used the Tablesaw ?
He stated because he could ! He had enough money for a long shop, and high dollar tools !
Must of us don't !
Concur with your points Mark, a veneer blade is just not made for ripping, too many teeth to allow the dust to get clear and although it has a thin kerf, it isn't really any thinner than a regular thin kerf ripping blade.

It addresses the point I made about trying to use a finish blade to get a smoother exterior on the strips, which within reason is not really a consideration in making the strips. There are so many sanding and fairing operations in their future, that a few surface blemishes just don't matter. The strips do however need to be dimensional consistent, once you have that, you are close to the finish line IMO.

Jim, this is exactly why the skilsaw method is appealing .... assuming you have a decent circular saw and that you are going to require the same blade in both cases, think about the dollars required to setup a large saw to produce the same dimensional quality strips ... the infeed/outfeed tables, setting up long guides guides ... the additional costs would be staggering in comparison.

That doesn't mean a big saw isn't worth setting up, if you have the space and equipment ... but it does mean that most people can produce excellent strips with a circular saw and strongback, with minimal additional cost to the build and also get a very useful method to make strips for all kinds of projects, to add to their "Bag-o-Tricks".

Do you guys who use this technique buy your boards raw? If so, do you joint plane your boards at all (face or edge) before having at it? I find that to be the hardest thing to do in a typical home shop when were are talking about boards at least 8 feet long and often wider than the typical home jointer. (Yeah, I rip em down to width on the band saw before jointing/planing).

I cut my first batch of strips on the table saw with a "thin-kerf" blade. It worked. When I realized 3/4 of my way through my build that I would need more strips, I switched over to a small 6" band saw (Shopsmith powered) with a good 1/2" ripping blade and a fence. Talk about a thin kerf! Your wood will go a lot further with a band saw than the thinnest thin-kerf table saw blade, I can tell you that! Yep, infeed and outfeed support is still needed.
Personally, I usually use rough lumber (at least 16') and plane to the thickness I want my strips, saves sizing the strips later. Then I go straight to the circular saw, the first strip from the rough edge is usually not viable, after the first cut they are all fine. The guide is pretty short so any curve in the rough lumber just gets followed and the strip thickness stays constant.

There is likely no question that a band saw blade will give you more strips per board, but it will be a lot more work to setup ... as outlined in the original post.

"Talk about a thin kerf! Your wood will go a lot further with a band saw than the thinnest thin-kerf table saw blade"

To try and quantity this statement, I did a few rough calculations, assuming the bandsaw blade at 1/32" and circular blade at 1/16" using a 6" wide board, in theory you can expect a band saw to produce 21 strips and the thin kerf circular blade to produce 19 strips ... while that is more strips from the band saw, on a boat level of total strips required, it amounts to 6-7 strips difference ... most of us will cut a few extra, so it really gets to be a wash IMO.