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Artist's Essential Tool Guide - Miter Box


One of the most important elements of crafting custom-made stretcher bars for home-made canvases are accurate miter-cut bracing. These supports run, ideally, half-way from any center braces to the frame's corners and are cut at perfect 45 degree angles. They prevent warping when you later stretch your canvas and prevent it when your paintings traverse different climates, humidity levels and customers. Miter boxes come dirt cheap or somewhat expensive for laser-cut steel versions. I decided to first test the cheapest of the cheap: Home Depot's $5 special.


I first secured the miter box to my painting table. Be aware of the 3/4" lip on one end; this hugs the edge of your table. Take care not to over tighten the screws as it will crack the base! You'll also need to put a 3/4" board on the opposite side to level the cutting surface. I had some birch plywood strips laying around from another project and they worked nicely. I also took this opportunity to attach a hinged extension to regain my lost surface area. I found the nearly-new, heavy-duty hinges off an hold fence in an apartment dumpster!

My hand saw (not pictured) is about 3/16" in thickness whereas the miter box's slits are more or less 1/8". The first few cuts down to the wood were troublesome as the saw bound up and I could see the slit growing imprecisely as the blade was pushed and pulled down towards the stretcher bar board. Once through the first two cuts, the saw operated normally.

Even though this miter box is very cheap and lightweight, susceptible to cracking, fracture and clamp damage, my next two stretcher bars were just about perfect.

If your not using a good miter saw or at least the venerable miter box, your not making good art!