2 Ways to Cut a 3-Way Miter
2 Ways to Cut a 3-Way Miter
Create this impressive joint by hand or with power tools.
By Garrett Glaser
Admiring the complex 3-way mitered joint between the leg and aprons in an antique Chinese table is natural. But the thought of cutting and fitting this interlocking joint by hand is enough to make most woodworkers run up a white flag. Fortunately, the same joint appears in contemporary designs, which means there’s also a modern (easier) way to complete it. In this story I’ll demonstrate both methods and provide all the information you need to build a table with 3-way miters. Whether you love the challenge of using hand tools or love the reliability and predictability of modern power tools, there’s a straightforward way to fashion this elegant, versatile and time-tested joint.
Machine-Cut 3-Way Miter Joint
Simplicity defines this joint, because the cuts on all three
The miters must be precise, so a saw that cuts accurately
Start with straight, square stock. Crosscut both ends
Cut miters on two adjacent faces of each blank. Align
Loose tenons reinforce all the miters. Rout mortises
As all of the joints are interrelated, it’s best to check
With the table assembled, examine the joints and
When the joints fit satisfactorily, disassemble the table.
Fig. A: Routing Jig
Click any image to view a larger version.
1. Use a scrap piece marked with a registration line to set up the
2. Use the mitered scrap piece to mark all the blanks. Align the
3. Align the registration lines to cut miters on adjacent faces of
4. Rout slots for loose tenons with a straight bit, a guide bushing
5. Assemble the table using a jig to keep the legs in position.
Hand-Cut 3-Way Miter Joint
Most traditional Chinese 3-way miter joints consist
Creating a 3-way miter by hand requires three skills:
Start by milling the
Cut the aprons and
The Leg Joint
1. Start by sawing four diagonals on each leg, one on each face.
2. Saw the bottom edge of the miter on the two inside faces. Use
3. Create the tic-tac-toe grid on the top by making four straight cuts. Saw to the upper layout lines on the adjacent faces.
4. Create square shoulders on the two outside miters by sawing diagonally across the top and one adjacent face. Waste removal begins with these cuts.
5. Make deep stopped cuts across both inside faces to reveal the angled inside shoulders. You’ll have to re-mark some of the layout lines in order to make these cuts.
6. Complete each leg joint by removing the waste from around the
7. Remove the bulk of the waste that remains between the tenons
8. Complete the joint by paring across the grain to create a flat
9. Start each apron corner by making two through diagonal cuts,
10. Square the mortise after drilling a stopped hole to remove most
11. Hollow the inside of the joint after marking the shoulders on
12. Pare to the guide lines and square the end-grain shoulder.
13. Fitting the joints takes time. Make sure that the shoulders of
14. All of the joints are interrelated, so assemble the table as soon
Using a Pull Saw
The art of sawing straight and square with a pull saw
isn’t as mysterious as you might think.
I use a fine-tooth flush-cut pull saw to cut 3-way miters.
(The teeth on a flush-cut saw have no set, which means
they don’t flare beyond the body of the blade). You can
spend a lot of money for this type of saw, but I get great
results using a $10 version from a home improvement
store—and I don’t have to worry about the replacement
cost if I kink the blade or break a tooth.
When you saw, the goal is to split the layout line. Don’t
worry—it’s easier than it sounds. Just make sure that the
outside edge of the blade follows the center of the line, so
half of the line remains on the workpiece and the other half
To make a through cut, you follow two adjacent lines,
one across the top of the piece and one continuing down
the side that faces you. Focus first on the top line. Hold the
blade nearly parallel to the surface, but with the heel (the
end closest to the handle) raised slightly, and saw lightly
along the line from the far side to the near side until you’ve
made a shallow groove across the top. Keep the saw in
the groove and switch your focus to the vertical line on
the side. Using the heel of the blade, saw your way down
the line until the teeth of your saw meet the ends of both
lines. If you are cutting square stock, this puts your saw at a
45˚angle. Keep your saw at this angle to complete the cut.
The kerf you’ve created keeps the saw square and plumb
for the rest of the cut.
To make a stopped cut you need three lines—the line
across the top and stopped lines on the opposite adjacent
faces. Begin the cut as you would a through cut, creating
a groove across the top and then cutting with the heel to
the bottom of the first stopped line. But instead of putting
pressure on the heel to continue the cut, make the toe
of the saw do all the work, cutting down the line on the
opposite face, slowly leveling the blade so that the teeth
connect the two points where the cut should stop.
Build a Table with
3-Way Miter Joints
The legs and aprons of tables joined with 3-way miters
form an open frame whose dimensions are determined
by the lengths of the three components. Adding a top
can be as simple as attaching cleats inside the aprons
and cutting a piece to fit.
Note: Product availability and prices are subject to change.
Tools for Working Wood, toolsforworkingwood.com, 800-426-4613; Gustav Ecke, Chinese Domestic Furniture,
This story originally appeared in American Woodworker December/January 2011, issue #151.
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