How to cut notches in wood

Updated February 21, 2017

Whether you are looking at wood beams for structural frames or supporting posts in a fence, the outer logs on a log cabin structure or even a set of cabinets, there are a variety of structures built with wood which utilise slots to fit two pieces of wood together to create a higher level of structural strength than a single piece of wood can provide. You can cut notches anywhere you need using nothing more than a few simple hand tools, allowing you to add structural integrity to whatever project you are working on.

Determine the depth of the notch you need to cut in the wood. Measure with the tape measure against the piece of wood you are planning to cut the notch in and mark the width of the notch. Next, use your carpenter's square to carry the width marker lines down the side of the board, timber or plank you are notching, and carry the pencil lines down the side of the piece to use as a reference when cutting your first cuts. Optionally, mark the final depth line across the board.

Set the depth of the circular saw blade by either using the tape measure and adjusting the depth guide on the saw, or hold the saw up against the piece of wood you will be cutting and allow the weight of the saw to push the blade down through the guide until it reaches the optional depth mark you put on the wood earlier.

Put on your safety glasses and work gloves. Push the circular saw firmly against the edge of the piece of wood you are cutting, using one of the outer width marks as your guide. Pull the trigger and push the saw completely through the piece of wood. Repeat the process with the opposite width mark, and then run the saw through the wood at 3-mm (1/8-inch) intervals, leaving only slivers of wood between the two width marks.

Apply force with a wood chisel and hammer to carve out the wood slivers at the full depth of the notch. Use a chisel that has a width appropriate to the size of the notch. Smooth the bottom of the notch with one of the finishing chisels to remove any burrs of wood or bumps left after the roughness of the circular saw blade.


Always wear safety gear when working with power tools.

Things You'll Need

  • Circular saw
  • Tape measure
  • Carpenter's pencil
  • Safety glasses
  • Work gloves
  • Wood chisel set
  • Hammer
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About the Author

Tim Anderson has been freelance writing since 2007. His has been published online through GTV Magazine, Home Anatomy, TravBuddy, MMO Hub, Killer Guides and the Delegate2 group. He spent more than 15 years as a third-generation tile and stone contractor before transitioning into freelance writing.