Score and whack is the basic method, but whacking with a sharp block gets cleaner results
To adapt these cool, old-turned posts to a new pergola, I needed to notch the tops for support of a haunch that will hold other pieces of the pergola. I thought I'd do a quick video to show some of the tricks I use, to get a nice, clean, accurate notch on a post.
Most of these steps are fairly routine for making notches, so I'll cover them quickly.
Both faces needed to be notched and be centered over the post, so I just found the center of the post and laid out these notches, and then transferred 'em around the post with a framing square, for an equal reference all the way around.
Next, I set the depth of the saw to the depth of the notch. With the post secured in place, I'll make a series of cuts along this face of the post. And I'll start with a very accurate cut right along the bottom line, and then a couple of shallow cuts right near the end, that help later in the process.
I want that cut to be nice, true, and accurate. Before I make the cuts across the face, I'll cut a couple of real thin, shallow cuts right at the end, to establish the depth of the notch.
Once I've got those made, I'll just make these random series of cuts in-between. When I get to the place here, where this knot is, I'll have to make the cuts extra close, so that they're able to break off the knot.
Where the wood is clean, I can space the cuts farther apart.
It's important to hold the saw flat on the face, and not enter the wood at an angle, or to depart the wood at an angle, which makes an uneven line when the material is cleared away. You can see here, that I made the cuts closer together so that that knot will break off easier.
It's helpful to clean most of the sawdust out of these cuts. It makes for a cleaner breakaway. I'm able to do that with compressed air from the shop compressor. But if I was out on the site, I would just turn the post and knock that sawdust free.
The steps I used so far are pretty typical. And normally, at this point, I'm gonna just take a hammer and start knocking these chips out. But the little trick I use is very helpful.
I take a serious hammer and a solid block of wood with a sharp corner on it. By lining up this block on the lip I created with those first two saw cuts, I'm able to drive these chunks off here.
A firm, steady whack is the best.
That comes off pretty quick and clean. The little difficulty there, because of the knot and the grain around it.
But a couple of whacks there makes easy work of the process. And depending on the grain of the wood, if the grain is wavy, or there are more knots in it, this surface will be harder to clean up. But because this wood is so old and so straight-grained, I've got a simple job to true this up.
Taking a very sharp chisel, keeping the long, flat side down on the surface quickly cleans it up.
And that's pretty much it.
And I'll have a nice, flat, stable surface. A couple of screws will hold this haunch in and having a ledge here will support an incredible amount of weight.
As I flip the post over to do the second side, you could see how fast this process is, if I'm not stopped to talk about each step along the way.
Basically, I flip the post over, make the initial cuts on each end, and then make a series of cuts through the middle. This side of the post, again, has some knots in it. I'm making extra cuts so that that part will break out a little more easily.
The easier the pieces break out, the cleaner the finished product.
Well, I hope you found that video helpful. It's a great way to get a nice, clean, accurate notch without a whole lot of time or effort. So, if you're notching posts for a deck, to go around a joist, or for a set of stairs, this same process can be used, if the notch needs to be at an angle for a set of stairs or something.
It's a very handy method to have in your bag of tricks.
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—Matt Jackson is a master carpenter, remodeler, SketchUp Wiz, YouTuber, and contributing editor to ProTradeCraft. He lives and works in Rapid City, South Dakota.