Woodcraft Supplies

Woodworking Miter Saws

Andrew Wormer offers some help and advice if you are looking to buy a miter saw ~ in association with

in Association with

Guide for Buying Chop Saws & Compound Miter Saws

Content © Andrew Wormer

Miter saws are versatile tools that have become a mainstay of workshops everywhere. These powerful saws make angled cuts by pulling a circular blade down onto a workpiece with a short, controlled plunge. It might appear that miter saws are infinitely complex and varied, but there are only three general types: basic miter saw, compound miter saw, and sliding compound miter saw. The type you choose will depend on your woodworking needs.

The Motorized Revolution

It wasn't that long ago that making accurate crosscuts in wood required a skilled hand, a sharp handsaw, and a chunk of time. But in the early 1970s, a new saw began to appear on job sites that promised to speed up these cuts: the motorized miter saw, or chop saw. A chop saw is essentially a lightweight circular saw mounted on a spring-loaded pivoting arm supported by a metal base. While these relatively small, inexpensive saws don't have the cutting capacity of a radial arm saw, they are very portable and rugged enough to stand up to daily use (and abuse) on the job and survive the pickup truck ride to the next job.

DeWalt DW715 15 amp 12" Compound Miter Saw

Compound Miter SawThis DeWalt Compound Miter Saw comes with a durable carbide blade, a blade wrench, and a convenient dust bag.

» Powerful 15 Amp motor
» Capable of 5,000 RPM operation for extended power and durability
» Bevels at 3° to 48° for increased cut capacity
» Stainless steel detent plate
» 11 positive stops for repeatable accuracy and work site durability
» Weighs 35 lbs; backed by a manufacturer's 3-year warranty
» Includes built-in carrying handle for increased portability

Chop Saw Cutting Capacity

A chop saw with a 10" blade and a hefty 12 - 15 amp motor can make quick, accurate 90° cuts in 2x4's and 2x6's. If you rotate the blade left or right, they can also make miter cuts, and some of them can be pivoted past 45° in one or both directions. But 10" chop saws have one major limitation: cutting capacity. Most of them are limited to about a 5½" cut at 90°, and even less when cutting miters.

For this reason, manufacturers also offer chop saws with 12", 14", and even 15" diameter blades, which enables them to make cuts that are wider (up to about 7½") and higher (up to about 3½"). For some users, this capacity still isn't enough, which is why the pricier -- but more versatile -- sliding compound miter saws have become so popular. In fact, regular chop saws are disappearing from the marketplace.

Compound Miter Saws and Fences

Chop saws that can make bevel cuts as well as miter cuts (and most of them can nowadays) are technically called compound miter saws . If you tilt the blade while cutting at an angle, these saws can cut crown molding while the stock lies flat on the table. But tilting the blade means that the fence has to get out of the blade's way when the saw head heels over. To achieve this, some manufacturers significantly reduce the height of their fences near the blade, then advise users to add a supplemental wood fence when making regular cuts that need extra-height support. But a better approach is to use a sliding fence, which provides full-height support and moves out of the way for bevel cuts.

Makita LS1018 10" Dual-Bevel Slide Compound Miter Saw

Compound Miter SawThis Makita Compound Miter Saw is ideal for baseboard and crown molding installation, finish carpenters, cabinet and furniture makers, wood floor installers, deck builders, general construction and more.

» Powerful 13 amp direct drive motor
» Requires less maintenance and delivers 4,300 RPM
» Miters 0-47° left and 0-60° right
» Cuts up to 12" at 90degrees and 8-12" at 45°
» Linear ball bearing system engineered to deliver "dead-on" accurate cuts
» Rear handle bevel lock is easily accessible

Miter Matters

Preset detent positions on the saw's turntable (typically set at 0, 15, 22.5, 30, and 45°) help to position the blade quickly and accurately for common miter cuts. Some manufacturers also offer detents for the common crown molding angles on the miter and bevel scales. But the detents on some saws can be tricky to override if you want to make minute adjustments to the fit of a cut--say, a 32.25° miter instead of the 31.62° that crown molding typically requires. The miter and bevel scales offered by different manufacturers aren't equally easy to read, either. This is particularly true of bevel scales, which are often partially hidden behind the body of the saw.

Before You Buy

The points below should help you choose a compound miter saw that will suit your needs:
  • Weight: If you do a lot of moving around, weight can be an important factor. Some saws weigh as little as 30 lbs, while heavier saws can weigh in at 50 lbs or more.
  • Handle comfort: Some saws are more balanced than others when you pick them up by their carrying handle. The position of the trigger handle may also affect how comfortable the saw is to operate. Many people prefer D-shaped handles oriented perpendicular to the blade.
  • Saw blade: Most saws come equipped with a carbide-toothed saw blade as standard equipment. If the saw comes with an inexpensive steel blade, you'll want to replace it with a higher-quality blade, specifically designed for a miter saw, for consistently smooth, straight cuts.
  • Blade guard: It's easier to see the cut line if your saw has a smoothly operating blade guard that automatically moves out of the way as the blade nears the cut, as opposed to being pushed out of the way by the workpiece.
  • Accessories: Finally, accessories such as dust bags, table extensions, and stock clamps often are included with the price of the saw, but not always. Remember to add them to your calculations if you need to purchase them separately, since they can have a considerable effect on your total cost.

books icon Woodworking Reference Books

Miter Saw Fundamentals
This book helps woodworkers identify which saws and accessories best fit their needs; teaches basic and advanced techniques ...
Woodworking Basics
This book takes a traditional approach to teaching, with the idea that learning basic skills is essential to craftsmanship. ...

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