Miter saws are tools that offer great control and versatility, allowing you more flexibility and options in the workshop to create a large variety of different types of cut.
This is a relatively large, powered tool that will sit on your desk and allow you to move it in multiple different angles. It can look somewhat intimidating for a beginner who perhaps doesn’t have a lot of experience, but once you find the right one, it’s going to be something that helps you out in a large range of different situations and that you’ll find yourself heading for often.
What is a Miter Saw?
So what precisely is a miter saw? Essentially, this is a tool that is designed to let you make straight cuts at a variety of different angles. It has a large base and a surface area where you can place your materials for cutting. From there, you’ll then be able to manipulate a large rotating saw that you can pull down at different angles. The base itself will also move, while the material should be able to be moved forward and back underneath. Measuring elements will normally be included in the miter saw, which in turn will allow you to make consistently accurate cuts at specific angles. It can also be used to cut partially into a material, which has a range of other applications.
The miter saw is therefore highly useful whenever you need to make things like picture frames or door frames. It is also very useful in crown molding.
Pros and Cons
As with a bandsaw or other powered saws, you can also use a miter saw for making simple straight cuts. Making said cut simply involves placing the wood underneath the blade and then pushing down gently from the top. This makes it a particularly easy tool to use and one that can save you a lot of time and effort versus slaving away with a handheld saw. For that reason, you might just find yourself looking for every excuse to use the miter saw!
Of course there are limitations to the miter saw too and scenarios where this won’t be a suitable choice. For instance, the miter saw is not as useful when you want to cut curves, corners or details. It is also less precise for making indentations. For these kinds of scenarios, using bandsaws or a regular handsaw will make more sense.
Another limitation of the bandsaw is the size of the platform where you can cut your wood. This will of course limit the size of the wood that you can cut.
The size of the miter itself is also worth considering – you need to ensure that you have space in your workshop for this item before spending a lot of money on one!
Types of Miter Saw
There is actually more than one type of miter saw (which is called a mitre saw in the UK!) and getting the choice right will help to ensure that it will cater to your specific needs.
These types of miter saw include:
Compound Miter Saws
A compound miter saw is a saw that has blades capable of pivoting left and right for your angled cuts. They will also often have the ability to tilt on their side at different angles, allow you to make bevelled cuts – i.e. cutting in at a sloped angle in order to make an attractive indent.
Dual Compound Miter Saw
A dual compound miter saw is a saw that has the added benefit of letting you tilt the blade in both directions (rather than just one). This makes bevelled cuts a little easier and quicker to make and thereby increases the cutting possibilities.
Sliding Compound Miter Saw
These are saws that let you move the cutting material or blade forward and backward. For the slightly more professional woodworker or company, getting a sliding compound miter saw is a great choice because it will allow you to work with larger pieces of wood, making straight cuts down long lines at any angle.
Sliding compound miter saws give you more versatility but of course they will also take up considerably more space in your workshop – thereby potentially reducing the number of other items that you can keep in your workshop ready to put into good use.
Features to Look Out For
As well as choosing the right type of miter saw, it’s also important to consider the additional features that a miter saw has and how these will impact on you every day. Making a smart choice will mean weighing up the features of each miter saw against the rest and also considering how this is reflected in the price (or otherwise).
At the end of the day though, if you find yourself doing particular kinds of work on a regular basis, then there may only be one kind of miter saw available for you.
Some things to look out for…
Laser Guide System
A laser guide system is a great additional feature on any miter saw that will make it a lot easier and improve the accuracy of your cuts considerably. As you have probably already guessed, this gives you a laser sight which you can then follower with the miter, thereby ensuring that you are precisely following the angle that you want.
It’s worth doing a little reading around though here, as some miter saws will have better laser sights than others. In some cases, the laser sight might not be particularly accurate or precise, or you might find that it doesn’t show up quite as clearly as it should do in daylight.
The best way to ensure that you’re getting a laser sight that works well is to look at the reviews and to see what other users have to say. If you can find one though, a miter saw with a laser guide is a great choice that will greatly improve your experience with the machine.
Any experienced woodworker knows what this is and how important it is. This is your ability to collect the large amount of sawdust that you are creating as you work and to avoid letting it enter your atmosphere.
There are two solutions normally for this. One is to have an in-built dust bag (in which case you should check the capacity and precisely what the mechanism is for attaching and detaching it). Another solution is to look for a dust port that will allow you to fit a dust collection solution of your own. This can give you more flexibility than a built-in option, but you do need to ensure that the port won’t leak – again, reviews are your friends in this regard.
Dust is a nuisance and it takes time to clear up but this isn’t the extent of the problem. When dust is allowed to build up, it can actually be irritating for your breathing, get in your eyes and even jam mechanisms making your cuts less accurate. All in all, this is an important consideration for any workshop big or small.
Type of Motor
It’s very important to make sure that you think about the type of motor that is going to be in your miter saw. The power will often be between 10-15 amps and the more power you get in your saw, the more capable it will be of cutting through thick wood. Of course it also means that you’ll be able to cut through thinner wood more quickly.
Consider the maximum RPMs too, which will greatly impact on the smoothness of the cut. Smooth start technology is another good feature to look into, as this will allow you to lessen the ‘burst’ of power that you feel when the motor starts, giving you slightly more control. Being able to alter the power output is also useful.
The blade is of course also highly important. Miter saws will usually be fitted with blades that are 8, 10 or 12” and this will affect just how deep the cut is on your miter saw. You can also change out the blades in many cases and sometimes a miter saw might even come with multiple different blades to switch between out of the box. If a miter saw comes with just one blade, it will normally be a ‘middle of the road’ blade to provide a versatile range of applications.
It’s also worth considering how many teeth the blade has and how they are spaced apart. The more teeth you have in the blade, the finer cut you will be able to achieve for finishing. Different blades will be better suited to wood, aluminum or mild steel.
Seeing as it’s in the title of the machine, you can probably deduce that the miter is a rather important part of this instrument. A miter is essentially an angled cut and this is what gives the device its primary use. The number of angles on a miter will dictate the freedom you have to choose certain cuts, while the measurements included will dictate just how easy it is for you to find the precise angle you want and stick with it. Note that some miters will have set ‘positive stops’ which are basically positions where you can easily lock your saw into place and know that it is going to be fixed at a popular angle.
The bevel/compound is the ability of the miter saw to tilt on its side and thereby allow for bevelled cuts.
When looking for your miter saw, it is important to consider the safety features that the manufacturer has implanted. Something to look for for instance is the inclusion of electric brakes, which will allow you to stop the miter saw quickly and easily in its tracks. Another thing to look for are fence guards which will help to protect you from slipping.
Consider as well the stability of the unit and try to make sure that it is weighty enough and has enough grip to prevent it from slipping around on the surface. IT’s also important that you always take care when using miter saws and you should never operate any kind of machinery like this on an uneven surface which can cause it to tip or slip.
Of course there are then also the slightly more ‘shallow’ considerations. Do you like what it looks like? Is it a good price? How are the ergonomics? And will it fit in your workshop?
When choosing any kind of machinery for the workshop, it is highly important that you take the time to do your research, to shop around and to make sure that you are getting a well made product. Buying from known brands is also a good idea in many cases, as is being willing to spend a little bit more in order to get a better product. While we all like to save money, cutting tools are the kinds of things that are worth the investment and that will last longer and provide you with a better experience at the higher end. At the end of the day, a better tool will result in better end products. And better end products will provide you with more happiness and enjoyment doing what you love. More importantly, buying cheaper products can sometimes be unsafe!
Some models we like include:
Makita LS1016L 10-Inch Dual Slide Compound Miter Saw With Laser
Hitachi C10FCH2 15-Amp 10-inch Single Bevel Compound Miter Saw with Laser Marker
DEWALT DWS709 Slide Compound Miter Saw, 12-Inch
Bosch GCM12SD 120-Volt 12-Inch DB Glide Miter Saw
DEWALT DWS780 12-Inch Double Bevel Sliding Compound Miter Saw
DEWALT is generally a great brand to choose. As always, make sure to do your research, to read reviews and to even watch some videos on YouTube where you can actually see the units in action and watch them performing.
Take your time and you should find that this is a tool that lasts you a long time and that makes itself useful in a wide range of different scenarios!