How to Buy a Miter Saw: A Buying Guide

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miter saw buying guide

There isn’t a workshop on earth that can’t benefit from having a miter saw available. However, it can be challenging to choose the right type of miter saw with so many options out there. There are traditional miter saws, compound miter saws in single and dual versions, and sliding compound miter saws to decide between. Even after determining which is the best miter saw for your needs, there are other factors that must be considered.

Depending on whether you are going to be remodeling your home, doing carpentry work, making furniture, contracting woodworking services, or doing DIY projects, some miter saws might be better choices for you than others. The same applies depending on which materials you will be cutting. While any miter saw will do a great job on most types of wood, some also have the ability to make cuts in aluminum, plastic, or concrete.

Purchasing the first miter saw you see isn’t something you should consider. There are multiple capabilities and sizes for these saws and they come in various price ranges. Reviewing a large selection of saws may be required to ensure you get the best value for your money and that the saw will do what you need it to do. With so much that needs to be considered, this buyers guide will help you answer all your questions. By the time we are done, you’ll be ready to pick the right saw for your workshop.

What to Expect from Different Types of Miter Saws

One of the first things to think about when buying a miter saw is which type is right for you. The two most common types are the sliding and non-sliding compound miter saw, but there is also a basic miter saw available. Each of these saws has its own set of advantages and disadvantages, which we will go over in depth, so you have all of the information you need to make a decision.

The Basic Miter Saw

While this saw is not as popular as it once was, that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth looking at. The basic miter saw is commonly used for making cross cuts and miter cuts, while also offering the option to cut trim. One of the disadvantages of this saw is that it can only make miter cuts. That means you have no way to make a bevel cut while using it. However, if you need a saw that is fairly simple and don’t mind the lack of features, it can be useful for a home workshop or garage. These saws tend to be ideal for making simple cuts but have a high accuracy. This is also going to be the least expensive miter saw, which might make it an excellent choice for a beginner to woodworking who has a tight budget.

The Compound Miter Saw

Compound miter saws are unique from basic saws in that they are able to make tilted or bevel cuts. This type of saw can be adjusted to make either cut as needed and there are often numerous cut options in each type. The compound miter saw comes in a single or dual bevel type, which are also a bit different from each other. If you were to choose a single bevel miter saw, that means it will make bevel cuts but only in one direction. That means to cut in the other direction, the material would have to be moved. On the other hand, a dual bevel model can make cuts to both the left and right without having to move around your wood or other material. Those who cut items like crown molding may find that a dual bevel miter saw is the best choice.

The Sliding Compound Miter Saw

Those who want an ultra-versatile miter saw will find that the sliding miter saw may fit the bill. However, this is also the most expensive miter saw you can purchase. This type of saw has the same features as the compound saw which we mentioned above. However, it also features a sliding arm. What this does is allow you to cut thicker and wider pieces of wood or other material. Therein lies the versatility of the saw itself. Due to the expensive nature of this miter saw, it may not always be the right purchase unless you typically work with large materials.

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Selecting Between a Sliding or Non-Sliding Miter Saw

If you’ve made it this far, you may be considering whether a sliding or non-sliding miter saw is the right option for your needs. We mentioned that the main reason to choose a sliding miter saw is that it lets you cut wider and thicker boards. Let’s look at an example of what that actually means in practice. If you have a non-sliding saw with a 10” blade, this will let you cut things up to about 6” wide. However, choosing a 12” non-sliding gives you the option to cut boards of up to 8”.

When you look at sliding saws, those numbers increase exponentially. For example, a 10” blade on a sliding saw, you can cut up to 12” rather than 6”. This is especially important for carpentry since many of the times when working on cabinetry, you’ll need nearly 12” of cutting width. That doesn’t mean that you can’t cut the board on a non-sliding saw, but it does mean you’ll have to move and flip it to finish your cut. Doing that over and over can get repetitive and annoying.

Considering the Saw’s Power Source

In most cases, the miter saws you will find will be corded and feature a 10, 12, or 15-amp motor. Those who are only doing small projects will find the small 10-amp option completely reasonable. However, those who work with hardwoods or are in the need of wide crosscuts will want to choose the most powerful motors. Those who expect to do regular work with the saw, but only with thinner materials, will likely find a 10 or 12-amp motor to be sufficient.

While corded models are most common, there are battery-powered miter saws out there. These are typically best for DIYers or tradesmen who do a lot of travel. You can expect this type of saw to be lighter, smaller, and capable of light to medium work needs. In addition, these are often equipped with brushless motors to last a long time and need less maintenance.

All About Blade Choice and Crosscut Needs

When it comes to crosscut, looking at blade size is important. There are saw blades available in 8 ¼, 8 ½, 10, and 12” diameter. When choosing a size, remember that the larger it is, the longer cuts you are able to make. That means your bevels, miters, and crosscuts can be longer with a larger saw blade. If you already know that you will need to cut large pieces of lumber or wide molding, you will want a substantial blade or a decent sizes blade and a slide capacity that meets the width need you have.

One thing that the 10” blade has going for it is that it is the same size blade used in a table saw. If you use this blade size, you can swap blades out between the two tools. You will also find this is the case with the cordless miter saw which used a 7 ¼ blade and your circular saw. This means that 7 ¼ blades are easily found and available so you won’t find yourself out of luck if you need to quickly pick one up.

If you are going to be cutting hardwoods or focusing on finished cuts in various materials, you will also want to look for a blade with a large TPI (teeth per inch). The larger the number is, the better the finish. However, the fact remains that when any blade begins to dull, it should be switched out. This is easier on your motor and safer for you as you do your work.

Thinking About Angle Detents and Ranges

While there is a variance in terms of the top miter and bevel ranges of different saws, all of them will cut to 45 degrees. Some compound saws may have a range of up to 48 degrees while dual compounds can reach around 50 degrees to the left and 62 degrees to the right. In most cases, no matter what the angle availability is, it will do the job for most people who need it use it.

Another thing to consider is the stop detents, which should be positive stop. This is the most common option, but it’s always worth double checking to be sure. The detent is a mechanical catch which will lock movement of the machine when it is released. That prevents issues with inaccurate angles. Most miter saws will have detents at 90 degrees, 45 degrees, and 22.5 degrees at the very least. You want a saw with a smooth detent override so that you can move the saw when needed without engaging at each positive stop.

The Need for a Cut Guide

The most quality miter saws will often come with a laser beam which is meant to show the path of the blade across the entire piece of material. It’s a great feature to have and, in many cases, is worth the additional cost. However, you should be aware that it doesn’t ensure accurate cuts every time. It may be off by a small amount since the laser isn’t connected to the blade. Other people find that these lights are difficult to see, and green diode lights have been implemented on some saws to alleviate that issue.

Another option seen in modern miter saws is an LED light which casts a shadow from the blade onto your wood or concrete. This is a more accurate option that gives you peace of mind that the cut will be precise and perfect. This is a fantastic option if it’s available on the miter saws you are considering.

What to Know About Fences

The fence on your miter saw is there to keep your material secure while you are making a cut. The material should always be pressed up against the fence quite firmly. You never want to ignore this, since the saw blade could grab onto the wood and jerk it toward the fence. This can result in material going flying if you aren’t careful.

You’ll find that there are fences of all different heights. Some are even able to slide up when you need to work on a large piece of material. If you are in the habit of making cuts on tall stock like molding, you want a taller fence for the best support and stability. In addition, having supports on the ends of the table can be beneficial working with thinner and lighter stock.

Why Extraction of Dust is Helpful

There are very few cases where you find a dust extractor connected to a miter saw while in the framing process. When making these cuts outside, the sawdust will fly out of the dust shoot and land on the ground. This may not be the most elegant or clean solution, but it does the job well enough.

When cutting inside, a dust extractor is much more essential. This helps to prevent large messes from sawdust but also offers safety to anyone in the area who is breathing in the air. When you inhale air particles, it can be destructive to your lungs as time goes on. In addition, sawdust is quite slippery and having it all over the ground could lead to a fall and injury.

Safety Features You Need

Safety is essential when working with a power tool and there is no exception when operating a miter saw of any type. You should always have on hearing and eye protection when working and avoid wearing loose fitting jewelry and clothing. If you are working indoors but have no dust extractor, you will also want to be sure you have a mask to keep you safe from dust particles in the air.

Beyond those things, it’s also important to always check that the saw blade brake is in good working order. After you let go of your trigger, the brake should cause the blade to stop nearly immediately. This is not only a safety problem if in disrepair, but it can also waste a lot of time after each cut you make. It’s also important to make use of the blade guard with your miter saw. This helps to protect you from getting cut by the blade when the saw is in use.

Choosing the Perfect Miter Saw

When it comes down to it, the biggest decisions you will need to make is whether to choose a sliding or non-sliding miter saw and whether you prefer a blade size of 10” or 12”. To get an idea of whether you need a sliding arm, look at the information above regarding the maximum range of cuts. Those who are great with a circular saw and who use a table saw for cross cutting and ripping wide boards may find that a miter saw is not even something that is needed.

However, the reality is that if you do a large amount of mitering for molding or framework, a miter saw can make doing your projects much easier. This also applies if you are in the habit of doing a lot of squaring or milling of raw lumber. For most people, adding some type of miter saw to your workshop is well worth the price and effort. It’s a tool that will be used on a regular basis in your garage or workshop.

Those who expect to use the miter on boards larger than 8” will find a sliding saw is a must. For those who plan to be spending most of their time mitering picture frames and molding will be just as happy with a non-sliding miter saw, which will also be substantially less expensive.

Another thing to keep in mind is how much portability you need and how much space you have available. The sliding miter saw is going to be much heavier and larger than the alternative. You may find that it is extremely challenging to move around on a regular basis. This may be no problem if you have lots of space and won’t need to cart the saw around.

Those who have less space and who may need to transport their saw, on the other hand, will want to consider a non-sliding saw. There may be cases there a sliding saw is still the best option but for space and portability, the traditional compound saw cannot be beat.

It all boils down to what you need from the saw when you make a purchase decision. If you take into account the factors mentioned in this article, you’ll be in a great place to make the decision and purchase a miter saw that will fit your needs and desires.

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