If you’re a professional woodworker or hobbyist, a miter saw is an essential tool for your workshop. Framers and do-it-yourselfers can also benefit from the precise cutting power a miter saw offers. Miter saws make even, perfectly matched joints and corners as simple as adjusting a few knobs, but there are big differences in quality, function and performance. Pronto’s Miter Saw Buying Guide will match you to the miter saw that’s most fit for your woodworking projects.
A “straight” or “chop saw” miter saw has a blade that moves up and down, allowing you to cut flat angles. Compound miter saws have blades that pivot to the left or right, so you can cut bevels as well as angles. Both types of blades are available with sliding action that allows the miter saw’s blade to move back and forth as well as up and down. Left-handed users should look for a dual-bevel compound miter saw, which is easier for them to use.
Miter saws are measured by the size of their blades. The smallest 8” miter saws are best for those who only need to cut moldings and thin pieces of finish. A 10” miter saw is the best choice for general use. Larger 10” miter saws are the most expensive and should be used only by those who need to cut wood that is more than 2” thick.
Look for miter gauges that are stamped deep into the metal to avoid premature wear. Positive stops make it easy to lock the saw into commonly used angles, such as 0, 22.5, 30 and 45 degrees, but you should be sure it’s easy to override them. Look for a wide-range miter gauge that can bevel and pivot to at least 50 degrees.
A sliding fence that adjusts to different heights is a must for flooring and other wide stock. Laser sights on miter saws tend to be inaccurate, but you’ll get the best results with dual-laser sights that show the edges of the kerf.
Look for electric braking that reverses the motor for a fast shutoff when you let go of the trigger and a transparent, self-retracting blade guard. If you’re left-handed, choose a dual-bevel compound miter saw with a trigger release switch that can be accessed from either side of the saw’s handle.
A safety switch mounted on the handle of a miter saw so that it can be accessed from either side. This makes it easier for left-handed users to operate a miter saw.
A miter saw with a blade that can be pivoted to the left and/or right, allowing it to make bevel as well as angle cuts.
A stop in a bevel gauge, similar to a positive lock, that allows you to feel the saw setting into a specific angle.
A compound miter saw that tilts both to the left and the right.
The width of a cut made by a tool such as a miter saw. Knowing the edge of the kerf allows you to precisely align angle and bevel cuts.
A built-in measuring device that shows the angle or bevel of a cut, typically in increments of 0 to 45 degrees.
A feature that lets you feel a miter saw clicking into commonly used angles, such as 0, 22.5, 30 and 45 degrees.
A feature on miter saws and compound miter saws that allows the blade to move forward and backward on a built-in track, enabling you to cut wider pieces of wood.
A miter saw backstop that can be adjusted to different heights, making it easier to securely position wider pieces of stock.
Miter saws have evolved from a metal frame that used a specialized handsaw to a power tool that’s essentially a circular saw mounted on an arm that can pivot. Basic miter saws, sometimes called chop saws, have a simple up and down motion and can adjust to various angles relative to the fence, which is the metal backstop on the base of the miter saw.
Compound miter saws let you cut at a bevel as well as an angle, making them ideal for building picture frames or cutting moldings. Both types of miter saws are also available as sliding miter saws, meaning that the blade can be moved forward and backward on its support arm as well as up and down.
If you just need straight cuts and angles for home repair or basic building, a straight miter saw is the best choice. Consider one with sliding action if you need to cut stock that is six inches wide or more. For elaborate finish work or furniture construction, a compound miter saw is the best choice, as it gives you the most precise angles.
Miter saws are measured by the size of their blades. You can get miter saws in 8”, 10” or 12” sizes, and the price increases rapidly since larger miter saws need more powerful motors and more durable mechanisms. A 10” miter saw is the best choice for general use, as it will handle stock up to 4” thick in a single cut.
Smaller 8” miter saws can be more precise and easier to control, but they can’t cut larger stock unless they have sliding action, so they should be reserved for moldings and thin picture frames. The largest miter saws will make quick work of most cutting jobs, but their higher price tags make them a good investment only for professionals or serious woodworkers who need to cut thick pieces of wood.
The miter gauge and adjustment knobs or levers are what allow you to set a cutting angle with the miter saw. For straight miter saws, the gauge should be etched or stamped either into the top of the base or just beneath it. Compound miter saws have a second gauge that shows the angle of the cut, usually mounted to the side of the saw.
A miter gauge should have clear markings for angles of 0, 22.5, 30 and 45 degrees. Some miter saws include positive stops that click the pivoting mechanism into these positions for quick adjustments, but make sure you can override the stops if you need to make a cut near one of them, say at 43 degrees. The best miter saws have gauges that are stamped deep into the metal so that they won’t wear off over time.
With compound miter saws, you’ll be able to choose between models that can bevel in one or two directions. It’s easier to use a double-bevel miter saw that pivots two ways—especially if you’re left-handed—but you’ll pay extra for that ability.
You should carefully inspect the adjustments on a miter saw. Angle adjustments frequently use a thumbscrew that will securely hold an angle for many years to come. Bevel adjustments typically use a compression screw. Make sure that this screw is secure and durable—you don’t want a compound miter saw to slip because of its weight or from being bumped.
Any miter saw will cut angles up to 45 degrees, but it’s better to choose a miter saw with a wide miter range that extends the available angles to 50 degrees or more. Even if you don’t often cut these angles, you’ll be glad your miter saw can do it when the need arises.
Many miter saws now offer a “sliding” fence that can adjust to different heights. This is a good feature that provides extra stability if you’re cutting flooring or other woods that are more than 2” wide.
Laser sights are common equipment on almost all miter saws, yet professional users don’t have many positive things to say about them. Some laser sights are inaccurate to begin with; others fall out of alignment over time. Miter saws with two lasers, one on either side of the kerf, offer the best performance, but they’re still no substitute for carefully lining up a cut.
Choose a miter saw with electronic braking. This feature reverses the motor when you let go of the trigger, stopping it in about two seconds. Miter saws should be equipped with a trigger release switch that you need to depress in order to squeeze the trigger. Most dual-bevel miter saws have this switch on both sides of the handle, making it easier for left-handed users.
Look for transparent, self-retracting blade guards that snap back into position as soon as the blade is lifted. Miter saw bases should be made of sturdy steel or aluminum and provide enough working surface for you to comfortably position larger pieces of wood.
A miter saw’s blade should have a locking feature that makes it easy to change the blade. In-base storage for the blade wrench keeps everything together. A sawdust bag will prevent some dust from getting into the air, but on most miter saws they don’t do much, so it’s seldom worth seeking out this feature.