How to Choose a Miter Saw
A miter saw isn’t just an essential piece of kit for professional woodworkers; it’s also an incredibly useful tool for amateurs, for example, keen DIYers, looking to tackle increasingly complex projects.
Sure, you could use a manual saw to complete the various miter cuts, bevel cuts, and crosscuts needed for projects such as installing baseboards, but the fact is, nothing beats the speed, convenience, and quality of finish that you get from using a miter saw.
Even better? Nowadays, there’s no shortage of miter saws on the market.
You’re spoilt for choice.
From cheaper, basic models that are unable to bevel altogether, to those that bevel both left and right and even feature a sliding head to increase overall cutting capacity – there’s something for everyone.
Now, we don’t think that this breadth of choice is a bad thing (far from it!), but it can make it tough to pick out a model that not only meets your current needs, but that offers enough unused capacity and features that you can ‘grow’ into as you tackle larger and more complicated projects in the years ahead.
Regardless of your specific budget, it’s a good idea to view your miter saw as an investment, and as with any smart investment, it takes a bit of time and knowledge to understand and find the factors that will give you as much bang for your buck as possible.
That’s what this article will help you with.
Welcome to the ToolCrowd Miter Saw Buyer’s Guide, the ultimate resource for anyone looking to get up to speed with one of the most versatile and useful workshop cutting tools out there.
Our aim over the next few minutes is to help you become an expert on all-things miter saw; from understanding the different types available and what they’re used for, to hopefully helping you narrow down and decide on a model type that’s right for you.
So without further ado, let’s get started…
A miter saw (or mitre saw as it’s referred to outside of the United States) is a power tool used to make basic cuts in workpieces like crosscuts, as well as more complicated cuts like miters, and also bevels in select higher-specced models.
Miter saws are commonly used by professional woodworkers, tradespeople, amateur DIYers, and hobbyists for handling the cuts needed for making furniture, laying wooden flooring, and installing mold or trim pieces, for example.
They work by spinning a blade at high RPM (revolutions per minute), with the operator moving the blade into contact with whatever they are cutting by pulling down on a handle.
Miter saws come in different sizes, with 8-inch, 10-inch, and 12-inch models being the most common. In each case, the size refers to the diameter of the blade fitted to the saw.
The larger the blade size, the bigger, heavier, and more expensive the miter saw tends to be. The trade-off here is that larger blades are better for cutting tougher materials, as well as for deeper cuts, although, the quality of the cut won’t be as good as with a smaller blade which spins faster.
There are several types of miter saw available, starting with basic models that are capable of crosscuts and miters only. Next up in terms of features is the compound miter saw, which adds the capability of completing bevelled cut in a single direction only, followed by dual compound miter saws which can handle crosscuts, miters, and bevels in both directions. You can also purchase sliding variants of each of these, and these feature a sliding rail to which the motor and blade are attached to allow for larger horizontal cuts.
In most cases, miter saws are used on a workbench in a garage or workshop, but they can also be paired with a good quality miter saw stand for on-site. These stands are usually sold separately, but some saw models come bundled with stands.
Miter saws typically range from around $99 to $800 depending on brand and the features on offer. Because of their relatively low starting point, it’s just as common to find miter saws in the tool collections of amateurs and DIYers as it is with professionals.
The main components of a miter saw are as follows:
So, now that you’re up to speed with what exactly a miter saw is, let’s look at what you can use one for.
There is no shortage of tasks that you can’t complete more quickly and accurately with a miter saw (versus a conventional hand saw).
Even relatively low-specced models should be able to complete most, if not all, of the following:
(Of course, there are always exceptions, so remember to check your tool’s user manual for compatibility before cutting!)
- Cutting timber, for example, mold or trim pieces
- Cutting non-ferrous metals, for example, aluminum (provided the correct blade is used)
- Mitered cuts
- Bevelled cuts
- Compound cuts (a cut with both a bevel and a miter as shown below)
Some models are even capable of the following:
- Cutting ferrous metals (those with any iron or steel content)
- Cutting masonry
OK…as you can see above, you can handle a wide range of tasks with a miter saw.
That’s all well and good, but based on the example tasks listed above in the likes of timber, a logical question would be:
Can’t you do all of those things with a basic hand saw and a miter box, too?
The answer, in most cases, is yes, but we’re confident you’ll see why you wouldn’t want to based on the following miter saw advantages.
Here are some reasons why you’d potentially opt for a miter saw versus a conventional hand saw:
- They’re relatively easy to use
- They save time and effort
- They can cut various types of angles
- They produce smoother, higher-quality cuts
- They’re more precise
It isn’t unreasonable to assume that the average person could use one relatively quickly after reading the instruction manual.
Some miter saw models also come with a built-in laser for added accuracy.
As you can see, using or investing in a quality miter saw gives you access to some considerable benefits.
As is always the case, though, nothing is perfect, and sadly the miter saw is no different.
So, before you go off on a spending spree, let’s look at some typical miter saw disadvantages that might make you think twice before you ditch that trusty old hand saw of yours in favor of a new tool:
- They’re messy
- They’re more expensive
- Their size and weight might prove restrictive
Some models feature extraction ports to which you can attach a dust bag or vacuum, but these won’t eliminate all of the mess, so you’ll need to be prepared to clean in and around the miter saw regularly.
If complex cuts are a necessity, though, the inconvenience of the miter saw’s size and weight might be something you need to learn to live with. You could minimize the hassle by choosing a smaller saw, for example, an 8-inch versus a 12-inch model, provided the smaller unit still met your cutting needs.
No buyer’s guide would be complete without an in-depth look at all of the features and characteristics of the product it covers.
So, based on our experience, along with countless hours of research, here is the ultimate guide of everything you should look at when deciding which miter saw to buy:
The first order of business is to figure out what you want to use your miter saw for.
We’re not talking about specific types of cut here (for example, miters, bevels, or crosscuts), but rather, the kinds of material that you want to cut.
Will you be cutting timber only? Or, do you need the flexibility to be able to cut metals, too?
While this might sound pretty basic, it’s essential that you figure this out at the very start to avoid potentially costly mistakes.
You see, while most miter saws can cut through timber with ease, a lot of models aren’t suitable for cutting through ferrous metals (those containing iron), for example.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that you can simply swap out the standard blade either, as regardless of whether you’ve changed to the appropriate blade type, many miter saws still come with warnings not to use them on anything other than timber.
Check the various manufacturers’ websites in detail for the models that you’re considering and figure out precisely what materials they are capable of cutting.
It’s probably a good idea to download the respective user manuals too (usually available in a PDF format), as these typically feature a more detailed list of do’s and don’ts when it comes to cutting capabilities versus the basic product description on the website.
As the saying goes; appeal to everyone, and you’ll appeal to no one.
This saying runs equally true when it comes to miter saws, and so there’s a range of different model types available to cater for end users’ preferences in terms of price, cutting power, cutting capabilities, and also overall cutting capacities.
Here are the three most common model types:
- Basic Miter Saws
- Compound Miter Saws
- Sliding Compound Miter Saws
There are two main types of compound saw – single-bevel options which facilitate bevel cutting in one direction only, and double-bevel models, which let you bevel both left and right.
The various factors mentioned above (i.e., price, as well as cutting power, capabilities, and capacities) increase as you progress down the list.
Owing to this, amateur users with a smaller budget, for example, may opt for either the first or second type, while professional woodworkers and commercial users will often choose to spend more for the extra capacity and flexibility offered by a sliding compound model.
As alluded to above, miter saws can differ significantly in terms of price.
Models typically range anywhere from between $99 to around $800, although they can cost even more if you purchase a kit which includes a stand, or you opt for a battery-powered cordless miter saw, for example.
Generally, the more you spend, the better the miter saw will be in terms of:
- Cutting Capabilities / Capacities
- Cutting Accuracy
- Motor Power Output
- Motor Speed Output
- Blade Quality
- Other Helpful Features
While the above is a useful guide, it’s important to note that this isn’t always the case, so it’s worth comparing the various features and benefits of the different models that you’re considering, and reading/watching as many reviews as possible to ensure that you’re getting good value for money.
After figuring out what types of materials you want to cut, the type of saw you need, and how much you wish to pay, the next important consideration is how powerful a motor your saw needs.
Motors on miter saws typically fall in the 10-15 amp range, with the higher the amperage, the larger and the tougher the materials that saw is generally capable of cutting through.
While we discuss blade size in more detail below, it’s worth considering it here too, as the size of blade you opt for will impact how much power is actually available for cutting.
For example, a 10-amp model featuring a 10-inch blade will likely be able to cut wider, deeper, and tougher sections of timber than a similarly powered miter saw with a 12-inch blade, as the motor in the latter will be using up more of its available power to rotate a larger, heavier blade.
If your preference is for a model with a 12-inch blade, try and aim for a power output of 15-amps, whereas if you are only using 10-inch blades, you could probably get away with a 10-amp motor if you can’t make your budget stretch enough for a more powerful saw, or if you only need to tackle lighter, non-professional tasks.
Next up is output speed, and in the case of power tools like the miter saw, this is usually referred to as no-load speed, which is the maximum speed that the motor is capable of without any load applied.
No-load speeds can be as low as 2000 RPM on some miter saw models, but it more commonly sits in the 3000-5000 RPM range.
So what speed should you aim for?
Well, despite what you might think, a higher speed isn’t always preferable.
When cutting certain metals (provided the saw is capable of doing this in the first place), for example, a slower speed can often be better because it reduces the amount of friction which causes significant heat build-up in the blade, potentially leading to blade damage.
That isn’t to say that you can’t use a higher-RPM model for rating metals though – there are several higher speed, metal-rated saws that allow you to do just that – we’re merely pointing out that you’ll probably need to take regular breaks to allow the blade to cool down.
Certain miter saw models overcome this predicament by providing a variable speed function – usually, a higher speed to cater for cutting wood or plastics, and a slower output for tackling specific types of metal.
A must-have if you’re going to change between cutting different types of material regularly.
If you’re primarily going to be cutting timber, however, we’d recommend that you avoid the extra expense of a variable speed model, and instead aim for a saw that provides a no-load speed of ideally 4000+ RPM.
As mentioned above, it isn’t uncommon for miter saws to feature different sized blades, with 8-inch, 10-inch, and 12-inch being fairly regular sizes.
The main advantage of a larger blade is that it’s capable of achieving a wider and deeper cut versus a smaller equivalent, but it’s worth remembering that lower-powered saws may struggle to spin larger blades (especially in tougher materials, which can leave the saw susceptible to stalling and stopping mid-cut).
Perhaps more important than the size of the blade though, is the material from which it’s manufactured.
Nowadays, many miter saws (including the DEWALT DWS779 which we’ve written about in detail on ToolCrowd) feature blades which make use of carbide, a material known for its superior strength. Because of this, these blades can withstand tougher cuts without breaking, and they can last substantially longer than conventional steel blades.
The extra toughness also helps improve cutting precision versus steel equivalents, and in turn, this helps provide a cleaner cut overall for improved finish and cutting accuracy.
The number of blade teeth is also important, with anywhere between 24 to 100 teeth being common on miter saw blades.
In general, the higher the number of teeth, the slower the blade’s speed, but the smoother the overall finish it is capable of, so bear this in mind if cut quality is a high priority for you.
As a bare minimum, a miter saw should be capable of cutting at 90-degrees to allow for crosscutting, as well as to at least 45-degrees both left and right for reasonably acute miters.
There are models on the market that can miter to as much as 60-degrees like the DEWALT DWS780, however, and we’d recommend sticking to the 50- to 60-degree range in both directions as the added flexibility can come in very handy.
Most miter saws like the Dewalt DWS779 shown below come with indent plates that feature presets at various common angles, for example, 15-degrees, 30-degrees, and especially 45-degrees.
The more presets, the better as far as we’re concerned, as they reduce the time taken to prepare for common cut angles, and they also improve overall accuracy.
The ability to bevel will depend on the type of miter saw you choose, as mentioned above.
We’ve used basic models in the past which either don’t bevel at all or that bevel in a single direction only, requiring that you stop and flip the material to cut in the opposite direction – a massive inconvenience.
Because of this, we recommend that you opt for a model that can bevel both left and right to at least 45-degrees as shown in the image below.
Yes, these dual-bevel saws usually cost slightly more, but we think the extra price is well worth it in terms of the additional flexibility and convenience offered.
As with miter angles, many premium saws come with sturdy indent plates featuring the most common bevel angles – again, the more presets on offer, the better.
Now that we’ve covered the basics, here are a few other potential features to bear in mind and look out for when choosing a miter saw:
- Safety Features
- Compatible Accessories
- Smart Fence Design
- Laser Guidance
- Dust Extraction
Can the fence be moved out of the way quickly and easily to facilitate cutting miters or bevels, for example?
Looking for a quick answer to a miter saw-related question without having to read the entire article?
You’re in luck.
Check out the following list of the most commonly asked miter saw questions, along with their respective answers:
- What is a miter saw?
- Can you provide guidance on how to choose a miter saw?
- How is a miter saw measured? / What size miter saw do I need?
These are the three most common sizes of miter saw on the market, with each one referring to the diameter of the blade fitted to the saw.
So, how do you pick?
Well, each has its advantages and disadvantages.
Generally, the smaller the blade, the cheaper, smaller, lighter, and more portable the miter saw will be. It’s worth remembering, too, that because there’s less distance for the blade’s teeth to travel per rotation on an 8-inch versus 12-inch blade, for example, the 8-inch blade will spin quicker, and this leads to a better quality finish in timber.
In contrast, 12-inch miter saws are usually more expensive, as well as being larger, heavier, and less portable. They’re harder to make precision cuts with, too, but a significant advantage is that they can handle thicker cuts and tougher timber that smaller models can’t.
10-inch models tend to be a popular compromise which balances out the advantages and disadvantages of both the smaller and larger models.
- What is a miter saw good for?
- What is a bevel cut?
Most miter saws can bevel up to around 49-degrees, although there are a select few that can bevel more than this.
- What is a miter cut?
Most miter saws can miter up to around 60-degrees.
- How much is a miter saw?
Brand name saws from the likes of DEWALT and Makita will typically be towards the middle or higher end of that scale, especially if they come paired with a good quality miter saw stand.
- What is a compound miter saw?
The designation ‘compound’ in miter saws refers to the types of saw that are capable of making these cuts.
So, not only do compound miter saws (or single-bevel miter saws as they’re often referred to) miter, they’re also capable of bevelling in one direction only.
- What is a dual bevel miter saw / What is a double bevel miter saw?
The main advantage of a dual bevel miter saw is that you can change the cut’s direction of bevel by simply adjusting the blade, as opposed to having to remove and spin the workpiece around on a single bevel model.
- What is a double bevel compound miter saw?
- What is a sliding miter saw?
- What is the difference between a chop saw and a miter saw?
While they’re pretty similar in that they can both perform crosscuts, in other words, cuts at 90-degrees, chop saws aren’t able to cut at angle, for example, 45-degrees. For these types of mitered cut, you would need to use a miter saw instead.
Chop saws tend to have larger blades, too, so while miter saw blades typically go up to 12-inches in most cases, chop saw blades are typically around 14-inches in diameter.
If you’re still at a loss, however, it can sometimes be a good idea to follow the crowd.
Here are a few of the most popular models currently available on Amazon…
Miter Saw Models
As you can see, there are a lot of factors to consider when it comes to choosing the best miter saw for you.
We hope, however, that we’ve shown you that the selection process doesn’t need to be overly complicated and that you’re now better informed on how to choose a miter saw model that’s the best fit for you.
Whichever model you do end up picking, always remember to follow the manufacturer’s operating and safety guidelines, and always use the correct safety equipment to avoid any unnecessary risks.
If you have any particular questions or queries that you can’t find an answer to above, drop us a comment below, and we’ll do our best to get back to you as quickly as possible.
Thanks, and good luck in your search!
- Our other miter saw articles
- Our guide to the DEWALT DWS779 miter saw
- Our guide to the DEWALT DWS780 miter saw
- Our guide on whether you can use a miter saw on the ground