How to Choose a Miter Saw For Woodworking

While not as expensive as a table saw, a compound mitre saw is invaluable for cutting compound angles on the ends of stock.

Today, a miter saw (also called a chop saw or drop saw) usually refers to a power tool used to make a quick, accurate crosscut in a workpiece. It is most frequently used to cut wood, although some plastics and light metals can also be cut with the tool. Common uses include framing operations and the cutting of moulding. Most miter saws are relatively small and portable, with common blade sizes ranging from eight to 12 inches.

The miter saw makes cuts by pulling a spinning circular saw blade down onto a workpiece in a short, controlled motion. The workpiece is typically held against a fence, which provides a precise cutting angle between the blade and the longest workpiece edge. In standard position, this angle is fixed at 90°.

A primary distinguishing feature of the miter saw is the miter index. The miter index allows the angle of the blade to be changed relative to the fence. While most miter saws enable precise one-degree incremental changes to the miter index, many also provide “stops” that allow the miter index to be quickly set to common angles (such as 15°, 30°, or 45°).

Miscellaneous Features

Some features that differ across various models of miter saws include:

compound feature allows the angle of the cutting blade to be changed relative to the horizontal plane. This allows the saw to be used for bevel cutting. Most compound features allow the angle to be set between 0° and 50°, while a less-common “double-bevel” allows the angle to be set between -50° and 50°. A saw with this feature is known as a compound miter saw or CMS.

slide allows the cutting blade to be moved several inches along the cutting plane during the cut. This enables the saw to make cuts that are longer than the diameter of the blade. A saw which combines the sliding and compound features is known as a sliding compound mitre saw or SCMS.

laser guide provides a precise visual indication of where the cut will be positioned on the workpiece in the current configuration. Some models provide a single reference line for one side of the kerf, while others provide two lines to reflect the total kerf width.

blade guard is a cover for the teeth of the cutting blade. Most modern miter saws have self-retracting blade guards, which automatically retract when the saw is lowered onto a workpiece and re-cover the blade when the saw is raised.

dust bag connects directly to the saw, and helps to collect sawdust away from the workpiece during cutting. A dust extraction port allows you to connect your shop-vac to the miter saw to extract the sawdust.

safety clamp helps to lock a workpiece into position prior to making a cut. This is an especially important feature when cutting smaller workpieces (eight inches or smaller).