May 31, 2021
Sometime around the last quarter of 2015, I was just like you—an aspiring woodworker—who was raring to build my first workshop. One question I had then was what primary tool I would buy to jumpstart my woodworking projects. Fortunately, an expert woodworker told me first to buy a miter saw. Taking a cue from his advice, I purchased my very first miter saw. Soon, I was engaging in small woodworking projects like building a small table and a couple of benches.
Gone were those days, however, when the only few tools I got were a miter saw and a bunch of hand tools. At present, I already have many types of power tools, yet, I can still say that the miter saw is one of the important power tools I have ever got in my workshop. So, if you will ask me now what power tool to buy first, I would not hesitate to advise you to buy a miter saw.
What is a Miter Saw?
The miter saw, also called drop saw or abrasive cut-off saw, is usually used for making miter and crosscuts on your workpiece. It usually comes with a large blade ranging from 8 to 12 inches in diameter. You can trim your molding using this saw. You can likewise use it to make beveled cuts.
The miter saw blade is usually wrought in carbon steel, and sometimes, you can buy coated blades for trouble-free cutting. Its blade usually features 24 to 100 teeth. The more teeth its blade has, the finer it will cut. Moreover, its teeth also may have different designs depending on the type of edge treatment you would like to have and the material you will deal with.
You can find blades with a triple chip grind (TCG), alternating top bevel (ATB), and flat top grind (FTG). The blade cuts by removing a certain amount of material from the wood. This material is referred to as the kerf. It will be helpful to utilize a blade with 1/8″ kerf when working with more difficult wood.
Variations of Miter Saw
As a specialized tool, the miter saw allows you to cut at different angles. It has a swing arm where the blade is mounted. This swing arm pivots to the left or right to create angled cuts. Thus, you can use the miter saw to make angular cuts for picture frames, crown molding, door frames, window casings, and many other applications.
The miter saw has three basic types: compound miter saws, dual compound miter saws, and sliding compound miter saws.
1) Compound Miter Saw
The compound miter has a blade that can pivot either left or right for creating angled cuts. You can tilt it for beveled cuts. You can readily make compound miter cuts using this type of miter saw. Moreover, its use is perfect for making picture frames, door frames, crown molding, and many other cuts. It also offers the ability to cut using one pass.
2) Dual-Compound Miter Saw
The dual-compound miter saw, on the other hand, also works as a compound miter saw. Nevertheless, it tilts in both right and left directions, unlike the compound miter saw, which can only tilt to one direction. With the use of this saw, you can easily make bevels at whatever angles you want.
3) Sliding Compound Miter Saw
The sliding compound miter saw, however, offers the compound miter saw’s versatility while having that sliding feature found in radial arm saw. Its primary advantage is its ability to move the blade backward and forward for increased lengths of your cuts.
The Different Cuts a Miter Saw Can Do
The miter saw comes in handy when you like to make various cuts like crosscuts, miter cuts, and bevel cuts. If you’re a tyro in woodworking, you may be scratching your head, trying to understand these different cuts. Well, let me explain to you these different types of cuts:
The most common cut you will make with the miter saw is the crosscut. It is a straight angled cut or a perpendicular cut that you will usually make on your workpiece. It is a cut parallel to the edges. As the most basic cut, it is often made using a miter saw, and of course, the miter saw is perfect for crosscuts.
The Miter Cut
The miter saw is called a miter saw for a reason because it is perfect for making miter cuts. The miter cut is an angled cut that you make on a piece. It is diagonal relative to the right angle. This cut is perfect for making crown molds, frames, ledges, gates, and boxes.
The Bevel Cut
The miter saw is also perfect for making a beveled cut. This cut is an angled cut that is different from a miter cut that goes along the horizontal plane. It is a cut along the wood’s vertical plane. You can form a bevel cut when you cut the workpiece’s edge at any angle besides 90 degrees. You can do this cut with the miter saw blade tilted over.
The Pros of Using a Miter Saw
When we hear miter saw, we usually think of miter cuts. But the miter saw can also do many things. Let me give you a rundown of the succinct advantages of the use of miter saw:
It Allows You to Make Different Angled Cuts
One of the significant advantages of using a miter saw is that it allows you to make different angled cuts on your workpieces. You can’t easily do these angled cuts on other saws. Moreover, these angled cuts are refined, greatly enhancing the results of your projects. The high level of refinement of its cuts is due to the high-quality of its blades. Besides, it can make these angle cuts on any wood, and it does it quickly.
It is Easy to Use
A miter saw is such a versatile tool that can cut efficiently and smoothly. Its use is straightforward likewise. If it’s your first time using it, you can easily get the hang of its use and come up with perfect cuts. Nevertheless, you should know the important safety tips when using a power tool like a miter saw.
It Cuts with Utmost Precision
Since the miter saw can make different cuts, its precision is remarkable. If you correctly used it, you would indeed get a perfect cut. Its accuracy in cutting is undoubtedly superb.
The miter saw will continue to cut as long as you want it to cut. It can also cut similar sizes of wood and make similar angular cuts without faltering. It is undoubtedly very efficient without compromising work’s quality. Moreover, it can cut quickly, allowing you to complete your tasks with ease.
Disadvantages of Using a Miter Saw
Although the miter saw comes with many advantages, its use is not without disadvantage. One obvious drawback of its use is its cutting constraints. It can only cut up to 4 to 5 inches of wood. Thus, if you are engaged in a massive project like building a deck, it will take you much time and effort if your only tool is the miter saw.
Another drawback in buying this saw is its high price compared to other saws. Besides, it requires more space if you are using a sliding compound miter saw with its capability of moving backward and forward.
Additional Tips When Using a Miter Saw
Since the miter saw is a power tool, you should also know the different tips on how to optimize its use while being mindful of your safety. Below are some tips you must be cognizant of when using a miter saw:
- When doing the final cut measurement, it will be helpful to cut the board’s factory end to ensure a perfect 90-degree angle at the end.
- When using the miter saw, don’t reach out across the other side of the blade. Keep your hand always out of the blade’s path. Position your hands straight in front of you and keep your feet planted firmly on the ground.
- Make a test cut always to see if the adjustment you’ve made is exact. Once you are sure that you got the correct adjustment and cut, you can then do the actual cut on your workpiece.
- Do not over-push the blade onto the wood, and don’t force its blade. Let the edge of the blade work its way through the wood without over-pushing the saw.
- It will be helpful to go for blades with 50 teeth or more if you are making construction cuts. Go for blades with 90 teeth or more if you want better quality cuts. If you are working on treated lumber, go for blades with lower tooth count.
- It will be good to be mindful of the safety protocols when working with a power tool like the miter saw. It is always better to be on the safe side than sorry.
There are three cuts in woodworking that you will often engage in: the crosscut, miter cut, and the bevel cut. The crosscut is a common cut, and you indeed know how to make it. The miter cuts, of course, involve cutting an angle across the face of the board, while the bevel cuts involve cutting an angle on the board’s edge. The very efficient miter saw often performs these three types of cuts with ease.
As a beginner, I would not hesitate to recommend using a miter saw to jumpstart your woodworking career. As a specialized tool, you can get by with many of your projects using the miter saw. Yet, one caveat when using a miter saw is that when you are done using it, you should unplug it always. Ensure that you work safely using this power tool, and you will indeed enjoy your woodworking activities with much zest.
Jason is a 40-year-old woodworker, carpenter and author who have been involved in the woodworking and woodcraft industry with 17 years of experience. He is expertise in technical aspects, woodcraft and furniture building projects.