Posted by: perfectwoodworking | March 14, 2010

Choosing a Compound Miter Saw

          The sliding compound miter saw tops the list of woodworking tools that can make accurate and smooth angled cuts used in everything from fine cabinet work to house building. It’s lesser cousins include cut-off saws, so-called “chop saws” and any miter saw without the slide.

          Do you need a 12″ miter saw or will a 10″ miter saw do? The pros of choosing a 12” miter saw over a 10” miter saw are greater cutting height and depth and usually more power. The advantage of a 10” miter saw is lower weight and lower cost. If a 10” miter saw will make all the cuts you can envision making in your shop or on the jobsite, by all means choose the smaller miter saw. The design and quality will be similar or identical within any particular brand.

          Obviously features such as maximum height of cut, maximum depth of cut, horsepower and weight will be different and you can see those differences clearly when sever machines are compared side-by-side.

          The obvious advantage of a sliding compound miter saw over a standard miter saw without a slide is that you can crosscut wider lumber in a single pass. With or without the slide, a miter saw can make chop cuts. A chop cut will always give you a finer, smoother result but on wider lumber, you may need to push-through as well and that is what the miter saw slide makes possible.

          There are many things to look for in shopping for the best miter saw and which miter saw you pick will depend largely on what you plan to do with the miter saw. If you are looking for a permanently bench-mounted miter saw in a woodworking shop, you don’t need to concern yourself so much with size and weight. However, if you are planning to tote your miter saw to and from and around various job sites every day, size and weight will become very important as will a well-located carrying handle.

          Most miter saws (with  one, notable eception)  are priced in the same neighborhood and so, if you are comparing models, price should not be a consideration. Concentrate on the features that are most important to you because, in this way, there can be significant differences between machines.

          So, what are you going to be using your miter saw for? If you are just going to be making repetitive crosscuts into 2 x 4 lumber, just about any of these machines will suffice. You might, however, want to choose one with soft start and an electronic brake. If, on the other hand, you will be making critically accurate cuts into expensive hardwoods or crown molding, it would seem that accuracy, micro fine adjustment controls with digital LCD readout, large vertical height capacity and an excellent laser might top your list of requirements. Is the laser adjustable to left or right of the blade? One miter saw even features dual lasers, one down each side of the blade, clearly and accurately marking out the kerf the blade will make before the cut is made.

          Other important considerations relate to bevel and miter adjustments. Look at how far, left and right, these adjustments can be made. Sometimes, 45 degrees just is not enough of an angle. Look how easily and accurately these adjustments can be made on each of these woodworking tools. Does the miter saw allow for micro fine adjustments? How many pre-set detents are there in both the miter and bevel scales? Can you make a cut near, but not exactly on a detent? Is there a miter detent override? Where are the controls and how do they work? Is everything within easy reach and easy to operate?

           What kind of blade comes with the saw and what size is the arbor hole? If the answer is something other than 5/8” or 1”, you may be locked into buying your blades from the saw manufacturer and you may well find better blades elsewhere. Usually, when I purchase a miter saw, I discard the blade and replace it with one that will make the smoothest, most accurate cuts possible like the Forrest Chopmaster. The extra expense is absolutely worth it if you are making critically accurate joints in fine hardwoods or crown molding. If you are only making rough cuts into fir for framing, you might want to consider a blade with fewer teeth and a more aggressive cut.

          How is dust collection accomplished with each saw? Does the port match the hose on your shop vacuum or will you have to depend on a dust bag? Will you have to buy a new vacuum that fits your miter saw? How much percentage of total dust made by your miter saw will your vacuum system and dust port remove?

          Is the motor on the miter saw you are considering direct or belt drive? Does this miter saw have soft start, electronic speed control or variable speed? Is the miter saw motor large enough for the jobs that will be presented to it? How large is the miter saw table (for stability of large work pieces)? How much does the miter saw weigh (for portability)? How is the cord stored when the miter saw is being carried to the jobsite?

          Your head may be spinning with all these considerations but you can get your questions answered and find the best machine for you in our review of 12″ and 10″ sliding compound miter saws at PerfectWoodworking.com/mitersawsreview/. We compare and contrast saws from Bosch, DeWalt, Festool, Hitachi, Jet, and Makita and we even give you a side-by-side comparison chart of all the features of these amazing machines.

Bob Gillespie
Woodworker
© 2010

For similar articles and tool reviews, see:
PerfectWoodworking.com

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