Beginner Guide for Buying Miter Saws

Miter saws are one of the most popular types of saws available on the market today. They are versatile and useful tools which can be used for a wide range of projects. They are used by professional contractors, home remodelers, carpenters, furniture makers, DIYers, woodworkers and craftsmen. You typically think of miter saws being used on wood, and that is the number one material used with these tools, but some can also cut other materials such as plastics, aluminum, and even concrete.

They can be found in a variety of sizes, capabilities and price ranges, depending on what you’re looking for, so I would advise you not to hurry out and buy the first miter saw that catches your eye. You will be much better off if you review a number of saws until you find one that is best suited for the types of jobs you want to do. The type of miter saw a professional contractor needs is not the same as the one that will work best for a casual DIYer. So with that in mind, I’ve put together this handy Miter Saw Buying Guide to help you find the best tool for your needs.

The Different Types of Miter Saws

The first thing you really need to consider is what type of miter saw you actually need. There are basically three types of miter saws: basic, compound, and sliding compound. They each have their own advantages as well as disadvantages, so let’s have a look at each type and what they have to offer.

• Basic Miter Saws
Basic miter saws can be used for projects like cutting trim and making cross cuts and miter cuts. Their cutting capacity is limited to making miter cuts, as there is no bevel option. This means you won’t be able to make a very wide variety of cuts, but I do find that basic miter tend to be very accurate and they are great for simple cutting tasks. They are also usually very affordable, making them ideal for beginning and casual woodworkers.

• Compound Miter Saws
A compound miter saw differs from a basic miter saw in that it can be used to make bevel cuts as well, which is basically a tilted cut. Compound miter saws can be adjusted to make both miter and bevel cuts, and even with that, there are a couple of different options.
There are two types of compound miter saws: single bevel and dual bevel. A single bevel model, like the Hitachi C10FCH2, will make bevel cuts in only one direction so the workpiece has to be moved in order to make a bevel cut in the opposite direction. A dual bevel miter saw will make both left and right bevel cuts, so you don’t have to move your workpiece in order to make the second cut. I prefer a compound miter saw when I am cutting things like crown molding, as it makes the job much easier for me as well as increasing the accuracy in making the bevel cuts match.

• Sliding compound miters saws
The most versatile type of miter saw you can get is a sliding miter saw. It is, of course, typically the most expensive option as well. This type of saw will have all the features of a compound miter saw plus the addition of a sliding arm which allows the saw to cut wider as well as thicker pieces of material. This increased cutting capacity is what makes a sliding compound saw so versatile. As it can be a significant monetary investment, I would not advise purchasing this type of miter saw unless you regularly work with larger stock.

Features To Look For

Whichever type of miter saw you decide to get, there are some features you will want to consider. We’ll now take a look at the most common and useful features so you can decide whether or not they will be useful for you to have on your miter saw.

• Laser guide system
While it isn’t a necessary feature, having a laser guide on your miter saw can be very useful. An effective laser can make the miter saw much easier to use and can help you make more accurate cuts. Some laser guide systems, however, are not particularly effective so you will want to really check out the system your miter saw of choice uses. Read as many reviews of the saw that you can find, and pay attention to what users say about the laser guide system in particular. For my money, the Festool Kapex KS 120 has one of the most effective laser guide systems that I’ve come across on a miter saw, and I’ve seen a lot of them, so you might just want to keep that one in the back of your mind as you look at different saws.

• Dust Collection System
The dust collection systems that come on miter saws normally consists of just a dust bag which, in most cases, is not very effective. There are some saws, however, that actually do have an effective dust collection system. The best way to tell if a miter saw has good dust collection abilities is to, again, read product reviews. An effective dust collection system will help keep your work area clean and it will also increase they lifespan of your saw by preventing dust from getting inside it. As I said, though, most of them are highly lacking in actual effectiveness so if you find a great saw but it has a poorly performing dust collection system, don’t let it stop you from getting the almost perfect saw; just get a shop vacuum to help keep the dust under control. A good shop vacuum is good to have anyway, so it’s not like you’ll have to buy something you aren’t going to have multiple uses for.

• Type of Motor
You want to make sure the miter saw you choose has enough power to perform your cutting jobs, and miter saws typically have between 10 and 15 amps of power. It is not always necessary to have a really powerful motor, but if you will be using your saw regularly you will want to choose the most powerful option for your needs. You will also want to take into account the maximum rpms the motor will provide, as that will affect how smooth your cuts are, and direct drive motors tend to last longer and provide more power than belt driven motors. If you plan to do a lot of heavy cutting or need particular smooth fine cuts, you might also want to consider a motor with smooth start technology, which significantly lessens the burst of power you feel when the motor starts.

• The Blade
Most miter saws come with a standard blade that’s fine for rougher cuts, but won’t be suitable for fine woodworking projects, so if you are going to need fine finishes be prepared to purchase an additional, higher quality blade. In situations where you know you will have to change the blade often, for different jobs, you will want to take note of how easy it is to change the blade. On some models the blade can be a major pain to change and you could even end up having to ask someone for assistance.

• Safety
A miter saw is a dangerous tool to operate and it’s a good idea to look for one with adequate safety features. I recommend that you look at miter saws that have safety features like electric brakes and fence guards. While most miter saws will have these features, you should always make sure you read several reviews to see how effective they are, as some are great while others … not so much.

Plan Ahead and Do Your Research

There are so many different miter saws available on the market that it’s important for you to do some research to find the one that will best suit your needs. Don’t let price or popularity be the only determining factors when you are buying a saw. I’ve tried to provide a lot of information on a lot of different miter saws on this website to help you, but you’ll still want to do some research of your own once you narrow down your favorite choices. Be sure you put some good thought into what you will use your miter saw to do, and then go about finding one that meets those needs.