Compound and Sliding Miter Saws

So you’re at your local hardware store or favorite online tool site and drooling over … er… looking at miter saws and you know you’re ready to take the plunge and get one, but you’re not sure which one to get. You know you want the ability to make both miter and bevel cuts, so you know a compound miter saw is what you need.

But even with knowing your starting point, there are so many options, so many choices, it can be overwhelming. Should you choose a stationary compound miter saw or go for a sliding compound miter saw? What’s the difference, anyway? Luckily, you found this site so you have me, your personal miter saw guide, to explain it all. Sit back, get comfortable, and keep reading to find out all about compound miter saws. I’ll fill you in on their features, how stationary models differ from their sliding counterparts, and the types of jobs for which each type is best suited.

Stationary Compound Miter Saws

Stationary compound miter saws are typically called “bench miter saws” or simply “compound miter saws”, and they are specialized saws which cut more than simple miter angle cuts. They have a pivoting arm which allows you to tip the blade to the side, which results in a “bevel” cut. Basically, these saws are referred to as “compound” because the tilted angle of the blade makes it possible to cut two angles at the same time – a miter cut and a bevel cut. The Homecraft H26 is a good example of this type of saw, and you can check my review for more details.

One of the biggest advantages I find with using this type of compound miter saw is that you usually have a greater cutting arc than you do with a sliding compound saw, as you’re not limited by any sliding rails. This is an important factor to consider, especially if you are going to be cutting things like corner joint moldings.

On the other hand, the width of material that you can cut with a compound miter saw is limited. A 10-inch compound miter saw, for example, can only cut material up to 6 inches wide. I say “only up to 6 inches” like that’s a bad thing, but many people who do woodworking very rarely need to cut materials wider than that, if ever. This is a tool which will likely be able to handle most of the jobs you will throw at it, and they’re really good for cutting crown and other types of molding. In fact, I find cutting crown molding with a compound miter saw is very simple when compared to using a regular miter saw, which can be a rigorous task.

Sliding Compound Miter Saws

The big difference between a sliding compound miter saw and a stationary compound miter saw is that the sliding saw is made with a rail (or rails) which allow you to slide the saw head forward and backward while cutting. A sliding model can do just about everything a stationary one can, but the sliding function greatly increases the cutting capacity of the tool in terms of the thickness of material it can handle.

A sliding compound miter saw with a 12-inch blade, like the Bosch GCM12SD (again, you can find my review in the appropriate section of this website), can be used to cut materials up to 16 inches thick. When I have to cut very thick materials like fencing posts, I use a sliding compound miter saw because a regular compound miter saw simply can’t handle this type of task. Sliding saws are also commonly used for cutting other thick materials like lumber and boards, and even logs.

Both stationary compound and sliding compound miter saws are available in single or dual bevel models. All that I have described so far applies to single bevel models, which allow you to make bevel cuts only in one direction (left or right). To make matching bevel cuts (left and right), you have to flip over your workpiece and reset the angle to ensure it’s accurate before you make the second bevel cut. Dual bevel saws are able to make compound cuts in both directions (left and right) without you having to turn your workpiece over. Instead, you use a pivot arm to flip the saw. It’s a pretty cool feature and I do like it because it gives you pretty accurate cuts on both sides and it saves time, which is always a good thing.

The Miter Saw Sages Have Spoken

You should now have a pretty good idea regarding the differences between a compound miter saw and a sliding compound miter saw. To sum it up, I would say a compound miter saw is good for smaller jobs and those which require cutting long materials, while a sliding compound miter saw is good for larger, heavy duty jobs and cutting wider materials. There is no doubt that you can do more with a sliding compound miter saw. It offers a larger cutting capacity, but it also comes with a higher price tag.

While most woodworking professionals will choose the sliding option, they have to cut thick materials on a regular basis. If this is not the case for you, my advice would be to go for a stationary compound miter saw as it will be able to handle most of your cutting jobs and you won’t have to pay for the extra cutting capacity that you’ll probably never need.