What is a miter saw?
Miter saws, sometimes referred to as chop saws, get their name from their ability to cut angles in material to create miters in trim, frames and other projects. A miter saw is an essential tool for any jobsite or workshop. It is a powered saw that pivots down to cut through trim, lumber, materials like PVC decking, etc. Miter saws can also rotate side to side in order to cut angles. Compound miter saws can pivot the angle of the blade itself to allow for compound angles, like those needed for crown molding. Sliding miter saws have a blade that is mounted on slides which allows the saw to cut wider pieces. Some newer saws have an extendable arm which also extends the reach of the blade but takes up less space than slides.
Here are the basic parts of a miter saw:
- Dust collection bag
- Adjustable fence
- Turn table/base
- Positive stops
- Miter scale
- Miter scale pointer
- Miter handle lock
- Material hold–down clamp
How is a miter saw used?
- Determine and mark the length and angle of the cut needed
- Loosen the miter lock and move the turn table to the proper angle
- Lock the turn table in place
- If possible, clamp the stock to the table and against the fence to secure it
- Unlock the blade pivot (in not done already)
- Grab the handle and pull the on switch or trigger
- Slowly lower the blade, and cut through the work piece
- Allow the blade to stop spinning before raising the blade
- Hold-down clamp can help support the wood and prevent it from moving during the cut
- Miter table extensions to support longer pieces
- Portable stands
- Special blades for fine cutting, metal cutting or plastic cutting
- Laser guides
- Dust collection shrouds
- Wear proper eye and hearing protection
- Keep hands away from the blade
- Never reach across your body to hold down material
- Keep any loose clothing or dangling jewelry tied back
- Clamp down material whenever possible
What are the different types of miter saws?
- Battery powered saws are available
- Some saws can run on both battery and A/C electric power
- Handle and trigger configurations vary
- Fence size and shapes vary, and some are adjustable
- The three most common miter saw sizes are 7-1/4-in., 10-in. and 12-in.
- Chop saws for cutting masonry and metal are available in 14-in.
- Some miter saws can bevel both ways
- Some saws cut larger angles than others
- Some saws cut wider boards than others
What makes a good miter saw?
- Comfortable handle and intuitive trigger
- Smooth pivoting and sliding action that won’t get clogged with sawdust
- A blade guard that retracts and returns smoothly
- Easy-to-use miter lock
- Smooth and intuitive operating miter turn table
- Double bevel capability
- Solid positive stops to lock in the blade at common angles like 45-deg.
- Table extensions
- Material hold-down clamp
- Large slide capacity
- Clearly read miter gauge
- Easy to adjust miter gauge
- Belt driven
- Material hold down clamps
Miter Saw Tip: Use a Sacrificial Fence to Cut Small Parts
To avoid launching small pieces across the room, use a sacrificial fence. Build a two-piece fence for tiny material like this cove molding (left). Or just use a scrap board to back up small cutoffs (right). Hold the saw down at the end of the cut and let the blade come to a complete stop.