A miter saw is a great tool for contractors, home renovators and woodworkers alike. They can be used to make quick work of trim and other types of jobs, or they can be used for making precision angled cuts for woodworking projects. Not all miter saws are equal, though, and the features can range quite wildly between models and brands. Let’s take a look at some things to consider when buying a miter saw.
Motor & Cutting Power
The cutting power of miter saws can range quite a bit between models and brands. Smaller miter saws with 8 inch or 10 inch blades and no sliding action are usually capable of cross cutting a 2×4 or smaller trim work, but won’t be able to handle larger materials. Larger miter saws with 12 inch blades and sliding action are often capable enough to cut 4×4 or even larger pieces of lumber. So for this reason it’s important to consider what types of work you will be requiring of your miter saw to help narrow down the field.
Most miter saws motors operate with about 15 amps of power, some a little less depending on the make/model. The motor spins the blade at around 3,000 to 6,000 RPM on most miter saws. Variable speeds are not very common on miter saws, but it is a feature that can be found on some. Some miter saws can draw up to 1800w so they are known to trip circuit breakers when sharing power with other appliances. Generally, most saws have enough power to cut through whatever size materials they are rated for, but some do come up short or bog down a bit when pushing the limits.
Some miter saws position the motor up by the blade, but this can be restrictive to bevel movement to the right. Miter saws that bevel to the right will often position the motor towards the back of the blade arm and power the blade via a belt drive, which then allows for more room to tilt to the right a full 45 degrees.
Brushed vs Brushless Motor
Most miter saw motors will fall under the categorization of brushed or brushless.
Brushed motors are the more traditional approach for power tools. They can provide good power but the friction caused by the brushes can cause excess heat or noise during operation and can wear out more quickly from regular use.
Brushless motors are the newer approach and are becoming more common as tool manufacturers develop the electronics to control them efficiently. Brushless motors don’t have the friction to deal with that brushed motors do, and as a result can be more responsive during use, produce less heat, operate more quietly and last longer. This is why brushless motors are becoming more popular over time.
All miter saws will offer some sort of miter action – it’s in the name after all. Some cheaper saws might be more restricted in the full range of the miter, but most will offer something like 50 degrees to the left and right. Some go higher, even up to 60 degrees on the miter.
Miter stops are common on most miter saws, and they allow you to quickly set common miter angles. The stops are usually at typical cutting angles such as 0, 15, 22.5, 31.6 and 45 degrees. Some miter saws notch the miter stops into a removable, replaceable plate which allows for both better calibration and the ability to replace it if miter stops wear or become sloppy. Cheaper miter saws typically will have miter stops notched directly into the aluminum base, which makes it impossible to fix or replace if they get sloppy over time.
Bevel action on a miter saw is the vertical tilt of the blade. Bevel action isn’t available on all miter saws, but it’s a very common feature nonetheless. The most common is a single bevel to left – which means you can tilt the blade vertically to the left for angled cuts. Some more expensive miter saws have a dual bevel action and can tilt vertically to the left or right. The bevel is typically not as fully featured or as easy to adjust as the miter on most saws, but some of the more expensive models have slick features that make it easier to work with.
Most saws with a bevel action will have stops at both 0 and 45 degrees. Some offer a larger range such as stops at 0, 22.5, 33.9 and 45 degrees. The stops on the bevel action are often implemented with stop plates or screws rather than notches like on the miter, and it can be implemented differently based on the make/model.
Sliding miter saws offer greater cutting capacity by allowing the blade to slide back and forth during a cut. This feature isn’t as common and is usually found on higher end or contractor level miter saws. The sliding action typically works by moving the blade arm along guide rods, but some manufacturers use compound arms rather than guide rods.
Sliding action can be sloppy or precise depending on the quality of the saw as well as the person using it. Sliding saws can be susceptible to lateral pressure being put on the arm during a cut which can move the blade off of a straight line, for example. More expensive saws tend to have more precise sliding action, but it’s not always the case.
Saws with sliding action typically take up more space both in front and behind the saw to account for sliding action and guide rods. Some newer saws do a nice job of reducing the rear profile though, which is great for people who want to have a sliding miter saw in their shop without sacrificing too much space.
The sliding action is optional on saws that employ it, and the action can be locked into place so that you can use the miter saw as a chop saw.
Some miter saws have a depth stop feature that allows you to set a specific height that the blade will drop down to. This feature helps with slot cuts or anything where you don’t want cut all the way through the material.
The depth stops are usually implemented in a fairly basic way if the miter saw has the feature. Usually it’s just an adjustable screw along with a stop plate to activate or deactivate the stop action.
Laser or LED Cut Lines
Cut lines on miter saws are popular since they are used for quick, precision cutting. Cheaper models usually don’t have this feature, but more expensive models will.
Lasers are the most common when this feature is implemented. Some saws have a single laser that can be moved to either the left or right side of the blade, which can be a little awkward to work with but it works. Some saws have dual lasers where there is a laser line on both sides of the blade at all times, which is the best implementation.
Some saws use LED lights that cast a shadow of the blade which creates a cut line. This can actually be more accurate and easier to use than laser lines since the shadow doesn’t ever need to be calibrated or adjusted.
Cutting Table & Fence
The cutting table on most miter saws is designed to be large enough for the maximum size rating of materials that it can cut. The table is typically aluminum and the base will usually have holes for mounting to a workbench or table.
It’s common to see miter saws with extensions that slide out on the left and right of the table, which offer more support when cutting longer materials.
The fence on most miter saws is usually of a two piece design with a lower fence that is fixed in place and an upper fence that can be slid outwards or removed entirely. The fence is designed this way in most cases to account for the bevel action. On saws with dual bevel to the left and right, you will typically see removable upper fences on both sides.
Weight & Portability
Portability can vary quite a bit with miter saws. They tend to be a larger, bulkier tool. Some of the larger miter saws can push close to 100 lbs or more. Some of the smaller miter saws are 50 lbs or less.
If you need portability in your miter saw there are some features to look out for. Obviously the lighter models will be easier to transport. Most miter saws will also have carry handles built into the bottom of the left and right sides of the base, so that you can get your hands under the base to lift it up. Some lighter miter saws even have a carry handle on the top so that when the blade is locked into a lowered position it can be lifted and carried easily. On heavier or larger miter saws, the blade can usually be locked into a lowered position and if you push the miter all the way to the left or right it can make the saw a little smaller in overall size for transport.
Safety features are pretty similar on most miter saws, but not all saws have the same features.
All modern miter saws have a blade guard to cover the blade when not in use. The blade guard is designed to move out of the way during cuts but otherwise will always cover the blade.
The power trigger or button on modern miter saws will also always require using an additional safety trigger or button of some sort. This makes sure that the saw isn’t powered on accidentally.
Many miter saws also include a vertical vice clamp that attaches to the base. This clamp can be used to hold materials in place when making cuts and can help prevent kickback or other similar issues.
Soft start features aren’t as important for safety but they can contribute by reducing the torque of the blade on startup.
Blade brake features are more important to safety since they slow the blade down quickly after power off. Pretty much all modern miter saws have a blade brake and can stop the blade within a few seconds or less.
Dust collection is often a weak point on miter saws. Even some of the better miter saws struggle with good dust collection. The dust collection bags usually aren’t all that great. The best option is almost always going to be to hook up a dust collection system.
The dust collection port on miter saws can vary in size between makes/models. You’ll most likely have to get some sort of adapter or use duct tape to hook up to an existing dust collection system.
Most miter saws seem to come with similar accessories. You’ll always get a blade included, but quality of the blade can vary and upgrading the blade is often the easiest way to add more cutting power to a new saw. A dust bag, vertical clamp, side extension supports, fence extensions and wrenches are the most common included accessories.
Warranties for most power tools are at least 1 year. For miter saws it’s no different. Most of these miter saws that we cover, as well as most others out there, will have a 1 year warranty or longer. This is usually long enough to find any manufacturer defects or workmanship issues, which are usually what’s covered by a warranty.
There sure is a lot to consider when buying a miter saw. They tend to be more feature rich and can vary quite a bit between models. Hopefully this guide has helped clear the air a bit so that you can move forward with picking the right miter saw for your own needs.