What Is a Compound Miter Saw?

If you plan to build a frame, get started on a cabinetry project, or simply build a box, you will need miters. And a miter saw will therefore end up on your shopping list. Do not be surprised if it is described as a “compound miter saw” since these saws have recently become far more popular than single miter saws.

A compound miter saw is a saw that can cut at a horizontal slope as well as a vertical slope. More specifically, it can make straight cuts, bevel cuts, and miter cuts, making them better all-rounder cutting tools than straight or single bevel saws.

In this article, you will learn everything you need to know about bevel and miter cuts and how they compare with each other. You will discover the common uses of these cuts and which tools can be used for each of them. By the end, you will be confident about the saw you should get for your budget, experience, and project needs. Let’s get started on familiar grounds with a primer on straight cuts.

Straight Cuts: A Brief Primer

Any wood sheet, plank, or board you get from the construction aisle is straight-cut unless it is specially designed for a specific type of joinery. A straight cut is what you get when you use a jigsaw to cut a block of wood or a kitchen knife to cut a slice of cheese. It is at a 90-degree angle to the ground.

Most people notice as much. But what people often miss is that a straight cut is also at a 90-degree from the length of the material. In other words, your jigsaw blade’s top is right over its bottom, and the tip of your saw is perfectly behind the handle. 

When the vertical and horizontal angles are formed by a cutting tool across the breadth and the length of the material being cut, the result is a straight cut. Every cut that is not straight is technically a bevel. But when it comes to woodworking, bevel cuts are defined more specifically.

What Is a Bevel Cut?

A bevel cut is an angular cut in the vertical plane and is made with a blade leaning at an angle. The top of the bevel-cut wood is not perpendicular to the edges of the wood, and the resulting cut has the slope of a pyramid or reverse pyramid.

Bevel cuts require a blade to be at a far stricter angle than a miter cut. That is why it requires specialized equipment like a bevel miter. An average handsaw might be able to make a miter, but it is not able to cut bevels at a defined angle as easily. This means bevel-cutting plans are less accessible to the average woodworker compared to miter-cutting plans.

When Do You Need a Bevel Cut?

Bevel cuts can be used in joinery, aesthetic applications, and construction purposes, but their most common application is to soften edges. A straight cut can create sharp corners, especially with an abrupt upper edge. With a bevel cut, the top of the edges is smoothened with a slope.

If you do not have a bevel miter and need an alternative to cutting bevels, the following table might help.

Bevel UseAlternative
Preventing sharp corners in tablesYou can prevent sharp corners on table tops by using babyproofing material if you don’t want to use bevel cuts. 
Aesthetic compatibilitymiter cuts can also be used to create short pieces of wood with similar aesthetic appeal.
Resist weathering You can decrease weathering with non-straight cuts, but an end-sealer can be even better at reducing wear and tear.

So is a bevel cut necessary in a woodworking project? No. However, it is a very taste-specific cut that is irreplaceable for those who prefer it.

When it comes to making bevel cuts, you can use a circular saw with a strict bevel tilt preset or a compound miter. A compound miter also allows you to make miter cuts at a bevel angle introducing two types of angles into a single wood sheet. But before we discuss this type of wood cutting, let’s explore miter cuts.

What Is a Miter Cut

A miter cut is an angular cut across the length of a plank. The cut might be perpendicular from the vertical perspective but has an angular bend on the horizontal side. It can be made with a handsaw or a circular saw that can be set at an angular path horizontally.

Miter cuts are made with miters saws, table saws, and handsaws. Handsaws allow you to slow down the sawing process but can introduce human error into the angular path. Table saws are more precise but require holding wood sheets at a very precise angle.

A miter saw can be used to set up an angular cut and get a predictable result. Miter cutting, as you will see later, requires a degree of repeatability because multiple cuts need to have identical angles to work in elaborate joinery and construction.

When Do You Need a Miter Cut?

Where bevels are mostly an aesthetic choice in woodworking, miter cuts are more functional. They allow framing and durable border building. If two planks have perfect miter cuts, they can create a miter joint.

Here is a list of projects that use miter cuts/joints:

  • Door frames – Almost all door frames feature miter cuts. 
  • Table frames – Table frames are strengthened by miter joints
  • Window frames – Window frames can be made without miters, but miters are the industry standard
  • Picture frames – Wooden picture frames generally feature miters
  • Cabinets – miters are optional in cabinets and could be an aesthetic or functional choice
  • Molding – miter cuts should be used for moldings in projects that feature miters elsewhere
  • Paneling – Exterior and interior paneling both require miters if they encompass a cubic area

The Best Compound Miter Saw

If you’re wondering which saw will give you the most maneuverability across different types of bevels and miters, then you should consider Skil 10″ Dual-Bevel Compound Miter Saw, which allows you to cut bevels and miters simultaneously thanks to its dual tilt. It has over 1000 verified reviews and ratings that give it a global average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

What Is the Difference Between a Miter and a Bevel Cut?

If the difference between both these types of wood cutting angles is difficult to follow, you can use the analogy of a handshake to figure out how a blade leans during each one of these cuts. But first, let’s sum up the difference as it is in wood.

A miter cut happens at a horizontal angle across the length of the wood, while a bevel cut happens with a vertical lean in the depth of the wood sheet. A miter cut makes wood slant on the horizontal plane, while a bevel makes a material slant on the vertical plane.

To figure out saw placement in a miter cut, you must start by thinking of a handshake. Your hand is straight and extended for the reciprocating hand. This, as a saw, would result in a straight cut. If the tips of your fingers move towards the left or the right while your wrist stays in position, your hand forms a horizontal angle. 

Your pinky finger is still directly under your pointer finger, which means that the hand is vertically straight. This is the position that a circular blade must be in to make a miter cut.

Suppose, once again, you start with a straight hand in a handshake position. However, you don’t change the slant of your fingertips horizontally this time. Now, you tilt your hand so that your pinky finger is towards the left while your pointer is towards the right. 

All the while, all fingertips must point ahead. If you’ve done this properly, your hand will be at a bevel angle. And if a saw is set in this position, it can cut bevels through a sheet, plank, or board.

Can You Use a Compound Miter Saw as Just a Miter Saw?

A compound miter saw can lean at a vertical as well as a horizontal angle which allows bevel-cutting as well as miter cutting. These settings can be isolated or compounded. Despite its name, the compound miter saw doesn’t force its user to compound angular cutting across two planes.

You can use a compound miter saw to cut miters only if you don’t want to cut bevels at a particular point. The compound saw allows you to make angular cuts on two planes but does not mandate them. You can even use it for straight cuts.

If your current project requires just miter cuts, you might wonder if getting a compound saw is a prudent choice. Given that you won’t need a regular miter saw after you get a bevel miter, it is not wise to get a miter-only saw first and then proceed to a compound saw.

You might not use the bevel cutting slant initially, but knowing that you can do so when you choose, can be very comforting. In contrast, if you invest in a miter saw that doesn’t lean for bevel cuts, you will likely talk yourself out of bevel cuts not because straighter cuts are better for your project but because you don’t want to invest in a second miter saw.

Earlier, we covered the uses of bevel cuts and miter cuts. It is quite evident that miters have more functional use across different projects. In my estimation, you should get a regular miter saw if you cannot afford a compound one for four months. If you can set aside money for four months and afford a compound miter saw, then it is worth it. But delaying your projects past four months in the hopes of being able to cut bevels isn’t ideal.

Can You Use a Compound Miter Saw as a Bevel Saw?

You can use a compound miter saw as just a vertical bevel saw because you don’t have to use both bevels of the compound saw. You cut repeatable bevels across different wood boards using a compound miter saw’s vertical axis.

Bevel saws don’t exist as standalone products simply because bevel cuts aren’t as valuable. You can get bevel cuts with a table-top circular saw or a compound miter. Let’s go over which one is better for a starting woodworker.

A regular circular saw with a few bevel options is ideal for people who already own a straight miter. Those who don’t have a miter saw would be best served by a compound miter saw, which features both horizontal and vertical bevels. These bevels can be used to cut functionally important miters like those used in frames and paneling alongside aesthetically significant bevel cuts.

What Is the Difference Between the Dual Bevel and Compound Miter Saw?

Now that you know the key differentiating factor in dual bevel saws to be that they feature two levels, you might wonder if they are any different from dual bevel saws.

The difference between a dual bevel and a compound miter saw is that a dual bevel saw allows one to tilt the blade horizontally and vertically at the same time. A single bevel compound miter saw allows one to make horizontal or vertical tilted cuts but not at the same time.

It is worth noting that all dual bevel saws are compound miters saws because they allow both tilts. All compound miters, however, aren’t dual bevel, which means they allow both tilts but not at the same time.

Dual-Bevel is a more mass-friendly term as it has come to stand in place of “angle.” Some novice woodworkers refer to horizontal and vertical slopes as bevels, but they specify which way the bevel goes. Other woodworkers refer to both bevel cuts and miters as miter cuts. While bevels and miters are not interchangeable, they have come to be used more loosely in the past few years.h

You would still be better off using the term bevel for vertical sloping cuts and miters for horizontal slope cuts.

Final Thoughts

A compound miter Saw or simply a dual bevel saw is an all-purpose cutting device that can be used for straight cuts, miters, and bevel cuts. It is a good choice for intermediate woodworkers but might be an indulgence for starting craftsmen. Still, it is a wise investment if one is committed to woodworking for the long haul.

Damien Madeira

Damien has been doing woodworking for the last 5 years. He began as a hobbyist with hand tools and slowly worked his way up to own larger machines and mill rough wood into beautiful creations. While still considering himself a hobbyist, he has a passion for woodworking and enjoys working with epoxy as well.

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