Getting started in woodworking requires significant investment in tools. But since many tools have overlapping uses, getting the ones that have the largest set of possible applications is ideal for beginners. Most aspiring woodworkers are advised to get miter saws.
A miter saw is primarily used to make miters (angled cuts) that are most common in frames, rafters, and corner-work in general carpentry. Miter saws can also be used to make straight cuts which makes them useful in wood trimming and cabinetry as well.
In this article, you will discover the different ways in which miter saws can be used and whether there are other tools you should be getting before you get a miter saw. The final portion of this post is a useful buying guide for miter saws. But before we get to it, we must look at the function of miter saws.
Different Uses of Miter Saw
In this section, we will go over the ways in which you can use a miter saw, starting with its most common function.
Angled cuts made using a miter are generally called miter cuts or simply miters. These cuts have structural advantages in framing because it distributes resistance more evenly, resulting in a firm surrounding frame.
Miters are so crucial to frame stability that they are used across a wide range of sizes, from picture frames to door frames. And in each instance, miter saws of different sizes are used to make these angled cuts.
While miter saws are different from standard table saws in that they can cut wood at set angles, they are not always used to cut wood at angles. Their default blade position is perfectly perpendicular, which means miter saws can be used to make standard cuts like the ones made with table saws and handheld circular saws.
This might not mean much for a woodworker who already has a table saw. But a woodworker setting up his workshop might find miter saws very pocket-friendly because they allow him to make at least two different types of cuts with a single device.
As mentioned earlier, miter saws are important in framing panels ranging from paneling to photo frames. Rafters are unique structural support beams that help support roofing material, including shingles and boards. While small frames can be cut straight and joined with adhesives, rafters have to be symmetrically miter cut for equal distribution of weight. Large miter saws are used for this process.
Trim work is just a functional manifestation of straight cutting. As mentioned earlier, you can make straight cuts with a miter saw. If you work with multiple panels, sheets, or planks, you might not need uniform size across every piece.
Trimming can be done with almost any sharp tool. But since miter saws feature a short cutting motion, they are generally precise enough for a novice and intermediate woodworkers.
When Do You Need a Miter Saw?
Now that we have gone over the main uses of miter saws, you might have noticed that a significant number of functions can be done by other tools. For instance, trimming can be handled by a table saw, and almost any circular saw or even jigsaw can make straight cuts.
If you have these tools, you might not even need a miter saw until you encounter a project plan which involves miters.
To avoid unexpected pauses, you should a miter before you start any of the following projects:
- Paneling – Paneling requires interior or exterior coverage of a large space with panels. Whenever panels have to cover a corner, two mitered panels are used. Their 45-degree edges work together to give the corner a 90-degree coverage.
- Rafters – Rafters need to have a balance which means that the beams need to be mitered at 45 degrees so they can lean on each other with equal force. This ensures that the beams don’t tip in either direction after the roof panels exert force on them.
- Photo frames – Photo frames are easier to join with mitered joints. However, it is possible to make photo frames with straight cuts. You just need to use a strong adhesive or pocket hole joint to hold the frame together.
- Door frames – Door frames are larger than photo frames and hence need mitered joints. The 45-degree slope on the side panels makes room for the top panel of the frame to rest fairly at the top while maintaining an aesthetic appearance.
- Table Frames – Table borders can feature angular cuts, especially when they have to hold a significant weight that needs to be distributed evenly. Mitered panels and bevel cuts are quite common among tables.
- Cabinets – Cabinet door frames can have mitered joints. A miter saw is useful for cabinetry as it expands your options. From drawer corners to cabinet door frames, multiple aspects of cabinets can benefit from straight as well as miter cuts. And having a miter saw means your choice isn’t limited by your tool’s abilities.
- Moulding – Mouldings are transition panels used to make corners more aesthetic. Because they primarily deal with edgework, they must have a 90-degree angle. Miters can be used to form moulding panels for a variety of carpentry applications.
Should I Get a Circular Saw or a Miter Saw?
You should get a miter saw if you work with small wood panels. Circular saws are used to cut larger lumber into small manageable pieces. It is very rarely used for precision cutting. If you have to choose between the two at the beginning of your woodworking journey, you would be better off buying a miter saw.
The miter saw will not be able to handle large wood panels or rough lumber. You can offset this by getting panels sized to meet the miter saw’s requirements. Home Depot and even Amazon can be used to buy pre-sized wood panels. You can buy smaller panels, so a circular saw is not as necessary. But you cannot buy your way into making a circular saw more precise.
That said, you should own both tools when you can afford to. The circular saw’s benefits mostly relate to it being portable and flexible compared to the strict directional nature of the miter saw.
When you start working with power tools but are on a tight budget, your saw acquisition should chronologically be as follows:
- Jigsaw – This will give you directional freedom in cutting corners and curves.
- Miter Saw – You will be able to make different types of cuts as long as the panels are within the saw’s usability limits.
- Circular Saw – Once you get this saw, you won’t have to buy overpriced, gentrified wood panels and can deal with larger lumber
- Table Saw – After getting or building a table saw, you can transition to larger projects.
If budget is not a problem and you can afford to get a miter saw alongside other tools, then the chronology should be as follows:
- Circular Saw
- miter Saw
- Table Saw
Miter Saw Buying Guide
If you’ve decided to get a miter saw, you need to make sure that you get the right size device for your projects. Aside from the size, you have two more factors to consider. Whether you want a compound miter saw, or a regular miter saw. And if you want a compound miter saw, would you like it to have a dual bevel or single bevel? Let’s simplify this.
- Get a regular miter saw – If you don’t plan to make bevels and are on a very tight budget.
- Get a compound miter saw – If you want to cut horizontal and vertical slopes in wood panels.
- Get a dual bevel miter saw – If you don’t have a tight budget and would like to make cuts that slope vertically and horizontally at the same time.
The size discussion:
If you have a circular saw, then you can afford to get a smaller miter saw. But if you plan to use a miter saw as your sole power tool for a while, then you need a larger size saw that is compatible with standard lumber boards and panels you can get from Home Depot.
This is a decent miter saw for woodworkers who already have a circular saw or table saw. It has a 4.25-inch base support capacity (vertically) and can cut 2″x6″ lumber at the classic 90-degree angle and a 2″x4″ panel at 45 degrees.
If you don’t have alternative trimming tools, this miter might be inaccessible to most standard 4×8 lumber. But that cannot be considered a fault of the miter saw since its purpose isn’t to trim large boards.
It does its main job pretty well, which is why it has a 4.9-star rating on a 5-star scale. This is derived from a collective average of over 890 reviews and ratings.
This is a dual bevel miter saw capable of slicing at two angles simultaneously. Its 12-inch size means it can be used on larger wood panels and boards. All the uses covered earlier in this post are valid for this product. It has a 15-amp power and a 5-year Warranty. Its scales, positive stops, and ease of handling all make it very novice-friendly. That’s why its ease of use is rated 4.2 out of 5 stars. More importantly, this miter saw’s safety is rated 4.4 out of 5 stars.
You should get this saw if you want to work with larger wood boards and have fewer size-adjusting tools. Ideally, you would still have a table saw, or a handheld circular saw to make lumber more miter-friendly.
Best Practices of Maintaining a Miter Saw
Once you get a miter saw, you need to make sure you don’t immediately need another one. A miter saw lasts up to a decade if used properly. However, it must not be subject to excessive resistance and incompatible materials. Here are the best practices for maintaining a miter saw:
- Clean off the dust before and after each use – Wood dust has tree sap in it, and that sap can bleed out onto the saw. Consequently, sawdust can stick to the saw and start jamming its operation.
- Clean the blades at the end of each week – Remove the blade and wipe each individual tooth. This makes the blade last longer.
- Avoid cutting materials that are too hard for the blade – Plywood and other wood composite materials have hard resin in them and may not be suitable for cutting. While a miter saw may be able to power through them, its blade and motor will be worn down to an extent because of this operation.
- Sharpen the blade whenever it gets blunt – This goes without saying, but the more often you sharpen the miter saw blade, the better your miters will come out. It will also lead to lower resistance and pushback on the motor.
- Replace the blade when it is due for replacement – While blade sharpening can help, there comes a time when a blade needs to be replaced. Replacing your miter saw blade at the right time will protect the machine from undue wear and tear. Make sure you get an appropriate replacement blade.
- Lubricate the miter saw to improve its performance – Finally, there is the optional step of lubricating the miter saw before use. It can reduce friction and improve the results of your miter saw. More importantly, it can reduce the wear and tear on the rotary components of the saw.
- Don’t overuse the saw – Earlier, we covered the technical possibility of using a miter saw as the only power tool in a workshop. That can work for a limited period, but eventually, your workshop must have enough diversity of tools so that no single tool has to overwork.
miter saws can be used for most carpentry applications. However, their prime purpose is to make slanted cuts that are required in edge work, miter joints, frames, rafters, moulding, and corner paneling.