- Best Compound Miter Saw
- Best Dual Bevel Sliding Compound Miter Saw
- Best Budget Miter Saw
- Best Manual Miter Saw
Best Miter Saw
Miter saws have probably been around since the birth of carpentry. Okay, maybe that’s a bit of exaggeration, but they’ve certainly been around a long time. That’s not to say they haven’t changed, because they definitely have. The old miter box with a back saw is getting pretty hard to find these days. Now, everyone is using power miter saws and getting their work done faster.
Regardless of the type and complexity of a particular model of miter saw, they all serve the same purpose which is providing a way of cutting material on an angle accurately. This originally meant cutting picture frame molding, molding used on furniture, and architectural moldings used for finishing out a home. However, today’s carpenter and woodworker use their miter saws for much more.
Miter saws come in a wide variety of sizes and styles. While power miter saws are the most common, there are still manual miter saws on the market. In some cases, they’re better than the power ones. More recently, sliding power miter saws have taken over a lot of the market by adding increased capacity for larger workpieces. Our miter saw buyer's guide provided below will help you decide what type you need.
Best Compound Miter Saw:
A miter saw is a shop saw, designed for crosscutting, but they’re designed to be portable for taking to the jobsite. If you need crosscuts and miters, these saws can cut a wide variety of materials, but if you want to rip a board, don’t look at a miter saw as it has absolutely no capability to rip anything.
The big advantage a miter saw gives you over any other type of saw is accurate cuts for both straight crosscuts and miters. Although it’s possible to crosscut dimensional lumber with a circular saw, for accurate cutting they’re really not all that good. And while a circular saw can supposedly cut angles, they’re really not all that accurate for that purpose.
There are several categories of miter saws depending upon their capability. When we talk about a compound miter saw, we’re talking about one that can cut compound angles. That means that not only does the saw blade swivel in the horizontal plane, but it can also be angled in the vertical plane. This is necessary for some trim work, especially installing crown molding.
Not all compound miter saws are equal though as there are single and double compound miters. This refers to whether the saw can only do the bevel cut to one side, or to both. While most people get by with a single bevel, this can make it difficult to cut an opposite corner. It’s not impossible, but takes getting the angles straight in your head which isn’t always easy.
The other major consideration on these saws is the blade size, especially important if you’re planning on cutting larger moldings, especially larger crown molding. The narrow baseboard and door casing that’s used on most modern homes isn’t a problem for a 10-inch saw, but if you’re planning on working on custom homes requiring six inch moldings, you’d better pay close attention to the saw’s blade size and capacity.
For this list, we’ve focused on non-sliding compound miter saws versus sliding compounds as we’ve got a separate list for those. It’s not really fair to compare one to the other, as the sliding compounds have much more capacity, but they’re much more expensive as well.
All of these saws will cut a minimum of 45 degrees right and left and at least 45 degrees for the vertical angle. Saw power is pretty similar, as well as blade speed. The major differences are going to be in blade size, ease of use and whether they are single or double bevel.
Of all the compound miter saws out there, the Hitachi is the easiest to dial in the bevel exactly. The digital display let's you know exactly what you've got for optimum accuracy. Once you get the rough angle, there's a micro-bevel adjustment knob which allows you to dial it in exactly. Read Full Review
Overall, the DeWalt has been chosen by many as the best compound miter saw. This saw is double-bevel with the capacity to cut baseboard up to 6-1/5-inches tall. It also has 11 miter detents, more than anyone else on the market. Read Full Review
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Makita's discontinued their 12 inch compound miter saw a while back, around the time I mentioned they were probably about to come out with a new version and here it is. This saw comes with a 4.5-inch tall pivoting fence, so that you can accurately cut crown molding up to 5.5-inches tall. Read Full Review
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Bosch has provided the work piece supports as part of the saw, not an accessory that you have to buy later. That's a nice extra, allowing you to make more accurate cuts, especially when cutting long sticks of molding. Read Full Review
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The Skil compound miter saw comes with a lot of features for the price. Not only does it have an integral laser for the cut line, but it comes with the table extensions, like the Bosch. This saw also uses a one inch arbor, providing extra stability to the blade. Read Full Review
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Best Dual Bevel Sliding Compound Miter Saw:
Of all the categories of miter saws, these have the greatest capacity while still maintaining portability for transport to the jobsite. While “portable” is a variable term, as these saws are both large and heavy, one man can still lift and move them.
A sliding mechanism has been added to these miter saws in order to increase their overall cutting capacity. Originally, these saws were used only to cut moldings but it’s becoming much more common to use them for cutting dimensional lumber as well. As their purpose has evolved, so has their design.
Sliding saws are designed to cut a piece of 2 x 12-inch dimensional lumber while at the same time they have to maintain complete miter capability, with both left-hand and right-hand bevel cuts for cutting moldings. That actually gives these saws more capability than a radial arm saw, which only has bevel capability to the left side and generally limited table capacity for mitering to the left side.
Sliding compound miter saws have pretty much taken over the market from radial arm saws. While there are still some radial arm saws on the market, they are heavy-duty industrial units, not models homeowners and contractors would buy.
Even with the capacity to cut large dimensional lumber, these saws also have to be delicate enough to cut molding accurately. All of the adjustments have to be designed with knowing the saw will be moved around and jostled, which could knock it out of adjustment. These mechanisms are robust to handle jostling without the saw losing alignment.
These saws all come with 15 amp motors and have the capacity to miter cut at least 45 degrees to both right and left. The miter plate has detents at all the common cutting angles, in order to make it easier to set up the saw for those cuts. The blades are all 12-inch, giving the saws the capability of cutting larger moldings such as six-inch baseboard and six inch crown molding.
Besides the miter and bevel mechanisms, the other really important feature on these saws is their fence. While a fence is necessary for any type of cutting on a miter saw, it’s especially important when cutting moldings. For cutting six-inch baseboard or 6-1/2-inch cover molding, you need a high fence to support the workpiece.
It’s also becoming increasingly common for these saws to have lasers on them to align the blade. While factory adjusted, you should always check this before using the saw. It’s easy for a laser to go out of alignment from the vibration of shipping.
For the most accurate cutting, you want to have the longest possible table on your saw. Most now come equipped for installing table extensions, although the extension often has to be purchased as an accessory. Even so, it’s well worth the expense, as it helps keep from damaging an expensive piece of trim.
Milwaukee has the most unique saw on this list, even though they’re all dual-bevel compound sliding miter saws. This one has a digital readout for the miter setting, making it the most accurate miter saw around.Withthe digital readout, it's easy to get 1/10 of a degree accuracy repeatedly. Read Full Review
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This has to be the easiest saw in this category to work with. The adjustable position handle and up-front controls show the Bosch engineers were thinking about the woodworker when they designed this one. Read Full Review
This saw is unique because of a blade depth adjustment other miter saws don't have. That means it can be easily used for cutting dadoes and rabbets, something that can't be done on most miter saws. Read Full Review
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Of all the miter saws that I've looked at, the Makita is the one that I think will maintain its accuracy the longest. Four steel rails and six linear bearings hold the cutting head on this saw, ensuring repetitive accurate cuts time after time. Read Full Review
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A nice feature on this saw is the stainless steel miter plate is adjustable, so you can dial in the accuracy of your saw exactly. The new XPS cross cut positioning system improves the accuracy of your cuts. Read Full Review
Best Budget Miter Saw:
Having a power miter saw is essential if you’re going to be cutting any sort of architectural molding or even picture frame molding. Nothing else will give you as clean of a cut, mitered to the exact angle needed for making that molding butt up perfectly with an almost invisible seam. Unfortunately, miter saws can get pretty pricey, especially if you go for the big sliding models.
For the average homeowner, spending several hundred dollars for a tool just so they can finish a remodeling project may be a bit too much. Granted, many of us are tool collectors who are looking for almost any excuse to add a new toy to our collection but that doesn’t mean that we can afford it. Often, our champagne tastes have to fit into a low priced beer budget.
These budget miter saws are designed to provide good service, without a lot of bells and whistles. The thing that you have to keep in mind whenever buying budget tools is that the manufacturers have to cut corners somewhere. That often means that the quality of the materials isn’t as good, the metal parts aren’t as thick and the fit and finish isn’t as nice as you can find on a high end tool. Nor can you expect a budget tool to provide years of service to a professional. These are designed for the homeowner who does an occasional project, not the guy who makes a living with his tools.
In updating this list, I’ve decided to limit myself even more than I had before, dropping the max street price to $150. However, I was still pleasantly surprised with what was available on the market. Not only are there a variety of saw models, but they had more features than I would’ve expected. The biggest limitation is that these are 10 inch saws or smaller, rather than 12 inch saws. Unless you are going to be cutting large crown moldings, these saws will still do a great job for you.
WEN's saw is even cheaper than you can get from Harbor Freight. This sliding compound miter uses a ten-inch blade, but still has lots of capacity. Read Full Review
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I was surprised to find a name brand saw in this price range. This Hitachi gives you a lot of features, and their well-known five year warranty. Read Full Review
Skil doesn't receive the praise they deserve for their tools. However, this compound miter saw shows that they still know what they're doing with dual lock-off switches accommodate both left and right handed users. Read Full Review
For a great price, take a look at this Genesis miter saw. It comes with table extensions and a workpiece clamp, and even has a laser guide. Read Full Review
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i was surprised to find a sliding miter saw within this price range, but Sears puts one out. This saw uses 7-1/4 inch blades which are a bit small, but great if you have a lot of flat stock which needs an angle cut on it. Read Full Review
Best Manual Miter Saw:
While power miter saws have largely taken over the market, there are still some die-hards who want to use a manual saw. My dad was one of those die-hard woodworkers who preferred using hand tools to power tools. I can still remember him teaching me how to use a miter box, a hand plane, and a chisel. He was the type of guy who could sand a piece of wood by hand, taking all day to do it, and be perfectly happy.
Actually, if you've only got to cut a piece or two, using a manual makes a lot more sense, as they are easier to set up and take down. Personally, I like a manual miter, especially when I am cutting small pieces, such as quarter round, edge trim or dowel rods.
The other nice thing about a manual miter saw is that you don't need electrical power to use it. That means it can be used anywhere, anytime. There have been a few times for me when I needed to cut something, but didn't have ready power. Having to dig out and start up a generator, just to make a few cuts is a lot of extra work.
The basic manual miter saw is better known as a miter box. It's a wood or plastic box that has slots at 90 and 45 degrees for the saw. A back saw is used with them, so named because of the stiffener installed along the back edge of the saw.
Better quality manual miter saws use a bow type saw, similar to a tall hack saw in appearance. This provides a thinner blade and with a finer tooth pitch. This is important for cutting moldings, especially softwood moldings. The finer blade gives a smoother cut, which is important.
An important part of making a miter saw cut, without splintering, is keeping the blade exactly perpendicular to the cut line. When the saw wavers, it tends to chip the edges of the wood on the backstroke. Simple miter boxes solve this problem my having a slot that's only the width of the saw kerf. However, as the box wears, the slot widens, increasing the problem. More expensive manual miter saws have a saw holder, which keeps the saw exactly perpendicular to the line of cut. This is the most important part of the saw.
Another important consideration when mitering with a manual saw is keeping the material from moving. I've ruined some pretty expensive moldings by having them move at just the wrong time. The better manual saws all have clamps of one sort or another, to keep the workpiece firmly in place while cutting. This helps immensely, as hand strength often isn't enough.
By the way, the proper way to use these saws is to always cut from the finish side of the wood. That way, the blade teeth are pushing the wood fibers into the wood on the finish side, not trying to tear them out of the wood.
For precision, the Nobex Champion takes the prize as it has a 32 TPI blade which makes for very fine cuts. This large capacity saw will really surprise you. Read Full Review
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If you're looking for a miter saw for cutting picture frame moldings, don't look any further. This saw from Logan Graphic Products is just what you need. Designed specifically for picture framing, it has the longest fence of any on the market. Read Full Review
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This "dual purpose" saw is designed to cut through both wood and plastic. This saw rivals the Nobex for precision, although it isn't quite as good in other areas. Read Full Review
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Empire Level's miter saw comes mounted into a miter box that has both the table and fence machined for precision. That's the key to this saw, making exacting cuts by making sure that the saw is as exacting as possible. Read Full Review
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Miter Saw Buyer's Guide
The whole idea of any miter saw is to be able to cut at an angle accurately. Generally speaking, this means crosscutting at an angle as that’s much more common than ripping at an angle. These saws start at cutting at 90 degrees to the lumber's face and will cut up to a 40 or 50 degree angle to either side. The ability to cut these angles accurately has made the miter saw an indispensible part of any carpenter's or woodworker's toolbox.
For many carpenters, the miter saw has all but replaced the circular saw for cutting dimensional lumber. Not only is it faster and with greater accuracy, but it’s a whole lot safer as well. There’s much less possibility of hurting yourself on a miter saw than there is with a circular saw.
The larger sliding miter saws have all but replaced the radial arm saw as the tool of choice for all types of crosscutting. About the only place where you see a radial arm saw anymore is in a cabinet shop or furniture factory. The sliding miter can do almost anything they can do and is actually much easier to work with. It is also portable whereas the radial arm saw really isn't.
Types of Miter Saws
Miter saws today come in a wide variety of sizes and styles, enough in fact where it almost seems like they couldn't all be called miter saws. But the one thing they all have in common is the ability to cut angles accurately, the prime purpose of a miter saw and one they all share. Of course, the more capacity the saw has, the more it will usually cost you.
Standard (Budget) Miter Saw
For those who need to install baseboard and casing on a home or cut picture frame molding, a standard miter saw is usually enough. There’s really no reason to pay the higher price for a more complex saw. These saws cut simple angles across the grain of the wood. A miter gauge is supplied, allowing the saw to be set to an exact angle for cutting.
Cutting with a standard miter saw is accomplished by lowering the blade into the workpiece, which is held in place on the table and against the fence. The blade and motor are mounted on a pivot, allowing them to go up and down for cutting.
Compound Miter Saw
When you step up into cutting crown molding, a standard miter saw is no longer enough. The outside corner for crown molding is a compound angle; meaning it’s cut at an angle in both the horizontal and vertical directions. To accomplish this, the saw's blade and motor need to tilt as well as swing from side to side.
Some compound miter saws are "dual bevel", meaning the motor can be swung off the vertical either to the right or left. While it’s technically possible to cut crown molding with a compound miter saw that only swings to one side, it takes a lot of mental gymnastics to get your mind around the angle you need to cut. With a compound miter, you can cut these angles much easier.
Sliding Miter Saw
The sliding miter saw has the cutter head (blade and motor) mounted on rails, allowing it to move back and forth as well as up and down. This allows for cutting of larger workpieces such as 2"x 12" dimensional lumber used for framing. While the accuracy of sliding miter saws allows them to be used for cutting large molding as well, most of the sliding action is actually used for allowing the cutting of dimensional lumber on the saw.
Sliding miter saws can either be standard miter or compound miter with a few actually dual bevel sliding compound miter saws. While these cost more, the added capacity of these saws means you can use one saw for all your crosscutting tasks, especially if you do a lot of woodworking requiring cutting angles. While a radial arm saw has the same capacity for cutting the same angles and workpiece sizes a compound sliding miter saw can, the miter saw is much easier to set up for complicated cuts than the radial arm saw is.
Manual Miter Saw
With all these powered miter saws, it would seem there’s no place left for a manual miter saw, but that is far from the truth. There are some applications, such as cutting picture frame molding or cutting extremely small workpieces (such as dowel rods) which are actually better done on a high quality manual miter saw, to avoid damaging the workpiece.
Manual miter saws range from the extreme simplicity of an old-fashioned miter box and a back saw to extremely accurate bucksaws, tensioned and mounted permanently to the miter frame. These are used almost exclusively for cutting picture frame moldings. There’s no reason for someone who uses a miter saw rarely to spend the money on a high-dollar sliding option, not when he can do everything he needs with a miter box and back saw.
Understanding How the Specifications Affect You
With such a wide range of miter saws on the market, it's extremely important to pay attention to what particular models specifications say. This, more than anything else, will determine what type of saw you need. While looking at these specifications, think of the largest workpiece you are likely to try to cut with the saw as well as the type of cuts you need to make; this will determine the size and type of miter saw you need.
Most power miter saws have a 15 amp motor, which provides enough power for cutting through dimensional lumber or hardwood, without bogging it down. My venerable radial arm saw only has an 11 amp motor, and I’m regularly stalling it when cutting dimensional lumber. So, for the most part, power isn’t the issue when looking at these saws, ease of use is. However, when looking at some budget models, you might find a smaller motor size. If you're planning on cutting dimensional lumber, I would avoid these saws.
Most miter saws are manufactured for either 10" or 12" blades, although there are some smaller ones that use 8" blades. The blade size doesn't matter much for many cutting operations, but is extremely important for cutting crown molding. If you’re planning on cutting large crown molding, you will need a saw designed for a 12" blade; this allows for cutting crown molding up to 5 1/2". In comparison, a 10" bladed miter saw will allow cutting crown moldings up to 4".
In order to cut crown moldings larger than 5 1/2", you'll need to move up to a sliding compound miter saw. Depending on the exact model you choose, many of these will cut crown moldings up to 8".
To Slide or Not to Slide
The biggest decision in determining your saw's capacity is whether or not to spend the extra money on a sliding miter saw. This depends more on the size of workpieces you intend to cut with your miter saw.
The easiest way to describe this is with three examples:
- Crosscutting or angle cutting 2" x 10" or 2'x 12" dimensional lumber
- Cutting the outside angles for crown molding larger than 5 1/2"
- Cutting the outside corner for baseboard that is more than 6" tall. With a compound sliding miter saw, you can lay the molding on its back and cut up to 12" high baseboard for that outside corner.
What to Look For
When looking at a miter saw, besides the basic dimensions it will cut, you want to look at the overall manufacturing quality. There are a few basic parts, which will show this better than anything else:
Bed and Fence Construction
As with most powered saws, the bed and fence have a lot to do with the accuracy of the cut you can make. Look at the overall quality of the castings, how well they’re finished and how big they are. A larger bed or longer fence rails drives up the cost and is a common place to try and cut corners; however, your cuts will suffer for it.
A few manufacturers offer exceptionally high fences. If you’re going to be cutting a lot of large crown molding, you want this feature. Without a high fence, it’s hard to hold the crown molding for an accurate cut. The best fences are adjustable although there are few models which have this feature.
Rollers for the Slide
The sliding mechanism consists of two polished metal tubes for rails. Manufacturers vary greatly on the types of rollers or bearings they use on those rails. Ball-bearing construction is the best, as it will roll smoothly and not wear through use.
Ease or Turning and Locking in Angles
The ease in which the table swings for setting angles says a lot about the quality of the machining done in the manufacture of the saw. Poor fit and finish shows up here, more than anywhere else. Also check the stops that are provided. Do they lock in easily and securely? For that matter, how many stops has the manufacturer provided?
While the items listed above are the most important to be looking at, you shouldn't ignore those things that will make it easier to work with your miter saw.
Table extensions add additional support for your workpiece, beyond the limits of the table itself. Considering it's not uncommon to be working with 20' long pieces when cutting molding, these can be invaluable.
How easy are the controls to access and use? The best models will have all the controls up front, so you don't have to reach past the blade to get to them. Things like handle shape can make a lot of difference when doing a lot of cutting. A "D" handle is easier to use in that case.
Many miter saws now come with laser guides for aligning the blade to your cut mark. While not necessary, they do make the job easier, especially when you’re trying to cut a lot of material quickly. Using the laser makes it much easier to be sure you’ve got the cut right.