Miter Saw – The Complete Guide For 2019

The Miter Saw is a power tool that’s adored in many different trades and with lots of various hobbies. This is a tool that just screams versatility. There are so many different projects and jobs you can do with a miter saw. Not the least of which are renovation projects, new construction, and building furniture.

Miter Saw

If you’re not sure what exactly you’re even looking for then check out how to choose a miter saw. I’ll show you exactly what options and features are available on the miter saws of today, and which are best for you depending on your uses for the tool.

Overall, there are 4 different common miter saw types, each with varying features, pros, and cons. In these categories, I review the top-selling, most popular models of miter saws, in great detail. This will help you understand what features each has to offer, and which ones will work best for you.

Here are the main miter saw types:

In case you didn’t know, the term “Compound” just means the saw can cut miter and bevel angles. This means the saw can turn left and right, and it can also lean to the side (useful in trim molding). All miter saws nowadays are “Compound”.

You can still get industrial “Chop Saws” which may not be compound, but these are used for completely different purposes, usually at industrial style shops that do metal working. For this website though, all miter saws, whether called out or not, are in fact “Compound”.

And if you’re an on-location type of worker, then maybe you really appreciate a good cordless power tool. In that case, check out my reviews on cordless miter saws here.

How To Choose The Right Miter Saw

If you need a miter saw, and if you’ve spent much time at all looking into buying one, you’ve probably realized by now that they are not all made the same. Choosing the right miter saw can make a lot of difference in how useful the tool really is for you.

For example, if you plan on doing projects that involve cutting large crown molding or baseboard, you need a miter saw that has a large vertical cutting capacity. If you plan on building a deck or framing a house, you need to cut through large dimensional lumber quickly and easily. These are traits that are available with some models, but not all of them.

Cheaper miter saws can be plenty useful for small projects, hobbies, and some basic trim molding. But many other types of projects require special features not found on these cheaper miter saws.

If you plan on doing a lot of trim molding, I would suggest getting what’s called a “Dual Bevel” or “Double Bevel” saw. This means it tilts both ways and makes compound cuts much easier to set up.

If you need to cut large dimensional lumber like 2x10s or 2x12s, you will want a sliding miter saw. These models have the largest 90-degree crosscutting capacities, so you can make these cuts in a single pass.

If you’re always on the move, going from project to project, job site to job site, you may need to consider tool weight. Some of these miter saws are really heavy, and some are pretty light. If you plan on needing a mobile miter saw, find one that has a relatively low weight. This is another trait that I list on all of my reviews.

There’s more to consider than what I’ve listed so far. If you’re interested in reading all about choosing the right miter saw, read this page.

Non-Sliding Miter Saws

Non-sliding Makita Miter Saw
Source: Makita – Click to Enlarge

Price Tag

This style of miter saw definitely has its benefits. For one, you get the saw at a lower price than you would if it had the sliding capability. The slide adds complexity to the manufacturing of the unit, so they charge more for it. It has to include the steel rails, the carriage assembly, and the bearing assemblies. This all adds to the cost, so the non-sliding miter saws have an advantage in this regard.

Tool Weight

Another thing to consider is the lower weight. By not having the additional components required to make the tool a sliding model, the overall weight of the miter saw is less than it otherwise would be. Tool weight can be a big deal for some users, especially professionals and DIYers. Needing to move the miter saw from project to project can get very old if it’s a heavier-than-average saw.

Solid and Sturdy

For some people, you also have the sturdiness factor. Let’s face it, the fewer moving parts you have, the sturdier and more solid a tool feels. There is definitely a little wiggle that comes with a rail sliding system. So the non-sliding miter saws tend to feel more solid than the sliding models.

The Cons

The downside to the non-sliding miter saw is that it simply doesn’t have the cutting capacity that a sliding model can offer. You won’t be able to get those 12″ crosscuts and 8″ 45-degree miter cuts.

This fact alone is such a huge deal for many people, and that’s why they still go with a sliding model. I personally will only ever own a sliding model. The cutting capacity of the non-sliding miter saws just won’t cut it for me, literally. I like to be able to cut 8″ and 10″ wide boards in a single pass.

The Exceptions

There are some exceptions, however. For example, you can get a Dewalt model that is a 12″ blade, non-sliding version and it still cuts through a 10″ board at 90 degrees. This is impressive for a non-sliding miter saw. Read my review on this Dewalt model here.

To read my review on the Makita LS1221 in the picture, click here.

Sliding Miter Saws

Ryobi sliding miter saw
Source: Ryobi – Click to Enlarge


The main benefit to getting a sliding miter saw is the larger crosscutting capacity. As mentioned before, with the sliding models you can achieve up to a 12″ crosscut, and even more on some brands. The large crosscutting allows for handling larger dimensional lumber when framing or building a deck, larger material cuts for woodworking projects, better shelving and plywood cutting, and more. Without the sliding feature, you could make these cuts only by flipping the board over and making 2 cuts to go through the wood.

To read my review on the Ryobi P3650B click here.

Dados and Rabbets

If the miter saw you’re using has a depth stop, you can also cut Dados in the wood. This is a groove that’s cut across the grain of the board. These are made so you can insert the edge of another board into the Dado, for increasing sturdiness of the joinery, adding glue surface area, and making it easier to line up the joint. Shelving is a common project that uses Dados.

Illustration of a Dado you can cut with a miter saw

Cutting Rabbets is another possibility with sliding miter saws, again, so long as it comes with a depth stop. Rabbet cuts are another type of groove, only they run off the end or the edge of the board.

I’ve recently done a few projects requiring Rabbet cuts if you want to read more about it. One was the picture frame I built, which I actually used the table saw for the Rabbets. And the other was the drawer I built for my computer desk, where I did use the miter saw.

The Cons

One of the downsides for the sliding miter saw is the larger footprint. You’ll need more workspace when using a miter saw, as they have the rails that extend out the back of the saw. This means small work benches and cramped job sites may not allow for such a large miter saw.

In addition to having a larger footprint, the sliding models are also heavier, more expensive, and they have more moving parts, which means more to potentially go wrong. While I personally have had zero issues with my Craftsman sliding miter saw and it’s bearing and rail system, these bearings could go bad and require getting replaced.

The Exceptions

However, there are exceptions to the ‘larger footprint’ rule. Some models are considered ‘Compact’ and they have the rails along the side of the blade, like the Makita LS1019L I reviewed here. Another exception would be the Bosch ‘Gliding’model, which uses a compact glide system instead of the standard rails. This is the Bosch CM10GD. These are designed to provide the large cutting capacities of a sliding model while taking up less space like the non-sliding models.

Cordless Miter Saws

Dewalt cordless miter saw
Source: Dewalt – Click to Enlarge

A good cordless miter saw can make a huge difference in productivity and versatility. This type of miter saw is made for those who are working on outdoor projects, like gazebos and pavilions, decks, etc.., and also for contractors who may find themselves on plenty of job sites that lacks electricity.

The features of a cordless miter saw are just as robust, durable, and plentiful, as your standard corded miter saw variations. You can get great capacity, along with impressive power and longevity, by using the cordless technology of the day.

You can read more into these miter saw types in my cordless reviews found here.

For a detailed review on the cordless Dewalt miter saw kit in the picture, click here.

Miter Saw Features to Look For

Makita miter saw beveled to the left

There are going to be features available on some models that just make more sense for what you need, while other models may have things you will likely never need. So be sure to consider the features before making your decision.

Some miter saws have a laser guide for lining up your cuts easier. This is great for construction workers, DIY homeowners, and woodworkers. But it really isn’t necessary to make a good cut. It really depends on how much you’re actually using the saw and how many cuts you’re making. Do you need to save a few seconds on a cut, just by being able to line up the cut quicker with a laser guide? I think sometimes it’s justifiable, other times it’s not.

And dual bevel? What about tilting the miter saw in both directions? Well, if you’re not going to be cutting a lot of crown molding, I really don’t see a need for dual-bevel. Sure it comes in handy no matter what you’re using the saw for (in some cases). It is a nice feature, but if you’re not utilizing the right-tilt on a regular basis, is it really worth the extra cost?

Positive stop detents are also a big part of using a miter saw. These are the detents built into the saw’s miter adjustment system which allow you to quickly adjust to all the common angles when setting up for a miter cut. You’ll typically get detents at 0, 22.5, and 45 degrees. But there are also more complicated cuts, like when it comes to crown molding. You may find it useful to have detents at 15 and 31.6 degrees. Also, you may have a need to go beyond 45 degrees in your miter capacities, so be sure to check for these, as not all miter saws have the same miter detents and capabilities.

Craftsman SM2509RC beveled with the fence extended

Some miter saws come with a sliding fence, which in my opinion is not really that helpful for those of us who work in a shop. I say this because we usually end up building a miter saw workbench that has all the auxiliary fence features built in. But if you’re using the miter saw on location, you probably will end up getting a miter-saw-stand of some kind, and really this is the extent of your miter saw workstation. That sliding fence can come in handy for additional support of longer boards when cutting crown molding and baseboards.

Dust collection bags usually come with all models, so don’t let them trick you by saying they have a great saw because it has a dust port and dust bag. This really is industry standard. However, don’t expect good performance from these dust bags either. Miter saws are notorious for shooting dust in all directions when cutting. And the dust they shoot straight back rarely makes it into the dust bag on the back of the saw. The only real way to collect the majority of the dust with a miter saw is to build a miter saw dust collection box, which I’ll be detailing in a future post.

Dewalt DHS790AT2 Cutline

Work lights are also offered on some models. This is really handy for job site usage when you may be making cuts in poor lit areas. Some miter saws, like the Dewalt in the picture above, use their work light to cast a shadow on the board from the blade, showing you exactly where the cut will be. This is even used as an alternative to a laser guide, and I believe it is superior to the laser as it shouldn’t go out of line since it’s a shadow of the stationary blade.

Miter Saw FAQs

What other things are needed when buying a miter saw?

Like with everything else, this really depends on what you’ll be using the miter saw for. If you think you’ll be doing a lot of job-location projects, where you’ll be bringing your miter saw elsewhere to be used, you’ll need to get a good miter saw stand. You can get these specifically for a given model of miter saw in some cases, or you can buy an aftermarket version with a more universal application.

These give you a lightweight, portable miter saw workbench with extensions for board supports and board stops. Usually the legs will fold underneath and the stand has wheels on one end. The miter saw will clamp down on the cross rails to stay attached while you’re picking up one end and rolling it around as needed. It really does make for a much easier use of of your saw for on location miter saw projects.

You’ll also want to make sure you have a good tri-square. This is a quick way to test your cuts to make sure you’ve got a good 90 degree or 45 degree cut. Along with this you may want to get an angle guide to help set up custom angles, and to check for accuracy after you’ve made the cuts.

Miter saws are notorious for creating a lot of dust, and this dust is typically thrown in all directions. Some miter saws have a decent dust collection port built-in, but most do not. With that being said, you will drastically improve the dust collection performance by simply attaching a Shop-Vac to the dust port on the back of your saw. If you’re going to have a more stationary miter saw, you can also build in a dust collection box and attach a higher CFM dust evacuation system.

Also for a stationary miter saw set up, you may want to build yourself a miter saw workbench or work table. This can be done on the cheap, or it could be very expensive depending on how many features you want. But either, this workbench is a good, practical addition to any miter saw.

And finally, many manufacturers will offer a zero clearance throat plate for they’re miter saws. You can also find these aftermarket versions for a more universal fit. These are great for reducing tearout and making a cleaner cut. While I don’t usually use them because my final cuts are almost always done on the table saw, I would still suggest them if you’re doing finishing work or if you don’t have a good table saw with a crosscut sled.

What is the best miter saw for a homeowner?

Most homeowners need a miter saw because there are usually some renovation projects or home improvement that needs to be done on the house. A miter saw’s a great power tool for this type of use. So when I think of homeowners needing a miter saw, I really tend to suggest DIY-friendly and portable miter saws. Typically for these types of projects you also don’t need large cutting capacities, so you can save some money by getting a more standard variation of the miter saw. So for most homeowners I would suggest a non sliding simple 10 inch lightweight miter saw, with single bevel and dual miter capabilities.

What is a Miter Saw Workbench?

A miter saw workbench is a little more complicated than just a standard workbench with a flat top. The base and the sides can be used for anything, like shelving or drawers. But the top is specifically designed to make cutting with your miter saw easier and more accurate.

My miter saw workstation with integrated dust collection and stacked drawers

This is a picture of my miter saw workbench. You’ll notice the miter saw sits on a lower part of the worktop. this is designed specifically for my miter saw, in that the 2 elevated sides are perfectly flush with the miter saws cutting bed. This way the workbench doubles as additional board support. You can also add extended auxiliary fences to the worktop and adjustable board stops for repeatable cutting. And like I did on mine, you can easily build a dust collection box around the back of the saw for your dust evacuation system.

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