Best Miter Saw For The Money - Miter Saws For DIY
Specifications Summary - Compound Miter Saw
- 12” blade
- Compound at a minimum but Dual Compound will save time on big projects
Product Recommendations - Compound Miter Saw
What is a miter saw used for?
The miter saw is a fantastic tool for many types of cross cuts (cutting across the grain of the wood) and is not used for ripping material (cutting along the wood grain). The real usefulness of the miter saw comes into play when you need to make very straight and accurate miter and/or bevel cuts. You can make mitered and beveled cuts with other saws however, the miter saw is a must have power tool if you need these cuts to be precise so that the cut boards will fit together perfectly without any gaps. That will be very hard to accomplish with the other saws unless you are very skilled with them. When you think miter saw, think about crown moulding, baseboards, door trim, picture frames or furniture making. With all of those projects you need a precise cut often times beveled and mitered at the same time. You can use your miter saw for rough work or framing as well, but if that is all you plan to do then you probably do not need to spend the money on a miter saw. However, if you are doing some renovations, home improvement projects or are interested in furniture or craft building, then a miter saw will serve you well.
Important features of miter saws
There are a variety of miter saws on the market and the prices can vary pretty significantly depending on the features involved. These features can have an impact on your project, either by limiting the size of wood you can cut or by causing you to spend a little more time figuring out how to adjust your material in order to get the proper bevel or miter that you need. Below I will outline the major features to take into account when choosing which miter saw you want to purchase for your next project.
- Compound -
The first major feature that you will notice listed on many of the product descriptions is that the particular saw is referred to as a compound miter saw. Compound refers to the fact that the base of the saw can pivot (miter) left or right while at the same time the arm on which the blade is attached can tilt in only one direction (bevel). In other words, I could make a 45 degree miter cut from a left to right direction or from a right to left direction depending on which way I adjust the base. I could add a 45 degree bevel at the same time if I were to tilt the arm of the saw to the right 45 degrees. This saw will not be able to tilt left! Not being able to tilt the saw in the other direction affects how you will have to arrange the material you are cutting if you need a bevel cut in that direction. Imagine cutting a baseboard where both ends of the same piece terminate on an inside corner. Both ends of that baseboard are cut at 45 degree bevels. However, if you wanted to cut that baseboard with the finished side facing up, the left end would have been cut by tilting the arm to the right while the right end would have been cut while tilting the arm to the left. If your compound miter saw only tilts in one direction, you would have to flip your baseboard over in order to get the proper cut for the over end of the board. There is nothing really wrong with this. It just takes some getting used to when you are learning and if you plan to make a lot of these types of cuts, then it could be more efficient to pick up a saw that will tilt in both directions.
- Dual Compound -
Speaking of saws that will both tilt and pivot in either direction, these are known as dual compound miter saws. These miter saws will allow you to cut a bevel and a miter at the same time in any direction you want. This does provide some efficiency when needing to make numerous cuts and not wanting to have to flip your material over. Like many other things, efficiency and convenience do come with a price and a dual compound miter saw will cost more than a standard compound saw.
- Sliding -
Just when you thought there could not be anything else the blade could do, I will introduce you the sliding feature of some miter saws. A sliding miter saw allows you to push and pull the arm of the saw forward and backward. With a standard, non-sliding saw you can only pull the arm down and into the wood. With the sliding feature, you pull the arm forwards and backwards while also bringing it down across the wood. The most significant benefit you can get from this feature is that you can cut boards of a larger width. For instance, with a sliding compound miter saw you may be able to cut a 2x16 piece of dimensional lumber but without the sliding feature, you may only be able to cut a 2x10 piece of lumber. I have encountered a few occasions where I wanted to cut a 1x12 with my miter saw but was not able to because mine does not slide and does not have the capacity to make that cut. For me, it hard to justify the price of a sliding compound miter saw for just a couple occasions where I wish I had one. You will have to consider what your primary use is going to be and whether or not the sliding feature is going to be necessary.
Compound Miter Saw
12" blade, Single Bevel & Miter Stand
- Blade Size -
Blade diameter is another feature that should be given some serious consideration. The larger the blade diameter the wider and thicker the material you will be able to cut. A 10” blade may only be able to cut dimensional lumber up to 6” wide while it may be possible to cut 10” dimensional lumber with a 12” blade without a sliding feature. It is possible to get a smaller blade (like a 7 1/4”) and still be able to cut across an 8” piece of lumber if you have a sliding miter saw. It is important to note that you should confirm the cutting capacity for each miter saw that you are considering as the widths I have noted above may not be consistent for all models of either blade diameter.
- Laser Guided -
Some miter saws are available with a laser guide. The laser shines on the material you are about to cut and is supposed to show you exactly where the blade will make contact. This can make aligning the blade with your mark easier assuming that your laser is properly sighted. Much like the sight of a gun, if your laser is off your cut will be off. I do not have a laser guide on my saw but I would imagine that it could be helpful. I have heard that these lasers can be bumped off track during shipping or if your tools gets bumped around on the work site so be sure to make sure it is accurate with some scrap pieces before taking on your project.
- Cut the Cord? -
Finally, there are more and more cordless miter saws hitting the market. For the most part, these are going to be saws with blades in the 7.25”-7.5” range so you will need to make sure it has the ability to slide in order to handle some larger material. Another item to note here is that DeWalt is offering a hybrid version that will allow you to use it with a battery or plug it in to a power source with an AC adapter.
Just to summarize, here is what I would suggest purchasing if you think a miter saw would be a great power tool to add to your collection:
- 12” blade
- Compound or possibly dual compound if you expect to get a lot of use from your new saw
Here are a few recommendations on miter saws that will serve you well.
Miter saw prices
A good miter saw is not an inexpensive tool. The corded miter saw starts around $200 for a 10” compound saw. The 12” miter saws are $300 for a dual compound and a sliding dual compound will cost about $400. If you are already using other 20 volt cordless tools with batteries that will be compatible with a miter saw, then you could pick up a cordless 7.25” sliding compound saw for about $320 for just the tool. You can buy the same saw as a kit that includes a battery and charger for about $400. That hybrid option I mentioned earlier is a 12” compound miter saw that starts at $500.
Top miter saw brands
If you were to search any of the major retailers you will find that there is no shortage of manufacturers producing miter saws. In fact, most of these manufacturers compete with each other in just about every category of power tools. Some of the manufacturers cater to the professional craftsman but offer product lines geared toward homeowners and those interested in do-it-yourself projects. Other manufacturers focus primarily on the homeowner market and try to offer a tool that is as inexpensive as they can possibly make it. When it comes to tools, I am a strong believer in the old adage “you get what you pay for.” I am not saying that the cheap product will not work or will break after a couple uses. What I will say is that I would not have high expectations that the product is going to last for the long haul or survive being dropped off a ladder or put through fairly heavy use. If you are in a pinch and need something right away and you are just not ready to commit to spending some money on a top brand, then by all means get what you can. But, I have spent the extra money on the premium brands and I have used tools of the lower end brands and I can say that I notice a difference in quality.
Here is a list (in no particular order) of what I consider to be the brands that offer the best quality, selection and durability of miter saws while also providing products that are affordable for users like us.
I personally own tools made by Milwaukee, DeWalt, Hitachi and Ridgid and I have been extremely happy with their performance, durability and price. I do not own any Bosch or Makita tools yet but I have read in many forums that people are very happy with these brands as well.
If you are big on “Made in the U.S.A”, your brand options are very limited. DeWalt is the only company I could find that will tell you which products are manufactured in the United States. These products are labeled with “Made In The USA With Global Materials.” Keep in mind that not all DeWalt products are made in the U.S but at least they are willing to tell us which ones are. Makita is the only other company that mentioned manufacturing in the U.S. They have a plant in Georgia but they did not specify which products are produced there.
Bad news on the “Made in the U.S.A” front when it comes to miter saws because none of the DeWalt miter saws are labeled as being made in the U.S.
Miter saw accessories
There will be quite a few accessories available for miter saw users. One of the most useful accessories that I purchased was a miter saw stand with material supports on both sides. If you have a dedicated work bench with plenty of room to mount your miter saw and be able to cut 8’-10’ long boards, then you may not need a stand. However, if space is an issue like it is at my house, then having a dedicated stand for my miter saw was a huge help. My first miter saw experience consisted of me placing the saw on the ground throughout my entire project. This was not only uncomfortable, it was also exhausting having to squat down every time I needed to make a cut. Once I bought the stand, it was life changing! The material supports are very helpful as well because you do not want your material to fall once you have cut it (also experienced during that project I mentioned).
There are also various length stops and crown stops that you can add to your saw. A length stop allows you to set the stop at a specific length so that you can quickly and easily make repetitive cuts of the same length without having to measure every time. Crown stops are useful for positioning crown molding against the saw fence.
Another really cool accessory is a dust hood. It sort of looks like a tent that surrounds the back portion of your saw. The bottom of the hood is somewhat funnel shaped with a port at the bottom that allows you to attach a wet/dry vacuum so that all the saw dust created by your cut is immediately sucked right into the vacuum.
Finally, as with all saws you will have your choice in blade options. There are blades that cut specific materials and blades specifically designed for very precise cuts. Your miter saw will most likely come with an all purpose blade so buying a blade is not necessary right away.