What is a miter saw? And what are the things to know before deciding if you need one?
While many of these tasks are also possible with other tools, few, if any, do it as reliably. Plus, strength and versatility are only the beginning of this excellent tool.
What Is A Miter Saw? Things You Should Know
1. What Is A Miter Saw?
A miter saw is a tool used for making crosscuts and angled cuts, also known as miters, on a workpiece. Its proficiency at these tasks makes it an indispensable tool for many carpenters and artisans.
It’s usually easy to tell what is a miter saw and what isn’t by how they look. Also, miter saws tend to be small and fairly portable, which distinguishes them from the bigger and simpler chop saws.
"What is a miter saw?" can be a slightly tricky question. Typically, what we refer to as a miter saw is a power miter saw.
These machines first emerged in 1964 after the first design by inventor Ed Niehaus. Neither he nor Rockwell, the company he worked for, patented the design.
Therefore, various models quickly appeared from different manufacturers, making it a widespread tool in no time.
In essence, it’s a circular saw that you lower onto the wood via radial arc spring action. Due to blade brakes and a fence that holds the workpiece in place, you get smooth and precise cuts.
Now, it wouldn’t be a miter saw if it had a fixed 90-degree angle. Instead, you get a number of increments that vary depending on the exact model. That's the saw’s miter index.
Many miter saws offer one-degree increments, while others have much larger increments. The smaller the increments, the more control you have over the angle of your cut.
2. Types Of Miter Saws
First, let’s clarify the current definition of what a miter saw is. We’re talking about power miter saws here.
While there are still manual miter saw rigs where you manually move a saw along pre-cut slits, these aren’t all that practical, and they’re not what we’re here to talk about.
There are many types of powered miter saws, but they all build upon the same standard concept. There’s a circular saw on a moving arm that can cut the wood at different angles.
A compound miter saw offers more cutting angles. You can tilt the head to get bevels (ramp-angle cuts) on your workpiece from the side.
Dual-compound miter saws can rotate the head in both directions. Whereas a single-compound saw requires you to flip the board, dual-compound lets you keep working with a quick adjustment.
Basic dual-compound miter saws like this one are suitable for decorative trim work.
Miter saws typically have a blade size of either 10 or 12 inches. You can’t switch sizes without getting a new miter saw.
Since these sizes are quite small and limit the size of workpieces, you may want a sliding compound miter saw. These machines let the head slide along a rail, which enables you to cut much wider boards and reduces the need to flip workpieces.
What is a miter saw like in terms of portability? Not bad, but there are also specific slimmed-down models like this one, specifically built with portability in mind.
Of course, it can’t quite keep up with a versatile sliding dual-compound monster like this one. It’s always a trade-off.
3. How A Miter Saw Works
When you feed the wood into your miter saw, you secure it in place with a safety clamp. Securing your workpiece is crucial, especially when sawing small workpieces.
Since the miter worktable rarely exceeds diameters of 20 to 24 inches, you will also need additional support for long pieces. Safety first!
Since the blade hides within a sturdy blade guard, and you operate the saw by moving the blade down with your hands at a safe distance, it’s very safe. On a sliding miter saw, you push the head forward, so it’s still very safe. However, working with a damaged or missing blade guard is very dangerous.
Due to the safety clamp and fence, there’s almost no risk of kickback. The wood stays put, and binding is unlikely.
You may experience a spray of sawdust and chips, which is common with practically all miter saws. For dust collection, they usually have a simple dust bag, and sometimes a way to mount an industrial vacuum cleaner. However, it’s hard to collect all the dust when the exposed area is so large.
The machine swivels in both directions while holding the wood still, which is what causes the miters and compound cuts. The swiveling and sliding mechanisms are robust enough to ensure consistent cuts over the years, even when you move it around a lot.
Since the design is fairly simple, setting up a miter saw and moving it around is very easy. There’s no need to continually adjust the blade depth when cutting workpieces of different sizes since you move the blade down from above.
Last but not least, many miter saws offer laser guidance. You’ll see a reference line on the wood caused by a spinning disc on the blade. Some models offer two lines to indicate total kerf width.
What is a miter saw blade made of?
The typical miter saw blade consists of coated carbon steel with a diameter of 10 or 12 inches, although rare smaller ones do exist. It’s worth repeating that each miter saw has a specific blade size, and won’t work with a blade of a different diameter.
There are four important parameters listed on miter saw blades: kerf, hook angle, tooth design, and tooth count.
The kerf indicates the width of the cut, or how much material it removes. One-eighth-inch blades are the norm, but thinner ones are better for finer work.
Hook angles indicate the bend of the teeth, which affects how much the blade pulls the wood. Low or negative counts are necessary when working without clamps.
Different tooth designs are suitable for different materials and edge treatments. The three common ones are ATB (alternating top bevel), TCG (triple chip grind), and FTG (flat-top grind).
Tooth count typically ranges from 24 to 100. The more teeth, the smoother the cut. For construction cuts, you’ll want at least 50, and the recommended minimum for fine decorative cuts is 90. Lower counts are better with dense, treated, and moist lumber.
Before you try to switch blades, you should know that the arbor bolt that holds the blade has reversed threading to prevent it from coming loose and sending a spinning blade of death your way.
You turn it clockwise to loosen it. You’d be surprised by how many people have stripped their bolts or hurt themselves trying to loosen it like a normal bolt.
4. What Is A Miter Saw Good For?
Miter saws are excellent for many uses, such as:
Let’s look closer at some of the main tasks and advantages. What is a miter saw, but a very versatile cutting tool?
Ordinary cross cuts
When you need a board cut into smaller lengths, a miter saw is often the best tool for the job. Essentially, this comes down to two factors.
First of all, miter saws are very strong and stable. What is a miter saw capable of cutting? Virtually any common slab you feed it. You may never come across a board it couldn’t saw with relative ease.
What’s more, it’s easy to secure it to your workbench for extra stability.
Next, you get precise cuts with ease. Lining up the cut is almost effortless. Even if your miter saw doesn’t have a laser guide, you can make it easy by lowering the still blade onto the wood to see exactly where the kerf will be before you activate the saw.
What is a miter saw? It’s a saw that does miter cuts.
A miter cut is when you saw the board at an angle. You swivel the saw to the side until you get the desired angle, and that’s that.
Whether you’re cutting wood for furniture, dog houses, or wooden sculptures, you’ll have to miter boards together. Even simple frames have mitered corners for stability and smoothness.
What is a miter saw good for during home improvement, then? Pretty much everything. All sorts of trim work and remodeling require miters and compound cuts.
For example, there’s flooring. Cutting those bevels and miters without a miter saw is inefficient, hard, and dangerous work.
Bevels and compound cuts
You may be wondering: What is a miter saw’s signature strength?
The ability to cut bevels with compound angles and also get consistent results is no easy feat unless you have a miter saw. Then it’s as simple as moving the saw to the side, tilting its head, and sawing away.
That way, you can get double-diagonal boards or straight boards with pointed ends. There are many more uses if you use your imagination.
If you’re doing regular woodwork, you may not need this ability often. However, when you do, it can either be a major headache or a breeze. The miter saw is what makes the difference.
If you’re into decorative wood crafting, these complex angles will make your life much easier. Sculpting work becomes easier. And in a pinch, a compound miter saw and some sandpaper can make up for the lack of a lathe.
No matter what miter saw task you’re interested in, it probably involves a lot of repetitive sawing to get identical pieces. Since miter saws are so consistent and precise, this is an ideal application.
With the fence and a stop on one end of your workspace, you can simply line up the boards in a second and make cut after cut at the same length and angle.
How would you do that with hand tools or a simple circular saw? You certainly won't have to wonder, "What is a miter saw good for?" again.
You Came, You Saw, You Learned
So, what is a miter saw? Now you know that it’s a tool for making efficient angled cuts that works by lowering a spinning saw blade onto a board.
And what is a miter saw good for? Just about anything you could do with a circular saw, and much more. Once you get one, you’ll probably find more and more tasks for it that you never knew you could do this effectively.
Now that you know everything you need to know about miter saws, you're more prepared for your next home project than ever before.
Is there something you want to say about miter saws and woodwork? Leave a comment below, or contact us here!