by Jess Buskirk
Miter saws, also commonly referred to as "chop saws," are one of the most useful power tools in a carpenter's arsenal. A miter saw performs the same tasks as a traditional hand saw, but it does the job in a fraction of the time and with a cleaner cut. Nearly any woodworker can justify the purchase of a miter saw for the home workshop, but with four different styles of saws available from many manufacturers, you have a lot of choices. Check out the following tips to help you narrow down your decision and find the right miter saw for you.
Types of miter saws. Knowing the types of cuts you'll be making is your first indication of what style of saw you need:
A standard miter saw is used for making basic, straight cuts. The saw's arm pivots at a single point, and the saw can cut both miters and bevels, depending on how the stock is held.
A compound-miter saw also cuts both miters and bevels, but rather than a single pivot point, this style of saw also tilts at a second axis to make bevel cutting easier.
A sliding compound-miter saw features a rail that allows the saw's blade and motor assembly to slide forward and back, which significantly increases the width of stock you can cut in one pass.
A dual compound-miter saw is a hybrid of a compound-miter saw and a sliding compound-miter saw. This power tool features a second axis for cutting bevels and a sliding rail for working with large pieces of stock.
Blade sizes: Blades are measured by their diameter in inches. The most common sizes are 8-inch, 10-inch and 12-inch blades. The wider the diameter of the blade, the wider you'll be able to cut, so if you're anticipating frequently cutting wide stocks, avoid smaller blades.
Features: Many woodworkers prefer electric brakes on their miter saws, which quickly stop the blades rather than allowing them to lose momentum on their own. Self-retracting blade guards are another popular safety feature. Several manufacturers offer laser guides as a standard feature to help you cut your angles with greater precision.
Replacement parts: Although your new miter saw will likely come with a blade, you'll eventually need to replace it. It's generally easier to find replacement blades for popular brands.
Guarantee quality: Not only is the warranty a statement of the tool's quality, but you'll have access to service and replacement parts if you need them.
Consider purchasing a portable stand for your miter saw. Portable miter saw stands are designed specifically for various models of miter saws to provide a stable, safe working environment, and you may be able to purchase the stand with the saw as a package.