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Choosing a Mitre Saw

A mitre saw is a power saw equipped with a motorized circular blade for making accurate crosscuts and angled cuts in wood pieces. Also known as a drop saw, it cuts into workpieces through quick, plunging movements. This specialized saw is a must-have tool for DIY and professional woodworkers.

You can install it in a workshop and use it much like a table saw. It can also be used as a portable saw around the house and on job sites. This mitre saw buying guide provides all the information you need to choose the right model for your projects.

Three Types of Mitre Saw

These power tools are ideal for cutting planks, window trims, and crown mouldings as well as creating bevelled edges for door and picture frames.

The three types of mitre saws are:

Standard: This is a basic drop saw capable of making straight crosscuts and mitre cuts. For straight cuts, it plunges at a 90-degree angle into wood pieces. For mitre cuts, its blade enters the wood at lateral angles up to 45 degrees. While its capabilities are like the regular handsaw and manual mitre box previously used for these cuts, standard mitre saws provide the power, speed, accuracy, and convenience of power saws. They’re ideal for cutting baseboards and completing framing tasks.

Compound: Unlike a standard model, the blade and head of this tool can rotate to the side. It’s capable of making compound cuts (both mitre and bevel cuts) in addition to regular cross and mitre cuts. When buying a mitre saw in this category, you have two choices: single-bevel and dual-bevel models. The blade/head of a single-bevel unit can rotate to either the left or right side of the saw. This design allows it to make bevel and mitre cuts at varying angles. High-end models can tilt up to 50 degrees. Dual compound-mitre saws offer greater flexibility by having blades that tilt in both directions. With these, woodworkers can make bevel and compound cuts in both directions without flipping their workpieces.

Sliding Compound: This offers all the benefits of a compound model and adds a few advanced mitre saw features. The most important one is a sliding saw head. The motor and blade assembly mounts on a sliding rail that moves back and forth. This movable arm allows the saw to accommodate longer and wider wood pieces. It’s also available in single- and dual-bevel models.

Mitre Saw Parts to Know Before Buying

A good understanding of the various parts of this power saw is helpful when learning how to choose a mitre saw.

Motor: An electrical motor drives the circular blade used for cutting. There are two configurations available: belt-driven with the motor connected to the blade by a belt, and direct-drive with its motor connected directly to the blade. Direct-drive motors are more powerful and are quickly replacing belt-driven ones.

Handle and Trigger: These mitre saw components determine the ergonomics of the tool. The handle provides grip when holding and transporting the tool. It may be mounted vertically or horizontally. Some models also have adjustable handles. The trigger is a power switch built into the handle.

Blade: The cutting component of a mitre saw. Drop saw blades usually have zero or negative tooth angles. There are different types intended for cutting wood, leather, plastic, and aluminium. 

Blade Guard: Usually made of transparent plastic, it protects the sharp edges of the blade and retracts when the blade is lowered.

Mitre Saw Extensions: Some manufacturers offer mitre saw extensions, which attach to either side of the mitre saw deck and can allow for wider material support. The extensions may be included with some models, or available separately.

Table Extensions: These table saw accessories can be placed on both sides of the power saw to support longer pieces of wood. Some drop saws come with these accessories included.

Mitre Lock Handle: Secures the saw’s blade at the desired mitre angle.

Mitre Scale and Scale Indicator: The graduated scale shows the angle of the blade in relation to the featherboard. The indicator is a transparent window over the scale. A clear indicator and an accurate scale are necessary for making precise cuts.

Featherboard: A device used to support a piece of wood securely against the table for longitudinal cuts.

Bevel Lock Lever: Firmly locks a compound-mitre saw at the required bevel angle. The Bevel lock lever can be placed at the back or front of the saw, depending on the model.

Bevel Scale and Scale Indicator: The indicator shows a graduated scale indicating the tilting angle of the blade relative to the mitre table.

Clamps: Hold the workpieces in place on mitre tables. These may be included with the tool or offered as mitre saw accessories.

Slide Bar: A feature exclusive to sliding mitre saws, it guides the sliding motion of the saw arm.

Dust Port: Connects to a dust bag to make sawdust removal easier while cutting wood pieces.

Lockdown Pin: Secures the head of the saw in a down position. This reduces the risk of damage to the blade and makes transporting the tool easier.

Features to Consider When Shopping for a Mitre Saw

Motor Power: Measured in amps (A), this describes the amount of power drawn by the motor of a corded mitre saw. For cordless models, volts (V) is the metric used for motor power. Motor power for corded units usually ranges from 13 A to 15 A, while cordless ones are available with 18 to 24 V motors. Higher amps and volts translate to more cutting power.

Remember that there is MAX Voltage, which is the peak voltage at startup, and nominal voltage, which is the actual running voltage power of the tool. It’s important to compare nNominal voltages when shopping as this is the actual working power of a tool.

No Load RPM is the speed at which the motor will spin the blade. This speed will decrease based on the hardness of the material being cut. No Load RPM will also vary based on the diameter of the blade.

Blade Size: This is the diameter of the blade. Mitre saw blades mostly measure between 7 ¼ and 12 inches with 10-inch and 12-inch units being the most common. Before buying this power tool, it’s important to know that a drop saw will accept blades of only one size.

Sliding and Flip Fences: Provide additional support for tall wood pieces when making mitre cuts. These mitre saw components slide or flip out of the way when using the tool for bevel cuts or supporting longer workpieces.

Electric Brake: Reverses the flow of electricity in the motor when you release the trigger. This saves time by stopping the spinning blade quicker than letting it slow down under its own momentum. This feature also increases user -safety by minimizing the time the blade is spinning when not in use.

Positive Stops: Factory pre-set points that make adjusting the saw’s blade to common angles easier and faster. Positive stops are handy for cutting trim, casing, or crown moulding where the most common repetitive cutting angles are indicated.

Depth Stop: Makes it possible to adjust the height of the blade to control how deeply it plunges into the workpiece.

Quick-change Blade System: Allows one-step blade changes to save time when switching blades.

Laser Guide: Projects a laser beam onto the workpiece and improves accuracy by helping the user line up the blade with the intended cut line. Depending on the manufacturer, the laser can be projected on the left side of the cut, the right side of the cut, or both sides of the cut.

Accessories to Consider for Your Mitre Saw

As essential mitre saw components, it’s important to only pick blades that are compatible with your mitre saw. Drop saw blades are usually carbide-tipped discs with cutting teeth. The two key factors to consider when selecting these accessories are size and tooth count. Generally, these blades don’t have to be as hardy as the tile and paver saw blades used for cutting tiles, stone, and brick.

Thicker workpieces require saws equipped with 12-inch blades. However, mitre saws that use 10-inch blades are suitable for most DIYers and home workshops. Most drop saw blades have 40 to 60 teeth. Larger blades usually have more teeth than smaller ones. Lower tooth counts make cutting through thick materials easier, while a higher tooth count produces cuts with smoother finishes.

A folding or mobile stand is another accessory that’s useful when working with mitre saws. This is helpful if you use your mitre saw at a work site rather than in a dedicated workshop. A folding stand packs easily for storage, while a stand with wheels makes it easier to move your saw around the work area. Most stands will also significantly increase the material support on either side of the mitre saw. This is especially helpful when cutting long pieces of wood like when building a deck.

You may also consider laser guide and LED work light attachments for your mitre saw. An LED light brightly illuminates the work area and allows users to work in dimly lit rooms and at night.  Other stationary and bench top tools to consider adding to your mitre saw accessory kit include portable air mover, sander, and dust extractor or vacuum.

Mitre Saw Tips and Tricks Worth Knowing

An extension cord can help you reach a wall outlet when working far away from one. It is best to use a high-quality thicker gauge extension cord, as thinner gauge extension cords could damage the saw by pulling too much power. If you need to work in an area where there are no outlets, you may want to consider getting a cordless mitre saw. While cordless mitre saws allow you to work anywhere, they also have the limitation of their battery performance. You may have to have additional charged batteries on hand to continue performing large tasks. It’s important to know that battery-powered saws are not suitable for heavy and extended usage as this quickly drains their batteries.

When using a compound-mitre saw for the first time, it’s advisable to check its alignment and other settings and adjust them accordingly. Often, such power tools are not calibrated correctly out of the box or it may get knocked out of alignment due to shipping and handling. It is always a good idea to verify the calibration of your mitre saw semi-regularly during its lifespan. For safety reasons, you should wear protective glasses and ear protection when operating a mitre saw. Furthermore, the safest way to cut workpieces is to start from the side closest to you and work the blade forward away from you.

Pro Tip

Choosing a cordless mitre saw with a rapid-charging battery and getting extra batteries helps reduce downtimes when using this power tool.

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