Miter Saw Tips And Tricks


What Is A Miter Saw Used For?

As you’re roaming around your work shop asking yourself “do I need a miter saw” to add to your collection of tools. Think about how much you would use one. Don’t go and buy something that you may only use a couple of times a year. To me that’s just a waste of money. The best way to answer this question is how often do you need to make angled cuts. Do you make a lot of picture frames or maybe you work with base board and trim. Sure, in that case I can see where a miter saw would come in handy. To help you make the decision of buying a miter saw I’ll provide some miter saw tips and tricks.

Always get educated before buying. A lot of people just go out and buy things because they think that they’ll need it at some point and find that they never or hardly use it at all. This is one of those tools and I’m not trying to discourage anybody from it. The reason why I say that is because a lot of the angled cuts believe it or not can be made with a circular saw.

With the help of a speed square and the right blade for the circular saw you can make nice and clean cuts at the angle that you want. Really I think the only big difference is that miter saws make your work move along faster and is a little easier. Now that we’ve established why you need one or not, let’s talk about the different types of saws.

The Bells And Whistles

All of the miter saws on the market have one basic thing in common. They all pivot left and right from center or also known as ninety degrees. This is what allows you to get such a precision angled cut when ripping across the grain of wood. This is the basic type of saw and it’s main function is just cutting miters. You can cut bevels with this saw also but to do so you have to put your work piece on it’s edge.

But what if I told you that most miter saws sold these days have a feature built into them where the head of the saw can also be tilted to whatever angle you need. This can be very handy because you can better visualize how to make the correct angled cut. But wait, the fun doesn’t have to stop there. There’s saws on the market known as compound miter saws. These saws are able to cut a miter and a bevel at the same time.

Which is what you need if you plan on doing crown molding for example. Where a miter and a bevel cut have to be made. I don’t know maybe you plan on going into business for yourself and construction or interior work is you bag.

Yes this type of saw is probably one of the most if not the most expensive saw that you’ll own but it will pay itself back in time and frustration as long as you use it a lot. Now for the final bell and whistle. Miter saws also come in what is known as a sliding miter saw. What this does is increase the cut for wider boards which will be discussed below.

Different Sizes Of Miter Saws’

There are different types and sizes of saws on the market these days so let’s talk a little bit about the sizes first. There are three sizes the 7.25″, 10″ and the 12″. The sizes are determined by the diameter of the saw blade. Alright guys’ here’s the thing about the 7.25″ miter saw, it’s fine if all you’ll be doing is cutting molding or PVC but not much bigger than that. So basically small trim projects.

Remember to figure out what your needs will be. If that’s all you’ll be cutting then this may be the right choice for you. I remember when I bought my first saw which was 10″ because I had planned on doing some work around the house and I wanted to go a little bigger for future use. Plus I bought this particular saw on sale which was a steal. So that’s another point to consider, do some shopping around and buy the best saw that you can comfortably afford. Look for alternatives to a powered mitre saw.

The 10″ saw can handle a lot of the work that you’ll be doing. The 10″ saw can comfortably cut a piece of lumber that’s 5.5″ wide as long as it’s cut straight across so the lumber shouldn’t be wider than a two-by-six. Now if cutting at a 45 degree angle the most that this saw can handle safely is a two-by-four.

The 12″ miter saw can handle a maximum width of 8″ or two-by-eight piece of lumber. At a forty five degree angle it can cut a maximum width of 6″ or a two-by-six piece of wood.

Sliding vs. Non Sliding Miter Saw

So the sliding miter saws are in a category all by themselves. These types of saws allow you to increase the width of the cut when ripping your work pieces to length. For example, with a 10″ sliding saw you can rip a board that’s 12″ wide. The 12″ sliding saw of course will rip boards more that 12″ in width. This comes in handy if you plan on doing a lot of cabinetry work.

The way that this works is the head of the saw is built on either one or two rails depending on what brand of saw you’re looking at. So the way that this works is you can pull the saw by the handle straight out toward you. Squeeze the trigger and pull the saw down like you would normally do with a traditional non sliding miter saw. As the saw starts cutting the wood just slowly but steadily push the blade through the wood until the cut is complete.

Easy as pie right? A couple of downfalls of this saw it that they are pretty expensive. The sliding saw is also not very fun to move from one place to another such as a construction site. In other words they’re big and awkward. It’s also a pain to move in your own workshop especially if you have a small work space.

Plus they take up more room so be sure if you go this route that you can justify having it. The best scenario for this type of saw or any style of miter saw is to build a work station with wheels to make maneuverability easier. A lot of woodworkers build these stations so that when ripping long pieces of wood it makes that job easier.

Something to consider, if you have a table saw ask yourself do you really need a sliding miter saw. I mean if you need to rip boards that are more than 6″ wide wouldn’t it make more sense to use the table saw to get them to length?

What Is A Miter

Understanding what a miter is will also help determine whether you need to buy a miter saw or not. So what is a miter exactly? Well that’s when you make a cut across the face of wood at a certain angle. Normally it’s either a ninety degree or a forty five degree angle. Be sure not to confuse this with a bevel cut which is something else entirely. Miter cuts can be used for putting together picture frames and trim around a doorway. Of course these are just a few examples and there are many more things where a miter saw could be useful.

The miter saw can be used for squaring up ends of boards and trim pieces. Never trust that the wood that you buy from a lumber yard is square on both ends. The miter saw makes quick work of this since all you have to do is lay it on the table part of the saw and clamp the piece down. One buying tip is to make sure that the saw that you buy has built in clamps. Most of the lumber that you’ll more than likely be working with won’t be much wider than eight or ten inches. Hopefully it’ll be narrower most of the time.

What Is A Bevel Cut

The confusing bevel cut, what is it? Well the easiest way to explain it is this. The cut only and always only involves cutting the end of a work piece at an angle. The baseboards in your home are all bevel cuts. Some other examples are chair railings and crown moldings. This type of cut is made so that two ends can be butted together in the corners of walls where baseboard meet. Going around corners you’ll find cuts of this type as well. Look at the ceiling in your house if you have crown molding, the bevel will be found.

So how is this cut made? There are a few ways to do this and this depends on what type of saw you have or plan on buying. If you have just the run of the mill miter saw all you have to do is put the work piece on its edge ( that would be the skinny part ) and make your cut. Before you do this though, make sure that the saw is at correct angle. If your not sure about the angle it’s always a good idea to make a few test cuts on some wood that you don’t care about making a mistake on.

I’m sure that at some point in your life you’ve heard the saying “measure twice and cut once”. Well the same rule applies here, it’s better to waste six inches of wood than six feet that can’t be used for anything. I would recommend keeping the test pieces for a reference and you can even mark them to remind yourself what kind of cut it is and where to apply it.

Made A Mistake? So What, Learn

Something that I haven’t mentioned yet is this, don’t be afraid to make a mistake and when you do don’t beat yourself up about it. Mistakes are a very valuable learning tool. These are words of wisdom passed down to me from may father and he was right. A lot of the best lessons learned are from errors and they do make us better. The trick is finding out what you did wrong and apply it.

If I had a hundred dollars for every mistake I made in life I would be able to retire very comfortably. I also wouldn’t want to go back in time to fix my mistakes before I made them because what fun would that be. Mistakes play a big role in how we move through life. So learn so that you can laugh about them later. Trust me your errors in life will benefit others when you tell a story.

Beginner Miter Saw Tips And Tricks

Here are some miter saw tips and tricks to think about before buying one. We already covered that it can square up ends very nicely. It’s great for making multiple cuts that are the same angle. With a circular saw you would have to mark out each angle by hand before cutting which is fine but with the miter saw it just goes faster.

If the project that you’re working on has cuts that are exactly the same length, you can you implement stops and make the cuts with ease and more accurately. Something that needs to be mentioned is the miter saw is only used for crosscutting boards. It’s not designed to rip or cut down the length of wood.

1. Saw Inspection

If you do decide to buy a miter saw, inspect it for any kind of damage when you get it out of the box. Sometimes things get broke during shipping. Some of the things to look for is the blade guard in good working order. Ensure that there aren’t any cracks in it. The blade guard is a very important safety feature so don’t take chance with it if it doesn’t look or feel right. When the blade is lowered, the guard should move up and roll back from the blade.

Inspect the trigger on the saw to see that it’s not damaged in any way. Check to make sure that the blade is tightened down properly. Don’t assume that it is because hey you never know. I’m a cautious fellow and I always check new power tools. I hate to say it but I don’t trust how things are put together. Once that’s done plug the miter saw in and squeeze the trigger to make sure the saw sounds normal and that the blade spins smoothly.

2. The Right Miter Blade For The Job

The saw that you get will almost always come with a blade that’s only good for cutting two by fours and leave a rough cut on the ends of wood. This is fine if all you’re doing is constructing walls where the rough cuts will be hidden. However if you plan on doing more delicate cuts for making picture frames or doing some trim work a saw blade with more teeth should be put on the miter saw. This type of blade is also known as a finishing blade and tooth count is around a minimum of eighty for a ten inch diameter blade.

I want to warn you about purchasing miter blades or any blades for that matter that this could get very expensive. For example the bigger the miter saw the more money you’ll end up spending. Try to figure out ahead of time what’s the maximum width of wood that you’ll be cutting. Personally I never buy the smallest and cheapest tool on the market. I also don’t buy the biggest and baddest tool either. I always analyze what I’ll be doing and spend the money more towards the middle of the road. Too many times I’ve been burned when buying the cheapest tool on the market and been disappointed. Take the time and do some research on the best option that fits you.

3. Is The Blade Dull Or Just Dirty?

When we have a project that involves a lot cutting, we sometimes forget to inspect the blade that’s being used. Some indicators that should tell you if something isn’t right are do you have to pull down on the miter saw with more force than what you remember to cut the wood that you are working on? Do you have tear outs on the ends of the work pieces when the cut is complete? Maybe you some scorching or burnt ends, these are all signs that you have a dull or dirty blade.

Before you slap a new blade on the miter saw or any saw for that matter, take the time and inspect the blade for buildup. The buildup also known as pitch on the blade causes drag on the saw. The effect of the buildup will make the saw work harder to cut through wood which in turn creates more friction. Plus if left unattended, you could burn out the motor. If that happens, guess what, you’ll be in the market for a new saw which by now you know isn’t cheap. Take care of your tools and they’ll last a long long time.

4. Nip Off To Square

I know that I’ve mentioned this earlier but it’s worth talking about it again here. Before starting a project it’s very important to square up the ends of pieces that you buy from the lumber yard. Don’t take for granted that they are square because they’re not. To prove my point, take a speed square and align it with the end you’re going to use and check it for yourself.

Almost all of the time it won’t be square and in fact I wouldn’t even bother checking each individual board. Just get into the habit of just nipping off just enough to make your factory boards square. This miter saw tip will save you tons of time in the long run. Once your boards have been squared up you can now concentrate on cutting your pieces to length.

5. Leave Your Mark

This is a good miter saw trick that deserves to be mentioned. After you’ve made the line or mark where you want to cut, measure again just to make sure it is indeed right. We’ve all heard the saying “measure twice and cut once” because if you make a mistake there’s no taking it back. Now for the real trick, I was always taught to cut on the scrap side to make sure that my piece would indeed be the desired length that I needed.

The better way of explaining it is this, when cutting just make sure that the pencil mark is still visible after you’ve completed the cut or leave the line as some would say. This handy dandy little tip will ensure that your work piece isn’t too short and will make it easier to fine tune your length if needed.

6. Blade Completely Stops

As you bring the saw blade down to cut the wood, make sure that it’s stopped completely before raising it back up to its resting position. This is more of a safety tip than anything because if the blade is still in motion you risk having the cut piece being flung back at you or anybody else that’s in the work area. This happens more with really short pieces of wood and another safety tip to remember is always wear eye protection.

Also if the blade is still moving you risk the length of the work piece being cut to short since miter saws’ also cut on the upward stroke as it does on the downward. By doing this we also ensure that the measurement line isn’t removed. Always remember to leave your mark.

7. All About Stops

When cutting multiple boards the same length think about clamping a wood stop to the fence on the saw. The stop itself doesn’t have to be very big to work maybe just a couple of inches square made from some scrap wood that you have laying around. Here’s another neat trick that you can do with the stop before clamping it down. Saw off one of the corners diagonally.

When the cut corner is down on the table part of the saw and up against the fence you will see that it creates a pocket. The reason that you would want to do this is so that the sawdust has some place to go. If the pocket wasn’t there the saw dust would build up between the wood stop and the pieces that you need to cut and will make your cuts uneven. Personally I would clean the pocket out from time to time just to make sure that the buildup isn’t to excessive.


In conclusion I hope that you’re a little more informed about what miter saws can and can’t do as well as the benefits of owning one. Some other takeaways hopefully are looking at your situation and buying according to what you need and not spending more than you have to. One last piece of advice that I have to offer would be to check in your local Craig’s List and see if you can find a saw that’s in good shape for way less money if you are just starting out. This goes for any tool that you plan on buying.