Mitre saws reviewed
An ideal tool for cutting mitres, bevels and anything in between
Mitre saws, or chop saws, as they're more often called, are tools that have found a place in both the workshop and on the construction site. There are several variations on the theme, but all chop saws are designed for cutting materials to length. They provide the capability for accurately cutting mitres that manual mitre boxes have provided for generations of carpenters, plus contemporary chop saws offer speed, precision and repeatability of cuts, as well as the ability to cut larger stock than with a manual mitre box.
The most basic mitre saws allow the blade to swing only side to side to cut mitred angles. Compound mitre saws add the further capability of tilting the blade from vertical to make bevel cuts. Generally, the purpose of adding the bevel capability is to allow the compound cutting of large crown mouldings lying flat on the saw table. Sliding compound mitre saws add extra capacity for cuts by mounting the motor and blade assembly on sliding rails. Some sliding saws can even be set for consistent depth of cut, allowing dados or rabbets to be cut by using the blade to nibble away at the stock.
Saws come in many sizes, primarily distinguished by the diameter of the blade, ranging from 7 1/4" on smaller cordless models and up to 12" on large saws. Generally, the capacity of the saw, in terms of how thick or wide a piece it can cut at any particular bevel or mitre setting, is determined by how large the blade is. Blade geometry is critical to the performance of chopsaws. They work best, and most safely, when fitted with a blade designed specifically for a mitre saw.
Chop saw models exhibit real differences in how the saws' mechanisms are designed and operated. In order to pick out a saw, it's necessary to compare models for adjustability and comfort. The most feature-packed saws available today not only slide and mitre in both directions, but also bevel to either the left or right. The rail systems on sliding models will differ, and the footprint of the saw will be affected as a result. Some newer models have compact sliding systems that take up less space behind the saw. The handle for operating the saw may be mounted horizontally, vertically or be capable of switching to either position. The fence, which is an important component for safety and versatility, may be short and fixed, or may incorporate adjustable features, such as a swinging or sliding extension that raises the height to one side of the blade.
Nice to Have
Some saws feature laser guides, which project a line onto the stock to be cut. While laser-guided systems may be of little practical use on many tools, chopsaws are arguably the most appropriate tool for this feature. There are even models available with a digital screen for indicating angle settings. One general weakness of mitre saws is they make a lot of dust and, unfortunately, dust collection is an area in which most models can use improvement. Finally, depending on how the saw is meant to be used, a portable stand mounted on wheels, with extension supports for holding up long stock, and a stop system for repeating cuts can be really useful.
However, no matter what kind of chop saw suits your needs, one of the most important factors for making accurate cuts is the rigidity of the mechanisms that allow the saw motor to swing or slide. Test the ones at the store by tugging and twisting on the handles while manoeuvering them through their range of motion. Generally speaking, the more robust the construction, the more rigid the saw will be. Consequently, the better chance you have of getting lots of accurate cuts out of the machine.
The Bottom Line
As with other tools, the mitre saw you need depends on the kind of work you want to do with it. Small basic mitre saws are available to handle simple non-compound operations for less than $100. Basic compound saws with 10" blades can be found for less than $150. Sliding models in 10" or 12" blade sizes with lots of features can cost upward of $800.
- Mitre: saw can be adjusted to make angled cuts
- Compound Mitre: the saw cuts both angles and bevels
- Sliding Compound: the blade is mounted on rails, allowing for extra-wide cut