Chop Saws vs. Miter Saws

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Chop saws or miter saws? Find out the difference.

Chop saws and miter saws look the same. Both have a rotating circular blade attached to a pivoting arm. They are tabletop saws, and when you cut straight lines, they operate the same.

However, the differences between a chop saw and a miter saw are stark. And they are used for different tasks.

So which is better? It all comes down to getting the right saw for the job.

Chops Saws vs Miter Saws

The main difference between a chop saw and a miter saw is that a chop saw cuts 90-degree angles and is larger (the blade is typically a minimum of 14inches). Chop saws are also more powerful. A miter saw cuts angled, beveled, and compound cuts and is more versatile because it can rotate, as well as pivot left and right.


What Is a Miter Saw?

A miter saw

A miter saw is a vertical, spinning circular blade, mounted on a pivoting arm. It can swivel to cut angles, and the miter saw blade swings to the left or the right to cut miters, bevels, and compound cuts.

Miter saws are smaller than chop saws. Their blades range from 8 to 12 inches.

Some miter saws are dual bevel, meaning they can swing either way, so there is no need to flip the material you are working on to cut in the other direction.

What Is a Miter Saw Used For?

Miter saws make complex cuts. Because of this, they are used mainly for detail work in crown and base moldings, as well as window and door frames. The cut is so precise it makes them the best tool to get that professional finish.

Next time you look at the door frames in your home, remember that a miter saw probably cut the angles. And your closet doors? The bevels would have been cut using a miter saw.

A miter saw is the staple tool of carpenters and is used to add the finer detail to any construction project.

PROS:
  • Precise.
  • Makes bevel, miter, and compound cuts.
  • Portable.
  • Relatively safe to use.
  • Efficient.
CONS:
  • Restricted workpiece size.
  • Doesn’t cut metal or masonry.
  • Used for finer detail.

What is a Chop Saw?

A chop saw

A chop saw has an abrasive spinning disc mounted on a pivoting arm. There are no teeth on the disc; instead, a diamond coating is typically used for abrasion. A chop saw makes light work of the most robust materials.

Other than the blade, chop saws differ from miter saws in capability. They cannot pivot left or right, so they are restricted to cutting 90-degree angles only.

Chop saws are larger than miter saws and get used for their sheer brute force. A typical minimum blade size would be 14 inches. Also, when cutting with a chop saw, some material will produce lots of sparks, so make sure you have nothing combustible nearby.

What Is a Chop Saw Used For?

Chop saws make easy work of metal, masonry, wood, and composite materials. They even cut through lumber with embedded nails. Construction workers love this tool because while it is a monster of force, it also produces the most precise cuts, thanks to the toothless cutting disc.

You can buy different blades for your chop saw, but be careful if you insert a toothed variety. Because chop saw blades spin at around 5,000 RPM, they are faster than miter saws. If you use a toothed blade to cut wood, you run the risk of dangerous kickback and severe injury.

A chop saw is the bedrock of any good construction site and is used to build houses from the ground up.

Can a Chop Saw Cut Angles?

A chop saw cannot cut miters and is only used to make 90-degree crosscuts. If it did cut angles, then it would be called a miter saw. The only way to achieve this, when using a chop saw, is the old fashioned way with a hand saw and a bevel protractor. Oh, and don’t forget a pencil.

PROS:
  • Brute power.
  • Larger in size.
  • Cuts almost anything.
  • Precise.
  • Efficient.
CONS:
  • Only cuts 90-degree angles.
  • Limited usage.
  • Heavier.

Can I Use a Miter Saw as a Chop Saw?

A miter saw operates in a similar way to a chop saw, so you would think the two are interchangeable when it comes to tasks. Sure, you can cut 90-degree angles with a miter saw, just like a chop saw. However, you are limited to the material it will cut.

It’s worth remembering that a chop saw utilizes an abrasive blade, which rotates at a much faster speed. Miter saw blades spin at around 3,000 RPM. And the power of a chop saw compared to miter saws is stark. A chop saw motor typically generates over 5 horsepower, whereas a miter saw manages 2.5 horsepower.

If you insert an abrasive blade into your miter saw, it will still spin, and possibly give you good results. But you will also likely damage the saw. If you look inside where the blade sits, there is a piece of plastic that sits directly above it. This plastic will probably get very hot if you use an abrasive disc, and possibly combust.

Keep in mind

When the abrasive blade spins, lots of fragments fly off, clogging your miter saw, which could lead to an expensive repair.

Which Can Cut What?

MaterialMiter SawChop Saw
WoodA miter saw is made for cutting wood.It will cut wood, but you should use a miter saw.
MetalNot unless you have the correct blade.Loves slicing through metal.
PlasticEasily cuts plastic.Again, probably will cut plastic but a miter saw is better.
CompositesCuts through composites.Will do the job, but a miter saw is more accurate.
MasonryWon’t cut through masonry.Easily slices through masonry.
ConcreteCannot cope with concrete.Will chop through concrete.

Chop or Miter Saw?

Knowing which saw does what is crucial to get the job done with the maximum speed and the minimum effort. Knowing your saws limitations is also vital, especially if you want to avoid expensive repair bills.

You’ve likely heard of the sledgehammer approach. Using a chop saw for anything other than cutting metal, masonry, and any other heavy material that requires brute power, is a bit like that.

By the same token, a miter saw in the wrong hands and with unsuitable materials is similar. It won’t cope. Miter saws are for cutting with finesse and accuracy.

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About the Author

Mark Weir

Mark spent 24 years working in real estate, so he knows his way around a home. He also worked with contractors and experts, advising them on issues of planning, investments, and renovations. Mark is no stranger to hands-on experience, having renovated his own home and many properties for resale. He likes nothing better than seeing a project through to completion.
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