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How to Use a Miter Saw: Top Tips Revealed

Miter saw techniques made easy with a step-by-step process.

Miter saws are staple tools for any carpenter and many other woodworkers. These compact, versatile power saws allow you to make straight, bevel, and miter cuts quickly and accurately.

There are many miter saws to choose from and they can transform the way you work. However, if you have never used one before or don’t have much experience, you might need some advice.

In this article, we will explain how to use a miter saw. This includes the different types of miter saws, how to make various cuts, and how to use a miter saw safely.

Key Takeaways

  • Types of Miter Saws: There are three main types – standard, compound, and sliding compound miter saws. Each type has different cutting abilities and features.
  • Types of Cuts: Miter saws can make crosscuts, miter cuts, and bevel cuts. Choose the right type of cut based on your project needs and saw capabilities.
  • Making Cuts: Measure and mark your cuts, ensure proper alignment, and use a steady hand when cutting. Never force the saw through the material and always wait for the blade to stop before raising the saw arm.
  • Safety Tips: Unplug the saw when not in use, wear appropriate clothing and protective gear, secure the saw and workpiece, and use sharp blades. Follow these tips to stay safe while using a miter saw.

Types of Miter Saw

There are 3 types of miter saws:

Standard Miter Saw

These are the simplest miter saws and are usually the most affordable. They can make straight cuts and 45-degree cuts, which makes them suitable for cutting frames. They are lightweight and easy to use. This tool consists of a spinning miter saw blade attached to an arm, mounted on a base, that can swivel 45 degrees in both directions.

If you want a miter saw that will help you cut basic pieces such as window frames and picture frames, these saws will be up to the task.

Compound Miter Saws

Product Image of the Makita LS1040 10' Compound Miter Saw

A compound miter saw can make miter, bevel, and compound cuts. A bevel cut is where the wood is cut at a vertical angle rather than a horizontal one. Think of a door wedge and you will get the idea. A compound cut combines a miter cut and bevel cut into one to cut more complex angles.

The mechanisms are largely the same as a standard miter saw, except the blade can tilt as well as swivel. Not all compound miter saws are created equal.

There are single or double-bevel compound miter saws. Single-bevel saws can tilt either left or right but not in both directions, whereas double-bevel compound saws can tilt both ways.

Sliding Compound Miter Saws

Product Image of the Metabo HPT 10-Inch Sliding Compound Miter Saw, Double-Bevel, Electronic Speed Control, 12 Amp Motor, Electric Brake, 5-Year Warranty (C10FSBS)

A sliding compound miter saw does everything a miter and compound saw can do. However, the arm and blade are mounted on a retracting mechanism that allows the blade to move in and out as well as up and down.

This increases the size of the material you can cut. Sliding saws are expensive, so consider whether or not you are likely to benefit from this increased capacity before buying one.

Types of Cut

As mentioned previously, a miter saw can make various types of cuts, depending on your saw’s capabilities. There are essentially three main varieties:



Miter saws can make cross cuts, which are vertical cuts made across the wood’s grain at a 90-degree angle. These cuts are intended to shorten the length of a piece of material.

Miter Cut

Miter Cut

A miter cut is a vertical cut across the face or width of the wood at a horizontal angle. Cuts at 45-degree angles are ideal for making picture frames or window frames.

Bevel Cut

Bevel Cut

A bevel cut is made through the thickness of the stock at a horizontal angle. This is ideal for moldings and door frames.

How to Make Crosscuts

Before using any power saw, make sure you have the necessary protective gear. You will need an N95 face mask, which will filter 95% of pollutants out of the air, ear defenders, and safety goggles to protect your eyes against debris.

1. Measure and Mark

Measure where you want the crosscut to go. Measure twice, as you won’t be able to correct a cut that is too short. Mark the line with a pencil.

2. Safety Equipment

Put on your N95 face mask and goggles to protect yourself against flying debris and hazardous materials. Miter saws are loud, so you should also wear ear defenders.

3. Power Up

Plug the saw in and turn on the power switch. Place the stock against the fence at the back of the base, making sure the material is flat and lines up with the blade.

4. Check the Line

Lower the handle to ensure that the blade is aligned with the pencil mark. Make any adjustments as required and, when you are satisfied, clamp the wood in place.

5. Make the Cut

Keep one hand on the stock and press the saw’s trigger, waiting for the blade to reach optimum speed. Gently lower the blade until it makes contact with the wood. Make one sweeping pass through the stock.


Never try to force the blade to cut more quickly. Let it cut at its own pace.

6. Release the Trigger

Release the trigger and wait for the blade to stop. Remove the stock and check your cut.

Take Note

If you are cutting multiple pieces to the same length, fix a stop block to the saw base at the desired length to replicate the cuts more easily.

How to Make a Miter Cut

1. Mark the Cut

Use a tape measure to determine where to make your cut, keeping in mind that one side of the material will be shorter once you make a miter cut.

2. Find the Angle

Once you have loaded the wood onto the saw’s base, release the handle on the miter gauge and adjust the saw blade until it is at the required angle. Then, tighten the handle to lock the saw in place.

3. Check the Angle

Lower the blade until it meets the material to ensure you have the right cutting angle. If you are satisfied, raise the blade and clamp the stock in place.

4. Make the Cut

Press the trigger and wait for the blade to reach full speed. Slowly lower the arm until the blade makes contact with the wood. Cut through the material, allowing the saw to dictate its own pace. Never try to force it.

5. Power Off

Once the saw has completed its pass through the material, release the trigger and wait for the blade to stop rotating. When the blade is stationary, raise the arm.

How to Make a Bevel Cut

You can make a bevel cut using either a standard miter saw or a compound saw. We will look at the techniques for both, starting with a standard miter saw.

1. Place the Board

Stand the marked wood on its edge, rather than flat, and place it on the miter saw’s base. Make sure you press it firmly against the rear fence.

2. Find the Angle

Adjust the miter at the front of the saw until the blade is at the required angle.

3. Check the Angle

Lower the saw’s arm to make sure the blade is correctly aligned. If it is, raise the arm and clamp the stock to the base of the saw to hold it in place.

4. Power Up

Press the trigger and allow the blade to reach full speed. Lower the saw until the blade meets the stock, then continue moving through the material to cut it.

5. Power Off

When you have completed the cut, release the trigger and wait until the blade stops spinning before raising the saw’s arm.

Here is how to make bevel cuts using a compound miter saw:

1. Place the Board

Place the marked stock face up or flat against the base of the saw. Make sure the rear edge is pressed against the saw’s fence to keep it straight.

2. Adjust the Bevel

Adjust the bevel gauge at the rear of the saw to pivot the blade to the correct angle.

3. Find the Miter Angle

Adjust the miter gauge on the front of the saw to pivot the blade to the correct miter angle. Then, lower the saw to check that both the miter and bevel are accurate with the cutting line you marked.

4. Secure the Board

Clamp the board to the fence to ensure it doesn’t move when you cut it.

5. Make the Cut

Press the trigger, allow the blade to reach optimal speed, then lower the saw until the blade bites into the material, making a smooth, steady sweep. Once you have cut through the material, release the trigger and wait for the blade to stop completely.

6. Power Off

Raise the saw arm and disconnect the tool from its power supply. Take off your safety equipment and check the results of your cut.

Miter Saw Safety

Power tools need to be used with care and miter saws are no exception. These tools can be dangerous but using some simple safety measures will keep you safe.

Here are some of the most important safety tips you should follow:

  • Unplug: Keep the saw unplugged when it is not in use. This will prevent the saw from being activated unwittingly, reducing the risk of accidents.
  • Wear Appropriate Clothing: Loose clothing could get caught on the blade and cause serious injuries, so always wear short sleeves or tight shirts.
  • Secure the Saw: Secure the miter saw to your table using bolts or clamps to prevent it from moving during use, which can be dangerous. Always place it on a flat, stable surface for safe, accurate cutting.
  • Read the Owner’s Manual: Familiarize yourself with the saw’s components and what each part does. This is especially true of the saw’s emergency cut-off switch.
  • Use the Right Blade: Choose an appropriate blade for the task. This will reduce the chance of kickbacks and provide a smoother finish.
  • Sharpen the Blade: Only use sharp blades. Dull blades take longer to cut and increase the risk of a kickback as the blade binds.
  • Clamp the Stock: Only clamp the material you want to keep. Never clamp both sides.
  • Keep Fingers Away: Never place your hands near the moving blade.
  • Remove Trip Hazards: Keep the area around the saw free from trip hazards, such as trailing power cords and discarded pieces of wood.
  • Reach Maximum Speed: Always allow the blade to reach its optimal speed before attempting to cut material with it. If you cut too soon, there is a much higher risk of kickbacks, which are a leading cause of workshop injuries.

Miter Saw FAQs

Do You Push or Pull a Miter Saw?

The most efficient way to push is with steady pressure when using a miter saw for straight cuts. This means applying an even amount of force on both sides of the saw as it moves back and forth during the cut.

For optimal safety, ensure your hands are not near or over the blade, and use a push stick specially designed for your miter saw when possible.

When cutting angles on a miter saw, always keep your arms down close to the body and use slow, measured movements; do not rush it or try to make sudden movements that can result in kickback or injury.

When you take the time and follow proper technique when pushing with a miter saw, you’ll be able to complete projects quickly with less risk of injury.

How Do You Cut Wood with a Miter Saw Without Splintering?

Cutting wood on a miter saw without splintering requires a steady hand, proper technique, and the right tools. Before beginning your cut, ensure that the blade’s teeth are sharp and clean; this will help reduce the likelihood of splintering.

Use masking tape on the wood before cutting – this can act as a barrier between the blade and the material to minimize splintering when making curved cuts.

Always position the workpiece securely on a flat surface before making your cut, providing a more stable foundation for cutting. So, you’ll be able to achieve clean, smooth cuts with minimal splintering when using a miter saw.

What Cut Should You Never Do on a Miter Saw?

When using miter saws, avoid certain cuts to ensure safety and accuracy. The most common cut to avoid is making beveled or angled cuts on deep pieces of wood or plastic, as this can cause kickback and injury. Avoid cutting solid timber along the grain.

When using a miter saw, it is important to avoid freehand cutting. This means not adjusting the saw while the blade is in motion and avoiding unnecessary hand movement while cutting. Freehand cuts can lead to inaccurate results, kickbacks, and even personal injury.

Even if you have used a miter saw before, it is best practice to ensure that you have secured your workpiece firmly on a flat surface before beginning any cut.

Use clamps or other fixtures to secure your material if needed; this will help ensure that the material does not move during cutting and will result in cleaner, straighter cuts.

What Is the Biggest Hazard When Using a Miter Saw?

When using a miter saw, it is important to know the safety hazards that can arise. When using a miter saw, the biggest hazard is kickback, caused by dull or dirty blades, binding up on material, or making cuts in an awkward position.

Always wear protective gear like goggles and gloves when operating the saw. Take care to avoid loose clothing or jewelry, as these could become entangled in the blade and cause injury.

What’s the Difference Between a Miter Saw and a Table Saw?

Miter saws and table saws are both invaluable tools for various woodworking projects. However, they serve different purposes and should not be interchanged.

A miter saw makes crosscuts in materials at an angle along pre-set stops. At the same time, a table saw is used for ripping longer pieces of stock or making dadoes.

The blade on the miter saw is usually much smaller than the blade found on a table saw, allowing it to make cleaner cuts with less risk of kickback.

With a table saw, you’re cutting using the blade’s top part. With a miter saw, you’re using blades that spin away from you, meaning pieces of wood are thrown away.

Plus, most miter saws can cut at various angles and depths. In contrast, table saws are generally limited to straight cuts only. By understanding the differences between these two types of saws, you will be better equipped to choose the right tool for your project.

What Is a Disadvantage of the Miter Saw?

Although a miter saw is a great tool for making clean, accurate cuts at various angles, there are some potential drawbacks. One is that a miter saw can’t make long-length cuts.

If you want to make curved or intricate cuts, a miter saw isn’t ideal as the blade size keeps you limited.

Miter saws can be hard to maneuver and need a good deal of maintenance to keep them in working order, including regularly cleaning and sharpening the blade.

Despite these drawbacks, a miter saw remains an invaluable tool for many woodworking projects.

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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.