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