How to Use a Miter Saw

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

Miter saws are one of the staple tools in any woodworkers toolkit. They are compact, accurate, and above all else, versatile. Miter saws give you the ability to make straight cuts, bevel and miter cuts with minimum fuss. It’s just a few reasons why we love them so much.

So, if you have a miter saw, you should learn how to use it. We show you how to use a miter saw to help you get the most out of it.

Miter Saws Explained

A miter saw is the best tool to use when making close-fit cuts. Always wear protective equipment. First, measure where you want to make the cut, then line the saw blade to the mark. Never start the cut before the blade reaches maximum speed. Don’t force the saw, let it dictate the speed it cuts. Always make sure the blade has stopped before raising the saw arm.


Types of Miter Saw

There are 3 types of miter saws.

Standard Miter Saw

These are the simplest and the cheapest type of miter saw. They make straight cuts as well as 45-degree cuts. They are lightweight and easy to use. Essentially, this tool consists of a rotating miter saw blade spinning on an arm, mounted to a base that swivels 45 degrees in both directions.

If you want something that is easy to master, this is the miter saw for you.

Compound Miter Saws

Makita 10' Compound Miter Saw, Makita LS1040 10' Compound Miter Saw
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A compound miter saw makes both miter, bevel and compound cuts. A bevel cut is where the wood is cut at a sloped angle. Think of a door wedge, and you get the picture. A compound cut combines the miter cut and the bevel cut in one.

The operating mechanisms are the same as a standard miter saw, except it can tilt from side to side. Now, not all compound miter saws are created equal. You also have single or double-bevel compound miter saws.

Single bevel varieties tilt either left or right but not both, while double bevel compound saws swing either side.

Sliding Compound Miter Saws

DEWALT Sliding Compound Miter Saw, 12-Inch (DWS779)
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A sliding compound miter saw does everything that the miter and compound saws can do, but the arm and blade are mounted on a retracting mechanism to allow 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 the advantages and whether you would really benefit from this increased capacity before buying one.

Types of Cut

As we’ve said, there are different types of cuts that a miter saw can do. Essentially, there are 3 main varieties.

Crosscut

Miter saws can cut across the grain of the wood. These 90-degree cuts are designed to shorten the length of the stock.

Miter Cut

A miter cut is an angled cut across the face or width of the wood. It is an ideal cut for making picture or window frames.

Bevel Cut

A bevel cut is an angled cut made through the thickness of the stock. This is an ideal cut for moldings and door frames.

How to Make a Crosscut

Before starting any project that involves a miter saw, make sure that personal protection is top of your priority list. You will need an N95 face mask to filter out 95 percent of pollutants from the air, ear defenders and a pair of safety goggles to protect your eyes from debris.

1. Measure and Mark

Measure where you want the crosscut to go. Measure twice, so you only have to cut once. Mark the line with a pencil.

2. Safety Equipment

Put on the N95 face mask and your eye protectors to avoid contact with hazardous waste material. Miter saws are loud, so don’t forget your 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 in line with the blade.

4. Check the Line

Lower the handle so that the blade lines up with the pencil mark. Make any adjustments as necessary, and when you are satisfied, clamp the wood in place.

5. Make the Cut

Keep one hand on the board and engage the trigger, allowing the blade to reach optimum speed. Gently lower the blade, so that it makes contact with the wood. Make one sweeping pass through the stock.

Top Tip

Never force the blade to cut. 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 the results.

Take Note

If you are cutting multiple lengths to the same size, fix a stop block to the saw base at the desired length, and each cut is duplicated.

How to Make a Miter Cut

1. Repeat Crosscut Technique

Follow the same procedures as far as step 3.

2. Find the Angle

Once you load the wood onto the base, release the handle on the miter gauge and adjust the saw blade until you get the desired angle. Now tighten the handle to lock the saw in place.

3. Check the Angle

As with making a crosscut, lower the blade until it meets the stock to check you have the right 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. Gently drop the arm so that the blade makes contact with the wood.

Allow the saw to dictate the pace of the cut. Never force it.

5. Power Off

When the blade makes a clean sweep along the cutting line and exits at the other end, release the trigger and allow 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. Here is the technique for both, starting with a standard miter saw.

1. Place the Board

Stand the marked wood on its edge, not the flat, and offer it up to the miter saw base. Make sure you press it firmly against the rear fence.

2. Find the Angle

Adjust the miter at the front of the saw so that the head swivels to the desired angle.

3. Check the Angle

Lower the saw to make sure the blade meets the line, and the angle is correct. Now clamp the stock to the base of the saw and raise the handle.

4. Power Up

Press the trigger and allow the blade to reach full speed. Lower the saw so that the blade lines with the stock. If you are still happy, make the cut by letting the blade meet the wood.

5. Power Off

When you have completed the cut, release the trigger and wait until the blade stops spinning before lifting the saw.

And now we show you how to make bevel cuts using a compound miter saw.

6. Place the Board

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

7. Adjust the Bevel

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

8. Find the Miter Angle

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

9. Secure the Board

Clamp the board to the fence to ensure there is zero movement while cutting.

10. Make the Cut

Press the trigger, allow the blade to reach maximum speed, and lower the saw so that the blade lines up with the cut. Gently lower the arm so that the blade bites into the material, making a clean and steady sweep. At the end of the cut, release the trigger and let the blade come to a stop.

11. Power Off

Raise the saw arm and disconnect the tool from the power. Remove your safety equipment and examine your results.

Miter Saw Safety

Power tools should be treated with the respect they deserve. You have a vested interest in adopting the safest practices, especially if you value your fingers and limbs.

Here are some vital safety precautions you can take to keep you safe:

  • Unplug: Keep the saw unplugged when not in use. It avoids unnecessary accidents or the saw being switched on accidentally.
  • Wear Appropriate Clothing: Loose clothing can snag in the blade and cause horrific injuries.
  • Secure the Saw: Secure the miter saw to the table using bolts or clamps. An unsteady miter saw is an accident waiting to happen.

    Top Tip

    Always place the miter saw on a flat and stable surface and never place the saw on the ground when operated.
  • Read the Owner’s Manual: Familiarize yourself with the components and what each part does. This is especially true of the safety cut-off switch.
  • Use the Right Blade: Choose the right blade for the task. It increases the chances of a successful outcome and decreases the chance of kickback.
  • Sharpen the Blade: Only use sharp blades. Dull blades delay the task and increase the instances of a kickback as the blade binds.

    Take Note

    Keep the work area clean and as free from debris as possible. This stops sawdust polluting the atmosphere and removes larger items of debris away from the saw.
  • Clamp the Stock: Only clamp the side of the board you want to keep. Never clamp both sides.
  • Keep Fingers Away: Never touch or place your hands near the moving blade.
  • Remove Trip Hazards: Keep the area around the base of the saw clear of trip hazards, especially trailing power cords and discarded bits of wood.
  • Reach Maximum Speed: Always allow the blade to reach maximum speed before attempting to cut the stock. If you cut too soon, the saw will kick back, causing a significant risk of injury.

Soar With Your Saw

Miter saw success depends on many factors. Just because you have the tool doesn’t mean you have the techniques. It takes practice to determine what works better for you.

Safety should be the opening chapter in this story, and remain at the heart of everything you do. From there, you can build safe practices that stand you in good stead to push on and master your miter saw.

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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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