Q&A / 

Miter Saw Buying Tips

DEAR TIM: I want to surprise my husband with a new power tool. He's been asking for a miter saw. I have no idea what this tool looks like and where to even start when it comes to selecting a quality tool. He'll be using it to build a deck, garden shed and all-new interior wood trim around our doors and windows. Can one tool chip away at the long list of things I want him to do for me? Are there accessories I should be considering at the same time? Diane T., Idaho Falls, ID

DEAR DIANE: It sounds like this new miter saw is going to be a tool that will bring joy to both of you. That's always a great thing when that happens. All too often power tool purchases can cause conflict between husband and wife.

Power miter saws are absolutely amazing tools. I would have to say that in many respects, my miter saws are the most heavily used power tool I own. I say this because if you purchase the right one, it's a tool that can do so many different jobs.

A miter saw is a power tool where the spring-loaded blade is primarily oriented up and down much like a table saw. When you turn it on and push down on the handle, the spinning blade drops down and cuts whatever material is laying on the flat table surface of the saw.

Miter Saws

These miter saws do the same thing, but they have subtle differences that can dramatically increase productivity. Links to these saws are shown at the end of the column. PHOTO CREDIT: Tim Carter

A miter saw is aptly named because the blade can swing left and right in an arc covering at least 90 degrees, and often 110 degrees. By rotating the saw to the 45-degree mark both left and right and making the corresponding cuts on a piece of lumber, you end up with two pieces of wood that create a 90-degree miter joint or seam. This angled cut is what you typically see at the corners of picture frames and profiled trim that surrounds windows, doors and other framed openings.

More advanced miter saw blades can also tilt left and right while the blade rotates left and right. These saws are called compound miter saws and allow you to cut two different angled cuts at the same time on a piece of lumber. Examples of a compound cut would be the miter cuts on a piece of crown molding or the angled cut on a roof rafter where the piece of wood contacts a valley or hip rafter.

The most advanced miter saw not only makes these fancy compound cuts, but the actual motor housing and blade also slide in and out increasing the length of the cut. I own two of these saws, and they are my absolute favorite power saw tool.

Power miter saws typically come in two popular sizes: one with a 10-inch blade and the other with a 12-inch blade. The saws with the 12-inch blades are used primarily by professionals who deal with large lumber on a routine basis.

Based on my decades of experience using miter saws, I can tell you that a 10-inch sliding compound miter saw will do 95 percent of most tasks for 99 percent of the population. I would encourage you to consider this saw for your husband.

The sliding compound miter saw is as close to a Spandex™ tool as you'll probably ever see. Each of the projects you've described to me, this saw can do with ease. If I was told that I could only have one power saw, it would be a sliding compound miter saw. That's how versatile these tools are.

The best accessory, in my opinion, that you can purchase along with the power miter saw is a stand. For decades when I was in the field working, I had to cobble together my own wood benches for this purpose. These benches were unstable, and I had to use hard-to-adjust stands to support long lengths of lumber. It was a pain in the you-know-what.

Today you can purchase a folding stand that's designed to work with any brand miter saw. That was brilliant on the part of the manufacturer. This heavy-duty and stable stand has telescoping supports at each end of the stand that allow you to easily cut large and long pieces of framing lumber with ease. Supporting thin pieces of decorative trim are not even a challenge. You'll never regret purchasing this folding stand along with your new saw!

Realize that miter saws, like any power tool, are very dangerous. I urge you and your husband both to watch any safety videos the tool manufacturer might have. Be sure to read the entire owner's manual paying particular attention to the Safety Warnings.

Don't use the tool if you're in a rush or fatigued. In all my years of working with power saws, I was only injured one time. A spinning miter saw blade took a sizeable chunk of flesh from the tip of a finger in the blink of an eye.

Why did it happen? I was in a rush, it was late in the day and I reached to grab one of the pieces of cut wood while the blade was both spinning and not yet retracted into the guard. Believe me, I'll never make that mistake again.

You can watch a video that shows the amazing miter saw folding stands. Simply click on this link "saw stand tips video".

Below are affiliate links to Amazon.com for the three miter saws shown in the picture above. The saws from left to right are Ridgid, Milwaukee and DeWALT.

 

Column 963

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