Because of their accuracy, versatility, convenience and speed power miter saws have become one of the most popular saw types on the market. Just because you’ve read about them in forums and your woodworking or DIY buddies have one doesn’t mean you should rush out and pick one up though – use this guide to make sure that you’re actually in need of a miter saw, and to help you pick out the right specs for your purposes.

Miter saws, also called chop saws, drop saws and cross cut saws (among others) quickly and accurately cut angles in wood, making them the preferred tool for finish carpenters cutting molding. Their accuracy makes them excellent saws for projects like framing, installing flooring systems, decks and siding.

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This guide will help you get the right tool for the job and – we hope – save you money… in six easy steps.

1) Know Your Projects
2) 8 Inch Miter Saws vs. 10 Inch Miter Saws vs. 12 Inch Miter Saws
3) Miter Saw vs. Compound Miter Saw
4) Compound Miter Saw vs. Sliding Compound Miter Saw
5) Digging Into Other Miter Saw Features and Accessories
6) Other Valuable Miter Saw Buying Resources

1) Know Your Projects
If you’re a DIYer considering your first miter saw it’s vital that you have outlined your projects for yourself, and understand the duration of each project. If you’re making picture frames for your 2 grand kids you might as well just use a manual miter saw and not even fool with a cheap power miter saw. If you’re doing all the molding in your 3,000 square foot house then an investment in a miter saw might be justified… especially if you’ll be doing siding later on, or other projects that require highly accurate angles. Know your projects – know the stock you’ll be using.

2) 8 Inch Miter Saws 10 Inch Miter Saws vs. 12 Inch Miter Saws
Once you’ve decided that you’re going to get a miter saw for sure you have to make a decision about whether you’re getting an 8 inch or a 12 inch. Don’t let this turn into a “bigger is better” issue for yourself. Buying too much saw is a waste of your cash resources and wasting resources is wrong. Appropriate reasons for getting a larger saw include longer cuts on larger stock. If you’re working with really large stock then you might consider a sliding compound miter saw, but we’ll get to that. As a rough rule of thumb though, the 10 inch will cut molding that’s around 5 inches wide and the 12 inch will cut molding that’s 6 inches wide. Fudging – though dangerous – can potentially win you some inches.

3) Miter Saws vs. Compound Miter Saws
The “compound” in the compound miter saw allows you to put tilt into your cuts. This tilt saves you a step if you have complex angles, also called bevels, in your projects. Ideally your blade will tilt to both the left and the right.

4) Compound Miter Saw vs. Sliding Compound Miter Saw
The sliding feature allows your blade to pull or push through longer cuts, and it turns the standard compound miter saw into something of a radial arm saw. It’s an expensive add on, but if you’re a contractor you’ve probably already got a “SCMS.” If you’re a hard-core extreme DIYer then a sliding compound miter saw could be the right choice for you too. The cost should have you thinking twice even if its application to your projects doesn’t.

5) Digging Into Other Miter Saw Features and Accessories
Easy to Read Indexes: it’s nice if you don’t have to get out a magnifying glass every time you have to adjust your saw angle. You’ll be faster and more accurate if your gauge indexes are easy to read while cutting.

Positive Stops: common angles should have easy to fit detents… but it’s equally important that these detents be easy to override should you need to cut a 44 degree angle some time.

Electric Brakes: a blade that slowly coasts to a stop puts you in more danger and means you have to wait longer between cuts. An electric brake puts you in more control of your work.

Dust Bags: save your lungs and collect that dust! Consider a dust bag if your miter saw doesn’t connect to your shop vacuum.

Laser Guide System: an adjustable laser guide can speed up your work and give you more confidence in your cuts. Sometimes the laser guides that come standard on miter saws aren’t adjustable – you’re better off without this type.

Convenient Self-Retracting Blade Guards: it’s wise to closely investigate your blade guard. It should be convenient and conducive to work – this will make you less likely to remove it which is very dangerous.

Sliding Fences: sliding fences give you support for taller stock on your miter cuts.

Portable Stands: if you’re going to be working outside your wood shop or in a mobile fashion then a portable stand can be a good safe way to get accurate cuts outside.

6) Other Valuable Miter Saw Buying Resources
Here are some of the valued resources that influenced this article and that may have different angles or approaches to what is written above.

Buying Guide for Miter Saws (Lowes)
Right on track: get the most from your sliding compound miter saw from frame to finish (from Tools of the Trade)
Miter Saws Buying Guide
Miter Saws
Compound Miter Saws – Precise Angled Cuts Made Easy
DIY Crown Molding & Trim