Overview of Miter Saws (long)

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Mar 5, 2002, 4:27:18 PM3/5/02
Well, I've been looking into purchasing a 12" Compound Miter Saw, and
I thought I would share what I've learned with the group. To give you
an idea where I am coming from, I intend this saw for strict shop use,
and I want something capable of cutting very precise miters, and
bevels, as well as something that can make an easily repeatable


The first thing that you need to do is decide which type of saw you
want to buy. Obviously, it will be somewhat a matter of price whether
you decide on a 10", 12" or slider, but there are also other issues
that influence the decision, including the inherent differences
between the different types:

10" Compound Miter Saws-- There are several good things about a 10"
saw. The first is the cost; a 10" saw will be cheaper than a 12" one
of similar quality. Another plus is that the 10" blade will be
interchangeable with your 10" table saw. The saw is also smaller and
will fit more easily into a space than a larger model. The final bonus
to a smaller diameter blade is that arbor vibration does not throw off
the cut as much as in a larger saw.

12" Compound Miter Saws-- The main advantage to a 12" saw is a larger
cutting width and height. Another advantage is the blade speed at the
cut. A 12" blade spinning at the same RPM will be going faster at the
teeth than a 10" one because the teeth have farther to travel. The
disadvantages include extra size, price, and slightly more blade
runout (if the arbor vibrates off by one degree, that degree will be
amplified more when the cutting edge is farther from the nut.) This
last issue is not as important as it sounds, as the quality of other
things effect the cut more than this.

Sliding Compound Miter Saws-- These can be operated in two ways: 1.
with the sliding mechanism locked in place; in this way, the saw has
all the advantages/disadvantages of a non-sliding saw, and 2. with the
sliding mechanism unlocked; in this case, a much larger cutting width
is allowed (although the cutting height is not affected much),
however, the sliding mechanism is now contributing all of it's errors
to the cut as well, so the cut quality is not as good as when the
slider is locked. The only advantage to a slider (and a big one) is
the extra cut width. The cutting height, however, is not affected. The
major disadvantages are a much higher cost, much more space is needed,
and less accurate cut when sliding it. There is a major difference
between the different sliding mechanisms employed by the different
makers, however, I decided early on that I did not want a slider, so
"that's all I have to say about that".

There is also another type of saw called a plain "Miter Saw" that does
not tilt, but these are largely replaced by the CMS today.


The first thing you need to do is look at your work, and decide what
the largest pieces you will be crosscutting regularly. Namely, figure
out: what is the widest board you want to cut? A 10"CMS will handle
up to 5.5-6" width, a 12" up to ~8" and sliders more. Next figure out
what cutting height you will need. This is relevent for cutting
moldings when you wish to stand them up on the turntable, of when
cutting thick stock like a 4x4. Individual saws vary on this
dimension, but 12" saws are generally more capable in this respect.

Now that you have your minimum dimansions down, you should figure out
what type of work you will be doing. If you are in construction, you
will need something more rugged that can be tossed in a pickup. With
furniture making or finish work, you wil need something that will cut
clean miters. When you figure these out, you will know what to check
when looking at actual saws. Of course, you will also have to decide
what price you are willing to spend.


Fence and Table:
The fence and table contribute a great deal to the accuracy of a saw.
There are several things which should be checked before the purchase
of any Miter Saw.

Table Flatness: The table should be dead flat across the entire
turntable and extensions. Just as it is difficult to lay a warped
board flat, it is difficult to put a flat board on a warped table
without it wobbling during the cut. Even if you are able to hold the
piece steady, you will never be able to get two pieces to lay the same
way, making each cut different.

Fence Flatness: This is the same as table flatness. Both sides must
not only be flat, but they must lie in the same plane as well. To
check the flatness of both fence and table, use a straight edge and
place it over the surface. If you can see any light between the
straight edge and fence/table, then it is not flat. Most saws made
today seem to be off by at least a little, and some seem to be off by
as much as 1/8".

Fence Angle: The next thing to check is that the fence lies at a right
angle to the table. This is a little harder to check, but is best done
with an engineer's square at several locations along the fence.

Turntable setup
Stop Accuracy: This is probably easier to check through using the saw,
which is sometimes not possible before puurchase. The table should
align with the pre-machined stops (called detents) easily and
consistently. Make sure that there is little play once the table is
set to an angle stop. Also check to see if you can set the angle to
something very close to a pre-set angle (like 46 degrees) without the
table slipping into that notch. You also want to make sure that the
stops are set up correctly. The 90 degree position is easily checked,
but the others are hard to measure without making a cut.

Ease on Eyes: The vernier scale (angle chart) should be easy to read.
The easier to read, the less the error on your part. This is
subjective. The silk-screened scale on the Makita is a much finer
scale, however, the stamped metal on the DeWalt will withstand abuse.
This is a trade off. You don't want something that will give you a
different reading depending where your head is (i.e., the gauge should
be close to the scale.)

Ease of Travel: The turntable should slide smoothly, and should feel
comfortable to you. Again, this is very subjective. The base should
lock without moving.

Zero Clearance Insert: A simple low or zero clearance insert on the
bottom of the table will help reduce tearout, as well as keeping small
offcuts from taking flight. If the prvided insert is easily replaced,
you can make your own zero clearance insert.

Chop Mechanism
Clearance: There are two clearances that you should be concerned with:
The vertical clearance under the blade guard, and the vertical
clearance under the saw teeth. The clearance under the teeth is the
maximum height the saw is capable of cutting (actually, a little
less), but it is an easier cut if the piece clears the guard as well.

Smoothness: The saw should lower smoothly, and spring back up without

Bevel adjustment: The saw you are interested in might bevel only one
way, or it may bevel in both directions. If the later is the case,
then there should be some sort of positive stop at the perpendicular
point. It is very convenient if the bevel scale is visible from the
front of the saw. Also, I find it easier to adjust the saws that tend
to "stay put" at whatever bevel you set them to. That way you don't
have to put as much effort into supporting the saw as you lock it into
place. Again, see if this is comfortable to you.

Motor and Blade
Power: Again, you don't know what power a machine really has until you
put it through some tough wood. The factors that contribute to the
power include the amps, the RPM, and whether the saw has a speed
control that will keep the RPMs constant through a cut. I can hear
when a machine starts to get bogged down, a good test is to chop
through some wood, and if you hear it start to get back up to speed
after the cut, then you know it bogged down.

Kick-start: If the saw kicks hard when you turn it on, it is more
likely to move the work piece from where you set it. Sometimes a saw
will kick so hard it will jump on the table; not good if it isn't
bolted down. This is more of a problem with direct drive motors than
belt driven ones. Soft start also helps.

Soft Start: This can be either good or bad. It reduces the amount of
kick start almost completely, but you must then wait the second for
the blade to get up to speed before starting the cut (not good for the
contractors who hold, start, cut and release in one motion).

Electric Brake: The quicker the blade stops, the less chance of
injury. Blade brakes are good things.

Speed Control: This mechanism keeps the blade at a constant speed
throughout the cut. Look for these to run at less RPMs because they
don't slow down under load. This is a nice feature IMHO, should make
cuts smoother.

Trigger: This is also a matter of taste; they usually aren't made for
lefties, but you should see if you can at least do a cut with either
hand, as some rare times, you just have to.

Blade: Decide if the blade on the saw is good enough. The best blades
have 70-80 teeth. These will leave smoother cuts and make the saw run

Blade Guard: You want one you're not going to take off. Also see the
section on clearance. A clear one also helps so you can see if the
blade is still spinning (a good thing to know.)



As I think I have stressed, there is no saw that is perfect for
everyone. If you plan on moving a saw around, then there is a whole
load of things that you should consider that I didn't even mention. I
have included a few links below that contain a few reviews, and each
chose a different saw. I would strongly recommend looking at the
reviews at Amazon.com, and trying out these for yourself before
buying. That said, here's my opinions:

brands I looked at: Delta, Porter-Cable, Rigid, Hitachi, Bosch,
Makita, DeWalt, others I'm sure I'm forgetting

I know someone with a Delta, and I've used it, and I didn't like it.
It was in a architecture shop and a lot of people used it, so it got a
workout, but its motor crapped out, and it is dead now. It took abuse,
I will admit, but it didn't survive. The cuts it gave were never
clean, and it burned a lot of the wood I cut (admittedly, probably the
blade). I realize this is probably an unfair bias, but I did not
consider either the Delta or Porter-Cable.

The Rigid was a surprisingly good machine. It felt sturdy, it came
with a lot of accessories, and the adjustments were quite nice. The
table was a little off, but not as bad as others. I didn't check the
fence, but I should have. I'd like to take this one and try it out.

The Hitachis I looked at were all VERY nice, but they didn't have a
12" model, so I didn't really consider them. (They look kinda ugly
too) The tables are reportedly flat though.

Bosch kind of felt like the Rigid, but I forget about anything else.

The DeWalt was a nice saw. The one I saw had a nice blade, and it had
a rugged detent system. Several reviews ranked this one on top. The
drawback for me is that the bed was way off. None of the ones I tried
were close. One thing I liked (I think) was that the vernier (angle)
scale was a screw-on plate that can be adjusted. This gives you
lee-way if it is off, but I don't know if it will move on it's own
with abuse. Another thing, the vertical clearance seemed like this was
the best of the bunch.

The Makita was my favorite, and I plan on buying it when I make room.
It has a very level fence and table, one of the few that were really
machined *well*. The soft start and speed control work good for me,
and the saw felt good. That said, it's probably not the best to put in
the back of your pickup. The vernier scale was silk screened on, and,
as one reviewer noted, "it would not last in my Ford".


Here are some links I used in my decision. Most of this post is from
the info below, people's comments, and my experience fiddling with
these saws.
Well, I hope this helped at least a few of you.

Tom Judkins


Workshop Wisdom - Table Saws

American Woodworker: Feature Article: How To Buy A Miter Saw

American Woodworker: Miter Saws


Tools of the Trade Online: Tool Test: Sliding Compound Miter Saws

10" Compound Miter Saws

Tool Comparison for Mitersaws

Compound Miter Saws - Listed by Blade Diameter

Review of DeWalt 12-inch Compound Miter Saw


Breakdown Makita LS1220 ToolPartsDirect

Woodworkers Journal eZine


Mar 5, 2002, 5:09:51 PM3/5/02
Good info...
You might add to the "ZERO" clearance insert section. The Zero clearance
insert will also show you Exactly where the blade is going to cut. Align
your measured mark on the wood with either side of the slot. Element the
guessing and the need for a laser.


Mar 5, 2002, 11:04:04 PM3/5/02

May I have your permission to archive your excellent post on my woodshop



"Tom" <tv...@cec.wustl.edu> wrote in message


Mar 6, 2002, 4:40:06 AM3/6/02
Great resource for anyone considering buying a
miter saw. Where were you when I was at that
pint? Ended up with the Makita LS1212 SCMS and
so far so good. Comes with adjustable plastic
parts for the insert. You can adjust it them
for zero clearance or spread for compound angles.

Thanks for putting all that information in one
place and in an organized, easy to follow format.

woodworking site

Paul Bunting

Mar 6, 2002, 8:15:11 AM3/6/02
All -

Miter saw blades normally have a 0 or negative degree hook angle (if I recall
correctly). Originally I was thinking of a 10" with the idea of swapping blades
from the table saw. I ended up with the Dewalt 12 inch as I was told not to use
a table saw blade in miter saw.

Anyone have any contrary advice or can describe any problems they had using a
table saw blade in a miter saw?



Joe Vale

Mar 6, 2002, 8:27:54 AM3/6/02
Paul Bunting <buntin...@enter.net> wrote in

> All -
> Miter saw blades normally have a 0 or negative degree hook angle (if I
> recall correctly). Originally I was thinking of a 10" with the idea of
> swapping blades from the table saw. I ended up with the Dewalt 12 inch
> as I was told not to use a table saw blade in miter saw.
> Anyone have any contrary advice or can describe any problems they had
> using a table saw blade in a miter saw?
> Thanks,
> Paul


I have separate ones for TS and CMS. BTW, at the risk of getting flamed, I
had to choose between DeWalt and Crapsman 10" CMS and went with Crapsman.
The laser is just too accurate to believe and it came with ALL the
accessories (TWO extensions, block, vise, bag). I cut mostly oak and it
just goes thru the stuff like butter. Zero clearence throat. Setup was
okay, NOT 1/8" off anywhere. My Taiwanese must have had good day!!! %-)

Bob G.

Mar 6, 2002, 10:47:05 AM3/6/02
Like most of us here I do own and do use some crapsman machines..but I am
really not a fan ...(last one I purchased was in the 70's) BUT it is
very refreshing to see someone pick a Crapsman machine over another brand...IT
really is...

Bob Griffiths


Mar 6, 2002, 12:02:40 PM3/6/02
charlieb <char...@accesscom.com> wrote in message news:<3C85E3...@accesscom.com>...

> Great resource for anyone considering buying a
> miter saw. Where were you when I was at that
> pint?

Heck! Where was I when I was at that point??

>Ended up with the Makita LS1212 SCMS and
> so far so good. Comes with adjustable plastic
> parts for the insert. You can adjust it them
> for zero clearance or spread for compound angles.

I'm curious, where did you buy your saw?


Randall Thomas

Mar 6, 2002, 10:31:59 PM3/6/02
I recently saw, the results of a stair installer who put the rip blade off a table
saw on his new 10-inch dewalt cms. The big aggressive gullet caught piece of oak he
was hand holding.

Hand looked like he'd been hammering holes through a wire reinforced stucco wall.
Luckily he didn't get his hand into the blade.

The part I thought was really interesting was that it cracked the cast aluminum


Mar 7, 2002, 10:43:11 AM3/7/02
My thought process was more along the lines of putting the chopsaw
blade on the table saw. If you had a wide board that needed to be
crosscut, you could use the TS with the Crosscut blade. I'm not a
table saw expert, but it didn't even occur to me that this may be

Tom Judkins

Randall Thomas <rthom...@worldnet.att.net> wrote in message news:<3C86E048...@worldnet.att.net>...

Joe Vale

Mar 7, 2002, 2:29:54 PM3/7/02
tv...@cec.wustl.edu (Tom) wrote in

> My thought process was more along the lines of putting the chopsaw
> blade on the table saw. If you had a wide board that needed to be
> crosscut, you could use the TS with the Crosscut blade. I'm not a
> table saw expert, but it didn't even occur to me that this may be
> dangerous.

Not being cute, but why would you crosscut on a TS?? I crosscut 8" and 10"
boards on my crapsman CMS all the time by flipping the work. If they are
longer/wider than that (e.g. 2x12s) I use two saw horses and my Skil. Am I
missing something?? I thought ANY board of length will cause you fits on a
TS?? Or is there a gadget I dont have?? (yes, yes).

Pat James

Mar 7, 2002, 4:13:17 PM3/7/02

"Joe Vale" <jv1...@yahoo.com> wrote in message

Sounds like the gadget you don't have is a crosscut sled.

Mike Reed

Mar 7, 2002, 7:01:15 PM3/7/02
tv...@cec.wustl.edu (Tom) wrote in message news:<5c3da71.02030...@posting.google.com>...

> I did not consider either the Delta or Porter-Cable.

Ooops, you missed out. You should at least _consider_ the PC (though I
think the Delta is nearly identical). There must have been some
serious problems with the one you used.

My PC 12" CMS is my favorite tool in the shop. I plan to get a
Chopmaster for it one day, but the stock blade leaves shiny endgrain,
but with some "furry" tearout on the backside (that's where the
Chopmaster would hook me up). It's a very precise tool, and quite

I mostly use it in my shop, but I have taken it out to a Habitat for
Humanity jobsite. The 12" DeWalt that's usually there just sits all
day because everyone prefers my to use my PC.

If my shop burned down tonight, I'd buy another 12" PC tomorrow


Mark Wells

Mar 7, 2002, 11:18:14 PM3/7/02
I have a Porter-Cable 12" CMS, also and like it very much. However,
I've noticed that the rotating part of the table is slightly higher
than the extension wings. On Amazon there is a comment about that and
somebody said that they designed it that way on purpose as an
"anti-kickback" feature.

Should I just ignore the difference, try to make my saw table flat
with the rotating part, or what?


waterr...@my-deja.com (Mike Reed) wrote in message news:<95de15f4.02030...@posting.google.com>...

Mike Reed

Mar 8, 2002, 2:19:05 PM3/8/02
I'll have to take a look at this on mine. I haven't noticed any of my
cuts not being square, but I always apply pressure at the table, not
the extensions. IIRC from when I set mine up, the extension wings are
completely adjustable because of play in the bolt holes.

If this is indeed the case, then we might have a problem :-/

I guess that would make it more of a construction tool than a shop
tool. I know that the DeWalt portable planer has the main bed higher
than the infeed/outfeed extensions, which makes it tough to plane
short pieces accurately.

I'd have to look at the possibility of lowering the turntable, raising
the other stuff, or shimming the other stuff.



markl...@yahoo.com (Mark Wells) wrote in message news:<5d968099.02030...@posting.google.com>...

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