Understanding Miter Saw: Types, Sizes, & How to Use & Buy

A miter saw in white background with a crosscut timber

As much as a miter saw is essential in many forms of woodworking and cutting jobs, it is necessary to go for the quality. It might be quite tasking as there are numerous types of miter saw available on the market. Simultaneously, it is more than going for the right features and brand as there are many factors to consider.

However, we prepared this article to aid your dilemma in choosing the right miter saw, how to use, and how to buy it. You shall gain valuable information on how to pick one which you shall find satisfactory rightly. 


1. What is a Miter Saw?


miter saw (which we also refer to as a chop saw) is a type of motorized saw blade that we use in making sharp and accurate crosscuts in a workpiece at a specific angle or position. A miter saw is a powerful tool that we regularly use for molding and trimming. It is quite suitable for cutting through wood and other materials such as metal.

Figure 1.  A miter saw in white background with a crosscut timber
A miter saw in white background with a crosscut timber

Moreover, you can also use it in cutting other materials. The miter saw cuts by dragging a circular saw blade in high spinning motion down onto a workpiece. You place the workpiece against a fence, ensuring a precise cutting angle between the blade’s plane and the edge of the workpiece. 


2.Major Types of Miter Saws


Miter saws come in different types, and as such, they all have their distinct advantages. 

2.1 Sliding Miter Saw

A sliding miter saw is a type of saw that comes with rails to ensure the saw blade slides from the front to the rear end of the wood. In essence, it gives a much greater depth of cut than other miter saws, which possess no rails. More so, some types of sliding miter saws also can make a compound cut. 

Figure 2. A construction worker cutting board with a sliding miter saw
A construction worker cutting board with a sliding miter saw

Sliding miter saws can create bevels quickly and from whichever angle. They also possess the multifunctional feature that compound miter saws have, and it slides. Moreover, it shares some similarities with a radial arm saw. One distinct benefit of using a sliding miter saw is that it gives a lengthier cut.
You can also lock the rails of this type of saw to make pull-down and straight cuts.

2.2 Compound Miter Saw

The compound miter saw is quite a multitasking saw blade. We also refer to is as a compound saw given its feature to make two simultaneous angle cuts. It can make a miter and a bevel cut at the same time. It is specifically ideal when it comes to various types of molding and crown cutting. 

Unlike the sliding miter saw, compound miter saws have no rails, and as such, nothing is obstructing the cutting arm. The compound miter saw blade has a pivoting arm that you can shift or tilt to an angle (besides 90-degrees). It means they are optimal for thick materials, and as such, you can make miter and bevel cuts. 

Figure 3. A compound miter saw on a black background
A compound miter saw on a black background

Its ability to make bevel cuts makes it a perfect tool for lots of projects. A miter cut is for the sole purpose of joining a material, say a wood piece. 

On the other hand, a bevel cut passes through the material’s thickness, and you can use them for finishing purposes. You can also use it for further angle cuts on both the horizontal and vertical planes. 

Simply put, a miter cut goes through a horizontal plane. In contrast, a bevel cut goes through a vertical one, and the compound miter saw is quite capable of making these cuts.

2.3 Compound Sliding Miter Saw

The compound sliding miter saw is a type of saw that possesses the combined features of the entire kind of miter saws that we have discussed. It can both make miter and bevel cuts, and it keeps rails, which means it is capable of making lengthier cuts. 

The primary advantage of using a compound sliding miter saw is that it can cut through wider workpieces. However, a standard miter saw can cut through materials up to 6 to 8 inches in thickness. If you plan on missing a workpiece broader than that, you will experience some issues in making sharp and accurate cuts. 

Figure 4. A man sawing lumber with a compound sliding miter saw
A man sawing lumber with a compound sliding miter saw

But with the compound sliding miter saw, that is less of an issue. For instance, a 12-inch combination sliding miter saw can easily cut through workpieces or materials that are up to 16 inches wide. It makes a whole lot of cutting jobs and projects more accessible.

2.4 Dual-Compound Sliding Miter Saw

The dual-compound sliding miter saw (which we also refer to as double bevel compound miter saw) is a saw that allows the cutter to make compound cuts in the left and right directions without the need to turn the material or workpiece over. Instead, you can easily use the pivotal arm to flip the saw blade. 

They are quite convenient for professional use as they make large cut ranges. They are also excellent for projects that need accurate and fair cuts like trim and crown molding.

Figure 5. A carpenter working with a dual-compound sliding miter saw
A carpenter working with a dual-compound sliding miter saw


3. What Size of Miter Saw is best?


It largely depends on the nature of the project you are working on. A miter saw with a substantial sized blade (say 12-inches and above) can make more profound and broader cuts. In contrast, a miter saw with a smaller blade size (below 10-inches) are relatively easy to handle and economical.

Miter saws come in a variety of sizes, and they each fit some specific job situations. Besides, having different sizes of miter saws in your possession allows you to handle a wide variety of jobs, and you should go for ones that suit your lines of work. 

For instance, if you have to make some cuts on a crown molding, you will need a good miter saw. But what size will be ideal? Well, this depends on the size of the crown molding you intend to cut. If it’s within the range of 4 to 5 inches, a 10-inch miter saw can appropriately do the job. 

However, if the crown molding is more significant, say six or more inches, the best recommendation will be a 12-inch miter saw. Furthermore, if the crown is up to 9 or 10 inches, I’d guess you’d want to opt for a 12-inch miter saw with a sliding blade. 

Therefore, before procuring any miter saw blade size, ensure it fits your job. It is imperative to note that a smaller inch saw blade is fit for a smaller inch workpiece, and it is also the same for the saw blade and materials with bigger inches. 


4.When to Use a Miter Saw


Typically, miter saws have the design to give sharp and angled cuts for trim work, molding, rafters, and other types of workpiece materials. They also make accurate crosscuts, and with the fitting blade for the job, they can be quite versatile in operation. It is quite an essential tool that professional carpenters and DIYers must-have. 

Therefore, the best time to put the miter saw to fair use is in making precise cuts for picture frames, door frames, crown molding, window casings, and lots more. They are construction tools.


5.How to Use a Miter Saw


5.1 Safety First

Before you begin operating the saw, you must ensure you are on your safety glasses and hearing protection. 

While the blade is in motion cutting through a workpiece, keep your fingers at least 6 inches from the table.  

Some saw lines possess lines that indicate danger zones. Ensure you observe them.

While the blade is spinning, ensure you don’t reach under it.

Allow the blade to finish a cut before lifting it.

5.2 Get to Know Your Miter Saw

Before you begin to use the miter saw, you should know the exact difference between a miter, bevel, and compound cut. It is also ideal to understand your miter saw by flipping through the pages of your user manual. Also, find out the location of all the adjustments and locks. 

Miter Cut: As we said earlier, a miter cut is a cut you make at any angle (except the 90-degrees) on a workpiece. Woodworkers or cutters make a miter cut by explicitly placing the saw blade horizontally at the material’s plane, and it goes through the length and width, not its depth. 

Bevel Cut: Like the miter cut, you also make the bevel cut at any angle other than 90-degrees, but it cuts right across the thickness of a material, instead of its length and width. More so, you make the angle cut close to the face of the workpiece or material, and usually, you use a straight edge cut as measurement.

Compound Cut: We could see the compound cut as combining both the miter and the bevel cut. It is so because it consists of both the miter and bevel angle. This cut functions based on two simultaneous angle cuts, and it is quite ideal for molding and crown cutting. 

5.3 Calibrate Your Saw

5.3.1 How to Calibrate A Miter Saw

To calibrate your miter saw,

Inspect the blade: 

You must ensure you give a thorough inspection of the crosscuts, miters, and bevels, and they should be as tight as they should be. If not, you might end up with a dirty or a bum blade. 

Cautiously spin the blade and keep your eyes peeled for bends, wraps, or any other problems.
If you notice any irregularity that could eventually mar or dull your blade’s cut, you could try adhesives, solvents, and other home-made concoctions to restore the sharpness.

Table It: 

It is another process you should take note of. Numerous tool manufacturers ensure their miter saw tables have high tolerances. But there is a low tendency that an older saw will possess an untrue table. You should ensure you test its authenticity.

To test it, position a perfectly flat level on the edge across the table. Then, vividly inspect for any form of gaps that may be between the table and group. To get a good result, you could also slide a sheet of paper underneath the level. It would help in revealing gaps that you may not be able to see. 

If some sheets of paper can perfectly fit in the gap, you could take the table for grounding, scraping, or pressing at a machine shop. However, if the gap is too broad, you should probably get a new replacement.

Square Up the Fence for Good Miters:

Most times, your miter saw fence might not be square to the table. Kickbacks and some forms of misuse could take it out of its proper alignment. To be sure you have squared up your fence, pull down the blade to the least depressed position, then use the pin to lock the arm in its place.

Ensure you reference the square of the body of the blade and not its teeth. The user manual will surely guide you on which screws you need to adjust if the miter scale needs adjustment.

Take it To the Next Bevel:.

To up the bevel angle, you use the 45o or hypotenuse of your square, tilting the saw to a 45-degree angle. If you discover a gap between the saw blade and the square’s 45o, then bring the bevel into proper alignment with the bevel adjustment bolt (usually near the miter saw’s back).

A Quick Note:

Many miter saws come with miter gauge scales that are immovable, and they also feature offensive numbers and marks on the metal. You can take the liberty to loosen the screw fitted on the indicator to make a little adjustment. 

Checking Your Work:

Once you have ensured that the bevel angle is apt, and the fence is square, critically observe the miter gauge. If it doesn’t match your adjustments, you can easily align the indicator with a Phillips head screwdriver in numerous cases. 

5.4 Set Your Miter Angle

Set your saw to an angle of 45-degrees

Confirm or verify your grade by taking test cuts

With a reliable square, check the resulting corner to see if your test cuts meet at a right angle

5.5 Set Your Bevel Angle

Loosen the knob of the bevel lock

Move the saw arm to the preferred angle

When the indicator finally points to your needed rise, tighten the bevel lock

5.6 Set Your Compound angle

Place the workpiece on the table against the fence

Set the pitch and slope

Adjust the board’s position on the table

Power up the saw 

Prepare to make the cut

5.7 Make the Cut

After observing the processes above, you can then go in for the precise cut. Power up the saw and let it meet the wood.

5.8 Dust Extractor, Bag, or Bare?

First, it is difficult for a miter to collect dust because the miter saw will spray dust in all directions when cutting through the material. To curtail the mess, connect a dust extractor or a wet/dry vacuum. 

If the wind direction is favorable, you can work outside without needing any form of the dust extractor. 


6. What to Look for When Buying a Miter Saw


6.1 Saw Type

Typically, miter saws fall under three categories: stationary compound, sliding compound, and sliding dual compound. Generally, the price of a miter saw is equivalent to how sophisticated it is. Of all the three categories, sliding compound miter saws are ideal blades.
It is because it can function as the other two we mentioned.

6.2 Power Source

Most miter saws come with 10, 12, or 15-amp motors. But if you will be working with wide crosscuts and hardwoods, it is ideal you go for a highly-powered engine. However, for composite materials, a less powerful motor will do.

6.3 Blade and Crosscut Capacity 

It would help if you also considered this, and it also depends on the nature of the job you are handling. Typically miter saw blades come in 8-1/4-, 8-1/2-, 10-, and 12-inch diameters, and a knife with a bigger diameter makes a more extended cut. On the contrary, a blade with a smaller diameter makes a shorter cut. Your edge crosscut capacity choice depends on what you want to handle.

6.4 Angle Ranges and Detents

As much as some saws vary in miter and bevel ranges, all saws should cut at a 45-degree angle. However, it is ideal to go for saws with positive stop detents. Put, and a detent is a catch that locks a mechanical movement until its release. So, it would help if you are looking for a saw with a smooth, simple detent.

6.5 Cut Guide

A laser beam will be the best bet in guiding how you cut. So, it would help if you got a laser in addition to a miter saw.

6.6 Fences and Material Support

The fence helps in securing the wood during the cut. Ensure the material is stable and pressed up against the wall before you begin the border.

6.7 Dust Extraction

You will need a dust extractor to curtail the sawdust flying in different directions.

6.8 Notable Features and Accessories

It would help if you went for a miter saw that features an arm lock, a handle situated at the saw’s top, and extendable material support. It makes using it quite easily. Not to mention, it must be quite handy.

6.9 Safety

It would help if you didn’t compromise your safety while using a tool, especially a miter saw, which has an exposed spinning blade. Ensure you are on the necessary protective wears and keep the precautionary measures we listed above.


7. Should I Buy a Corded or Cordless Miter Saw?


Well, both have their specific advantages. The plug-in corded models offer more sustainable power, unlike the cordless ones. On the other hand, cordless miter saws allow you to work where there is no available plug-in outlet. 

Thus, if you need a miter saw that you could use to work from one place to another, you should procure the cordless model. However, if you work at a specific location with very few power outlets, a corded model will do fine. 


Summary and Final Thoughts


Miter saws are tools that we use for numerous constructive jobs, and they have a position in every professional carpenter’s or woodworker’s toolkit. If you are looking for the right manufacturer to patronize, look no further. NC Cutting Tools are here with the best types of miter saws on the market.

8 Key Questions About Saw Blade Sharpening

Circular saw blade showing the arbor

Every day, countless cutting activities go on around the world using different types of saw blades. While these saw blades come in numerous saw blade sharpening and dimensions, the circular saw blades seem to be the most versatile. However, no matter how durable any saw blade could be, the need for maintenance will eventually arise. Often, the major maintenance of the saw blade centers around re-sharpening its teeth. Hence, how and when to perform sharpening becomes extremely important, which this article targets to tackle and clarify.

Fig. 1: Circular saw blade showing the arbor.
Circular saw blade showing the arbor

1.Which saws can sharpen?

Following the advent of saw blades, one thing has become clear- the need to sharpen them properly. Despite the various saw blades in existence, the focus here is on the circular saws. Whether diamond saw blades, carbide-tipped, or HSS-tipped blades, sharpening them is quite possible.  Due to the nature of saw blades manufactured nowadays, it still requires extremely hard files or sharpeners. Saw blade sharpening is all about taking off old layers of the teeth to reveal fresh tips.

Fig. 2: Circular saw blade sharpening.
Circular saw blade sharpening

2.Is It Worth Sharpening Saw Blades?

In addition to considering whether to sharpen the saw blade, some factors must consider before shaping. Suppose you could easily walk-in to a store for a replacement then why the need to re-sharpen. Well, this will largely edge on your purchasing power and will. Quality circular saw blades can be pricy. The degree of dullness will further inform your decision to replace or re-sharpen.
The truth is, saw blade sharpening always leave your blade as good as new. After sharpening, you always have yourself a crisp and efficient blade. Generally, large-diameter blades often seem better to sharpen over smaller diameter blades. Again, the quality of the blade you intend to sharpen will go a long way toward informing your decision. Saw blade sharpening guarantees durability and maximum utility over time.

In essence, once your saw blades have served a couple of years, it is safe to say a replacement is imminent.

3.How Do I Know If My Saw Blade Is Dull?

Firstly, one of the major determinants that you have a dull saw blade is the nature of the cut it gives. Once your saw blade begins to give rough and inaccurate cut, you need to consider sharpening. A dull saw blade will always produce poor quality cut and give your project a bad outcome. Secondly, a dull blade causes overworking of the motor as it tends to do more work without corresponding results. You can effectively diagnose this as sharp blades consume less power, and you can observe the change in the sound. Thirdly, frequent tearing and chipping of the material cut also point out that your blade is dull.

Another thing is that saw blade sharpening becomes important when the blade cannot run itself through the material easily. When this happens, you observe burn marks around the cut you make. Finally, the difficulty of the saw blade following the marked-out cut line indicates that dullness has set-in.

Kindly note that your decision to sharpen your blade is based on your discretion as no specific date is attached. What you use your saw blade for and how much work it does determines how often it needs sharpening.

4.Things to consider before doing saw blade sharpening.

Just as mentioned in previous sections of this article, there exist many saw blades that require some techniques to sharpen. Before carrying out saw blade sharpening, you must ensure that consider factors such as:

  • Does your saw blade deserve sharpening? This question is multifaceted with different views and angles. Usually, a saw blade worth sharpening is of very high quality and often costly enough to be sharpened over replacement. Therefore, investing your money to buy a good saw blade is the beginning of it all. On the other hand, poor quality or weak saws do not need sharpening. In this case, we recommend completely replaced.
  • If you feel you can carry out saw blade sharpening yourself, you must invest in the required tools. A saw blade sharpener or a diamond file such as tools, even technical knowledge, can get the job done correctly.
  • You should also consider the tip type of the finished saw blade before sharpening.
  • Carbide-tipped saw blades are better sharpened by professionals rather than as a DIY approach.
  • Ensure your proximity to professional grinding saw shops.

5.Step by Step Guide on How to Sharpen Saw Blades

The assumption here is that this is a DIY (do-it-yourself) approach. Below are the steps to follow:

Remove the Blade

Never attempt to carry out saw blade sharpening without dismounting off the arbor. It can be disastrous and dangerous, especially if the switch can mistakenly go on. You must remove the saw blade for sharpening to take place. With a wrench or spanner, you can remove the bolt holding the blade off the arbor.

Secure the Blade

With a simple vice grip, you can safely hold down your saw blade while keeping the teeth upwards. However, you must avoid overtightening the vice so as not to warp the saw blade.

Make Marks

This step primarily helps to avoid over-sharpening, as this will affect the tooth thickness negatively. In the beginning, make a mark on the blade, which will serve as the start/ endpoint when sharpening.

Consider the Bevels

The bevel is a part that gives the saw blade a peculiar cutting pattern. Just ensure that you take note of the angle and maintain it as much as you can during sharpening. Also, do well to maintain the bevel angle by positioning your file in that manner when stroking.

Turn the Blade

Similarly, just as you have done on one side of the saw blade, do the same on the other side. Make marks also and repeat the other processes chronologically.

 File the Tips

After filing the angle, the tip of the tooth is next, and you need not apply much pressure or many strokes. Please keep it simple while running the file back and forth all through the blade tips.

Install the Blade

Finally, once the saw blade sharpening does, take the saw blade out of the vice grip. Mount on the saw blade arbor, bolt in place, and enjoy your new blade. Once you are through sharpening, unlock the blade of the vice grip and then return it to the saw. Your blade is sharp, and you can enjoy using it for precise cuts.

Fig. 3: saw blade teeth.
saw blade teeth.

6. points to check after sharpening the saw blade

Checking for precision and accuracy after sharpening matters a lot too, here are 5 points to look out for:

Edge quality and point sharpness (each tooth visually certified under a 30x magnifier)

  • Concentricity (within .002)
  • Plate runout(within .005)
  • Tooth runout (within .005)
  • Tolerance of the various saw tooth geometry.

7.Methods of saw blade sharpening

Nowadays, you can choose to carryout saw blade sharpening via two broad methods as discussed below:

1.Manual/ Semi-Automated Filing:

This involves using a hand file, or a circular diamond saw blade to sharpen the tooth. Knowing fully well that a diamond saw blade is hard than the popular carbide-tipped saw blade. Keep the angle of the file against the tooth at 20 degrees per each stroke.

2.CNC Machine Filing:

Over the years, man has advanced the approach to saw blade sharpening. The invention of CNC has made this easier than ever. CNC machines eliminate human labor, make sharpening faster and more accurate. CNC machines seamlessly grind both sides of the blades at the required angle, all in one pass. The inputs parameters required are cutting angle, blade diameter, and blade.

Fig. 4: Ongoing automatic saw blade sharpening process.

Ongoing automatic saw blade sharpening process

8.Saw Blade Caring Tips

  • Keep the blade in a Dry Area: Keep dry and away from moisture.
  • Use the Blade for The Right Task: Do not misuse the blade to avoid accidents.
  • Cool the Blade: When not in use, keep the blade well aerated.
  • Hang the Blade Using the Center Hole
  • Clean Blade Using Solvent and Nylon Brush: This prevents corrosion and improves longevity.

Fig 5: Saw blade hung on the center hole.
Saw blade hung on the center hole


The moment you follow all the key guidelines highlighted above, then you are good to go. However, should you require further guidelines and assistance, do well to see this video. Contact and shop with us at NCCuttingtools for all your cutting tools need, and concerns.


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