Compound Miter Saws: What Features to Look For

Miter saws are used for crosscutting long stock, cutting picture frame molding and crown molding and rapidly cutting lots of boards to the same length. They have an electric motor mounted on a swing arm. The arm pivots to the left or right to make angled cuts (also called miter cuts). Miter saws are quick and cut at angles with dependable accuracy. In a lot of woodworking shops nowadays, the miter saw has taken the place of the radial arm saw.

With compound miter saws, the motor not only pivots left and right on it's arm, but also can be titled to either side for beveled miter cuts. Compound miter saws are handy for any project that requires angled cuts in two planes, like picture frames and crown molding.

While somewhat more expensive than regular miter saws, the ability to making compound cuts in one pass is worth the added price. The downside is that the motor doesn't slide, so the saw can't be pulled through the piece being cut, rather the piece is set on the table and the spinning saw is pushed down and through it.

A sliding compound miter saw is a significant upgrade over the non-sliding type - when you lower the blade into your workpiece, the blade can be pulled forward. This means they have the capability of cutting much wider stock. Unite this with the tilting motor for bevels and you can do intricate cuts on large stock, such as cheek cuts for rafters.

When choosing a miter saw, Blade Size is one of the key factors. 8", 10", and 12" are the most common miter saw sizes. The larger the diameter of the blade, the longer the cuts it can make. The blade material will dertermine the types of use for the saw. Steel Blades are the least expensive and do well cutting softwood although they dull quickly on hardwood.

High-Speed Steel Blades are a step up in hardness from steel blades and consequently stay sharp longer. Carbide-Tipped Blades are the most expensive blades, but will stay sharp a good deal longer than steel or high-speed steel. They are best for hardwoods.

For extra safety, look for electric brakes. Electric Brakes transpose the electrical power's direction of flow in the motor upon release of the trigger. Reversing current halts the blade's momentum in as little as two seconds, compared with up to twelve seconds for a saw without them.

Other features to look for include:

Self-Retracting Blade Guards automatically lower to completely cover the blade when the saw is raised off the workpiece. They keep the guard free of the stock, so you have a better view of your cutting line, when the blade is at work.

Table Extensions that mount on the side of the saw to balance longer workpieces in order to give accurate cuts.

Factory pre-set points that enable precise cuts on specific angles are called Positive Stops. The more positive stops a saw has the less setup time you'll spend.

A large Dust Bag directly attached to the saw to collect sawdust.

Weight- if you'll be taking the saw to multiple job sites, weight will be a factor to consider.