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Miter & table saws

Miter & table saw buying guide

Last updated: June 2013

Getting started

If you've ever sawed molding or flooring by hand, you know how hard it can be to eyeball angles and keep a firm grip on the project. Portable miter and table saws are trimming away more of that guesswork and elbow grease as they move down the ladder from contractors to homeowners.

Practically any saw will do if you're building a basic birdhouse. But cutting hard or thick lumber and other heavy-duty work demands a saw with speed and power.

Don't cheap out

You can spend $100 for a miter saw. But spending a little more typically buys a saw that's faster and more accurate. Faster sawing and better accuracy mean cleaner cuts and less wasted wood. You're also investing in safety, since you're more likely to push the material with a slow saw, dulling its blade, overheating its motor--and increasing the chance that the wood will jam or kick back.

Buying a saw is also a better bet than renting, even if you won't use it often: At about $50 per day, renting one for three days can cost roughly the same as buying a new one and keeping it for years.

Look beyond the brand

Even big names may perform inconsistently from model to model. Try the saw before buying, if possible. It's the quality of construction that determines how long-lived and trouble-free the saw will be. You may not be able to tell at the store whether a saw has durable bearings. But you can check for motor brushes that are accessible for servicing (easy to see on a miter saw, harder on a table saw). Look for a heavy-duty base and rugged hardware for adjusting the blade depth and cutting angle. And see the Features section for design points that make a saw easier and safer to use.

Protect yourself

Our tests have found all of these saws loud enough to warrant hearing protection. And all kicked up lots of chips and dust, so wear safety glasses or goggles.

Table and miter saws cause tens of thousands of hand and finger injuries each year. Table saws made by SawStop include a device that senses contact with flesh and stops the blade in milliseconds, before it can do serious damage. But that technology is neither widespread nor inexpensive.

Types

Miter and table saws come in several versions. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, so you'll need to pick the right one for the jobs you plan to do. Here are the types of miter and table saws to consider.

Portable table saws


These small table saws, like the larger versions, have a blade that protrudes up through the cutting table. Most portables come with a folding stand or wheels.

Pros:

They're best for long rip cuts in planks and plywood used to make shelving or trim doors, for example. The latest are easier to adjust and use. And unlike full-sized table saws, they're easy to move where you need them.

Cons:

Although portable table saws can make miter and bevel cuts, they generally don't cut as precisely as miter saws.

Compound miter saws


These have their motor and blade mounted on an arm that swings straight down for a straight cut or pivots left or right for an angled cut. We tested compound-miter models, which can tilt the blade for beveled cuts as well as pivot it for angle. That's especially useful when you miter crown molding.

Pros:

They cut more precisely than table saws.

Cons:

They can't handle dimensional lumber larger than 2x6 inches.

Sliding compound miter saws


These allow you to slide the blade forward, as with a radial arm saw, for a longer cut.

Pros:

They can cut lumber up to twice as wide as non-sliding compound miter saws.

Cons:

Having to push the blade forward as well as lower it makes accurate cuts more difficult. Sliding models are relatively expensive; for the same money, you could buy both a non-sliding miter saw and a portable table saw instead.

Cordless compound miter saws


These obviously free you from the hassle of a cord and can go far from an outlet. But there's a reason why you aren't likely to see professional carpenters using them.

Pros:

Cordless operation provides go-anywhere convenience.

Cons:

Models with cords have up to seven times the speed and power of cordless saws. Even the priciest couldn't match corded models we tested. And their batteries limit your work time.

Features


Some miter and table saws have features that make them easier and safer to use. The more often you use the saw, the more important these features become. Here are the miter and table saw features to consider.

Blade

Carbide-tipped blades last longer and cut faster than plain steel. But even if that's what came on your saw, odds are it still pays to upgrade. Our testers found that the best aftermarket blades tend to be flatter and more heat-resistant, have thicker carbide on their teeth for smoother cuts, and wobble less than standard blades. A mid-range, 42-tooth aftermarket blade (about $75) nearly always yielded faster and smoother cuts. And be sure to match the number of teeth to the job: More teeth are better for plywood and for a clean finish, fewer for quick rough-cutting and ripping.

Blade-wrench storage

Some miter saws and most table saws provide convenient storage for the wrench used to change the blade.

Electric brake

This stops the blade almost instantly when you push the "off" switch. Found more on miter than table saws, it helps reduce the chance of injury while speeding up the job.

Extensions

These support long or wide pieces of lumber. Some miter saws and many table saws have side supports; some table saws include out-feed supports in back.

Miter adjustment

A crosshair sight glass over the scale works better than a simple arrow. Stops for common angles on most miter saws and some table saws improve setup and accuracy.

On/off switch

Look for one that's easy to reach.

Handle

Check the comfort for this miter-saw feature. On some models, you can rotate the handle to make the saw arm easier to move.

Holding clamp

Found on miter saws, it attaches to the miter table or fence to hold what you're cutting. It improves accuracy and helps to keep your left hand away from the blade.

Laser cutting guide

Many miter saws project a laser line where you want to cut. But you still have to draw a line and use a steady hand. And a laser is useless outdoors in bright sunlight.

Spindle lock

A button or lever on most miter saws keeps the motor's shaft from turning when you change blades.

Cut-line indicator

Situated in front of a table saw's blade, it helps line up the material you're cutting.

Notched blade guard

Some table saws have a notch on the upper blade guard so you can keep an eye on the blade and the cutting line without leaning over the saw.

Retained miter fence

A T-slot channel on many table saws holds the cutting guide so it won't lift out while you're positioning the wood. Alternatively, look for a fence that's sturdy enough to stay put.

Rip-fence adjustment

A fine adjustment for the table-saw fence improves accuracy. Most use a crosshair sight glass.

   

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