A woodworking shop is never complete if it doesn’t contain a miter saw. A miter saw is a saw with a circular blade attached to a head which plunges downward with a pull of the lever. The size a miter saw’s blade allows it to make a clean cut through thick boards in a single pass.
The main function of a miter saw is to cut your boards at a wide range of different angles. Many models have the ability to be mitered up to 50° to the left and right. Admittedly, you could do this on a table saw or eye it with a circular saw, but the miter saw’s straightforward setup makes it a heck of a lot easier to produced angle cuts.
The main benefit that a miter saw offers is the ability to make repeated cuts across numerous boards with just a single setup. You don’t need to readjust the tilt of the blade or the stops; simply push your board against the fence and pull down on the saw head. Easy as pie.
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What is a Compound Miter Saw?
Like any good woodworking tool, miter saws come in a wide variety of shapes and with various features. The most basic of miter saws let you cut at an angle by swinging the saw head left or right before plunging it into the board.
However, what if you want to cut on two planes – at an angle through the wood and at an angle into the woodA basic miter saw won’t give you the ability to tilt or bevel the saw head, so you can either spin your board around to attempt this dangerous cut, or you can get a compound miter saw.
The only distinguishing factor between miter saws and compound miter saws is that the latter has a beveling saw head. Apart from swinging the saw head left or right, you can tilt it to produce beveled cuts into your piece.
Being able to make compound cuts into your workpieces is useful when making crown molding, picture frames, and furniture with fancy joints. It’s definitely a handy feature to have. No longer will you need to rely on miter jigs to produce the right compound cut.
What to Look for in a Compound Miter Saw
In this section, we’ll talk about the various features and specs to be on the lookout for when choosing a compound miter saw.
In a nutshell, a more powerful motor means better cutting power. When looking at potential compound miter saws, be sure to check out the motor’s amperage. Around 15 amps should be more than sufficient for cutting through thick boards with a single plunge. Of course, this depends on what you plan on cutting. If you work exclusively on delicate thin pieces like crown molding, then a 9-amp motor would do you just fine.
This is another thing to pay close attention to. The size of the blade determines how thick a board it can cut with a single pass. A smaller blade forces you to turn the workpiece over in order to finish the cut. The most common sizes are 8 inches, 10 inches, and 12 inches. The saw should have a beefy motor if it’s equipped with a 12-inch blade.
Miter and Bevel Capacities
The saw head of a compound miter should swing at least up to 45° in both directions. Even though you can simply turn your board over to produce an identical angle cut on the other side, being able to turn the saw makes the process much quicker to do. As for the bevel capacity, a compound miter saw should tilt at least 45° to one side.
Positive stops are points set by the manufacturer that let you adjust and lock the saw on a particular angle. They help in reducing the amount of time needed to adjust the saw head’s cutting angle. Some models even let you adjust the angle – both swivel and tilt – with your thumb, increasing your work speed even further.
Dust Blower and Collection Bag
One of the worst things that can happen in a woodshop is inhaling sawdust. To prevent sawdust from going airborne, a compound miter saw – a tool that produces dust by the tons – should come equipped with a dust blower to shoo the sawdust to away from your workstation. It should also feature a dust collection bag at the backside of the saw head to gather as much as possible. However, when operating any woodworking tool, you should wear a respirator at all times.
A laser guide helps in determining where the blade will penetrate into your workpiece. The problem with many models is that the vibrations of a rapidly spinning blade and repeated plunges can shift the laser from its original position, rendering it utterly useless for future cuts. Check to see where the laser is located and how well it’s built into the tool to prevent it from moving.
One of the most reliable safety features of a compound miter saw is the blade guard. Since you need to get the blade rotating at full speed before plunging it into your workpiece, the blade should be completely encased in a transparent guard. As the saw head moves downward, the guard will retract, exposing the saw just inches away from your stock to reduce the possibility of injury. As you raise the saw head, the blade should return to its original position.
This is another safety feature to be on the lookout for. Electric brakes immediately prevent the flow of electricity into the saw’s motor as soon as you release the trigger. The blade will then stop spinning within two seconds. Without electric brakes, it would take even longer for the blade to come to a complete stop.
A compound miter saw can be a handy tool to have in the workshop. It lets you produce angled cuts and beveled cuts with a single plunge of the saw head. The ability to make these compound cuts helps in making simple and complex pieces of wood-based art such as picture frames, crown molding, and furniture. Many of the features to look out for are similar to those of a simple miter saw; the difference being the beveling capacity or how far the blade can tilt in one or both directions.