The basic use for a miter saw is to make angled cuts. If you’ve invested in one, you’ve already decided that you need accurate angle cuts and don’t want to spend the time or energy making them with a hand saw or circular saw, or go to the trouble to use a table saw.
Any miter saw requires a stable surface to use it on. This is either a workbench or just a sturdy table. If you’ve got nothing else, you can use the ground, but that’s something to do if you have nothing else. Regardless, you want this saw to remain stable for safety and quality purposes.
How does a miter saw work?
Although there are individual differences depending on the manufacturer and features you want, miter saws are all built basically the same way. There’s a table on which you place your stock, up against a fence to hold it in place while you cut. Based on the miter angle you want, you can rotate the table.
Most miter saws also come with an angle, so you can position the blade to make bevel cuts. A basic safety feature you’ll want is a blade cover that only moves out of the way when you lower the spinning blade towards the table. There are three main types of miter saws: standard, compound, and sliding compound, all of which can make the following cuts.
4 types of angled cuts
There are four basic kinds of cuts that the best miter saws can perform. What you want to do will determine what kind of cut you’ll want to make. There’s no point trying to enumerate the different uses for those kinds of cuts, so we’ll just generalize and say there are four basic uses for a miter saw.
Once you have a miter saw that you like, you can use it to make any of the four basic cuts. A crosscut goes straight across the wood. A miter angle is a basic angled cut, used primarily for framing, and goes across the face of the wood. Cuts made relative to the edge of the wood are beveled cuts, and those are used to install weather stripping. When you combine both kinds of cuts into one, it’s a compound cut.
Cuts across a board and against the grain are crosscuts. Cuts along the grain of the wood are almost always much longer and are called rips. Because the cuts a miter saw can make are limited to the diameter of the saw blade, most straight cuts with a miter saw are crosscuts.
You can make crosscuts with most saws, including hand saws. You can make better crosscuts with very little additional effort with table saws. You can also make them with a circular saw. If you make a crosscut with a miter side, it’s either because you just prefer the action of a miter saw, or you don’t have another power saw.
You make crosscuts to do a wide range of things, from getting wood to the right length for framing to basic furniture construction. They’re generally the crudest-looking cuts, but because there is the least wood-to-wood contact, they’re also the weakest.
2. Miter cut
A miter cut is an angled cut made along a crosscut face, usually at a 45-degree angle. They’re commonly used for projects like installing trim, where you need two pieces to fit snugly in a corner. They aren’t used for strength in that case, but because they are attractive. They’re also used when installing baseboard and crown molding.
Other uses for miter cuts are in making boxes, framing pictures, and making frames for windows, doors, and pipes.
3. Bevel cut
Bevel cuts are angled cuts made relative to the edge of the board. You can attempt to make them with hand tools, but they are very difficult to make and, even more important, to make accurately. To make a good beveled cut, it’s recommended that you use a power tool. Like the miter cut, most beveled cuts are made at 45 degrees. Those are not only the most attractive but the strongest.
Bevel cuts are used in installing trim and molding when you need to take it around a corner, either by making a negative angle cut or flipping what you’re cutting so that what will face out from the wall is on the bottom. You also use beveled cuts to install stripping for weather or to make geometric shapes.
4. Compound cut
The most complicated angled cut combines both miter and bevel cuts. You are cutting it at an angle across the grain while also cutting it at an angle relative to the wood’s edge. It’s an intimidating cut to make, and when someone gets frustrated installing trim, it is most often in trying to get a compound angle cut just right.
Trying to get a trim project right isn’t the only time you’d need to make one of these cuts. They are frequently also used in making serving trays and cradles. If you’re trying to make something look a little more sophisticated, you might try your hand at using one of these complex cuts.
If you’re cutting angles in wood, a great way to do it quickly is with a miter saw. It offers a quick, painless way to line up any of the four major kinds of angled cuts that will account for probably 95 percent of what you’d ever need.