Compound miter saws
Because they are so versatile, experts say compound miter saws are essential tools to own for home improvement and remodeling tasks. Compound miter saws can accurately cut anything from studs, rough lumber and baseboard to delicate trim. In addition to vertical cuts, these multitalented tools can cut angles by rotating the saw (miter cuts), cut through the board's face by tilting the blade (bevel cuts) or do both at the same time (compound cuts). "Finish carpenters like the combination of portability and accuracy. Carpenters like their speed and power. Furniture makers like their accuracy and safety compared to a radial-arm saw," explain editors at Popular Woodworking. In his workshop, Brett Martin of Popular Mechanics calls the compound miter saw "indispensable," saying he uses it more than all his other saws combined.
Blade size determines the size of the saw, ranging from 7 to 14 inches in diameter. The most common sizes are 10-inch and 12-inch saws. Standard compound miter saws have a stationary saw head and are often called chop saws for their ability to quickly slice vertical cuts. Sliding compound miter saws use rails to guide the saw head across the board as it cuts, similar to a radial arm saw.
Selecting the best size and style depends on your budget and projects. As saws increase in size, so do their price, weight and complexity. Many owners with home improvement projects say a 10-inch model is enough to handle all their cuts and is easier to use. Larger blades can manage bigger stock (wood pieces), both standing up against the fence (the small wall used to position the material) and lying flat. Sliding models have the biggest capacity, with "50-percent more crosscut capacity than a stationary saw," according to editors at Wood Magazine. All compound miter saws can tilt the blade in at least one direction to make a bevel (sloped) cut. Dual-bevel saws can tilt to the left and to the right, and are best for users who often require compound cuts. Otherwise, they would have to flip the trim over and make a more complicated upside-down cut.
The best compound miter saws combine precise performance with user-friendly controls. "A tool that's easy to handle can make work seem less like work, so how a saw operates is almost as important as how well it cuts," notes Andy Beasley in the Journal of Light Construction. Select a saw with a solid miter lock to hold the saw firmly in place, at least five miter detents and a detent override, which allows you to secure custom angles. Richard Hark also recommends "high-contrast, easy-to-read miter scales and bevel gauges and accessible controls," in his review for the Journal of Light Construction.
Two features that most compound miter saws struggle with are the quality of the stock blade and dust collection. Most owners are not fazed by this drawback and fix the first problem by immediately replacing the factory blade with a higher-grade 60T or 80T (teeth per inch) carbide-tipped blade for cleaner cuts. Experts say to expect plenty of sawdust with these tools. Attached dust bags are meant to manage sawdust buildup, but typically do not perform well. "On most of these saws, dust collection is just plain dreadful," notes Eric Smith with American Woodworker. Owners find attaching the dust port to a vacuum is the most effective way to reduce sawdust buildup.
To find the best compound miter saws, editors look at performance, of course, but also how easy a saw is to use and how well it stands up over time. We've consulted expert reviews and the opinions of hundreds of users. Editors name top compound miter saws, as well as some competent performers that fall just short but are also worth considering.