Compound miter saws that are a cut above
According to experts, a compound miter saw is one of the most useful tools you can own for home improvement and remodeling tasks. In addition to vertical cuts, these multitalented tools can cut angles by rotating the saw (miter cuts), cut diagonally through the board's face by tilting the blade (bevel cuts) or do both at the same time (compound cuts). This makes compound miter saws incredibly versatile, capable of cutting anything from studs, rough lumber, and baseboards to delicate trim. Brett Martin of Popular Mechanics calls his compound miter saw "indispensable," saying he uses it more than all his other saws combined.
Compound miter saws are classified according to the size of the blade. Blades range from 7 to 14 inches in diameter, but 10-inch and 12-inch saws are the most common. 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. However, as a saw's size increases, so does its 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 than a 12-inch saw.
Compound miter saws come in two main types:
- On a standard compound miter saw, the saw head can rotate and swivel, but it doesn't slide back and forth. These saws are often called chop saws for their ability to quickly slice vertical cuts. Standard miter saws range from about $150 to $350.
- A sliding compound miter saw uses rails to guide the saw head across the board as it cuts, similar to a radial arm saw. This makes it possible to cut through boards that are wider than the saw blade. A sliding saw can handle blades up to 50 percent wider than a stationary saw, but these models are also considerably pricier – typically between $400 and $600.
Another difference between compound miter saws is whether they have a single-bevel or dual-bevel design. All compound miter saws can tilt the blade in at least one direction to make a bevel (sloped) cut. Dual-bevel saws, however, can tilt to both the left and the right -- a handy feature for users who often require compound cuts. Without it, they would have to flip the trim over and make a more complicated upside-down cut.
One of the newer innovations in compound miter saws is the appearance of cordless models. While removing the cord means improved versatility and range for many power tools, it isn't necessarily a huge advantage for a miter saw. These tools tend to spend most of their time on a workbench next to an outlet, rather than being carried around a job site like a drill or a nail gun. We found only one review that covers cordless miter saws, and while two models earn high ratings in that test, they're both very expensive compared to similar corded models. As a result, we aren't currently recommending cordless compound miter saws in this report, although that may change in the future technology for lithium-ion batteries continues to improve.
Two features that most compound miter saws struggle with are the quality of the stock blade and dust collection. Many owners choose to address the first problem by immediately replacing the factory blade with a higher-grade carbide-tipped blade that has 60 or 80-TPI (teeth per inch) to produce cleaner cuts. As for dust collection, most experts say the attached dust bags that come with many saws are virtually useless. Owners find attaching the dust port to a vacuum is the most effective way to reduce sawdust buildup.
Finding the best miter saws
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 from publications such as Woodworker's Journal, Popular Woodworking, and Popular Mechanics, as well as the opinions of hundreds of users at retail sites like Amazon.com, HomeDepot.com, and Lowes.com. Based on these sources, editors have selected the top-rated 10-inch and 12-inch compound miter saws, both standard and sliding.