Ten-inch compound miter saws are the lightest, and therefore well suited for carrying between job sites. However, their capacity is limited to wood no wider than a nominal 2-by-6. Hence, they're seldom covered in comparison tests. ConsumerReports.org tested some in 2007, and Wood magazine in 2002, making owner-written reviews at Amazon.com and other retail sites important when comparing models.
We found an excellent Popular Mechanics comparison of the Craftsman MiterMate 21226 (*Est. $250) versus another critics' favorite, the DeWalt DW713 (*Est. $220). Editors test both saws on baseboards, crown molding and 2-by-4 studs -- not only on 45-degree angles, but also on the slightly off angles more typically found in existing homes. Both saws weigh about 35 pounds, so they're similarly portable.
For homeowners and anyone just starting to use a miter saw, Popular Mechanics says the laser guide-equipped Craftsman MiterMate 21226 cuts as accurately as the DeWalt and is a great buy. It includes accessories that would add a hundred dollars or more to the cost of the DeWalt. Among them is a special angle-finding tool designed to make setting the miter angle and bevel a snap. Usually this requires quite a learning curve.
To make settings easier, the MiterMate adjusts the fence to match the angle on the angle finder, instead of rotating the whole blade. Reviewers say this works fine except when you're working with a long board, when it can become awkward. This is the drawback noted in all the reviews we found of the MiterMate, and it's worth noting if you're working in close quarters.
For the most part, the Craftsman MiterMate 21226 gets very positive reviews from Sears.com users, who like the way it takes the guesswork out of cutting molding. Over at ToolboxHero.com, editors say, "With this saw you can make accurate miter and angle cuts the first time, every time. It doesn't matter if the corner is perfect or not -- you can make the correct cut the first time."
Testers at Toolsnob.com agree, but note that professionals and dedicated hobbyists are likely to prefer learning traditional methods to calculate settings. For the casual user, the MiterMate saves what Toolsnob.com calls "self-flagellation." Enough said!
Popular Mechanics finds the DeWalt DW713 less convenient to use than the MiterMate, but sturdier, with better build quality. More versatile accessories are available for the DeWalt (albeit at extra cost), so editors say it offers more "growing room" for dedicated miter saw users. The DeWalt DW713 uses a conventional miter saw design and lacks a miter guide, but it bevels beyond 45 degrees, which is helpful for fitting molding to existing locations.
Earlier Wood magazine comparison tests gave top ranking to this DeWalt miter saw's predecessor model. Editors praised the saw's power, speed, smooth operation, precise settings and tall fence (which makes it possible to cut up to crown molding vertically).
The DeWalt miter saw also earns high ratings in owner reviews at Amazon.com, NorthernTool.com and, in earlier years, at Sears.com and Lowes.com. It carries a three-year warranty.
DeWalt miter saws can be fitted with an optional laser guide, the DeWalt DW7187 (*Est. $70). It's adjustable, with a separate power switch that lets the user set up the cut without turning on the blade. Owners reviewing the DeWalt laser-guide accessory at Amazon.com express disappointment, however. Overall, Hitachi's miter saw laser guides get better reviews.
For more portability at lower cost, the 26.5-pound Hitachi C10FCH2 (*Est. $170) is one of the top-rated miter saws at Lowes.com, where owners like its adjustable laser guide and five-year warranty. The saw can't bevel past 45 degrees, but you can still miter to 52 degrees. Comparison tests judge the edge finish as a bit rough, but upgrading to a better saw blade can fix that, albeit at considerable cost (*Est. $55 up).