best compound miter saws have
marked scales. Miter and
bevel scales should be properly aligned and easy to read for accurate cutting.
The best -- most precise -- scales are digital or at least marked in fractions
of a degree.
angle presets. Detents
marking common miter and bevel angles let users quickly set the saw for
frequently used cuts. The best compound miter saws have a well-designed detent
override to securely lock in a custom setting, ideal for trimming imperfect
fence support. The fence (small wall upon which the wood is
positioned) should be adjustable and provide extra support when cutting large
stock. According to editors at Wood Magazine, "The best fences stand at
least 4-inches high with top sections that slide out of the way for making
sliding action. The rails on
a sliding compound miter saw should easily glide as you push through the board
(the safest way to cut). Well-built rails are solid for minimal blade
deflection and a cleaner cut.
blade guards. The best
blade guards protect users during the saw's full range of motion, but easily
lift out of the way for extra visibility or accessibility. Andy Beasley of the
Journal of Light Construction prefers saws that "let me raise the guard an
inch or so with the thumb on my trigger hand."
laser. To highlight the saw's cutting path, the best
lasers "mount in front of the blade and shine down in clear, bright red"
and are easy to adjust, say editors at Wood Magazine. Lasers should work
without the blade turning, allowing users to line up the cut safely.
ports. Few compound
miter saws excel at corralling sawdust, but the best have ports that attach snugly
to a shop vacuum.
portability. The best
saws are easy to carry, mount on a universal stand and require minimal space to
operate. Look for a saw head that locks in place and a stout handle on the top
of the saw.
lockout triggers. A built-in safety
switch on the handle to prevent the saw from accidentally starting should be
easy to operate with either hand. Unfortunately, this isn't a standard feature.
before you go
quality is a big part of a smooth cut. For the best overall performance, experts
recommend using a carbide blade with 40 to 80 teeth per inch (TPI). Blades with
extra teeth make smoother cuts, but are also slower. Editors at Popular
Woodworking advise skipping the cheap steel blade, which "chews up your
work in an unacceptable manner." Few compound miter saws include a
high-grade blade, but those can be purchased separately.
a portable stand when working outside your shop. Even though miter saws are portable
tools, their versatility and accuracy improve when mounted to a sturdy stand.
gear is a must. As compound miter saws produce 90 decibels or
more, experts recommend you always wear safety glasses and hearing protection
when operating your miter saw -- no matter the size or style.
your alignment first. Not all compound miter saws are set correctly
when first unpacked. Plan to spend some time double-checking the alignment and
adjusting it for dead-on accuracy.
What's to come
Some brands, including Ryobi and Bosch, are offering cordless compound
miter saws. While removing the cord means improved versatility and range for many
power tools, experts aren't sure compound miter saws make good candidates for
battery operation. According to comparison tests, most cordless miter saws lack
the power and run time of the corded versions, cost more and do not offer any
major advantages. As technology for lithium-ion batteries continues to improve
this may change, but for now it's best to stick with a corded saw.