It's time to move past the initial meet-and-greet and get down to the juicy bits.
You've turned on your miter saw and gotten used to the feel of 10 clydesdale horses zinging under your finger tips. Now you're ready to delve into its secret powers.
My miter saw is my right hand man; it's my favorite power tool by a long shot, and the first ever purchased for my workshop.
I used my baby miter saw so much in the beginning, in fact, that within a year I upgraded to a much bigger machine to accommodate my growing project list.
The anatomy of a miter saw
Let's get up close and personal.
Pictured below is a sliding compound miter saw, meaning I have the ability to slide the blade forward to cross-cut thicker pieces of wood. I also have the ability to change the bevel and the miter (more on that in a second), making it a compound saw.
- The bevel gauge allows you to tilt your blade so you can cut through the depth of your wood at an angle.
- The miter scale allows you to cut through the face of your wood at an angle.
- The sliding rails allow your blade to slide forward so you can cut pieces of wood as big as 11 1/4" wide (your standard 1x12).
- The fence is important for stabilizing your piece as you cut, especially crown molding.
- Your blade is approximately 1/8" thick and will obliterate that amount of material from each piece as you cut. This is known as the kerf.
I like big fences and I cannot lie.
This particular miter saw comes with a laser guide. To be honest, the laser guide is a nice feature but it's not the best way to ensure accurate cuts. You have to remember to account for the kerf of your blade otherwise your cuts will always be 1/8" short!
To cut away from the kerf, mark your material with a speed square and place on "X" on the waste side of your cut.
Check to see that your blade comes down directly on the waste side of your line. If it does, go ahead and make the cut.
Your brain will do this automatically after the first couple of times.
I highly recommend checking out this post, where I go into the ins and outs of using a measuring tape, working with fractions, and working around the kerf of your miter saw blade.
The types of cuts you can (and can't) make
You can accomplish any of the following cuts with your miter saw:
- A cross-cut perpendicular to the grain of the board.
- An angled miter cut across the face of the board.
- An angled bevel cut across the thickness of the board.
- A compound cut, which is an angled bevel and miter cut at the same time. This is typically used for crown molding unless you cut in the nested position (like me).
Here are the cuts you should never make with your miter saw:
- A rip-cut, which is a cut made lengthwise with the grain of the board. Save these cuts for your table saw or circular saw. The teeth on a rip-cut saw are very different from those of your miter saw, for the exact purpose of preventing kickback.
- Very short cuts (less than 6"). You put your fingers at serious risk by placing them so close to your blade while cutting.
- Very thin or warped material cuts. Both pose serious kickback risks. Use a miter box to cut thin pieces of trim and ditch the warped wood. Also, be wary of knots in your wood, as those can get caught in your blade.
The types of materials you can cut
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but you'll be excited to know that you can cut quite a range of materials with your handy dandy miter saw:
- PVC pipe
- aluminum tubing
- vinyl plank flooring
Go slowly when working with a material for the first time, and always wear your PPE, including a face mask when cutting aluminum. Even the tiniest shards of metal can cause injury!
On that note, take care of your eyes, ears and lungs. Here's what I use in my shop:
- Safety glasses
- Ear protection: I started with basic buds, now I use these noise-canceling music phones to support all my awkward garage dancing.
- Lungs: I started with a basic mask, eventually I upgraded to this respirator.
Ladies, make sure you tie back your hair. Avoid any loose clothing that could get caught in the blade. Avoid sandals since you'll want your feet protected, too.
To be entirely transparent, I used my miter saw on the floor of my garage for many years, especially when I needed to cut very long (8 foot plus) boards. Building my miter saw station has been a game changer as far as space and safety goes.
Double check the manual to see what the manufacturer advises and be prepared to assume liability should you choose to disobey!
Accessorize your miter saw
At some point in the course of your development you'll start thinking about tricking out your miter saw. While I haven't done much in the way of accessorizing, there are several bells and whistles to consider adding along the way if you have the means to do so.
- The Precision Trak and Stop Kit by Kreg. This system features a raised track with a built-in measuring tape, a stop block for repeat cuts, and a flip stop for added accuracy.
For step-by-step installation advice I highly recommend checking out this tutorial by Vineta over at The Handyman's Daughter!
2. A T-Track System by Kreg, which is basically a recessed measuring system built into your miter saw stand. You'll need a router to install it, but I imagine it would be nice to have the added accuracy while keeping a flat work surface.
3. Dust collection systems. This item merits its own post, but rest assured if you're using that miter saw there will be sawdust. Lots of it. There are hood systems to capture dust flying behind your saw as well as mounted systems with micron filters. There are chip separator buckets (i.e. "cyclones") and hoses of all shapes and sizes.
Your options will vary depending on space, budget, and personal preference.
My woodworker friend recently recommended this option since it's one of the more affordable options out there, however I'm not sure I'd be able to fit this in my garage given the current state of my scrap collection 😂
At the very least, there are accessory kits which allow you to connect your miter saw to a shop vac while it's running.
4. A crown molding auxiliary fence. I learned this trick from the legendary Gary Katz. This is a bit advanced since you'll need to know how to measure for your spring angle. To make the fence, you'll rip a piece of wood to the width of your ceiling projection, and then use this gauge block to add an auxiliary fence for your miter saw.
The auxiliary fence ensures you're cutting your crown molding at the correct spring angle every time.
5. Swap out the factory blade. After living with a factory blade for five years I finally bit the bullet and swapped it out for this Diablo all-purpose 44-teeth blade a few months ago. As a general rule, the more teeth on your blade (44, 60, 80 etc.), the finer your finish will be.
6. Did you know you could make dado cuts with your miter saw? If you're lucky enough to have flip down stop built into your saw, you can control the depth of your cut and make dados in your wood. You'll have to add a sacrificial fence in order to cut all the way to the edge of your piece, but that's totally worth the time saved on making a router jig or changing your table saw blade.
Without the down stop you'll have a tougher time setting your blade to the exact same depth with every cut, but I'm guessing it can be done if you're in a pinch.
I hope this miter saw series has been helpful. Once you get past the initial intimidation period, a beautiful relationship will grow. While I consider the miter saw to be one of the most versatile tools in your shop, it's important to use the right tool for the right job.
Take things one step at a time, and you'll be on your way!
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