Your powerful miter saw can be used to successfully cut through a wide range of dense materials. That said, should you consider using your high-priced compound miter saw to slice metal or aluminium into sections?
As tempting as it might be to fire up your miter saw to cut through metal or aluminium, you will have to hold off until you've at least upgraded your miter saw with a metal cutting blade.
Your traditional compound miter saw operates at a higher RPM range and has been specifically engineered to cut wood. However, a metal cutting saw like a chop saw, operates at a lower RPM range and is equipped with a purpose-built metal cutting blade that possesses a greater number of teeth.
So, apart from a mere blade change, is that all there is to it when it comes to cutting metal with a miter saw?
What Can You Use to Cut Metal?
You rely on your miter saw to make accurate cuts at various different angles when it comes to cutting up baseboard or laminate flooring, but should you depend on it to chop through a solid piece of metal or even to cut aluminum?
The short answer is yes, and no.
While you can choose to use your compound miter saw to chop through metal with your workshops prized possession, I certainly wouldn't try doing so with a standard blade that you've been using to cut wood with.
If you do plan on using your miter saw to cut through any metal material, you'll have to change your existing blade to a metal cutting blade. This would be the bare minimum, without considering the torque, power, and RPM of your specific saw.
The one blade we'd recommend you use to definitely cut non-ferrous metals with your miter saw is the Freud LU77M012 D1296L 12-inch blade with 96 teeth and a 1-inch arbor. The blade features an ultra thin laser cut kerf and a non-stick Silver Ice Coating that protects blade from heat, gumming, and corrosion.
Ideally, you'd want to use the LU77M012 blade on the following materials - brass, aluminum, copper, plastics, laminate flooring, melamine and of course, wood.
Keep in mind, that whichever metal cutting blade you decide on, you're going to want to apply some metal cutting lubricant whenever cutting with it. This will help help prolong the lifespan of the blade.
That said, if you have a considerable amount of metal to chop, there are better alternatives available to choose from.
Here is a list of some tools typically utilized to cut steel, metal, cast iron, or aluminum.
- Angle grinder - Can be used to cut through just about anything with the right blade, including steel. It can even be used to cut through cast iron with a diamond blade.
- Circular saw - With the right metal cutting blade, the circular saw will definitely get the job done when cutting metal or can also be used to cut aluminum
- Reciprocating Saw - These things love cutting through metal, but they are less precise and make rougher cuts
- Metal chop saw - This saw is designed to cut through metal like butter. Great for larger projects to cut metal with ease.
While a chop saw is the best option for cutting metal effectively, they are not the cheapest of power tools.
That said, if you're cutting metal, mild-steel or aluminium on a regular basis, a chop saw like the Makita LC1230 12-Inch Metal Cutting Saw would be very ideal for all of your future metal cutting needs.
The Makita LC1230 certainly has developed a reputation among those who've made the most of it and it is without a doubt the best chop saw available for the money.
But what about a miter saw? Well, let's break it down and touch on all the relevant factors to make clean and accurate cuts wielding your dependable miter saw.
Should You Cut Metal with a Miter Saw?
Here are some things that you should really keep in mind. Just because you can cut through certain metals with a miter saw, it doesn’t mean that you should. This type of saw was designed for woodworking so certain side-effects of cutting through metal weren’t factored into the design.
Consider the following: Most miter saws operate at a speed that’s two-thirds faster than the fastest chop saw. You would think that the extra speed would help make short work of any metal material delivering super clean cuts, right?
Wrong. Knowledge of a few basic chemistry and physics concepts would tell you that because of the extra speed; you’ll create extra friction. Because of the extra friction, both the blade and the material will get very hot, sometimes even red-hot.
That’s not only dangerous, but it can also ruin your project and perhaps the structural integrity of the workpiece — not to mention the amount of extra repair and polishing work you may have to do.
Safety is obviously a big concern. Again, miter saws have way more RPM than most metal saws, even the fastest ones. This means that the friction of metal on metal would create more dangerous debris and lots of sparks, due to the extra generated heat.
Another thing you have to consider is the motor’s ability to take all that extra heat and resistance. It may be very easy to overwork a miter saw motor by cutting through metal pieces than if you were to abuse it on wood.
While dry ferrous or nonferrous materials can be cut with a miter saw, you should always exercise caution. There’ll be a lot more going on than the manufacturers intended, and your biggest concern should always be the sparks and potentially disintegrating blades and metal chips.
What About Cutting Metal with a Miter Saw? – Here’s How to Do It Safely
First, you’ll want to manage your expectations. Don’t expect to go through the same number of metal pieces as you would with wood. Secondly, you’ll want to start by seriously and thoroughly cleaning the miter saw of any debris from past projects.
You’ll need it as clean as possible so that it can handle the larger, hotter, and the higher influx of debris coming out of the metal workpiece. After that, you have to consider getting a different blade, one with a much higher tooth count.
Look for something called a triple-chip grind blade. This will help you achieve a cleaner cut and minimize the amount of debris coming out of the workpiece. It’s also essential to look for composite material blades.
One option that always works is an aluminum oxide blade. This type of blade can easily be used to cut through various steel and aluminum pieces – think bars, pipes, and others.
You should also use the proper safety gear. Welder mitts will do nicely, and so would a welder mask if you want to be completely safe. Even though miter saws spin the blade towards their rear, there’s no guarantee that the sparks will follow the blade guide and take the same flight path as sawdust.
Sparks and metal chips can fly in any direction.
So, is it Actually Possible to Cut Metal With a Miter Saw?
The short answer is, yes. Provided you have a good blade, and a decent miter saw motor, you can take on quite a few small home repair or remodeling jobs involving metalwork too. For example, it’s possible to cut through rebar, even at an angle, as long as you’re sporting a blade with over 80 TPI.
You may even take on 2” piping, whether it’s aluminum or steel. Perhaps you won’t be able to get the cleanest 45 degrees angles, but they will be accurate. Clearly, you can even cut thinner and smaller pieces for various art projects, car maintenance work, and other stuff like that.
Will Metal Cutting Blades Last on a Miter Saw?
Unfortunately, no. There are some blades advertised as lasting well over 200 or 250 cuts even when used on a miter saw.
But that’s quite a stretch, given the fact that they would be used at much higher than intended speeds.
What Other Saws & Blades Can be Used to Cut Metal?
If you don't have a lot of metal to cut and you don't have any metal cutting blades on hand for your miter saw, a simple option would be to roll up your sleeves and grab the old trusty hacksaw. Then again, it's not 1973, and you probably have other enticing options at your disposal.
If you're going to make short work of some metal with an angle grinder, it would be best to consider a diamond blade that’s rated to cut ferrous metal. This is a straightforward, no-nonsense blade that will chop through everything from nuts & bolts, angle iron, stubborn rebar, and even sheet metal.
Another alternative would be to utilize a circular saw by attaching a highly durable carbide-tooth blade. The carbide-tooth blade is a ferrous-metal-cutting blade, which is the more expensive option compared to steel-tooth blades, but they are both a long-lasting and potent blade for cutting metal.
Really, no matter the power tool you have handy, it can, in all probability, slice its way through any metal material with the right blade or grinding disc attached. In terms of their composition, there are two types of metal: ferrous and nonferrous. Metal materials that contain iron are ferrous metal. To successfully cut ferrous-metal, a ferrous-metal cutting blade would be required.
When it comes to things like rebar, steel roofing and steel angle iron which are ferrous-metal building materials, you need to use the appropriate metal-cutting blades and discs that are specifically labeled for cutting ferrous metal materials.
However, the majority of DIYers will presumably be exposed to more nonferrous materials such as aluminum and copper throughout their endeavors. Nonferrous metal materials are not as dense as ferrous metal materials and are usually easier to cut as they are less resilient.
Miter Saw Overview
The miter saw, or, as more commonly used today, the compound miter saw, is known primarily as a woodcutter. Its applications can include anything from trim jobs to molding remodeling, to making picture frames, and cutting house studs.
But, this type of saw can also be used to cut through softer metal or piping. It really comes down to the power behind the tool and the type of blade you’re using. Although keep in mind, your out of the box base model miter saw likely only came with blades applicable to cut through wood, not metal.
Common Miter Saw Cuts
With a standard miter saw, the two most common cuts are straight and angled. The angle you can get will always be up to 45 degrees, in relation to the fence of the saw. Look at any corner of a picture frame, and you’ll see what’s known as a miter joint or a miter cut.
That’s the kind of thing you can do with any miter saw. Once the compound miter saw is introduced, a new type of cut becomes available – the beveled cut. This cut is made at an angle towards the work surface.
All these types of cuts combined make the compound miter saw a very versatile power tool to have on the job site and in your home workshop.
The Chop Saw vs. the Miter Saw
Contrary to popular belief, and despite what you may see in some product descriptions, chop saw and miter saw are not interchangeable terms. First of all, chop saws only do one thing – cut straight down, while miter saws can do a whole range of angled cuts.
The next big difference is that chop saws start from 14” or larger cutoff wheels, whereas miter saws can have blades as small as 7.5”.
The type of blades used is entirely different too. Chop saws are almost always used with abrasive wheel disks, unlike miter saws, which always use circular blades with various TPIs.
As such, the chop saw is also known as a metal saw or stone saw since it’s ideally equipped and designed to handle those types of materials. They’re also usually slower than miter saws, and you’ll find out why the saw speed actually matters soon enough.
For now, more on the miter saw and why it’s a controversial choice for cutting metal.
Understanding Miter Saw Motors
Before diving deeper into what metal you can and can’t cut, it’s important to understand and remember that not all miter saws are equal in size and motor power. You can consider it the most vital component of a miter saw, with the blade, and the miter lever coming in second and third place.
The majority of miter saws will have power ratings of up to 15 amps, although anything equal to 10 amps or above should be enough for most DIY furniture jobs, artwork projects, home remodeling and repair jobs, and so on.
While using a miter saw to cut wood is a walk in the park, when it comes to cutting steel or metal, it's not just a matter of power, but also the blade in which you'll be using. You may not always need an industrial miter saw to cut through metal. But you’ll definitely need the right type of blade.
Miter Saw Blades Used in Metal Cutting
There are three big differences between woodcutting blades and metal cutting blades, especially when it comes to those used by miter saws. First of all, to avoid snagging and ruining your workpiece, the blade of choice should have smaller teeth than the ones you’re used to when cutting through wood.
Secondly, the tooth count should be high, so look for blades with a high TPI or teeth per inch value. Close to 100 is usually the best way to go if you want cleaner and safer cuts.
Then there’s the blades base material. Ideally, you would want composite metal blades if you plan on cutting through metal. They have less chance of heating up on the first few cuts and will also be less prone to bending and chipping.
Stainless steel cutting blades are common, but they are pale in comparison to their composite counterparts in terms of efficiency and durability.
Another type of blade that can be used is a carbide tip blade. This is known as a coated blade, and it can significantly reduce the number of sparks flying from the friction.
Why Is the Number of Teeth Important?
To understand this, you have to understand why a low TPI value is helpful when cutting wood. The way this works is that fewer blade teeth equal deeper gullets between them. This helps them make short work of wood and actually reduces the cutting time, thus also eliminating overheating.
Now, remember the speed aspect of miter saws vs. dedicated metal saws? More teeth equal slower cutting times. This is a good thing for miter saws since they need to be slowed down a bit in order to perform good enough on steel or aluminum.
By having more teeth on a miter saw blade, the cutting speed will be lowered. At the same time, this will result in less friction, fewer sparks, less overheating, and a cleaner cut. The low tooth profile is also important as it can help reduce the chance of snags when cutting thicker metal bars or pipes.
Final Thoughts on Miter Saws and Metal Projects
As you can see, the miter saw isn’t really an ideal choice for cutting metal. But can it be done? Obviously, as long as you’re using the right accessories, you can cut metal with a miter saw. But it’s not really all that good if you want a professional and timely finished project.
Miter saws are lacking in many areas and simply weren’t designed with the necessary features to make them suitable metal cutting tools like; metal chop saws, angle grinders, or circular saws. Therefore, it would be somewhat wrong to say that your regular compound miter saw is the same as a multi-purpose table or band saw with a miter head option.