How to Use a Miter Saw

By Tool Scout | Miter Saw Advice

How to Use a Miter Saw

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A miter saw is a crucial tool for any carpenter. You don’t have to be a professional to use one, especially if you’re using a single bevel miter saw, which are a little easier to operate than their dual bevel counterpart. 

If you want to learn how to use a miter saw and you're interested in purchasing a compound miter saw, you’re in the right place.

Keep reading to find out the best techniques and tips to master the art of using a miter saw effortlessly. Don’t worry, this isn’t exactly rocket science. Just remember to stay safe and take good care while operating a miter saw.

Miter Saws 101 

Before you can start using a miter saw, you need to understand the fundamental principles and basic practices. Miter saws are partially stationary carpentry power tools. Excellent for precise cuts at angles, or miters, you can also use them to make identical repetitions in cutting, unlike many other tools. 

When you’re using a miter saw on a board, the board stays stationary, unlike when using table saws. Furthermore, the dimensions of your cut depend on the diameter of your saw blade. For that reason, carpenters use miter saws for board cutting in length, across the grain, which is called crosscutting. 

A miter saw has a blade attached to its head which swings in order to cut. There’s a spring holding the saw head upright when you’re not using it. Also, there’s a blade guard covering the blade that instantly retracts when you make a cut. 

The blade guard is there for your safety but also for visibility. It directs sawdust into the dust chute, vacuum, or bag, instead of blowing up in your face. This helps with the cleanup but also gives you a clear line of sight while using the saw. 

For these reasons, you should never remove the blade guard from your miter saw, especially with the power connected. Some miter saws have clamps to keep the board still while you work. The outward part of the blade spins to the bottom of the saw in a downward motion as it cuts the material. 

There are saws that can pivot both to the left and right angle, these are dual bevel miter saws, while models that only pivot to one side are called single bevel miter saws. The bevels are created when a miter saws head tilts to the side angle. 

Finally, the power switch is usually on the head of a miter saw, which you hold down to the keep the saw powered, and when you release it, the saw stops operating.  

Types of Miter Saws 

Miter saws can vary in size. In the US, miter saws come in three sizes, basically determined by blade diameter. There are 12-inch, 10-inch, and 7 ¼-inch miter saws. The bigger the size, the more you pay for the saw. Another big factor in the prices of miter saws is the quality of its blades, and the material used. 

Then there are sliding miter saws, with a head that slides along the rail, allowing for wider cuts. Since most people don’t use wide boards for their projects, you can stick to a regular miter saw instead. Sliding miter saws are also more expensive. 

Finally, remember to use your miter saw according to its design. If you have a saw blade that’s meant for cutting wood, don’t use it for metal, and vice-versa.  

Do you Have to Mount a Miter Saw?

Whether you're purchasing a compound miter saw or a regular power miter saw, one other thing to consider is the miter saw stand you could be potentially using. There are a range of different saw stands and the stand you choose should depend on how mobile you plan on being.

If you're mitering saw activities are more of the stock standard DIY type, you could go for something like the Bora Portamate PM-4000 which is lightweight and affordable.

If you're a professional contractor or expert craftsman, the Dewalt DWX726 Miter Saw Stand is both brilliantly balanced and extremely versatile. It comes with stock mounting rails that you can easily adjust, pneumatic assisted height adjustment and super convenient rubber wheels making it the ideal stand if you're on the go.

That said, if you have access to decent sized work bench and don't plan on moving around, you can certainly work without a stand. While a stand will make life easier and is definitely more practical, they aren't essential if you're just getting started.

Remember to Stay Safe 

Soon, you’ll learn how to use a miter saw, but first, let’s talk about safety. It should always be your No. 1 priority.

The modern miter saws are designed to reduce risk to a minimum, but you can never be too cautious. Here are some of the most crucial safety tips: 

  • Never remove the blade guard from your miter saw 
  • If you can, use a clamp to keep your material in place while you work on it 
  • Always keep your hands as far away as possible from the blade when the saw is on 
  • Always unplug the miter saw from the power supply before you change the blade 
  • Be sure to keep your material against the fence before you cut it 
  • Prior to cutting, imagine how the cut will look in your head. Play out the scenario and if it seems right, carry on doing it 
  • When you’re about to make the cut, pull the trigger on your miter saw and let it reach maximum speed before you start cutting. Slowly and patiently let the blade meet the wood and slice all the way in. When the cut is done, release the switch and let the saw stop completely before raising it. You need to do this in order to stop any potential kickbacks from the saw 
  • Remember to wear some eye and ear protection while operating with a miter saw. This gear is fairly cheap and it can save your sight and hearing 

How to Use a Miter Saw 

Finally, we got to the part where you actually learn how to use a miter saw. Your cut will depend largely on the type of boards, their width, etc. Let’s start with a simple crosscut. Follow the steps to make a crosscut using a miter saw: 

  1. First, draw the line where you will make the cut.  
  2. Then, move the board from side to side to find a perfect line up between the edge of the cut and your miter saw’s blade teeth. You don’t want to cut right in the middle of the line. You need to choose a side, considering which side you’ll keep. 
  3. If you line up the blade to make the cut from the left, the right side will be kept. Consider using a clamp on your board to stay more precise and prevent it from shaking. 
  4. Keep your hand at a distance from the blade, and imagine a cut by moving the saw right until it makes the actual cut. Imagine where your hands will be during the cut and stick to this plan, staying safe at all times. 
  5. When you feel confident and ready, and you line up everything to a T, squeeze the power switch and slowly lower your saw all the way down, making the head of the saw stop. Keeping the saw facing downward, release the switch and wait until the saw has stopped fully. Only then can you raise the saw head up. 

How to Cut Miters 

If you want to cut miters, you should know it’s very similar to crosscuts. Only with miters you align your blade. Some saws pivot on both sides, but if you can only pivot on one side, it’s better to do it to the right. 

Each saw has a gauge indicating the angle you can cut. The most commonly used angles have positive stops that you can lock down to be completely precise for an exceedingly accurate angle cut. For making miters you’ll usually deploy a 45-degree angle. These are used for boxes, picture frames, molding, etc. 

How to Cut Bevels 

A bevel is an angled cut you make on the edge of the project. You can’t cut alongside the long edges of boards, so you’ll use bevels for angle ends only. This technique is useful when making boxes. 

You can easily make bevel cuts if you place the board on its edge and then pivot your miter saw. There is, however, a more difficult but more precise method. You can use the bevel feature built-in for your saw. You should unlock the head and tip it to the side. Then, you’ll see a scale with angles to the bevel. 

Adjust and align the face of the board against the table, press the power switch and gently push the saw through the wood. Be very careful with bevel cuts because you don’t always see what’s going on. 

How to Cut Bevels

About Compound Miters 

Besides bevels and miters, your miter saw can be used for compound miter cuts, which is a combination of the two. This is ideal for trim molding projects. These are a little tricky and ideally require an operative with more experience. Also, you probably won’t be using these cuts on a regular basis. 

Since it’s fairly complicated, we suggest that beginners avoid this technique. It’s recommended that you watch a video on compound miter cuts since it is too complicated to carry out without a visual example. If you know an experienced carpenter, ask them to show you this method in person before attempting too complete it.

More Tips for Using Miter Saws 

Here’s a valuable tip for your future projects: You can cut boards, face down. This will give you more accuracy.  

Also, you can keep the board on its edge, for a better angle of cut. You can choose whether to adjust for an edge cut or a face down board cut, depending on your preferences. As you get more experienced, you’ll find the methods that suit you best. 

In reality, most people don’t let the blade stop fully before lifting the head. If you’re confident that’s OK, but always make the blade stop fully when using a stop block. If you don’t, you can get a cutoff wood piece flying across the room and hit you.  

Here’s a measuring tip for cutting multiple pieces of the same length: Take a scrap piece of wood and jam it into your fence where you measure the length of the cut. Measure from the saw blade’s edge, keeping the head locked. You should make using stop blocks a routine, since you’ll need them a lot of the time to complete most cuts successfully.

Which Side to Cut On? 

A very common question about how to use a miter saw is which side you should cut on. Usually, it’s best to keep the saved pieces on the right side of the stand or bench. If you’re holding the board with your left hand, it only makes sense.  

This is the best technique for short pieces. For longer boards, there’s really not much of a difference.  

Conclusion 

Now you know how to use a miter saw and are aware of all the nuances between the different types of miter saws, including a compound miter saw, you're ready to improve your DIY skills exceedingly.

Remember to always work carefully and wear protection when using your mitre saw. Also, try not to force the saw through the wood, but rather let it do its thing. You should know that miter saw blades with more teeth make smoother, and more detailed cuts. 

For ripping, it’s best to use blades with fewer teeth. Blades with fewer teeth can also be used on treated lumber, which is moister than construction lumber. Finally, you should complete a cut on one angle, before marking and cutting the opposing end when making an angled cut.

Remember, let the saw do the work and always work safely. 

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