How To Use A Miter Saw: Training the Apprentice
For all those projects that require accurate, angled cuts, look to the ever-helpful miter saw. In its simplest form, this saw is designed to make an angled cut, or miter cut, across the wide face of a board. The most popular Pro models include sliding rails to increase the maximum length of the cut, beveling to one or both sides, and sliding arms for supporting wider boards. Whatever your particular application happens to be, here’s how to use a miter saw.
A Brief Overview of Miter Saw Types
- Miter Saw: Has a mitering table that adjusts the cross-cut angle
- Sliding Miter Saw: Has a rail system that slides the blade from front to back and extends the maximum cutting length
- Compound Miter Saw: Has an adjustment left and/or right to cut down through the wood at an angle
- Compound Sliding Miter Saw: Gives you mitering, beveling, and sliding functions
- Dual Compound Sliding Miter Saw: Gives you all three functions with beveling to both left and right
How To Use a Miter Saw
Before we teach you how to use a miter saw, you know we’re going to remind you about safety. Here are some safety tips to follow:
- Wear eye protection
- Avoid loose clothing and jewelry that can catch the blade
- Mind where your hands are at all times
Here are a few additional PPE considerations, depending on what you’re cutting:
- Dust mask
- Ear protection
You have a powerful motor spinning a sharp blade, be sure to maintain a healthy respect. Using a miter saw can get real dangerous real fast if you lose focus.
Get to Know Your Miter Saw
Before you start making those first cuts, flip through the instruction manual so you know where all the locks and adjustments are. Each miter saw is at least slightly different and even our most seasoned Pros familiarize themselves with the functional parts before getting started.
Calibrate Your Miter Saw
If you open the box to a perfectly calibrated miter saw, you’re in a very small group and might want to try your luck in the lottery as well. Nearly every miter saw needs at least small tweaks before getting started. Check out our guide to walk you through what to check.
Set Your Miter Angle
To make a basic miter cut, unlock the miter gauge and slide it to the angle you want to cut. Most miters saws will let you miter in both directions, so just double check that you’re cutting the angle in the correct direction before spinning up the blade.
You’ll find detents at common angles that the gauge will automatically lock into. These are usually 0°, 22.5° 31.6°, and 45°, though you might find some variation from one saw to the next. If you need a different angle, just slide the arrow to what you’re looking for and lock the table down to make sure it doesn’t move.
Set Your Bevel Angle
If you’re making a bevel cut rather than a miter, leave the miter gauge at 0° and unlock the bevel gauge. This will have detents to help set common angles as well. You’ll find those at 0°, 33.9°, and 45°. Like the miter gauge, you can lock in custom angles in between the detents as well.
If you have a dual bevel miter saw, there’s usually a release of some sort to unlock the right-side bevel. Your owner’s manual will help you find it quickly, or you can be like David C. Smith and spend an hour reveling in your pride.
Setting a Compound Angle
You’ll use compound angles when installing crown molding among other applications that take place on less-than-perfect walls. It’s a relatively simple process of setting both a miter angle and bevel angle, but knowing what those angles are is a different story. There are a host of websites that can help you figure those out and some miter saws include a guide right on the saw.
Make the Cut
If your miter saw doesn’t slide, making your cut is as simple as letting the saw spin up, dropping the blade to meet the wood, and letting it maintain a high RPM as you continue to lower the blade until the cut is complete.
When you’re using the extra capacity of a sliding miter saw, pull the blade out towards you and start your cut at the front. Then push the blade through, again, allowing it to maintain high RPMs.
When the cut is complete, let the blade come to a complete stop before letting it raise back to its resting position. Some miter saws have a blade brake that stop the spin very quickly.
Dust Extractor, Bag, or Bare?
Dust collection on a miter saw is far from phenomenal, but some are better than others. If you’re working in a shop, you’ll do yourself a favor by connecting a dust extractor or wet/dry vacuum to contain the mess. Bags are useful if you don’t have or want to use a vacuum. You can get away with skipping both if you’re working outside – just check the wind direction.
If you have any tips on how to use a miter saw that you’d like to add, feel free to leave them in the comments section below.
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