Example of a plain compound miter saw.
12 inch miter saws are usually assumed to be the best of the best, but is this really the truth? Find out if these saws are worth the hype or if you would do just as well with an 8-1/2 or 10 inch saw instead.
THE MIGHTY MITER SAW
- Sliding compound miter saws have long been known for their exceptional versatility. Carpenters and woodworkers alike can all get a lot of great work done on a miter saw that wouldn’t necessarily be possible with a table saw alone. With a miter saw, swiveling miter cuts and tilted bevel cuts are all possible alongside the normal straight cuts. The sliding compound miter saw is also capable of much higher capacity cuts by easily crosscutting 12 in wide boards, whereas a non-sliding compound miter can only usually manage an 8 inch wide board.
- Benefits of the versatility of the sliding compound miter saw can be seen when you need to make many different types of cuts for the same project. Table saws can make excellent straight cuts, but they are not efficient to use for miter cuts as their tables are usually not large enough to accommodate a tilted board. Because the miter saw has a swiveling head, miter cuts become a lot easier to do as the board stays put and the head swivels to make the perfect cut.
- Besides this, you can also switch between different cutting modes with ease to work on different projects or any more complex projects you might have. Crosscutting, fine-tuning trims, complex miter cuts, and more is all possible with this type of miter saw.
The way a saw is sized is according to the saw blade, as this has a large effect on what the saw can and cannot do. This article will talk mainly about the 12 inch sliding compound miter saw,
HOW TO EVALUATE A 12 INCH MITER SAW
In order to compare miter saws, it’s necessary to complete a series of similar tests with the various saws to see how each one performs against the others. This means putting the included features, the cutting power, mitering, beveling, and anything else into action on the same types of boards.
The best cuts a saw can make are perfectly flat, smooth, and show no signs of tear-out on the edges of the wood. These come usually from to quality blades on the best saws. Cuts of medium quality are mostly flat with the possibility of slight unevenness. The lowest quality of cuts show a lot of rocking when the wood is placed directly on the cut edge as well as having visible tear-out or splintering. Many saws and blades of any quality will leave some sign of the teeth on the board, especially after a sliding cut is performed.
WHAT IS IMPORTANT?
- More Work, Less Play
Side to side play is not beneficial to making a straight, accurate cut. It’s usually not present in chopping cuts, when you perform a sliding cut you will always notice a bit of play in the blade head. This is because the mechanism holding and controlling the blade is very heavy and a sliding position places a lot of tension on the head supports.
The things that can affect the amount of play you’ll experience are the number and position of the supports and the bearings used for the supports. Ideally you want a saw with as little play as possible to keep your sliding cuts accurate and precise.
- Quality Blades
A high quality blade can make all the difference no matter what saw you are using. Good blades will usually turn out cuts of good quality, and average or below average blades will turn out much rougher cuts. Upgrading your saw blade is a must if you want to get the best performance from your compound miter saw.Remember that if you want to cut anything other than wood you will need a special blade to do the job instead of your standard blade.
Remember that if you want to cut anything other than wood you will need a special blade to do the job instead of your standard blade.
The more compact the saw is the easier it will be for you to carry it around when necessary. It is also convenient to have a saw that takes up less space in your workroom. There are some saws that will take up as little as 2 feet of width when they are fully compacted, and some saws can be as small as 26 inches when in use.
Miter saws that are more compact usually have extendable wings and fences, making it easy to pack up the saw for transportation to another area or to store it when it’s not in use.
- Easy Adjustment of Bevels
Adjusting the bevel tilt is a very common action while you are working, so you want the process to be as simple as possible while remaining safe. Occasionally there are miter saws that take up to four different steps to just change the bevel a few degrees. This is not ideal, as it’s best to have a simple adjustment mechanism that can be reached without awkward movements.
- Seeing the Scales
Miter scales are generally easy to read no matter what design they take on, but some bevel scales are remarkably difficult to read. These scales are not always located well and sometimes are difficult to calibrate to exact fractional degrees. Fine-tuning becomes more complicated if you cannot adjust your bevel to certain smaller angles.
An acceptable display should feature a thin cursor that is highly visible, such as a thin metal cursor that can accurately point out small degrees and fractional differences in degrees. You will want a display that does not catch sawdust as some plastic displays do. Beware of digital displays, as they might not be as finely calibrated as you wish.
- The Hold-Down Effect
Using the built-in hold-down clamp on your sliding compound miter saw is highly recommended, especially when you’re doing crosscuts. Effective hold-down clamps will increase the safety of your sawing as well as improving your accuracy with cuts. The best clamps are those that will remain strong and sturdy on any size board. Be careful with clamps that are made for quick release or easy removal, as they might not clamp down as tightly as others.
- Trusting Your Guide
Miter saws with a laser guard can prove to be a great advantage to you. Top-mounted laser guides are the most effective because they show where the cut will be even when the saw is lowered. Read-mounted or arbor-mounted laser guides can be blocked by the saw, making it difficult to check that your cuts are well lined up while you’re working.
- Cleaning Up Your Act
Sawdust gets in the way any time you’re using a sliding compound miter saw, but some saws will handle the dust better than others. Most often a saw should be attached to a shop vac to such the sawdust out as it comes, but this does not mean that the system works effectively. Some saws collect dust very efficiently, while others focus on the different parts of the saw instead of the dust collection.
OTHER BENEFICIAL FEATURES
- Swiveling Tables
Miter saw tables should be easy to adjust in tiny degree increments instead of only following the main degree settings. It’s also convenient if the tables can be adjusted further than 45 degrees each way.
- Synchronized Beveling
You will want to find a sliding compound miter saw that can tilt in both directions. Some of these saws allow the bevel adjustment to be past 45 degrees on one side or the other while allowing both sides to reach at least 45 degrees.
- Carrying Convenience
Where are the handles placed on the saw? Handles closer to the center of the weight will make it easier to carry the saw around when you need to move it. Adjustable handles can be very nice if you want to make sure you’re most comfortable with the weight distribution.
- Easy Fences
Adjustable, extendable fences can make your job a lot easier. Look for a miter saw with convenient and easy to adjust back fences.
- Extendable Support Wings
Support is a major part of making an accurate cut. Without proper support it’s possible you will be making poor cuts. Extendable support wings can give a lot of support to the saw while also making it easier to move around as well.
- Depth Limiter
Depth limiters are included on almost every compound miter saw on the market. They come in handy for certain projects and can be set and removed at your will.
- Effective Blade Guards
Blade guards should be mounted on the outside of the housing for the best use. Those mounted inside can catch bits of flyaway material from your work as well as getting hung up on leading edges during miter cuts.
- Useful Owner’s Manuals
Your sliding compound miter saw is probably more complex than you think. It’s useful to have the information available on how to use the different features and the way the saw should be functioning before you begin using it.
Miter saws of all sizes can be useful for your project, but if the features and benefits of a 12 inch compound miter saw listed above seem to be what you need, than that specific device will be the best for you. Otherwise, based on your needs you can choose a miter saw of a smaller size with a separate set of features. Always base your choice off of what you plan to use the miter saw for, not necessarily on your budget for the tool!