You might be wondering “Do I need a miter saw?”. If you’re asking yourself this question, the likely answer is yes.
However, we’ll walk you through what a miter saw can do, the benefits of using a miter saw over another tool in your shop. We’ll also give you some recommendations for tools that you can substitute in the event you don’t need a miter.
We have something for everyone! Whether you’re a homeowner needing to finish a small project, a hobbyist trying to find a new toy, or a professional needing to expand your arsenal of tools!
Related post: Best Miter Saw Buying Guide
The first thing we always like to do when deciding on a new tool, is to establish what our needs are.
If you’re a homeowner needing to make two miter cuts to fix a baseboard that’s chipped, we’re not going to recommend you purchase a $400 miter saw. On the other hand, if you need to make countless cuts on every job site, we need to get you a great saw.
What do I need a miter saw for?
Miter saws allow you to make various cuts that a normal chop saw and table saw won’t be able to. Two main cuts from this saw are “miter cuts” and “bevel cuts”. A miter cut is an angled cut through the width of the board. A bevel cut is another angled cut through the thickness of the board.
With those two cuts you’ll be able to get a lot done, however, where a miter saw stands out is with compound cuts. Compound cuts are both a miter and bevel cut at the same time. Almost every miter saw can do this, you only need a bevel head on your saw.
While there are options for miter cuts and bevel cuts, more on this later, there are fewer options for compound cuts. Therefore, if you need to make some compound cuts you’ll definitely want to consider handing over the cash for a good compound miter saw.
Aside from the miter and bevel action, miter saws are also great for cutting boards to length. If you have a lot of boards that need to be a certain length, a miter saw is one of the best and quickest ways to do just that! Yes, a skill saw can do the same thing, but a miter saw’s chopping action is nearly always superior.
What kind of miter saw do I need?
We like to put saw users into one of three categories, this helps find the right fit.
First we have homeowners. Homeowners need a miter saw for home renovations, replacing minor damage and the odd job or project. Homeowners rarely need to make more than a handful of cuts, and other than the 1 day a year they need their saw, it sits collecting dust.
If this is you, we recommend a cheaper alternative to a miter saw. A miter box might be all you need to make that quick fix the significant other has been asking about. There’s no need to break the bank on a tool you’ll rarely use.
Hobbyists. If you love tools and weekend projects you might be a hobbyist. You’re building your deck, finishing your basement, and finishing off a woodworking project. You like to keep busy and you need a tool that will get the job done while not costing a fortune (after all, money saved is more money for the next tool!).
For these types of miter saw users we recommend getting an entry level model. You won’t need a saw loaded with features, or a high end brand. You’ll be able to get the job done well with a compound saw from a decent brand.
Last, we have the seasoned pro! You mean business, because you need your miter saw for your business! You’re going to be using you miter saw for countless projects, or carting it around to various job sites. For these professionals, we recommend spending extra for full features and a trusted brand.
Benefits of a miter saw
There are 3 main benefits to using a miter saw over another tool. Speed, quality and professionalism.
Speed. Time is money, whether you’re a pro who need to get two jobs done in a day, or a homeowner doing a repair after work. No one wants to be wasting their time, getting a miter saw will help speed things up. You’ll be able to cut boards to length, or make effortless bevel cuts in a timely fashion.
Quality. Miter saws are designed for specific tasks. Further, the right saw with the right blade will make your finished project look both amazing and professional.
For example, for trim work, a 10 inch miter with a high tooth blade will give you perfect and precise cuts, with minimal tear out. Using a regular table saw with a low tooth count will not yield the same results.
This one is more for the professional. You really don’t want to show up to a job site with a makeshift miter sled for you table saw.
Will it do the job? Probably. Will it be as efficient as a miter saw? Probably not. Will the client think you’re a quack for not having the right tools for the job? Could be! Do i need a miter saw as a professional? YES!
If you’re a homeowner you really don’t need to worry about this. But, if you want to impress clients you’ll want to look as professional as possible.
Picture this, you’re using a makeshift tool and the project isn’t completed in the promised time frame. Even if it isn’t the fault of you lacking a miter saw, the client probably won’t think too highly of the guy who didn’t bring the correct tools for the job.
Next time that client needs someone with your skill set you’ll be passed over for someone with a full arsenal of tools.
Substitutions that work!
If buying a miter saw isn’t what you need, no worries! We have some options for you. From cheap to affordable you’ll have an option no matter your budget. But, we really do recommend the last one!
A miter box is the cheapest alternative you can get! It allows you to make both miter and bevel cuts. Typically made of hard plastic, these miter boxes will only cost you about $10-$20. Of course you’ll still need a hand saw to make this work, but this is still a cheap alternative.
This is what we recommend if you only need to make two cuts for a home repair. Its cheap and will get the job done with decent quality. It isn’t pretty, but it does the job and doesn’t break the bank.
Next, we have a precision saw, or a clamping miter box. These are basically just a miter box with added features. A precision saw will clamp the material and saw into position. This way, neither the material or saw will move, and you’ll end up with a great finished product.
We DO NOT recommend you spend your money on this. Why? Because they cost more than the next alternative, and you’ll still be sawing by hand. Further, if you’re decently handy, it isn’t much better than a basic miter box.
Lastly, and this is my recommendation, is a rental. Your local hardware store and every single Home Depot will rent you a proper, professional grade miter saw. My local Home Depot will rent you a saw, for an entire day, for $45.
Is that more than the other options? No, not really, if you need to buy a miter box and a miter hand saw, you’ll be looking at a price tag of around $35-$40. Why not spend an extra $10-$15 and get the right tool for the job, and get the job done quickly and professionally.
At the end of the day you need to make a decision that’s right for you. Figure out what you need from a saw, and your budget. You have options, use this guide and the other resources on this site to help you make an informed decision!