How to Use a Miter Saw
Hello and welcome to the very first Tool Tutorial Friday (a series of tool tutorials)! Come right in and have a seat. If you give me less than 10 minutes of your time, I will empower you with a new power tool skill! Today, I’m going to show you how to use one of my favorite power tools. Before I owned a miter saw, I used a hand saw and a cheap plastic miter box. But, they were really putting a cramp in my DIY style (if you know what I mean.)
About two decades ago, my husband gifted me my Makita 10″ Sliding Compound Miter Saw. That’s right, I don’t ask for jewelry for big occasions, Pretty Handsome Guy knows to ask one thing before an upcoming holiday, “So Honey, what power tool do you want now?” It’s true, I’m a power tool junky.
Ready to learn how to use a miter saw? Okay, let’s get started…
Working with power tools can be dangerous, but your risks drastically eliminated if you give the tool some respect. Today I’ll show you how to use a miter saw safely.
About Miter Saws:
Miter saws come in many shapes, sizes, and colors. The size (usually from 7.25″ up to 12″) refers to the diameter of the blade on the saw. The larger the blade, the wider the material it can cut. However, if you purchase a “sliding” miter saw, you can cut several inches wider than your blade diameter (the specifications on the saw should tell you this cutting distance). Miter saws run anywhere from $80 up to $800 depending on the features and brand you choose.
Sliding Miter Saw:
I highly recommend a sliding miter saw if you can afford it. Being able to cut lumber a few inches wider means the difference between using your miter saw or having to break out the circular saw or table saw.
On a non-sliding miter saw, the saw head will not slide forward and back. Most of the entry-level models will cut a miter and a bevel. You may have heard miter saws without the ability to slide referred to as chop saws. They will work great for “chopping lumber” but without sliding, dual miters, and dual bevels, you will spend some time flipping the lumber to make your compound cuts.
Speaking of miters and bevels, let’s talk a little more about what is a miter and a bevel cut.
Type of Cuts:
Miter saws are perfect for cross cuts, miter, and bevel cuts. Miter saws cannot make rip cuts. Rip cuts are easier cut on a table saw or track saw (or using a variety of other handheld saws.)
- Rip – ripping a board is cutting with the grain along the length of a board. This is usually done with a table saw but can be done with a variety of handheld power saws and a straight edge.
- Crosscut – a type of cut that is perpendicular to the grain or along the width of your board. Crosscuts are usually made with a miter saw or circular saw, but can also be made with a track saw, jigsaw, band saw, or hand saw. You can make crosscuts with a table saw, but you will need a crosscut sled to perform a crosscut cut safely.
A miter cut is made when you change the direction of your blade from straight ahead (90˚) by moving it from side to side. Think of pizza wedges. For example, in the image below, the saw is set up to cut a 45˚ miter, and no bevel because the blade is still straight up and down.
A bevel cut is made when you angle your blade tipping it to the left or right. As an example, in the picture below, I’m making a 45˚ bevel cut into the wood.
A compound cut happens when you make a miter and a bevel cut at the same time. Essentially you are cutting two angles simultaneously. This is particularly useful when you are cutting crown molding for a room.
You can see in the diagram below how to set up your saw for bevel angles, miter angles, or both.
Safety Features and Operating a Miter Saw:
All modern miter saws have a trigger built into the handle. Most miter saws also have a safety button that you must push with your finger or thumb before you can squeeze the trigger. To start a straight downward cut, press the safety button, squeeze the trigger and wait for the saw to reach maximum rotation. Then slowly lower your saw into the board you are cutting. Never force the saw through the wood. Let the saw cut and then guide it downward. Once you have completed the cut release the trigger while the blade is in the wood. Let the saw come to a stop before lifting it out of the wood.
Most miter saws have a fence. The fence lets you rest the position your lumber against a straight edge. It keeps the wood steady and helps your miter saw cut true to the degree setting you have chosen.
Some miter saws have a detachable clamp. This is a nice option and helps keep your hands away from the blade during cuts. Let the clamp be your right-hand man (or left-hand man). If you don’t have a clamp on your saw, be sure to always position your hand as far away from the blade as possible. Do not attempt to make cuts where your hand is close to the blade. AND NEVER reach under the saw while it is rotating! Even when you have finished your cut, your hand is not safe until the blade has completely stopped.
Three Safety Tips for Using a Miter Saw:
- Blade down until it stops! You should always end your cut and release the trigger while the blade is down and in the lumber. Let the blade come to a stop before raising the blade.
- Always make sure the lumber is supported on both sides. And never clamp both sides of your lumber. One side should be free so as not to pinch the blade during the cut.
- Never cut small pieces of wood where your fingers are too close to the blade. If you absolutely must cut a tiny piece, clamp or attach it to a larger piece of lumber.
Making a Safe Sliding Cut:
When using a sliding miter saw, there is a proper way to make a sliding cut (used to cut wider boards):
- Make sure your saw is positioned fully on your workbench. Test the blade in its full reach toward you to make sure it won’t tip as you lower the blade.
- Put your lumber up against the fence and clamp it on one side (if you can).
- Before you start the blade, pull the saw toward you until the blade is directly over the board’s edge closest to you.
- Squeeze the trigger to start the saw and wait for it to reach peak rotation speed. Then lower the blade down into the wood.
- While the blade is still rotating, slide the saw back and away from you as your blade cuts through the rest of the wood (see photo below.)
- Once the blade has finished cutting through the wood, release the trigger and let the blade stop before raising the blade.
I created a video, so you can see how to safely use a miter saw. Before you watch the video — a few necessary words of caution:
The viewer assumes all responsibility and liability associated with the hazards of woodworking. Pretty Handy Girl is not responsible for any errors or omissions that may be present in this tutorial. She also assumes no liability for any action or inaction of a viewer.
Please use extreme caution when using power tools. Read your tool manual thoroughly and wear protective safety gear. Take your time familiarizing yourself with a tool before using it. (If you are missing the manual, you can easily find it online by going to the manufacturer’s website or google your saw’s make and model + manual.)
Update: Please recognize that I have tried to put together a basic miter saw usage tutorial to get you started. I have tried my best to show the safest way to use a miter saw. Two safety revisions I want you to be aware of:
- You should wear appropriate Personal Protective Equipment when using a miter saw. (Ear protection, eye protection, and a dust mask.) I should have been wearing a mask.
- When I first learned to use a miter saw, no one told me to keep the blade down until it came to a stop. This is now standard practice when I work.
And now, let’s get you more familiar with using a miter saw!
I hope you have been empowered to use a miter saw! Go on and give your miter saw a try if you own one. If you decide to buy a new miter saw, I recommend buying a reputable brand with a decent amount of features. I have a lot more information about how to buy quality tools and save money on tools in this article.
These workshops were meant to be interactive, so don’t be shy! Ask questions, leave comments, and let me know you are learning something new.