Before purchasing a saw, first decide what applications you'll be
undertaking. Then factor in storage and portability. And of course, work
within your budget. For example, a professional-grade sliding compound miter
saw will likely handle any chore you throw at it, and do so day after day
for years to come. However, such a beast can be very expensive ($700), weigh
more than 70 pounds and take up a lot of space. And I've never encountered a
sliding compound saw that's easy to carry. For a contractor or serious
DIY'er who uses a miter saw often, such an investment makes sense. But, for
the occasional trim-out around the home, a smaller consumer model should

In fact, professional trim contractors don't always ascribe to the "bigger
is better" theory. Blade size typically ranges from 7-1/4 to 12 inches, and
the smaller saws are much lighter and thus easier to carry and store. This
is a big advantage when schlepping the tool from jobsite to jobsite.
Naturally, the trade-off for a smaller size is work capacity. The larger the
blade, the larger the material it can cut. 

The Right Type
Miter saws also vary in the type of cuts they can make. A standard miter
saw-often called a "chopsaw"-cuts stock with a downward chopping action. You
can make standard crosscuts or turn the saw to cut a miter, usually anywhere
from 0 to just over 50 degrees. This style works fine for "flat" work, such
as making door casing or picture frames. 
Compound miter saws are more versatile. Not only can you turn the saw for a
miter, but you can tilt the blade to cut a bevel. A compound miter saw can
cut a bevel on any miter angle simultaneously. This dual cutting action is
critical when working with crown moulding, base moulding, etc. To further
complicate matters, let's divide compound saws into two categories: single
bevel and dual bevel. The single bevel saw can flip to one side for making
compound cuts. A dual bevel can flip to either the left or the right. The
dual-bevel saw provides the widest range of angles. The advantage of the
dual bevel is that you can cut trim stock with the bevel and miter oriented
the same way it will be installed, which can save you both time and some
mental acrobatics. 

A 12" sliding compound miter saw, such as the Bosch 5412L shown, has plenty
of cutting capacity for dimensional lumber. 
However, the most cutting capacity comes from the sliding compound miter
saw. Instead of cutting with a chopping action, these saws slide out from
the saw's base on rails. The user activates the blade and then slides it
back through the stock, cutting in reverse. Many new models are belt-driven,
which keeps the motor conveniently out of the way when cutting. Sliding
compound miter saws usually cut up to 5-1/4-inch base or crown in position
(with the moulding angled against the fence and base, which represents the
wall and ceiling of the house). For anything bigger than that, you'll have
to tip the blade at a bevel and cut a compound miter. Not only can the
sliding saws conquer all the trimwork you can dish out, but they have the
capacity to cut large dimensional lumber, making them ideal for building
decks, stairs and fences. 

Ryobi offers a 10" sliding compound miter saw at a consumer-friendly price. 

Adjust its bevel angle by turning the handle on the rear of the saw. 

Using the Saw
When preparing to use a miter saw, take note of the super-sharp, toothy
blade that spins at speeds up to 5,400 RPM. Suffice it to say that safety
should be a top priority when operating the saw. Always wear safety glasses
and clear away any wood scraps or debris from the saw area. 

Ridgid's MS1290LZ features an extra large base. 
First, adjust the head to the designated angle. The miter angles are printed
on the base of the saw, and you generally slide the saw handle and its
indicator to the designated degree. Screw in the handle to tighten the saw
position. The bevel-adjustment device is often located on the rear of the
saw, and operates in much the same manner with a bolt/handle to tighten to
the correct position and demarcated measurements to guide the angle setting.
Some of the newer saws offer bevel locks on the front of the saw, so the
user doesn't have to reach to the rear. Another neat modern feature is a
backlit digital display that shows the exact angle setting for both miters
and bevels, which gives you much better visibility and confidence that the
blade is set to the right position.

The large base of the Ridgid saw has the capacity for 61-degree miter
When you're ready to cut, stand in a stable position and use one hand to
hold the material tightly against the fence and downward against the table.
Many new saws include special clamps that help firmly secure the stock in
position to cut. Always hold the workpiece portion of the stock, not the
short cut-off piece. Use the other hand to operate the saw, and steadily
push the blade down into the stock. Always release the trigger and let the
blade stop completely before raising the handle from the workpiece. This
will keep the spinning saw teeth from chattering against the surface of the
material as it is pulled up from the cut, which can mar your work. If
stopping the cutting operation halfway, start re-cutting after you pull the
saw head back into its original start position. 

... and 47-degree bevel cuts. 

If using a sliding saw, pull the blade forward as far as it will go before
plunging it into the wood. Pushing the cut allows the rotational force of
the saw to work with you. Never pull the blade toward you through the
stock-it's dangerous and will result in a lousy

Hitachi's C12LSH miter saw features a backlit digital display of the miter
and bevel angles.

Some saws feature an laser line to mark the miter cut. 
A miter saw with an accurate setting means there's no real need to mark a
cutline the entire width of the stock. A simple, penciled "V" mark, with its
point indicating the cut-off point is all you need, and will speed up the
process when making multiple cuts.

A V-shaped pencil mark is really all that's required to mark a miter cut. 
For precision cutting, it may help to start the cut ahead of the "V" mark,
gradually shaving away material until reaching the cut-off point. Some of
today's saws even provide a precise laser sight-line that indicates exactly
where the cut will be made. 
I used to cut picture frames as an evening job during college, and in doing
so I found that some moulding profiles tended to tilt ever-so-slightly
forward beneath 
the pressure of my hand. This caused the miter to be slightly uneven in the
back of the cut, resulting in a small gap that I'd have to fill with putty.
To minimize this, I found it helpful to use a small wooden block, pushing it
with the ball of my hand against the bottom of the moulding, securing it
against the fence as my fingers pressed the stock downward. This helped 
prevent that slight tilting. 

For repetitive cutting, using stop blocks will speed up the cutting. Shown
is the Bosch Gravity Rise miter saw stand that includes integrated stop
blocks and also folds into a portable cart. 
For multiple cuts of the same length, such as studs, balusters, pickets,
etc., you'll find it helpful to secure stop blocks at the end of the saw's
table or stand. These hold the end of the material in a uniform position
while you make the repeated cuts. Many manufactured miter-saw stands feature
adjustable stops and "wings," or outfeed supports, that extend to
accommodate long pieces of material. Or, a makeshift stand can be made of a
sturdy piece of plywood clamped to sawhorses on a level surface. Just make
sure the wood stock is evenly supported so the piece does not bow. You can
also make your own stop blocks.   

Current Models

Bosch 5412L 12" Slide Compound Miter Saw
The last couple of months I've had the pleasure of using the Bosch 5412L
sliding compound miter saw, and it offers a little bit of everything.
Accurate right out of the box, the saw's 12-inch blade, powerful motor (3
horsepower), and beefy dual slide rail make quick work of cutting everything
from quarter-round to fence posts. It can crosscut boards up to 4-1/2 inches
thick by 12 inches long. When set at a 45-degree miter, it cuts up to 4
inches thick by 8-1/2 inches long. At a 45-degree bevel, the cut capacity is
2-3/4 inches by 12 inches. The 5412L also features a four-position handle,
up-front adjustments of all bevel and miter settings, an easy-to-lock work
clamp, two sliding fences, dust-collection bag, and sliding extensions that
support boards up to 40 inches long. The motor is equipped with an electric
brake that stops the blade within a split second of releasing the trigger.
The saw's arbor-mounted laser provides a bright, thin laser line that is
visible throughout the cut, so you can 
perfectly match the cutline to the blade kerf.
      Because I do a lot of work away from home, a really sweet accessory to
the Bosch saw is the Bosch Gravity Rise miter saw stand, which folds into a
pneumatic-wheeled carrying cart when not in use. This makes toting the saw
from site to site much easier on the back.

Ridgid MS1290LZ 12" Slide Compound Miter Saw
The first thing that struck me about Ridgid's new slide miter was its large,
extra stable deck with a cool flip-up miter adjustment handle. Rotating the
handle's thumbwheel away or toward the table engages or disengages the
positive stops, in case you're setting angles very close to the detents
(i.e., 44.5 degrees next to the 45-degree detent). Plus, the large deck
means the saw can pivot left and right for cuts up to a best-in-class 61
degrees. You can also tilt the saw head from 0 to 47 degrees on each side.
The laser blade locator is spot-on, the 2-1/2-horsepower motor has a good
start-up, and even the hold-down clamp is solidly constructed and easy to
use. A depth-stop feature allows you to cut rabbets or grooves. As far as
dust collection, I prefer the cosmetic appeal of Ridgid's metal-framed dust
bag when compared to the flimsy socks included with most competing saws.
Overall, this is a solidly built, pro-grade saw that prices less than its
major competitors-at time of publication, the Ridgid model ran just under
$500, compared to the Bosch 5412L at around $675.

Portamate PM7000
The PM7000 WorkCenter takes the concept of multi-
functionality to the next level. Benchtop planers, bandsaws, scroll saws,
miter saws and more can now be used interchangeably. You can even mount and
use more than one tool at a time thanks to the long bed and four-outlet
power center. Universal machinery mounts snap securely to the aluminum top,
making tool changes fast and easy. Standard equipment also includes three
material supports, 8-inch wheel and a storage compartment. Extension wings
let the woodworker handle workpieces to 16 feet. The new wheel system allows
the user to easily roll the workcenter to a new location-no more lugging
heavy saws or equipment around the jobsite. And, for a limited time
Portamate is also including two great accessories for free! A free
heavy-duty, cast aluminum work vise ($49.99 value) and handy work light with
integrated machine mount ($19.99 value) make the Portamate PM7000 WorkCenter
an outstanding value for the price of a basic miter saw stand (around $249). <> 

Hitachi 12" Slide Compound Miter Saw
Hitachi's C12LSH compound miter saw not only features a laser marker but
also a digital LCD display. The digital display of miter and bevel angles
requires the unit to be trued to ensure accuracy, but once this important
procedure has been done and the saw fences are checked, you will be on your
way to cutting with a saw that is, well, on the cutting edge. The digital
angle finder worked fine for the samples we cut, and this feature should be
very useful when cutting crown moulding. The handle layout was comfortable,
and the sliding action was everything I would expect from a saw in this
price range (approximately $650). One of the less touted features of the
Hitachi was the ability to operate the saw in tight quarters.  Hitachi's
rails do not require clearance behind the saw like other miter saws.
Miter-cut ranges for the Hitachi C12LSH are 0-46 degrees to the left, 0-57
degrees to the right. Bevel range is 45 degrees for both left and right
bevel. Our test saw was mounted on Hitachi's Universal Stand-a well-made
addition to any Hitachi Saw. Table weight is 40 pounds, so it is built to
professional standards also. The inclusion of a wheeled stand is almost a
necessity for the combined unit that exceeds 100 pounds, and thankfully, the
Hitachi Universal Stand has wheels.

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