We look at a wide range saws and compare them, including : Table saw vs. Miter saw, Chop saw vs. Miter saw, Miter saw vs. Circular saw, Circular saw vs. Jigsaw. On the surface, it may be confusing to choose one saw over the other, which is precisely why we thought it would be helpful to put together this comparison guide for the most common saws to help you choose which saw type is best for you.
Intro | Table saw vs Miter saw
What is the difference between a table saw and miter saw? A miter saw and circular saw, or even a chop saw (or cut-off saw) like the metal cutting Evolution EVOSAW380? Do you know the pros and cons of these tools and their purpose? Will I need more than one, and how do I ensure it is not money wasted?
In comparing the table saw to a miter saw I am not suggesting that you should choose between the two. It is possible that you will most likely need all, or most of the tools I’m comparing in this article. It’s really about determining the differences between them: the purpose of each, or its primary task.
VIDEO | Table Saw vs Miter Saw : Which One do you Need?
The work requirements normally determine which tool you will use. If for example, you fit a kitchen you will primarily use a miter saw rather than a table saw. When making cabinets for the kitchen, the opposite is true; you will mainly use a table saw. If fitting and manufacturing are what you do, you cannot complete any job with one tool. You will need the table saw, miter saw, a circular saw, jigsaw, plunge saw, hand drill, sanders, planer, and more.
In selecting tools for a job, an all-important decision is taken at the outset. Should the work be done on-site or preferably in a workshop? For site work, portability is critical and compels you to consider hand tools or tools that are readily portable. Conversely, in a workshop, you move about the tools, so space is the critical factor.
Chop saw vs. Miter saw
In woodworkers’ terms, a chop saw is similar to a miter saw. Another type of saw that is more commonly referred to as a chop saw is an abrasive cut-off saw used for cutting metal forms. We are focusing on tools that cut wood, so I will ignore the abrasive cut-off saw.
The difference between a chop saw (or abrasive saw) and miter saw confuses many people. They are similar in that the cutting head is pulled down for the cut. Chop saws can only swing straight up and down, meaning they can only make straight 90° crosscuts into wood. That is, if you can buy one. Abrasive cut-off, or steel chop saws, you will find in almost any hardware store. If you ask for one that works for wood, they will offer you a miter saw instead. Most likely a double bevel compound sliding miter saw.
To understand the different types of miter saws lets first review the types of cuts:
- A miter cut is done at a left or right angle of up to 45°at least, with the blade in a 90° vertical plane. It is the typical chop saw cut
- A bevel cut is a cut done with the blade tilted to the left or right of the 90° vertical plane. Bevel cuts are usually done at angles up to 45° at least. A bevel cut can be done at any miter angle as well to give you compound cuts. Therefore the saw is called a compound miter
A chop saw/miter saw can make cuts at a variety of miter angles. The head of the saw can turn to the left or right from the 90° (right-angled) cut position to the required angle. Then the head is locked, the cut line lined up, and the head pulled down to do the cut. The blade of a chop saw moves through one plane only, at 90° to the base. The chop saw, or bevel saw can only make miter cuts, no bevel cuts.
With a compound miter saw you can make miter and bevel cuts. This machine may be a single bevel or double bevel compound miter saw. The cutting arm of the single bevel compound miter saw can pivot to the left or right only, not both. A compound miter saw can do any miter cut that requires cutting in two planes, bevel and miter. It is the best tool to cut crown or base moldings, or any frames that require compound angles.
A double bevel, compound miter saw cutting head can pivot left and right off the vertical for beveled cuts. The cutting head can be swung from side to side and locked in place to cut miter angles. It is called a compound or double bevel compound miter saw.
The compound miter saw cut-length is limited by the diameter of the blade, and therefore the cutting length of the plunging blade. Hence, a 12-inch compound miter saw can only cut material up to 5.5 inches wide. With a raised baseplate the cut is extended to a deck board (6″ wide) at right angles, using one cut. To make a 45°miter cut, you do the first cut to its limits. Then you flip the lumber over, swing the saw to the other side and re-align the cut line. If you work with great care, you can make an acceptable clean cut.
A double beveled compound sliding miter saw can do bevel cuts to the left and right. It can also cut the same left, and right-angled miters as a double bevel compound miter saw. In addition to that, the head can be moved in and out to extend the cut-line, to cut wider boards. With this type of machine, you can cut a 45° miter on 2×12 dimensional lumber in one go with a 12″ blade. The DeWalt DWS780 can cut up to 2×16 dimensional lumber at 90° miter and 2x12s at 45°. It is possible due to the back fence design and using a special raised base.
Table saw vs. Miter saw
One consideration for selecting a tool is whether it will be used for cross-cuts in dimensional lumber or trimming along the length of the work. It is awkward to cut a 12-foot 2×4 shorter on a table saw, if not impossible. You need something or someone to support the wood while moving it in unison through the cutting blade. The probability of doing an accurate cut is small. Instead, it is better to move the cutting tool when doing the cut. That’s when it is better to use the miter saw. It can securely hold the work and do precise crosscuts. It will perform these tasks repeatedly, faster, more accurately and conveniently than a table saw, even with special fittings.
The task that the table saw excels in is when used for rip cuts along its fence. It’s perfect for trimming the 12-foot 2×4 along its length to become a 2×3 as an example. You may cut grooves along the length of the wood for tongue-and-groove work. Another purpose of the table saw is to cut boards to specific sizes. It’s great when used to manufacture things like drawers, or cutting board when building kitchen cabinets.
On a table saw the work is moved through the cutting tool, so the friction and size of the work on the table is a consideration. It is not ideal for cutting large boards because it becomes almost impossible to handle the board and guide it for accurate cuts. A tool like a Vertical Panel Saw is most suited to this task. Unfortunately, it is quite expensive. When the workpieces are of manageable size and only need trimming to size, the table saw is excellent.
The table saw does have a miter slide to cut any angle with, but these attachments are seldom very accurate. The wood also tends to move during the cut. It takes a long time to set up the saw for cuts and making repeated cuts is not always easy. However, the same cuts done with a miter saw is accurate and fast. You can rapidly swing a miter saw head left and right for angled (miter) cuts. Although it is possible to do on the table saw, it is slower and more cumbersome. Each time you swing the miter guide, the wood must be re-aligned and clamped in place.
It is straightforward to do miter cuts accurately on a miter saw because the saw blade is visible and a guideline is quickly lined up. On a table saw you re-align the cutline on the workpiece with the saw blade by eyeballing it. The best cut on a table saw is achieved when the blade is set half a tooth higher than the material you’re cutting. It is therefore difficult to align it accurately, and the cut starts from the bottom up. By the time you see the cut it is too late to adjust it. The cut is usually not that accurate, and the wood must be clamped to the miter fence for a reasonable cut. Even when cutting short pieces the miter saw is faster, more convenient and more accurate.
On the table saw you can angle the blade to one side for bevel cuts of up to 45°. When cutting a bevel along the length of a workpiece, the table saw will do an excellent job. When you set a double bevel compound miter saw it is done accurately against convenient stops for often used angles. It makes the miter saw excellently suited to fit all types of molding and framing work.
VIDEO | What’s a Miter Saw Used For?
A compound miter saw is used for cross cutting long lumber and trimming molds and cutting miters and compound miters like when doing from work. You’ll cut baseboards, crown moldings, window sills and aprons, door casings hardwood floors, banisters and handrails, decks and fences. In the workshop, it’s used for chair and table rails, closet shelving, etc.
The table saw is versatile, and with attachments like dado cutters and vertical supports, it is an excellent dovetail cutter. It is even possible with a suitable attachment to turn a 2×2 into a round workpiece. A table saw with a turntable attachment can cut round table tops.
I prefer to do wood-join cuts on a table saw with some special fittings because it is easier to obtain tight-fitting joints repeatedly. It can cut dovetail and lap joints, bridle, and finger joints and it is perfect for rabbet, and tongue-and-groove joints. (Learn more about woodworking joints)
In summary :
- The table saw easily cut long lengths of board like when you rip a long board lengthwise.
- A table saw can cut small sheets, crosscut short pieces,
- Table saws can crosscut long boards that are too wide for a compound miter saw
- A panel saw, or a circular saw and clamp-on guide are more suitable to rip and crosscut large sheets or panels.
Rip-cut : Woodworking cut that severs or divides a piece of wood parallel to the grain.
Cross-cut : A cut that’s perpendicular to the wood grain.
Miter saw vs. Circular saw
The miter saw and circular saw are both used in the industry to cut lumber. The circular saw can also do bevel cuts and compound bevel and miter cuts, but it can bevel to one side only. Sometimes you have to turn the lumber over to do a bevel cut in the other direction. The depth of cut of regular circular saws (10″ blade) in comparison to the miter saw is limited (12″ blade”). When doing repeated, accurate compound bevel and miter cuts, the miter saw wins hands down. For crown and baseboards, the miter saw is the better, faster and more accurate tool.
The circular saw can cut to any length in any direction. It is small, light and easy to carry around, perfect for doing rafters and general construction work. It is suitable for any task that requires that the saw must go to the work site. It can be used to trim 2×2, 3×2 and 4×4 lumber and floorboards, decking, and fencing material.
Circular saws are more versatile than miter saws when used on the job site. It’s a constructor’s tool, while the miter saw is used mostly for finishing work where accurate, clean cuts are needed. The circular saw tends to produce rough, splintery edges, also known as a tear-out, whereas the miter saw cuts cleanly.
- Miter and compound miter saws are stationary; you have to bring the wood to it
- With the circular saw, you bring the saw to the material.
A panel saw, or a plunge or a circular saw can be used to rip and crosscut large sheets or panels. For any straight cut you will need a clamp-on, or lay-down guide for the circular saw.
For crown and baseboards, the double bevel compound miter saw is better because it can cut any compound angle.
I made a circular saw guide that you simply put the saw onto to perform perfectly straight cuts at any angle. It can do beveled cuts as well. Using it like this, it is as accurate and quick as a sliding miter saw but with extended cut lengths. The tendency to make tear-out cuts is the only concern.
Circular saw vs. Jigsaw
The jigsaw is versatile and can cut many types of cuts in a variety of materials. It can cut long straight or curved and beveled cuts. A cut can be started anywhere on a board, and you can perform really complex cuts with sharp or rounded corners. By swapping the blade, a variety of cuts are possible; it is also ideal for crosscutting lumber or cutting into wall cladding.
The jigsaw blades are easy to replace, and the blades are relatively inexpensive. A wide selection of blades is available for material types and conditions. Jigsaw cuts are limited only by the length of the blade. Typically a blade is 4 inches long but can be up to 10 inches in length. Keep in mind that the cut is shorter by the distance from the plunger to the base plate and the length of the stroke. Therefore a 4-inch blade is limited to 2-3/8 inch lumber. A 7-inch blade cuts up to 5-5/16 inch hard and soft woods. With special blades, the jigsaw can be used to cut metals, high-pressure laminates, melamine, laminate flooring, laminated particle board, and MDF.
It would help if you had lots of practice to do accurate cuts with a jigsaw; it tends to wander off the cut line. It is usually due to using the wrong blade for the cut and caused by the grain in the wood. It is manageable by being careful and observing the cut all the time. The cutline must be marked clearly, and good lighting at the cut also improves your odds.
Because it is so versatile, you will find a jigsaw on any job site where it’s used often for dado, rabbet, and lap joint cuts. A jigsaw is perfect for making the curved (or short diagonal) cuts at the corners of countertops. When installing a sink in the countertop, I make the front, rear and two side cuts with a circular saw. I cut short of the corners and use the jigsaw to cut the rounded corners. I also use the jigsaw for the final long cut parallel to the backsplash. It’s because the wall is seldom straight and therefore the jigsaw is suited to the cut. A jigsaw can cut Perfect circles, and because of its versatility, a good quality jigsaw is one of my preferred tools.
VIDEO | Choosing a Circular Saw
When buying a jigsaw, it is wise to spend your money on the best quality. The cheaper brands will not survive long. It must be sturdy and the footplate of good quality.
A common complaint of circular saws is that they often produce rough, splintery tear-out edges, similar to the circular saw. It is possible to eliminate or at least reduce it by pushing the saw slower. Scoring the cut line with a sharp-pointed knife also improves the situation. However, it is quick to fit the correct type of blade that will eliminate the problem. The up and down cutting speed of the blade can also be altered to suit the cut and material. A combination of all these suggestions and some skill will produce perfect cuts.
I’m planning to modify my circular saw jig for long straight cuts for use with the jigsaw as well. The reason is simply that the jigsaw can cut any variety of materials with the correct blade fitted. The price of jigsaw blades in comparison to circular saw blades is minuscule. Therefore I can save a lot and at the same time extend the versatility of the jigsaw.
The table saw, miter saw, circular saw and jigsaw are excellent tools that are invaluable in the work environment. It is worth investing in good quality tools from the major, respected brands. Keep in mind that especially the jigsaw has wear parts that are replaced occasionally. Good dealer support is another important consideration.
VIDEO | What Type of Saw do you Need?