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Compound and Mitre Saw Buying Guide

NOTE: This guide is my opinion, taken from my experience. I really recommend you go to the shop and try the saw before you buy, but if you are in a hurry here is my best pick. This article uses sponsored links.

Versitile, quick and accurate…

Three words that come to mind when I think of my Mitre saw

A truly versitile tool that greatly increase the capability of any workshop and woodworker. Some of the more popular jobs mitre saw jobs involve cutting:

  • Rails
  • Decking
  • Weatherboards
  • Skirting boards
  • Architraves
  • Pine Stud
  • Crown molding

But truth is that there is more than one type of saw that will do these jobs and make docking cuts (docking cuts are when you cut width ways)

What are the different types of docking saws?

1. Radial Arm

The radial arm saw at my work

Typically used in factory settings, these saws are not portable and are built into a bench. The ones I have worked with don’t cut angles, they just go in and out. They have a decent reach on them but they aren’t as popular as mitre saws because of their price, and bulkiness.

2. Drop or Chop Saw

Drop or chop saw with hinge mechanism highlighted
The mechanism is a hinge and provides minimal reach.

The cheapest version of a portable docking saw. The saw does not slide in and out, it just chops or drops down on the piece of timber with a hinge like mechanism. Because of this the crosscut reach of the saw is very limited.

* Doing research for this article, I found there were many saws with this hinge mechanism that cut other materials. Mainly metal and stone/tile. For this article I will only be referring to cutting wood.

3. Mitre Saw (& Sliding Mitre Saw)

Mitre saws are named after the 45° mitre angle/join (think picture frame). In theory, any saw that can perform a 45° cut is called a mitre saw (even those drop/chop saws with a hinge mechanism.)

Sliding Mitre Saws cut mitres and don’t have a hinge mechanism. The type of sliding mechanism changes with the brand (my Makita has rails for instance) but the all slide in and out to allow for cutting wider boards.

Most cut angles on both sides of the saw and can have different sized blades.

4. Compound Saw

Compound saw with piece cut to show extent of reach

Compound saws are named after the compound cut. This is when you can cut two angles at the same time.

The saw must be able to tilt the blade to produce a compound cut. This feature will be stated either in the name or in the features.

If you are wondering how to tell a compound saw by sight, you can look at the fence. The 45 degree cut is there to allow for the saw to bevel both ways. The black angle marks at the base of the saw on my Makita is also a bit of a give away 🙂

The compound saws have the most features and are the most expensive version of a docking saw.

That’s the basics so lets delve a little deeper into…

The features that will cost you money

1. Size of the blade

Larger blade means a greater reach, it also means more money. The size of the blade will also effect the size and weight of the machine.

2. The reach

The mechanism that controls the reach of the cut is where i find the different brands differ a lot. My Makita has two sets of rails to do the job. Some manufacturers don’t use rails, they use fancier setups which I think are aimed at keeping the mechanism out of the saw dust while keeping the cut smooth.

3. Angles

  • Top view of compound saw (angles)
  • Top view of compound saw with angles identified

Some saws are more dexterous than others, meaning they can cut larger angles. And some saws also only cut angles on one side. The Makita I have cuts 60 degrees on one side, and 45 on the other.

4. Lasers

Lasers can help speed things up a little but they aren’t really worth paying extra for. If you want to line up a cut smiply pull the blade down and get it right. Making more than one cut, use the stop.

Why not just get a Drop/Chop Saw?

Most of the time you will be cutting straight down, relatively standard bits of timber. But occasionally is when you want the extra features. I can’t tell you how much this is worth to you but it is important. There’s nothing worse than thinking you can do a job and then realising that you cannot.

A few things I use on my Makita all the time

1. The stop clamp

The clamp I use to clamp down stops for my compound saw

I’m pretty sure all compound saws will have some form of clamp. You can use it to hold down your cutting piece but I use it mostly for stops

2. The table extenders

I leave mine in. The bigger the table the better when you are cutting but it can get in the way

3. Blade size

I have a 10 inch blade at work and a 12 inch at home. I recommend you get the larger blade size because the price and bulkiness of the saws aren’t that much of a deterrent for the extra reach that you get. My opinion.

What to look for (and what erks me with my Makita)

1. A good fence

  • A close up of the fence of my makita compound saw
  • The back of the fence of a makita compound saw

You want a sturdy fence that doesn’t move around. If you get a compound saw, the saw tilts and this will impact your fence (because the saw needs extra space when tilted to cut.) To answer this, manufacturers design different fence mechanisms etc. The Makita one is OK. It does have the ability to adjust the fence which also makes it a little flimsy.

2. Easy to get the blade on and off

Most people don’t change and sharpen the blade enough (me included). It is important to have a sharp blade for safety reasons. The Makita has a safety bolt that has to come off first before you can get to the blade. It’s a pain if you don’t remember but having the safety on there is a good idea.

3. The swing and reach mechanism

This is one of the most important parts of the compound/mitre saw for a few reasons. The cut needs to be smooth, you don’t want to be feeling any additional pressure when you are cutting. It’s a safety risk if nothing else. And different brands do it differently, and they are all pretty good here.

Where you notice the reaching mechanism is in the cleaning. Because the mechanism is at the back of the saw, it cops the saw dust from the cut. You don’t really want saw dust in the moving parts.

4. Dust extraction

My Makita doesn’t have a great dust extraction. (The hole on the bag is small and most dust doesn’t go in it anyway.) Having a proper table set up with a dust extraction helps here a lot.

The design on the old Makita dust extraction leaves a lot to be desired, even with some suction.

The sawdust created by my mitre saw, even with dust extraction

Newer saws make claims of having better solved this problem. You can see in the image above where the dust extraction needs to be. Look for this when looking at potential saws.

You can see on the new Makita Saw they have thought about this. The black plastic section is behind the saw blade where the saw dust goes.

5. Horizontal vs Vertical handle

It’s probably not going to come into your consciousness but different brands do it differently.

My Opinion on buying a Mitre Saw

I buy Makita and i’ve never had a problem with them so I keep buying them. But if you are buying a mitre or compound saw I really recommend you go to a tool shop and give them a go yourself.

And preferably a tool specialty shop, not a hardware store (like bunnings or home depot). In hardware stores the selection of models and brands is more ‘basic’.

A selection of mitre saws at my local hardware
A selection of mitre saws at my local hardware

Although some hardware stores may carry some trade quality models they are aimed at the handyman more than the professional. And even if you plan on buying a basic model saw, I would still go to the specialty tool shop and feel the differences in the sliding mechanisms.

Looking at stuff like the reach of the cut, height and the size of angles is important also… but the feel is very important.

After you go and decide on a make and model you can go online and price hunt. But it’s not worth the hassle buying something you don’t want.

My thoughts on different popular makes and models

1. Makita 12 inch (305mm) Sliding Compound Saw

A great saw by a strong brand name
Price:$$$$$ (Check todays here)
Capability:☆☆☆☆☆
Max width cut at 0°:382mm (15 inches)
Max height cut at 0°:107mm (4.3 inches)
Max Angle:60°
Max Bevel:48°
Motor:1,800W (15 Amp)

Not a great picture but compared to my older model the rails have been moved to the side, partly to get them out of the way of the saw dust.

The new Makitas also have two dust collection points also, and they have made the fence two piece instead of four piece making it more stable and secure. The bevel (saw tilt) adjustment is now on the front of the saw also which is a much better idea.

This saw also has a compact slide system which means it can be put up against a wall, which is a big help in small workshops.

This Mitre saw plugs in, Makita do battery operated saws as well like this one.

2. Bosch GCM12SD – 12 Inch Corded Dual-Bevel Miter Saw 

A great buy for serious and professional woodworkers
Price:$$$ (Check todays here)
Capability (my opinion):☆☆☆☆☆
Max width cut at 0°:355mm (14 inches)
Max height cut at 0°:165mm (6 1/2 inches)
Max Angle:52° R / 60° L
Max Bevel:47°
Motor:1,800W (15 Amp)

Bosch make good tools without being rediculously expensive. My old man has one of these and he likes it. I can see why:

  • Font bevel adjustments (I need to reach around the back of my Makita and it isn’t easy)
  • Base extensions extend the table 40 inches over the table
  • Reach and cut mechanism keeps bearings and moving pieces out of the way of saw dust (providing greater longevity)

It’s all great on paper here, but the horizontal handle and the reach and cut mechanism may not suit you for whatever reason… Which is why it’s important to go and try in the shop before you buy.

3. DEWALT Sliding Compound Miter Saw, 12-Inch (DWS779)

Amazing value
Price:$$ (Check todays here)
Capability:☆☆☆☆
Max width cut at 0°:406mm (16 inches)
Max height cut at 0°:50mm (2 inches) *
Max Angle:60° R / 50° L
Max Bevel:48°
Motor:1,800W (15 Amp)

This is a great saw with only a few limiting features. The max cutting height is low compaured to others (presumably due to the single rails) and the dust extraction looks like it’s not going to pick much up (it’s relatively far away from the cut).

Other than that you can’t beat the price on this thing and if I were after something I’d go and try one of these as long as it felt right.

* This detail is taken from numerious websites although I think its max cut would be higher from the picture.

4. Hitachi Dual Bevel Sliding Compound Miter Saw

A solid competitor
Price:$$ (Check todays here)
Capability (my opinion):☆☆☆
Max width cut at 0°:311mm (12 1/4 inches)
Max height cut at 0°:120mm (4 11/16 inches)
Max Angle:57° R / 45° L
Max Bevel:45°
Motor:1,800W (15 Amp)

The biggest selling point of the Hitachi is the compact slide system which means it doesn’t need the rear clearance of older models. Although I haven’t used one of these reviewers talk about the dust extraction being poor.

Otherwise it looks like a good saw, particularly for small workshop/garage setups. It comes with a 5 year Hitachi warranty and Hitachi’s (like Makitas) do last.

What would I buy?

If I had to buy again I would get the Bosch (because of the mechanism and features) and if that was also out of the price range I’d get the DeWalt. (Basic design that does the job.)

In this case i’m not sure if the Makita is worth the money.

Compound and Mitre Saw FAQ:

Why 12 inch saws?

I want the extra reach and I don’t see the price or size (bulkiness) being too big of an issue.

How do I keep the saw dust down?

You really need a decent dust extraction to do it properly. Dust bags (which is the standard equipment that comes with the saw) are never as good as actual suction.

My blade keeps biting on the timber…

If your blade keeps biting, it needs to be sharpened. Google “saw blade sharpening companies near me” and find a reasonably priced one. The turn around is usually pretty good.

Sources:

Thankyou to these sources for their information