Miter saws are increasingly popular, versatile cutting tools that woodworkers and home hobbyists can use to cut lumber, flooring, siding, and PVC pipes. Double bevel saws first caught on with building professionals, but While you can use a miter saw to take over the ripping tasks you might otherwise do with a radial saw, miter saws are the tool of choice for making crosscuts, cuts that go across the grain of wood.
Understanding the Terminology of Miter Saws
Miter saws go by many names, including miter box saws, chop box saws, and chop saws. Most miter saws are stationary saws that you operate by bringing a rotating mounted blade down onto the workpiece.
Miter saws may operate horizontally as well as vertically.
There are some models of miter saws known as sliding compound miter saws that the operator runs horizontally across the piece of wood or pipe being worked. Any kind of miter saw that operates at angles other than 90 degrees is known as a “compound cut” saw.
What’s a bevel?
When you are talking about miter saws, the “bevel” is the slant, or the angle from straight up and down vertical or straight across horizontal that you can adjust the saw to make. The standard angle of the cutting edge of a miter saw is 90 degrees. You can adjust your miter saw to cut on a bevel, which is an angle of less than 90 degrees. If your miter saw is single bevel, you can only operate it on an angle to the left or to the right. If a miter saw is double bevel (sometimes called dual-bevel), you can operate it at an angle in both directions.
Do You Really Need a Miter Saw?
Beveling enables you to cut angles needed for molding, trim, baseboards, and furniture making. You can cut materials at an angle with either single bevel or double bevel miter saws. Both kinds of saws have their advantages and disadvantages.
Anything you can do with a single bevel option or a dual bevel option mter saw you can do with a radial saw — after some complicated adjustments. Anything you can do with a double bevel miter saw you can do with a single bevel miter saw — if you do a little planning.
Miter saws vs radial saws
Miter saws aren’t just easier to use than radial saws. They are smaller, more portable, and less expensive. And as this article will cover next, both single bevel saws and double bevel saws have their advantages and disadvantages, but double bevel miter saws usually offer enough additional features to justify their slightly higher upfront price.
One thing to remember about single and dual bevel saws
Just remember that no matter what kind of radial saw or miter saw you use, you will need a work table that fully supports the material you are cutting to prevent wasted materials and injuries. Outfeed tables on either or both sides of the saw provide support for either ripping or crosscutting. Now let's consider single vs double bevel plusses and minuses.
Single Bevel Saw Pros and Cons
The important thing to remember about single bevel saws is that it is only possible to adjust their positioning in one direction. You can adjust them to the left or to the right. It is only possible to make uni-directional cuts with a single bevel saw, but you can make both miter cuts (cuts that run straight up and down or straight across) and bevel cuts (cuts that run at an angle) independently or together.
There will be many projects that require making cuts on both sides of the piece you are working in opposite directions. Since your single bevel miter saw only makes cuts in one direction, you will have to turn the workpiece around to make the additional bevel cut on its other side in the direction you need.
It doesn’t take a lot of planning to use a single bevel saw when you need cuts in different directions, but it’s easy to make mistakes, and cutting will take longer and take more effort than when you are using a double bevel miter saw.
Single Bevel Miter Saw Pros
If you are a beginner to woodworking, you may be happier with a single bevel miter saw. In general, single bevel saws have these things going for them:
- They’re inexpensive Single bevel saws usually sell for a few hundred dollars less than double bevel miter saws made by the same manufacturer.
- They’re easy to use. If you will be making mostly 90 degree cuts, a single bevel saw is probably better for you.
- They’re versatile. Regardless of your skill level, you can accomplish the same cuts with a single bevel miter saw that you can make with a double bevel miter saw. They will just take longer.
Single Bevel Miter Saw Cons
There are also some drawbacks to using single bevel miter saws:
- Less uniformity. You can’t make double cuts at the same time with a single bevel saw. As a result, cuts may appear uneven.
- Limited type of cut. Especially when you are working with door frames, picture frames, crown molding or trim, the need to make all your cuts in the same direction means you have to turn every piece around to make the second cut
- Longer work time. Intricate designs take more than twice as long with a single bevel saw than with a double bevel miter saw due to the constant need to reposition the material on which you are working.
Double Bevel Miter Saws Pros and Cons
You can adjust the blades of your dual bevel saw to both the right and the left, not just to one side, like the single bevel saw. Your double bevel saw can make downward and horizontal cuts in either direction.
Rotating the saw head on a fulcrum to either right or left enables you to make identical cuts in the material you’re working on. The cuts on either side of the workpiece will be uniform and precise. The job will go more quickly, because it’s easier to make repetitive cuts when you are working with a long piece of material.
Committed woodworking hobbyists and contractors prefer dual bevel saws for efficient workflow. But that isn’t to say that dual bevel miter saws don’t have both advantages and disadvantages.
Dual Bevel Miter Saw Pros
Pros for double bevel miter saws include
- Precise cuts. The ability to rotate the saw head enables you to make precise, even cuts on both sides of the piece, reducing waste, and improving the aesthetic appeal of your work.
- Meeting deadlines. The ability to make cuts in both directions makes it easier to meet tight deadlines.
- Taking on more projects, especially when you are dealing with trim and crown molding. The ability to cut in both directions efficiently helps you complete projects faster.
Dual Bevel Miter Saw Cons
Cons for double bevel miter saws include:
- More expensive. A double bevel miter saw will cost at least $100, and sometimes several hundred dollars more than a single bevel miter saw made by the same company.
- More difficult to use. Beginners have a learning curve with double bevel saws. But the kinds of projects for which double bevel saws are most helpful, such as working with angles in crown molding, are not beginner projects.
What Do You Look For When You Are Buying a Double Bevel Miter Saw?
Since miter saws are available both new and used, sometimes almost antique, it helps to know a little about their history.
The first miter system consisted of a small table with a rotating head. The head could be set to 45 degrees in either direction, and at any angle between 45 degrees and 90 degrees, straight up and down.These miter saws were portable and made cutting a lot easier.
Next came compound miter saws that allow you to make cuts on cove and crown moldings. The challenge in using this next generation of miter saws was that they were limited in the width of the material they could cut. The power tools industry’s answer was sliding miter saws, which can cut wider stock but retain the ability to cut complex angles.
Choices in new miter saws
Both single bevel miter saws and dual bevel miter saws come in a range of sizes and prices. The smallest and lightest miter saws are also the most economical, sometimes costing less than $100. The most expensive miter saws are the sliding models. They are also the heaviest and least portable saws in their class, but there are more things they can do.
What are the specs for new miter saws?
Miter saws are classified by the size of the saw blade. The smallest saw blade will almost always be 7-¼”, while some models will have blades of up to 12”. To give you an idea of what you can do with the different sizes of blades, a miter saw with a 10” blade will be able to cut through 2 x 6 lumber at a 90-degree angle. If you need to cut 2 × 12 lumber or 4 × 4 treated lumber, you will need a miter saw with a 12” blade.
Saws can weigh from 34 to 80 pounds. Motor power in miter saws ranges from a 9 amp motor to a 15 amp motor. The more powerful motor will enable you to deal with more kinds of materials.
Many models can cut left and right to angles greater than 45 degrees. This feature can come in handy when you have to fit molding to a room that isn’t perfectly square.
There are also miter saws that have more precise detents (the plate that indicates the angle of the cut). This helps you achieve greater precision in your cutting.
And there are additional features such as blade brakes, a sliding left fence that keeps longer materials in place, a vacuum, or a port for a connection to a shop vac.
Battery packs can be enormously helpful when you don’t have power on your job site. There are cordless battery-operated miter saws that you can use all day long (just be sure to keep the other battery on a charger somewhere). And you will find miter saws with modern safety features.
Safety features on miter saws
Older miter saws don’t always come with modern safety features. Miter saws come with two kinds of handles, a handle shaped like the letter D or a handle like a pistol grip.
Newer miter saws have a trigger inside the handle fitted with a safety switch. Both have to be squeezed at the same time to start new miter saws, but used miter saws may not have this safety feature. It’s important to check for the safety switch before you buy the miter saw.
Newer miter saws also have a swinging blade guard that raises out of the way while you are cutting but drops down to shield your hands and fingers when you raise the saw from the cut. Older models may not have this safety feature, either. You are more likely to avoid a tragic amputation if the saw you buy has it.
Choosing blades for your miter saw
No matter which model of miter saw you choose, you still need the right blades. Circular blades for miter saws come in two main categories:
- Crosscut, for most of your woodworking projects. The more teeth on the blade, the smoother your cut.
- Combination, if you will be needing to make cuts on materials other than lumber, such as PVC pipes.
Higher-quality blades last longer and give you cleaner, even cuts.
Don’t forget your work table
Miter saws must be anchored to a stable, hard surface for safe use. You can bolt your miter saw to a table, or you can use wooden strips to anchor it to sawhorses. The best work surface for your miter saw, however, is the miter saw stand. These stands are light enough to take to construction sites,, but they are strong enough to hold both your saw and the material you are working on securely in place.
What You Need to Know About Operating Your Dual Bevel Miter Saw
It’s unusual for your new double bevel miter saw to come off the showroom cutting exactly. Fortunately, it’s not hard to adjust them so that they do. Always follow the manufacturer’s owners manual.
It’s essential to follow common sense safety rules when you operate your dual bevel miter saw
- Before you start, make sure you are standing on a non-slip surface with both feet securely on the floor.
- With the power off, lower the blade to make sure you are making the desired cut. Then turn on the power.
- Never stand behind the blade. Always stand to one side. If you are following a pencil line, get it in your sights by looking through the lower safety guard.
- Never cross your hands.
- Keep your hands out of the marked “No Hands” zone. If there is no “No Hands” zone, keep your hands and fingers at least 3” away from the blade.
- Once you have made your cut, turn off the power. Let the blade stop rotating before you raise it.
Your double bevel miter saw will cost more, but it gets the job done. Most professionals and DIY enthusiasts find it to be a great investment.