How do hand powered mitre saws and powered mitre saws compare?
August 20, 2007 8:26 AM   Subscribe

How do hand powered mitre saws and powered mitre saws compare?

I've tried a few hand powered mitre saws (both the block and tenon saw type and the jig/frame and hack saw types) and been unimpressed with them both. Blocks don't take a great range of wood sizes and the jig types tend to have blades that bend as they cut, taking the cut off true.

How do the circular mitre saws compare? Will the be up to the job of neatly cutting picture frame mouldings to a mitre or are they more intended for rough work? I know the greater the tpi, the better the cut, but even a fine circular saw blade seems a very low tpi compared to tenon saw types. Does the 4000rpm balance it out?
posted by twine42 to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
A good power mitre saw with a quality blade makes excellent cuts - more than suitable for fine finish work. At this point the saw seems to be as accurate as my measurements. (As a side note, this is one of the few tools where I think the laser they tend to put on all power tools is actually useful - my saw has two lasers that show the amount of wood that will be removed by the cut.)
posted by true at 8:36 AM on August 20, 2007

true - any idea what sort of tpi you're using on your blade?
posted by twine42 at 8:45 AM on August 20, 2007

As with so many things that we can buy, the more you spend on your mitre saw, the more accurate it is likely to be. I would consider the saw you linked to be a fairly low-end model.

Another quality that tends to surface with the higher end saws is repeatability - that is, every time you set the saw to 45 degrees, you'll get a 45 degree cut. The lower end saws are not as consistent in this regard (I tend to find myself making test cuts on the really important stuff most of the time anyway).

The speed of the blade definitely makes up for the relatively coarse blades - you can make clean, accurate cuts in small/fine material with ease.
posted by davey_darling at 8:51 AM on August 20, 2007

By cutting the FIRST pass about 1/64 TOO BIG then recutting the extra off you will have excellent results, the amount of material in the second cut is so tiny the blade will vaporize it [not really but sure looks that way] and the "tear out' or cut feathering will be so slight that you can brush it off with your finger. Computing the t.p.i. times the r.p.m. = the w.o.w.c.u.t.

Basic tips.

P.S. A good first project is a pair of extension wings off the sides of the metal mitre box assembly to steady your parts and provide locations to clip on a stop block or to clamp several sections for one pass.
posted by Freedomboy at 8:52 AM on August 20, 2007

davey - yeah, that was just the first mitre saw that appeared on a websearch. :)

freedom - it wouldn't have occurred to me to cut oversize since trying that trick with a hand saw is a sure way to get things wrong. I'll have to give that a try. Ta.
posted by twine42 at 9:09 AM on August 20, 2007

Yes - I have this saw, so 3500 RPM. The stock 40 tooth blade was fine for most work (baseboards, door casing, etc) but I have a finer blade ready to go for when I need it.
posted by true at 9:18 AM on August 20, 2007

You don't say what you're trying to make for the most part, but if it's somewhat thin you might go for a miter trimmer.
posted by phearlez at 9:33 AM on August 20, 2007

The second cut really works great for those times the fit has to be paper thin accurate. Just make that longer cut, a tiny bit longer, then slide the wood into the non running blade so that when you bring the blade up the metal travels a tiny bit towards the wood and the teeth will then be located ever so much over the new location then cut that as the second cut. Practice it on junk and get a feel for the amount of overcut to plan for.
posted by Freedomboy at 9:33 AM on August 20, 2007

One big advantage of the power mitre saw is that you can make extremely fine adjustments to your cut. If your cut is slightly too long, you can accurately take off a 64th of an inch. With the hand saws, if you try to make a very fine cut, the blade will not descend vertically. It will bow out at the bottom no matter how stiff the blade.

A 40 tooth blade is sufficient, but more importantly you must keep it sharp. Carbide toothed blades are very good and hold their edge longer.
posted by JackFlash at 9:39 AM on August 20, 2007

Both handsaws in a mitre box and circular chop saws can be equally accurate and can get you good 45s. Both will need a plane and shooting board to get absolutely perfect corners.

Stick with a fixed (IE: not sliding) saw unless you absosmurfly need the extra cut capacity. An 80 tooth ATB Melamine blade will make beautiful cuts in moldings. More expensive blades will have larger carbide tips with a finer grain. The latter will allow the blade to be sharper and the former makes the blade tougher and allow for more sharpenings. Make sure you get a chop saw blade rather than a table saw blade. The chop saw blade has a negative hook vs the positive hook of a table saw blade. For picture frames I'd stay away from thin kerf blades. Rockler has a good saw blade intro write up.

You'll also need either a good machinist square or a new plastic 45 drafting square to set the saw up. If you are planning a production set up consider two saws as you'll need to make lefts and rights.
posted by Mitheral at 9:44 AM on August 20, 2007 [2 favorites]

I mostly use a table saw for making picture frame cuts, I madew a jig that is completely solid and squre. Just a data point there...

I have a powered mitre saw that I love, that's from the 60s, an old rockwell. It has no ability to set any angles other than 90 and 45 but it's absolutely perfect. It's also kind of heavy, loud and makes a huge mess.

When I'm cutting miters indoors (like for trim installation) I use a hand version like the "jig" link you showed, but a fairly high end one, costing around $100. It's totally silent, light, and makes very little mess. It makes a very fine cut and it's kerf is VERY thin. It's easily as accurate as a powered miter saw but you can't sneak up on the cut, you have to measure very accurately and cut on your line. I mark lines with a marking knife (you could use a razor blade). My hand saw also has stops for most of the major needed angles (including ones for a lot of crown molding sizes) and also you can set it at arbitrary angles, although it's quite difficult to set it at an angle *near* but not on one of it's stops.

I used to do computer work for a framing store. They used what looked kind of like a giant heavy duty paper cutter to cut miters for frames. It made the smoothest cuts I've seen in my life, they were like polished wood. Also perfectly 45% provided it's set up right. I imagine it was major $$ and it's definitely a uni-tasker.
posted by RustyBrooks at 10:56 AM on August 20, 2007

I’ve never used a hand miter box for anything serious. But I have spent a big part of nearly every work day for the last twelve years working with a nice dual-compound slide saw. Most of that time I was doing high grade interior trim for the rich and shamelessly self-indulgent. Provided you’re willing to spend the money, a good miter saw from Makita or Hitachi (with a good blade) can produce impeccable miters, right out of the box, with no after cut dressing required.
posted by Huplescat at 1:57 PM on August 20, 2007

One thing to note about powered mitre saw is that working on pieces less than about 12" is dangerous. If you're cutting a lot of short pieces you might be better off with a different solution.

Also, I find the hold-downs invaluable on my mitre saw, but the motor interferes with the hold-down on the right side of the cut. (Which, naturally, is the one I use the most.) The lesson learned is to check out your saw before buying, if possible, to make sure you're happy with all the ergonomics.

Finally, for my money I'd buy a compound mitre saw over a simple mitre saw.
posted by srt19170 at 10:10 AM on August 21, 2007

That has Hitachi written all over it. Hitachi engineers design great stuff but they always leave in something to aggravate carpenters... and they’re not the only ones. If you could combine the best of Hitachi with the best of Makita you could get the perfect saw. But that sort of thing is not allowed.

Breaktime at is a good resource, and I think that its open to anyone with a question, but I payed to also get the magazine so I’m not sure.
posted by Huplescat at 6:53 PM on August 21, 2007

srt19170 writes "the motor interferes with the hold-down on the right side of the cut"

Someone should start making a worm drive mitre saw. I for one would be all over it.
posted by Mitheral at 9:21 PM on August 21, 2007

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