A power miter saw can be an extremely efficient and versatile tool to have in your collection. Designed to make crosscuts at 90 degrees, as well as angled cuts, power miter saws are ideal for cutting free lumber such as two-by-fours to size, cutting and shaping framing, crown molding, and more. But they also come in many variations, and it's important to distinguish between features, options and styles so that you can choose a model that's great for you and your own needs.
First, it's important to clarify the difference between a basic power miter saw and a compound miter saw. A basic power miter saw allows for adjustments to the angle of the cut while the blade always stays in a fixed, vertical position. Compound miter saws on the other hand have a rotating vertical pivot. This means that the blade can be tilted sideways, allowing you to create vertically angled cuts, and opening up a range of more complex functionality such as beveling and crown molding.
You likely already know what kinds of applications and usage you plan on getting from your power miter saw, so choosing between a compound or basic model shouldn't be too difficult. When in doubt, choose the versatility and functionality of the compound miter saws and you'll never go wrong. It's easier than discovering that you can't do what you might plan on doing because you bought a more basic model.
In terms of price, power miter saws can come in a huge range of prices. Basic models with limited extra features can begin as low as $100. From there, the top of the line commercial compound miter saws can cost well over $1,000. Obviously there's a lot of leeway in there where you can find high quality, feature-rich models that won't break the budget. Also, many of the best and most well known power tool brands have their own line of miter saws, so if you have a personal brand of choice, you can always rely on them for your miter saw as well.
Settling in on a price range will be easier once you know some of the features you should be considering and evaluating. One of the major distinguishing factors between power miter saws will be the size of the blade. The most common sizes are 8-inch, 10-inch and 12-inch blades, and the larger the blade, the larger the cut you can make, and in less time.
Another consideration for the blade itself will be how many teeth it has. Many less expensive models and blades have only 40 teeth. This will get the job done for rough cuts, but won't perform as you would hope for smooth cuts and fine craftsmanship. A blade with 60 teeth, or more, will provide you with that functionality and smoothness, which is important, and will also hold up to the rigors of usage more successfully, which hopefully means you won't have to spend more money to replace it.
A common feature that you should be looking for will be angle stops on the miter index. These are automatic stops in the adjustment area of the angle which will set the blade at the most common degrees, such as 15 degrees or 45 degrees. This makes quick adjustment a breeze, and you'll still have full control for more precise measurements when it's necessary or desired.
Many people also look for power miter saws that come with a laser guide. Laser guides will ensure that you make precise cuts no matter how long they are, or what angle you're moving at. Laser guides though should be adjustable and controllable, so they provide maximum support instead of just getting in the way of what you're trying to do.
Of course, a major consideration will be whether you want a cordless, battery-operated power miter saw, or if you want a standard plug-in, electric model. This all depends on where you'll be working. For on the go usage at job sites, a battery operated model is what you need, and you'll want extra battery packs on hand so you never are left empty. If you work from your own basement or your own shop though, an electric, plug-in model might be best.
Another factor to think about in terms of portability and physical specifications will be how heavy the model is. Lighter weights mean more portability, but some light power miter saws have poor balance, which actually makes them more difficult to use or maintain accuracy with. Therefore, it's important to not just choose based upon weight stats but also on actual usage and capabilities. Trusting expert and consumer miter saw reviews may be the best way to determine this besides heading down to the store and trying out different models.
Some people seek out power miter saws that come with attached dust bags for collection. The simple truth is that miter saws churn out a ton of dust in a short amount of time, and collecting it immediately and automatically is far easier than leaving it for later. Once again though, this will come down to where you're working, your personal preferences, and also how much you're looking to pay.
Dust collector or not, always be sure to wear goggles or other protection for your eyes, and you should also use ear plugs or other protection to protect your hearing. Other safety tips or features include lock-off switches, and self-retracting blade guards, which keep the blade completely covered when raised in between usage.
Hopefully by now you have gotten a better idea for what you can expect to find available for power miter saws. There are many factors to consider, and you'll want to find something that's versatile, easy to work with, safe, long-lasting and yes, affordable. The model that's best for you will meet your own personal needs regardless of the recommendations of others, but be sure to keep in mind all of the above information to make a sound, reliable decision.