Deciding Between Miter Saw vs Table Saw: Which One Is Right for You?
Together with a cordless drill and circular saw, the table saw and miter saw are possibly two of the most fundamental and all-important project tools you can own, particularly when those projects involve the use of wood. But do you really need both of these tools in your workshop? Or would one or the other alone be sufficient for your project—and all the other woodworking projects that will surely follow?
These are the questions we will explore in-depth in the article below. Here we will highlight the main features and components of both the table saw and miter saw. We will also outline the main differences between the two types of saws and discuss how and when to use each of them.
What Is a Table Saw?
The table saw is one of the most useful tools a woodworker can own. Also known as a saw bench, the table saw consists of a circular-shaped blade mounted by an arbor — a tool component that is used to grip or clamp the material being worked on. It is powered by an electric motor — a direct-drive motor or one operated by belts or gears — and protrudes through the surface of a table — a table that provides support for the material being cut, usually wood.
In today’s table saws, the depth of the cut into the wood is controlled by moving the saw blade up and down; the higher the blade sticks up from the table, the deeper the cut in the wood. Also, the angle of the cut in the wood is controlled by adjusting the angle of the blade.
With the modern table saw, the blade is in a fixed position. The woodworker pushes the wood past the blade to make the various cuts. A table saw is ideal for making long straight cuts with the grain of the wood, also known as rip cuts.
But it can also be used to make repeated crosscuts against the grain of the wood—and make them much faster and much more accurately than one could achieve with a handheld circular saw.
Different Types of Table Saws
Table saws come in a lot of different variations. Some are portable, meaning they can be moved from place to place (like different job sites), while others are very heavy and stationary — the type you are likely to see in a professional woodworker’s shop. The three most popular types of table saws are the bench top saws, contractor table saws, and cabinet table saws.
Bench Top Table Saw
Bench top table saws are portable saws that are manufactured to be as compact as possible. These saws are usually the most lightweight and are very affordable in comparison with other variations.
Bench top table saws are usually the saws of choice for the amateur do-it-yourselfer and are primarily aimed at users looking to do some light-duty projects in their garage or shop.
Bench top table saws do not have stands or wheels as part of their makeup. As their name suggests, they are designed to sit atop a workbench. However, despite the lack of wheels, they are considered portable, as their lightweight design makes them very easy to carry from one place to the next.
To achieve this lightweight design, bench top models rely on very lightweight materials in their construction, such as plastic, aluminum, and/or other composite materials.
The tables on a bench saw are relatively small and their ripping capacity is somewhat limited as a result. However, there are many add-on accessories that will enable these machines to perform almost any woodworking chore that may come up for the average homeowner.
Contractor Table Saw
Also known as “Jobsite table saws,” contractor models are similarly portable, meaning they can be moved from one job site to the next with relative ease.
Although not as compact as the bench saw, the contractor table saw is still very maneuverable. Its components are a bit more robust than the bench top table saw, and thus it offers more accurate results than the former and is much more durable in the long term.
As its name suggests, the contractor table saw is the saw of choice for construction workers when they need a portable saw. They feature direct drive motors like the bench saw, but this motor tends to be much more powerful, making the saw suitable for heavy-duty use.
They also include sturdier fences and better alignment adjustments; they have 24-inch rip capacities, and some even come with extension tables that allow them to cut even larger pieces of wood in a single pass.
Another hallmark of the contractor saw is the presence of a stand that enables the saw to be set up virtually anywhere. The stand is retractable, which allows the saw to be easily transported, and it usually includes wheels that enable users to easily move it to different areas of a jobsite.
Other features you are likely to find on a contractor table saw is a riving knife, onboard storage space for tools, etc., and dust collection ports that make cleanup a breeze.
Cabinet Table Saw
The granddaddy of all table saws, the cabinet saw is a stationary model and the heaviest type of table saw you can buy. It is also the most powerful saw on the market and tends to be the most expensive.
Every characteristic of the cabinet saw is superior to that of other table saw variations. The saw is literally built into a large cabinet, making it very durable, bulky, and robust—able to withstand very heavy use for years on end.
This is typically the table saw of choice for professional woodworkers, as the saw tends to be very precise and built to last. One of the great things about cabinet saws is they do not require continuous adjustment as other saw variations do.
Their motors are much more powerful, as they generally run on 240 volts and produce between 3 and 5 units of horsepower. There is virtually no project that a cabinet saw cannot handle.
In addition to cutting through standard boards, the cabinet saw can handle hardwood, pressure-treated lumber, plywood, pine, and even larger sheets of other materials besides wood, such as some modern composite sheet materials.
The tables on a cabinet saw are enormous and almost all of them include additional table extensions. They tend to weigh more than 500 pounds (thus the “stationary” label), which adds to their amazing stability, which leads to precision.
In addition to benchtop table saws, contractor table saws, and cabinet table saws, there are also hybrid table saws—a cross between a contractor and cabinet saw; and compact table saws—a step up from bench top saws with a little more power and an extended table for making longer rip cuts.
Table Saws: About the Motors and Drive Configuration
The table saws of today generally use one of two types of motor/drive configurations: direct drive saws and belt-drive saws.
- Direct drive saws. These saws typically have a universal motor that links directly to the blade and transfers all of the power to the blade. This is the motor/drive configuration typically found on smaller, more portable table saws.
- Belt-drive saws. These table saws usually feature an induction motor and a belt that transfers power to the blade. In these (typically larger, stationary) saws, the motor can be offset (or outboard), keeping it away from the flying sawdust, thus enabling it to last longer.
What Are the Components and Features of the Table Saw?
The table saw consists of a number of mandatory components in addition to the circular blade and table. They include:
- Rip Fence. The rip fence on a table saw is the long straight bar that functions as a guide for the piece of wood as it moves past the blade.
- Mobile Stands. Mobile stands, like the ones on a contractor table saw, enable portable saws to stand on their own without the need for a bench.
- Miter Gauge. The miter gauge is also a type of guide. It is adjustable, allowing you to move the workpiece past the blade for making cuts at specific angles.
- Bevel System. The bevel system on a table saw is a mechanism that enables you to maneuver the blade to cut bevels or angles.
- Arbor Locks. Also known as shaft locks, arbor locks immobilize the shaft and blade, making it easier to change out the blade.
- Riving Knife. An important safety feature on all table saws, the riving knife is a mechanism that keeps the wood from pinching the blade, thus lessening the risk of the boards kicking back toward the operator—an eventuality that can cause major injury.
- Dust Chutes. Dust chutes and blowers on a table saw help move the sawdust away from the work area.
- Anti-kickback Pawls. Also a safety feature, the anti-kickback pawls are metal arms with teeth that grab a board if it kicks back toward the user.
- Blade Guard. A blade guard is a pivoting shield that protects the user from dust and debris as the wood is being cut. It also protects against kickback and accidental contact with the rotating blade.
- Amps. Amps measure the power of the saw’s motor. Higher amps predictably mean more power.
What Is a Miter Saw?
Also known as a chop saw around construction worksites, a power miter saw is a woodworking tool that is used to make rapid, accurate crosscuts on a piece of wood at various angles chosen by the operator.
The miter saw is usually the saw of choice for cutting things like molding and trim. They are generally very portable and compact and have blade sizes that range anywhere from 8 to 10 to 12 inches.
The miter saw makes cuts by pulling a spinning circular blade down onto a board of some kind in a short controlled motion. The workpiece is typically held against a stationary fence.
This fence helps to provide a more precise cutting angle between the plane of the blade and the plane of the longest edge on the workpiece. In a standard position, this angle is fixed at 90 degrees—or straight across the board.
What makes the miter saw such an invaluable tool for woodworkers is the miter index. This feature enables the angle of the blade to be changed relative to the fence.
While the majority of miter saws allow for precise one-degree incremental changes to the miter index, some include “stops” that enable the miter index to be quickly set to commonly used cutting angles (including ½ inch increments), such as 15, 22.5, 30 and 45 degrees.
The Different Types of Miter Saws
Like with table saws, there are many different variations of the miter saw – variations that, in some cases, define exactly what a given saw can and cannot accomplish.
As we have mentioned, a standard miter saw is a woodworking tool that enables the operator to create cuts at a variety of angles. The saw on a standard miter saw has a blade that is mounted on a swing arm – a swing arm that pivots both left or right to produce the angles.
You can use a miter saw to quickly make cuts for crown molding, picture frames, door frames, window casings, and more.
Compound Miter Saw
A compound miter saw is a great tool that includes a left and right-pivoting blade for making angled cuts. The blade on this saw can also tilt in a single direction, which allows it to make beveled cuts.
They also offer the convenient advantage of making compound cuts in a single pass.
Dual Compound Miter Saw
The dual-compound miter saw works very similarly to a compound miter saw, in that it pivots both right and left to allow it to make angle cuts. However, while compound saw blades can only tilt in a single direction, dual compound miter saws can tilt both to the left and the right. This unique feature allows it to rapidly create bevel cuts at any angle the user wishes.
Sliding Compound Miter Saw
Perhaps the most useful, all-encompassing miter saw on the market is the sliding compound miter saw. These saws offer all of the versatility and flexibility of both the compound miter saw and dual compound miter saw, plus a sliding feature, much like a radial arm saw.
This sliding feature allows the user to move the blade both forward and backward. This feature is a huge advantage, as it increases the potential cut length the saw can provide. The versatility of this type of saw over a model that doesn’t slide is such a huge
The Features of a Miter Saw
Miter saws come with many great features that offer versatility, safety and more. Some of these great features include:
- Different blade sizes. On a miter saw, the size of the blade can vary, and the exact size you require will depend on the job and the size of the workpieces with which you will be working. Most miter saws have blades that are 8, 10, or 12 inches in diameter, with the larger blades able to make longer cuts.
- Articulated Blade Guard. An articulated blade guard on a miter saw keeps the guard clear of the stock, giving you a better view of the cut line. When you raise the saw, the guard lowers to completely cover the blade.
- Positive stops. Positive stops on a miter saw are points that are set by the manufacturer that allows you to rapidly make accurate cuts on specific angles. The more of these positive stops that are pre-set, the less time it will take you to set up those stops manually. Some positive stops are thumb-activated for quick adjustment.
- Depth Stops. These features enable you to adjust the height of the blade, thus setting how deeply it will cut into the wood.
- Spindle locks. Also known as shaft locks, spindle locks keep the shaft and the blade from moving, making it easier to change the blade.
- Electric Brakes. Electric brakes on a miter saw reverse the flow of electricity in the saw motor when you release the trigger. Reversing the current stops the blade rapidly—a great safety feature.
- Dust chutes and blowers. These features help keep sawdust away from the work area.
- Sawdust Bags. These can be connected directly to the miter saw to collect sawdust.
- Table extensions. The table extension on a miter saw increases its length, allowing you to work with longer workpieces.
- Fences. Sliding and flip fences on a miter saw give added support to taller workpieces for standard miter cuts.
- Laser Guides. Laser guides and guide lights project a beam of light onto the workpiece, helping you make the most accurate cuts.
- Digital readouts. The digital displays on some miter saws provide easy-to-read miter and bevel setting information.
The Differences Between a Table Saw and a Miter Saw
While both a table saw and a miter saw include some type of table – a place to set the workpiece as it is being cut, there are many aspects and uses that distinguish a table saw from a miter saw. Some of these include:
The blade on a table saw is stationary. It protrudes up from the table, and the workpiece is moved toward that blade to make the desired cuts. This is not the case with a miter saw.A miter saw has a moveable blade.
Users place the workpiece on the table of the miter saw, and with a quick motion, they run the blade over the top of the workpiece by pulling it down.
The Types of Cuts
Both the table saw and the miter saw can make crosscuts on a workpiece. Crosscuts are those that go against the grain of the wood.
However, when you need to make a long, straight rip cut on a piece of wood – a cut that goes with the grain down the length of the workpiece – you will need to use a table saw.
Miter saws, on the other hand, are the saws of choice when you need to make one – or a series of – angled cuts on a workpiece. In fact, this is what they are primarily designed to do.
Miter saws can be adjusted to create any number of 45-degree cuts quickly, and some are even set with a series of pre-set positive stops – stops that allow the user to make a variety of commonly used angles in a snap.
Although the table saw and the miter saw are both very useful tools to have around your shop or jobsite, when it comes to versatility the table saw wins the prize.
A table saw can make long rip cuts, crosscuts, and even dado cuts. A miter saw can only make crosscuts and angled cuts and is very limited in terms of the size of the workpiece that can be used.
However, when it comes to making those angles, a miter saw is much more accurate and versatile than a table saw, which is why you should probably have both tools when precision is a must.
When and How to Use a Table Saw
There are many occasions in woodworking that simply require using a table saw—projects in which no other tool will do.
When you need to produce long vertical rip cuts with the grain of the wood, no tool is more accurate and precise than a table saw.
A table saw can also be used when making crosscuts on larger pieces of stock – pieces that may not be suitable for a miter saw
A table saw can be a dangerous tool to work with, and all precautions should be taken when using one. Always wear the proper eye protection and follow the manufacturer’s suggestions to the letter.
When pushing the workpiece toward the blade, there are many push tools you can use that will keep your hands safely away from the blade, but you will still need to give each task your utmost attention to avoid injury or worse. This cannot be stressed enough.
When and How to Use a Miter Saw
Although a miter saw, as a table saw, can be used to make 90-degree crosscuts on a given workpiece, its true value is in its ability to create incredibly accurate angled cuts for lumber or molding, picture frames, and cabinetry.
Many carpenters rely heavily on a miter saw for its portability, ease of use, and amazing versatility. The compound, dual compound, and sliding compound miter saws are essential for making bevel cuts as well – cuts that do not require you to turn the workpiece, as you would definitely have to do with a table saw.
When using a miter saw, always cut the factory end from a board before measuring and cutting a part. This will lead to a better fit and less sanding. Always allow the blade to do the work; and do not force it through the wood, as this can lead to kickback and possible injury.
A miter saw is similar to a table saw, too, in that both are very powerful machines that require careful and vigilant operation. When using a miter saw, don’t be surprised if it jumps or jerks when you first turn it on – this is common until the machine gets up to top speed, so keep your distance until it reaches this maximum point of operation.
Always wear eye protection whenever using a miter saw. Also, when you turn the machine off, keep in mind that the blade will continue to spin for a time, so watch out for any wood it might spit as it winds down to stationary.
As you can see, both the table saw and miter saw have a number of unique functions and uses, and both are very handy to have in your garage, professional workshop or at the job site.
Whether you want to make long rip cuts with the grain of the wood, cross cuts, or beveled cuts, no project is too big, small, or complex when you have both of these two useful saws as part of your overall tool arsenal.