Project Guide

How to Use a Miter Saw

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Types of Miter Saws and Cuts They Make
A person braces a board on a miter saw with one hand as he pushes the saw handle forward to make the cut.

The first step of learning how to use a miter saw is to understand the difference between a miter cut and a bevel cut.

  • A miter is an angled cut made across the face, or width, of a board.
  • A bevel is an angled cut made through the thickness of a board.
  • Any miter saw can cut a miter and a bevel, depending on how the board is placed onto the saw.

Compound miter saws can complete both types of angles with a single cut. This type of miter saw has an adjustment mechanism to swing the blade from left to right. Additionally, the blade can be tilted so that it cuts at an angle instead of straight down.

Some types of miter saws feature a sliding arm that allows the blade to extend, which gives you the ability to cut boards that are wider than the miter saw blade. A stationary arm limits a cut to the diameter of the blade.

How to Make a Miter Cut
The arm of a miter saw is positioned at an angle to make a miter cut.

Always keep safety in mind when learning how to use a miter saw. Read more about the safe use of this tool in Step 4.

For a miter cut:

  • Connect saw to a power supply and turn on the power switch.
  • Measure and mark a line across the stock to be cut.
  • Place the board onto the saw and flush against the saw fence at the back of the base.
  • Loosen the handle on the miter gauge at the front of the saw, depress the lock handle and pivot the blade to the desired angle.
  • Tighten the handle on the miter gauge.
  • Lower the handle to check the point where the blade meets the wood.
  • Adjust the wood placement as necessary and clamp the board or brace firmly into position with your hands at least six inches away from the blade.

Tip: The board that extends beyond the miter saw base must be supported. Adjust the extension supports on the miter saw stand, if using, or stack scrap pieces of wood on the work surface in order for the entire length of stock to remain level.

  • Keep one hand on the board to be cut and raise the handle with the other hand.
  • Engage the trigger and allow the motor to reach full operating speed.
  • Carefully lower the handle to bring the blade to the wood and continue so it passes through the board.
  • Do not force the blade or apply too much downward pressure. Let the saw do the work.
  • Release the trigger when the blade has completed the cut.
  • Allow the blade to stop rotating completely before raising the handle.

Tip: When a project calls for multiple cuts of the same length, save time by using a stop block temporarily secured to the saw fence with double-sided tape. Place the end of the board to be cut gently against the block so each susequent piece is the same length.

How to Make a Bevel Cut
A miter saw is tilted at an angle to make a bevel cut on a board.

For a bevel cut using a standard miter saw:

  • Place the marked board on its edge – not flat – against the saw fence.
  • Adjust the gauge at the front of the saw to the correct angle.
  • Ensure that the blade meets the board at the correct position.
  • Clamp or brace the board.
  • Pull trigger from the upper position and lower the handle to complete the cut.

For a bevel cut using a compound miter saw:

  • Place the marked board face-up, or flat, onto the saw base and its edge pushed against the fence.
  • Adjust the bevel gauge at the rear of the saw and tilt the blade to the correct angle.
  • Use the gauge on the front of the saw to set the miter angle, if needed, for the cut.
  • Make appropriate adjustments and follow the above steps to complete the cut.

Tip: Settings for common miter-bevel combination cuts can be found in charts that are often included with operation guides for compound miter saws.

Proper Setup and Miter Saw Safety
A person wears ear and eye protection while making a bevel cut using a power miter saw.

Safe operation is the most important part of learning how to use a miter saw.

  • Keep the saw unplugged when not in use.
  • Miter saws should be bolted to a stable work surface or securely clamped onto a miter saw stand.
  • New miter saws are adjusted at the factory but vibration during transport can knock the saw out of alignment. Before beginning your project, check to see that cuts are square when the gauge is set to 90 degrees. Refer to the manufacturer’s guide for instruction on fine-tuning blade alignment.
  • Never clamp both sides of the board being cut.

Avoid dangerous kickback. Always use sharp blades that are intended for the material to be cut. Miter saws are typically used for wood but can be used for other materials when the saw is equipped with an appropriate blade. Follow the manufacturer’s guidelines.

Miter saws are powerful tools and care should be used to prevent serious injury when operating them.

  • Keep hands away from moving blades.
  • Do not wear loose clothing when operating the saw.
  • Wear safety glasses to protect your eyes from dust or flying debris, use appropriate ear protection to dampen the loud noise and a dust mask to avoid inhalation of sawdust.
  • Bystanders should also follow these safety guidelines.
Locking and Unlocking Miter Saw Features
A power miter saw has a board on its base ready to be cut.

Power miter saws typically have several safety locks. Refer to the manufacturer’s operation guide for specific information on how to unlock a miter saw. In general:

  • The trigger can be locked by inserting a pin through a hole that prevents it from being engaged.
  • Up and down motion of the handle is secured with a pin located at the top of the tool's arm that slips into a slot near the motor when in the down position.
  • On models with a sliding arm, forward-and-back movement can be restricted by tightening a wingnut to clamp the motor and blade housing to the arm bars.
  • The miter gauge is unlocked to adjust its angle by loosening the knob and depressing the locking level. To lock into place, release the lever and tighten the knob.