My first saw was actually a Harbor Freight jigsaw, and I distinctly remember clamping a 2×4 to my kitchen island, and trying to cut as straight of a crosscut as I could with it.
It was painful, but it got the job done.
Flash forward five years, and guess what? I have a miter saw now. But I remember what those early days were like.
The following options can be used instead of a miter saw.
- A table saw with the blade tilted, the miter fence, or a jig.
- A circular saw with the footplate adjusted or a jig.
- A jigsaw with the footplate angled or a jig.
- A hand saw with a miter box.
- Taking advantage of your local tool library
A miter saw is the perfect tool for the job that it does, but there are other ways of performing the same cuts using other tools that are common to most workshops. It may take a little more time to get the cuts done using these alternative tools, but at least the project will keep moving forward!
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Tools You Can Use Instead Of A Miter Saw
There is nothing quite like a miter saw for cutting cross cuts and beveled cuts, especially when you need to repeat the same cuts multiple times. The miter saw is an invaluable time-saver for these common cuts in any woodworkers’ shop, and it’s actually the first saw I recommend purchasing.
But it’s pricy, and I totally get not being ready to drop the cash quite yet.
So if you are looking to start woodworking and don’t have the budget for a miter saw at this point, or your miter saw is out of commission, we have some alternative methods for getting similar cuts.
1. Use A Table Saw Instead Of A Miter Saw
A table saw is a common power tool in many woodworking shops. It’s more versatile than a miter saw, but it’s also more expensive and dangerous. (For real. Table saws are the most dangerous tool in the shop. I cut my thumb off once.)
Instead of a miter saw, a table saw can be used to make beveled cuts and repetitive crosscuts. The table saw’s blade can be angled to achieve bevel cuts, or the miter fence of the table saw can be used to cut the angle. Repetitive cross cuts are best achieved with a jig for the table saw.
The blade of most table saws can be tilted to cut bevels of various angles. There is usually a wheel at the controls of the table saw, which can be spun to tilt the saw blade to an appropriate angle for the cut.
This method is only as accurate as the alignment on the saw, so perform a couple of test cuts on pieces of scrap wood to ensure you have the angle dialed in just right.
You can also cut miters with the miter gauge that came with the machine. The miter gauge tilts the wood so that it hits the blade at an angle, creating a miter cut.
Sometimes it’s helpful to have a miter fence as well, although I don’t actually own one (yet) since I do most of my miter cuts on the miter saw.
My old table saw was used and didn’t come with a miter gauge, so I actually upgraded to a fancy Rockler one. If you want really precise cuts, I highly recommend it, although I probably wouldn’t have upgraded if I had a working miter gauge in the first place.
For crosscuts on a table saw, especially repetitive crosscuts, a jig such as a table saw sled is the best option for making these cuts. You will have to put some effort into making the jig yourself, but once it is made, it can be used time and again for all your crosscuts on the table saw.
2. Use Your Circular Saw For Beveled Cuts Or Repetitive Crosscuts
A circular saw is another common power tool in a woodworking shop. Many woodworkers starting out buy a circular saw before they step out and buy a table saw.
A handheld circular saw can be used to make beveled cuts instead of a miter saw by changing the angle of the footplate of the saw. Adjusting the angle of the footplate effectively changes the angle of the blade, allowing bevels to be cut. Crosscuts can also be made with a circular saw.
To perform repetitive crosscuts with a circular saw, a jig can be made to position the workpiece quickly and securely to speed up the process and increase safety.
Bevel cuts can be made by changing the angle of the footplate and then using the circular saw in the normal way. This changes the angle with which the saw blade intersects the workpiece, allowing a beveled cut to be made.
Many circular saw manufacturers make stands and adapters which allow a circular saw to be mounted on a rig which effectively transforms your circular saw into a miter saw. This is normally an add-on attachment purchased separately from the circular saw but could be a good alternative option while you save your pennies for a miter saw!
There are also attachments that help woodworkers cut longer cuts precisely. I used this one by Kreg extensively before I purchased my table saw.
3. Use A Jig Saw Instead Of A Miter Saw
A jigsaw may not be everyone’s favorite tool in the workshop, but it can be used to cut bevels and crosscuts if you have no other options available.
Speaking from experience here, this option sucks, but it’s still an option, so here you go.
A jigsaw can be used instead of a miter saw to cut bevels by changing the angle of the footplate. Crosscuts can be made with the footplate in the normal position, and a jig can be made to perform repetitive cuts. A jigsaw is slow, and the cut is not as clean as a miter saw.
A jigsaw is a notoriously slow machine to perform frequent cuts, which is why most woodworkers mostly use this tool to cut circles or wavy shapes. However, a jigsaw can be used to cut beveled cuts and straight crosscuts in an emergency.
For beveled cuts, the jigsaw footplate can be angled to the desired angle of the bevel cut. Make the cut slowly to prevent the blade from flexing and producing a wavy bevel.
Crosscuts can be made with the jigsaw footplate in the normal position and cutting across the wood. It is difficult to keep a jigsaw straight in a crosscut, but a straight-edge clamped in place will help to keep the cut straight and true.
If many repetitive crosscuts are required, a jig can be assembled to position the wood for each cut, but don’t expect the cuts to be fast!
4. A Hand Saw With A Miter Box Can Be Used Instead Of A Miter Saw
If you are a woodworker on a very tight budget, a hand saw combined with a manual miter box can be a suitable alternative cutting combination.
A miter box combined with a suitable hand saw can be used to perform angled bevel cuts and crosscuts instead of a miter saw. The angles of the bevels will be limited to the angles on the miter box. The miter box is also useful for crosscuts, helping to keel the handsaw cutting straight.
The main limiting factor of using a hand saw with a miter box is that your workpiece must be able to fit within the confines of the miter box.
Most miter boxes have a limited number of angles available for bevel cuts, but you could take the time to make your own miter bow with the bevel angles that you most commonly use in your woodworking.
Crosscuts can be made with the assistance of the miter box, or you could clamp the workpiece in a vise and perform the cut freehand, following pencil guidelines on the wood.
I’ve gone this route a couple times, and a speed square is really helpful for drawing both 90 degree and angled cuts precisely.
The miter box and hand saw combination will not be the fastest option to use instead of a miter saw, but if you take care, your cuts can be clean and accurate.
5. Find Your Local Tool Library
Have you ever heard of a tool library? No? You might be missing out.
Frankly, I missed out, and it’s one of the top things I wish I knew when I started woodworking.
As the name implies, tool libraries are libraries where you can check out tools instead of books. If you happen to live in Berkeley, CA, your tool library is run by the public library system.
If you live anywhere else, you basically have to hope that some good samaritans have set up a tool library in your area.
They’re not everywhere, but it’s worth checking to see if there’s one in your area. I live in Minneapolis, and the MN Tool Library is one of my favorite things about being here.
Memberships range from $55 – $250 per year (YEAR, not month!!!) at my library and all allow you to check out unlimited tools.
They have miter saws, as well as a large variety of other tools (snowblowers!! table saws!! routers!!) available for checkout.
I’m not completely sure how accurate this map of tool libraries is, but it exists, and it’s a good starting place to see if there’s a tool library in your area.