What to Look For
For a beginner, I recommend a miter saw with the following features:
- Compound - Compound miter saws can cut both bevel and mitered cuts. Almost all miter saws are the market are compound, but if somehow you come across a saw that isn't, walk away.
- Sliding - Sliding miter saws can cut wider boards, which makes them more versatile. This is particularly important for beginners who don't have a table saw yet, since it gives you the ability to cut wider boards that you otherwise wouldn't have been able to manage.
- 10" vs. 12" Blade - 12" blades can cut larger boards, which is a definite plus in their favor. However, they increase the price of the saw significantly, and if you're looking to set up a shop on a budget, I'd stick with the 10" blade.
- Single vs. Double Bevel - Single bevel means the miter saw can tilt one direction for cuts. Double bevel means the saw can tilt both directions for cuts. Frankly, single bevel saws will work just fine for 99% of projects; I have a single bevel saw, and have yet to come across a project I couldn't do. But, if you're going all-out with your saw purchase, a double bevel saw might be a nice feature to have.
The following luxury features come on some of the pricier saws. They're unnecessary for a basic user, but if you're planning to put your saw through heavy-duty use, and are willing to splurge, they're probably nice to have.
- Compact Build - Most sliding miter saws need about three feet of space to work, because the slide feature typically requires a foot of space behind the saw. This means a sliding miter saw cannot sit on a countertop up against a wall. Compact sliding miter saws are built differently so that they don't need quite as much space, although these tend to be pricy ($500+) options.
- Soft Start Motor – These devices reduce the power load to the motor when it’s first starting up, allowing for a less sudden start. This prolongs the life of the saw, and makes it easier to use.
- Electric Break – Electric breaks stop the blade after a cut, increasing efficiency when making multiple cuts in a row.
- Brushless Motor – A recent technological improvement in power tools, brushless motors are more durable and efficient than brushed motors.
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The Best Budget-Friendly Miter Saw
My budget miter-saw pick is Ryobi's 10" Sliding Compound Miter Saw. At $179, it's a reasonably-priced saw from a reliable brand. It's single-bevel, which is to be expected at this price-point.
I've had this saw for the past two years, and it works like a champ. Both the miter and bevel features are easy to use, and there's also a laser light guide to show where the blade will hit the saw.
The measurement markings on the fence are also super useful when I only need an imprecise cut.
The Best Luxury Miter Saw
I dream of owning this Makita 10" Dual-Bevel Sliding Compound Miter Saw. At around $600, it's a little too pricy for me, but if you're going all-out, it's a great saw. The sliding mechanism is in the front of the saw, so it doesn't require three feet of space, and can be placed up against a wall. Plus it's soft-start and has an electric break, increasing efficiency in the shop.
Yes, it's a 10" blade and not a 12" blade, but if you're willing to drop $600 on a miter saw, I imagine you already have a table saw, so the blade diameter is less important.