Home Improvement

Tool School: Miter Saw 101

Learning how to use a miter saw can be intimidating, but it’s a must-have saw for building projects in your workshop. Learn the types of cuts you can make, how to maintain it, and which one you should buy!

how to make a cross cut on miter saw

I have been getting tons of questions on Instagram and YouTube about the tools I use in my workshop. So, to help tackle some of these frequently asked questions, I’m starting the first ever DIY Huntress Tool School!

Every few weeks on a Tuesday, I’ll be talking about a tool I use in my workshop on Instagram, and then posing all of the fine details here! Today we’re talking about my favorite tool in the shop (and one of my firsts) – the miter saw! Ready to get started?

How To Use A Miter Saw – Your Questions Answered

This post contains tools provided to me by The Home Depot as part of their ProSpective program and includes affiliate links. For my full disclosure link, click here.

To help organize my thoughts and all things miter saw, I’m splitting this post into some frequently asked questions about the miter saw. So, here goes nothing!

1. What is a Miter Saw?

A miter saw is a tool that allows you to cut your material at varying angles. Miters saws have an arm/base that swivels and can make miter cuts as well as bevel cuts (we will break this down more later).

makita sliding miter saw

2. Is a Miter Saw the Same Thing as a Chop Saw?

I get this question a lot, and the answer is no! A chop saw can only make 90-degree cross cuts (straight up and down at one angle), while a miter saw can be pivoted to make more complex angled cuts.

3. What is a Cross Cut?

A cross-cut is a 90-degree cut that is made straight across the material you are using. This cut is made with the saw in an upright, zero-degree position in all directions. The bevel is at zero degrees and the miter is at zero degrees.

how to make a cross cut on miter saw

This is the cut that is most commonly used on a miter saw and is great for shortening boards that need to have perfectly straight ends.

4. What is a Miter Cut?

miter cut on miter saw

When you make a mitered angle or a mitered cut, this means that you are pivoting the arm/base of your miter saw to cut at any angle other than 90 degrees across the top of your piece.

This means your cut is made at an angle, but it is still a zero-degree cut up-and-down, or from top-to-bottom.

On most saws, this is done by loosening the handle or a locking mechanism on the bottom of the saw and moving the base to the angle you need.

Miter saws come with markings on the base, and oftentimes stop on the most popular angles, to tell you what angle you are cutting at.

If you’re looking for a visual, a great example of how I adjust my saw and use miter cuts is in my DIY Chevron Table project! 

4. What is a Bevel Cut?

A beveled cut is best described as a cut that’s made “across” the top of a piece. It is also referred to as a “lean cut” because your saw blade will literally lean left or right depending on the cut you are making.

bevel cut on miter saw

In more technical terms, the cut is actually perpendicular to the top of the material. A great example of this is when I made waterfall edges for my entryway shoe bench. If you check out the video, you will see that I had to “bevel” my saw to make my joints. 

In this instance, I had to choose a beveled cut instead of a mitered cut, because I wanted the pieces to be joined along the long edge of the wood. So, I had to lay my piece flat, bevel the head of the saw, and then cut the angle perpendicular to the top of the piece.

If you want some more good visuals of the differences between a mitered cut and a beveled cut, check out this infographic from miter saw hub! They have some awesome information that helps explain the difference between these cuts and what they might be used for!

5. Standard vs. Compound vs. Sliding Miter Saws

There are many different types and sizes of miter saws that you can purchase. But, let’s break them down into three major classifications:

makita sliding miter saw

Miter Saw Classifications

  • Standard Miter Saws: A standard miter saw is essentially just a chop saw that has the ability to make mitered cuts.

  • Compound Miter Saws: Compound miter saws can make both miters and bevels.

  • Sliding Miter Saws: Sliding miter saws have the ability to slide forward to accommodate wider materials. They can also make mitered and beveled cuts. The major difference between a miter saw that slides and one that doesn’t is how wide of a piece they can accommodate.

In any event, each of these types of miter saws comes in varying sizes (there are a serious amount of options on the market). Be sure to do research on what saws can accommodate the materials you are used to using in your own shop before purchasing one.

In my shop, I chose to go with all of the bells and whistles and recently got my hands on a 12″ Dual-Bevel Sliding Compound Miter Saw (it sounds super fancy but this means it can cut miter cuts, bevel cuts, and also can slide forward to accommodate cutting pieces that are wider than my blade).

This particular saw also has a shallow back and a sliding arm in the front, which means I can store it up against the wall of my shop because the sliding mechanism is in the front, not the back.

6. How Do I Maintain a Miter Saw?

As with all tools in your workshop, it is important to perform regular maintenance. I like to thoroughly check in on my tools monthly to make sure they are performing the way they should. I also make sure to check for square before starting each one of my projects.

I cover some miter saw maintenance in my shop-tour post and video including squaring the saw and changing the blade, so definitely check it out!

Disclaimer: I have upgraded my saw since that video was published, but the same rules still apply! In most instances, you may have to adjust the fence on your miter saw to help square the blade.

Always read the manual that is included with your saw for information regarding squaring and maintaining the saw. In most instances, you can also search for your particular saw on YouTube to watch videos about maintenance and review your particular product!

One more thing! If you can, definitely hook your miter saw to a shop vac like this one to help suck up the extra dust! This will keep your saw running clean (and your lungs as well)!

7. What Miter Saw Should I Buy?

While I can’t tell you exactly which miter saw is right for you, I can recommend a few that I’ve tried!

Best Entry-Level Saw: If you’re looking for a great entry-level saw with a low price tag, I recommend the RYOBI 10″ Sliding Compound Miter Saw.

Best Value: If you’re one step up from an entry-level saw, I’d recommend trying the RIDGID 12″ Dual Bevel Sliding Miter Saw. It’s a good mid-range saw that will last a while!

Best All-Around Saw: If you’re looking for all of the bells and whistles of a miter saw and don’t want to sacrifice quality. I’d recommend the saw I use, a Makita 12″ Dual-Bevel Sliding Compound Miter Saw. This saw is great for shops with a small footprint because it can be stored up against the wall! 

I really hope you guys found this Intro to Miter Saw post helpful! Make sure to Pin It for later if you’re looking to find this post again!

More tool tutorials

Sam Raimondi

Sam is a full time psychologist and part time content creator from Long Island, New York.




  • Gutiérrez Vargas

    Congratulations on today’s class!
    It was a very detailed and well explained matter.
    Thank you very much for sharing this knowledge that you have already proven to have with the quality of your work!

  • Sofia Guizar

    Awesome post!
    I am a newby at woodworking with SOOO many questions and this was super helpful..
    Keep them coming please! 🙂

  • Sofia

    Awesome post!
    I am a newby at woodworking with SOOO many questions and this was super helpful..
    Keep them coming please! 🙂

  • Ben

    Hi Sam- we recently interacted some by way of the Instructables site- I asked about the oil used on your outdoor planters.
    I just watched your Instagram ‘tool Tuesday’. I thought the info was very good. That’s a really nice saw. I have an observation, and a question:
    The blade guard on the Makita retracts automatically as you lower the blade- that seems obvious but to a new user maybe not.
    Is there a reason you cut the wood from front to back? I noticed you pulled the saw head out and then went back in as you cut.

  • Andre

    very helpful and create information about miter saw, and you described it step by step with the nice method. thanks for creating this post.

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