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5 methods to maximize your miter-saw

Turn your "chop" saw into a precision cutting tool with these helpful tips.

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  • Quality cuts

    Few tools can match a mitersaw for portability and quick setup. But the real test for woodworkers comes down to this: Can it make clean, accurate cuts day-in and day-out in a workshop setting?

    The answer: a qualified "yes." Right out of the box, some mitersaws deliver furniture-quality cuts. But even the best saws will yield better results if you put into action the following tips.

  • Tip #1: Upgrade the blade.

    Most mitersaws come equipped with a general-purpose 24- to 40-tooth blade suitable for cutting framing lumber or decking, where clean cuts don't matter much. But to make crisp cuts in hardwoods, you'll need a high-performance blade with a low-degree hook angle. (See drawing on next slide.) Get an 80-tooth blade for a 10" mitersaw and a 96- or 100-tooth blade for a 12" model. (We recommend Freud's LU74R010 and LU74R012 blades.)

  • Know your hook angle

    On a mitersaw, blades with positive hook angles above 10° "attack" the wood with aggressive cuts. Negative-hook blades ease into the wood with a "shaving" cut. Your best bet is a blade with a hook angle between 10° and -5°. (Look for this figure on the blade, its packaging, or the manufacturer's Web site.)

  • Tip #2: Back up your cuts.

    Even if your mitersaw comes with a zero-clearance throat insert plate, it won't be long before overlapping bevel and miter cuts erode that close support. And most mitersaws use 18 " or thinner plastic inserts, making it nearly impossible to make your own inserts from plywood or MDF.

    Instead, install a quick-and-easy auxiliary table and fence made of plywood, MDF, or hardboard, as shown, and you've got instant zero-clearance support to prevent tear-out where the blade exits the cut. Of course, after you make two cuts at different settings, the support between those cuts will fall away. Still, it will continue to give support on one side, so put your "keeper" piece to that side. When your auxiliary fence and table no longer do the job, simply replace them with new ones.

  • Tip #3: Stop before you lift.

    After making a cut on your mitersaw, always allow the blade to stop spinning before lifting the saw. Prematurely raising it could score the end of your workpiece. The spinning blade could also snag the cutoff and dangerously propel it at a high speed.

  • Wait those few extra seconds

    After lifting a spinning blade we chalked the cut. It revealed scoring marks on the end grain.

  • Tip #4: Extend your support.

    Most mitersaw tables measure about 18" wide, and some include extension wings that add another foot or two of stock support when pulled out. But for longer workpieces that prove tippy on these setups, you need support to prevent boards from tilting or lifting off the table. You can do a few things here to ensure precision.

    First, add a couple of scrapwood blocks that match the saw's table height, placing them near the ends of your boards. Or mount your mitersaw on a collapsible stand that includes workpiece supports and stops. These sell for $100-$300.

  • Add help with a shop built system

    For a third option, particularly if you dedicate your saw to a bench in the shop, make your own extensions with measuring rules on each side of your saw. Custom-make a bench or portable system—you can find project plans at woodmagazine.com/mitersupport

  • Or check into commercial systems

    You can build your own extension or buy a premade setup, for less than $200. Add flip-stops or clamp-on stopblocks for repeated cuts of the same length.

  • Tip #5: Sneak up on cuts.

    Mitersaw blades can flex during tough cuts in hardwoods, but you can prevent this by making your cuts in two steps. First, make an initial cut about 116 " to the waste side of your cut line. Then cut to the line. This finishing cut, about half as wide as normal, will be cleaner and spot-on square.

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