If you're looking for a mitersaw for your workshop, make it a compound mitersaw and make it a big one. We'll help you decide which one to buy.
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Some woodworkers perceive mitersaws like a shabby brother-in-law: crude, unpredictable, well suited for only a few unglamorous jobs, and reliably unreliable. To learn whether that reputation is deserved, we gathered up seven 12" compound mitersaws (CMS) to test them not only in a head-to-head showdown, but also in a search for a mitersaw accurate enough for woodworking. The good news: Most of today's mitersaws have outgrown their construction roots, still able to crosscut wood in a variety of angles, yes, but also precise enough for cutting components for picture frames, cabinets, and furniture. We also found a few that just can't shake the bad rap.

Would you settle for a bank that managed your money "pretty close to accurate?" No way! Likewise, you should expect your mitersaw's scales to be trustworthy. To test the accuracy of the saws' miter scales and stops, we cut 10"-square, mitered frames in 4"-wide stock, clamped them, and then checked for gaps in the joints. Most of the saws proved dead-on accurate right out of the box or after some minor calibration. However, the 45° stops on two saws both produced joints with gaps even after we calibrated them for square cuts at 90°. Neither saw provides a way to adjust any of the preset stops without changing the 90° setting as well.

Although the stops prove helpful in most cases, occasionally you might need to make a cut just a half-degree off the miter-stop setting (4412 °, for example). Two saws feature detent overrides you can use to keep them from slipping into these stops, and also feature vernier scales that enable you to dial in a cut to within 14 ° anywhere on the miter scale.

The ability to cut bevels (by tilting the cutting angle of the blade) separates a compound mitersaw from a regular mitersaw. But setting bevels on most saws, frankly, can be hit or miss. Markings tend to be tiny, closely spaced, and located far back on the saw, making them difficult to read reliably. Plus, most bevel locks require a reach-around to the back of the saw, and the weight of the saw makes it nearly impossible to nudge a close setting to perfection. One tested saw has both a digital readout and a fine-adjustment, rack-and-pinion knob on the bevel lock that allows you to easily zero it in. All the saws have bevel stops at 45°, but about half had to be altered to bevel beyond 45°. Then you have to recalibrate them to get back to 45°. We prefer stops that can be moved aside temporarily for larger bevels, but instantly returned without recalibrating.

All of the tested mitersaws come with carbide-tooth blades better suited for construction than woodworking. Each saw's factory blade left noticeable scoring marks as well as significant tear-out. But, equipped with a high-quality aftermarket blade, the saws produced nearly flawless cuts with no scoring and almost no tear-out. The only blight -- and this happened on each saw -- was a slight gap in the center of the cut. Pulling 15 amps apiece, each saw handled our tests without stalling or bogging down, even when we tested with the factory blades.

Top Tools: Bosch 3912 and DeWalt DW715
Top Value: Ryobi TS1552DXL

Learn the results of our testing of the Bosch 3912, Craftsman 21205, DeWalt DW715, Hitachi C12LCH, Makita LS1221, Ridgid MS1250LZ, and Ryobi TS1552DXL in the September 2007 issue of WOOD magazine.