You’d be forgiven for confusing these two types of saws at first sight. They do, after all, look a hell of a lot like each other. Both have a circular cutting disk, a flat, stationary base, and a hinged cutting arm. But, with all their similarities, these two types of saws are designed to perform two different jobs. What are those jobs? Let’s find out.
What’s the Difference Between a Chop Saw and a Miter Saw?
Angles. It’s all about angles. Simply put, a chop saw will only cut materials at a 90 degree angle, leaving a square cut edge.
Miter saws, however, are able to be adjusted at a rotatable base, to allow for cuts of different angles, through materials such as wood and metal.
Think of chop saws as the big brutes with only one function- to be strong and tough. Used on big jobs to cut straight and to the point. No messing around.
Miter saws are more versatile and are used for a wide range of purposes, like neat finishing cuts and framework.
They might cut the same materials. But it’s the way they cut them that differs.
What Is A Chop Saw?
You’re more likely to find a chop saw in a manufacturing warehouse than a typical construction site. These are the saws that are used to cut bulk amounts of product with ease. These are sturdy saws that utilize powerful motors to perform a single action, over and over again.
You might also find chop saws on large construction sites or even domestic housing sites. Although these are scaled-down models of the large saws you would find in a manufacturing warehouse, they are still built to do the same thing. That is, do the one job, again and again.
In my experience, the smaller chop saws used in construction tend to be used by trades involved in metal cutting, such as plumbers and fire sprinkler installers. Electricians, as well as, carpenters framing with metal studs also find these saws incredibly useful.
Most chop saws, whether used for industrial or commercial purposes, are equipped with an abrasive cutting disk instead of a blade. Because these discs have no teeth or catching edges, they slide easily through materials like wood or metal. They come in a range of sizes, the most common being a 14 inch disc, but can range anywhere up to a 30 inch cutting disc.
They can be hydraulically operated and can also utilize knee or foot-operated control switches, allowing the operator to use both hands to work with the material being cut.
You can find smaller variations of chop saws for home use but most people would find a miter saw more than capable of performing household tasks.
What Is a Miter Saw?
A miter saw is probably the type of saw you’ve most commonly seen, however, you might have mistaken it for a chop saw. In fact, they are often wrongly called chop saws.
A miter saw will perform a 90 degree straight cut just like a chop saw but that is just one of its functions.
As the name suggests, miter saws were designed to make, well, miter cuts. For those that aren’t sure, a miter cut is the angled cut at the end of a piece of material, used as a joint between two pieces of miter cut material, i.e. a miter joint. Take a look at the closest door frame. It’s more than likely it will contain miter joints.
They are great for making quick and neat cuts to produce door frames, window frames, molding or piping, as just as few examples.
A miter saw is designed to make these angled cuts quickly and accurately. A quick-release lever allows the user to change the angle of the cut with ease. Some miter saws are designed to allow for any angle of cut between zero and ninety degrees, while other saws are preset to common angles such as 15, 22.5, 30 and 45 degrees. As mentioned, miter saws will also cut at a 90 degree angle – the same as a chop saw – but with less power.
It’s this accuracy and ease of use that makes these saws so popular among carpenters, cabinet makers, and joiners, as well as a wealth of other trades.
Size wise, the most common miter saws you will see are 10 and 12 inch blades. Miter saws also come in a few common designs such as:
Standard Miter Saw: Blade will pivot to perform angled miter cuts from 0 to 90 degrees.
Compound Miter Saw: As well as pivoting, the blade will also tilt in one direction, allowing for bevel cuts. Changing both the pivot angle and the tilt of the blade will allow for compound cuts.
Dual Compound Miter Saw: Operates the same as a compound miter saw but the blade will tilt in both directions.
Sliding Compound Miter Saw: A compound miter saw that utilizes a sliding joint that allows the blade to slide back and forth along the cut line, increasing the cut length of the saw.
With a range of sizes and designs, there is a miter saw out there perfect for every job. Whether that’s on the construction site, in the warehouse or at home doing a DIY project.
And if you are in the market for a new miter saw, I recommend having a look at the DEWALT DWS779 12″ sliding compound miter saw, the Hitachi C10FCE2 miter saw or the Black+Decker M1850BD compound miter saw. Between these three saws there’s something to satisfy most needs and budgets.
When To Use a Chop Saw
Chop saws are mostly used by professionals who need to do a large number of simple cuts in repetition. There solid design and strong motors make them a great addition to warehouses and construction sites. Concrete workers and steel-fixers also use chop saws to cut steel rebar.
Most homeowners and DIY enthusiast won’t find much need for a chop saw unless embarking on a large project.
When To Use a Miter Saw
Miter saws have a wealth of different uses. From repairing door frames and skirting boards around the house, to the many applications by many trades on large construction jobs.
Miter saws range from very light and portable models that can be easily carried, to larger, fixed position setups.
Basically, if you need to cut materials at angles, you want a miter saw.
Most people will get far more benefit from using a miter saw. That being said, you have to consider your own situation to work out which saw is best for you.
The big plus about a chop saw is its power. It has a very limited range of cuts but is a real workhorse that will power through cut after cut.
Miter saws are all about versatility and practicality.
Personally, I use both types of saws when I am on a job. I keep my larger, chop saw near my site office for cutting the big stuff but then use a 10 inch miter when working around the construction site. I don’t make a lot of complicated angle cuts in my job but I prefer the chop saw because it’s light and easy to move around the job site.