Every carpenter and woodworker I know appreciates the chance to buy a new tool. In my case, I’d been looking for a reason to buy a compound miter saw for years. A few months ago, my wife and I decided to undertake a major home remodeling project that required replacing a number of crown moldings as well as interior framing around windows.
I quickly realized that the tool of choice would be a compound miter saw, especially when tackling the crown moldings. I had suffered through a bookcase project a year earlier, using a manual miter box and back saw to produce the crown molding trim on several built-in bookcases. There was no way I wanted to repeat that experience! My wife, eager to see the remodeling project underway, readily agreed to a new saw purchase.
A Saw By Any Other Name
Miter (or mitre) saws are designed to make angled cuts in wood stock by pulling a circular blade down in a plunging motion. This action gives the saws their nicknames of “drop saws” or “chop saws.” A further refinement, the compound miter saw, can cut both an angle and a bevel simultaneously, removing the need for a “work-and-turn” motion when making an angled cut that will smoothly join to another piece of trim or molding.
The double action cut is possible because the motor is attached to a pivoting post, which allows the blade to swing both side to side and at an angle to the workpiece. Think about a picture frame: the end of each piece of stock is cut at a 45-degree angle, but the cut is also made at a bevel from front to back, so the matching face is hidden, and the joint is neat.
Determining What You Need
It’s important to consider the types of jobs you’ll be doing when choosing a miter saw. A larger blade can of course handle larger stock. I knew that for the most part I would be working on projects like crown molding, picture frames, and baseboard trim, so a 10-inch blade would be large enough for my purposes.
I researched a number of miter saws, and ended up choosing the Makita LS1040. This model is very light for a mid-sized miter saw, weighing only about 24 pounds. One reason the saw is so light is that the base and side rails are machined from aluminum, which gives it light weight, but also means that the saw will be durable. Because we’re remodeling the house we live in, I knew that my wife would expect the tools to be taken back to the workshop behind our house after each work session. Thus, the lightweight Makita really filled the bill.
A distinguishing characteristic of a miter saw is the rounded miter index that allows the angle of the blade to be changed relative to the “fence,” the bar that holds your stock in place. The protractor-shaped index often has pre-designated “stops” so you can quickly swing the saw head to the angle you want and lock it in place. The Makita LS1040 has nine stops: four to the left and right, and the 90-degree straight cut setting.
I had previously used a friend’s mitre saw at a job site, and had experienced some trouble with the grip, which didn’t fit my hand very well. So that was definitely one of the features I considered before choosing the Makita. My new saw has a vertical grip design with a thumb-activated safety switch that lets me use the saw comfortably with either hand. The large paddle trigger is easy to squeeze no matter how I’m holding the handle.
All of this starting to sound good? See what others are saying about their new favorite tool.
Motor and Blade Brake
There are a number of motor sizes used in miter saws. The LS1040 has a 15-amp motor, which is one of the larger motors found on this size of compound mitre saws. I’ve found that I can easily cut through tough hardwoods with this powerful motor. The saw does not feature the “soft-start” feature found on some-saws, so it does jump a little on startup. I simply have to wait a second or two until the blade has spun up to its full 4600-rpm speed, and then make my cut. This gives me a little extra time to consider the cut I’m about to make, remembering the old adage of “measure twice and cut once.
Another feature I really like on this saw is the electric brake on the blade. These brakes immediately slow the blade when you release the trigger. If a blade does not have an electric brake, it can spin for 10 seconds or longer, which can represent a real hazard to you or to the stock you’re removing from the fence. My venerable old table saw (also a Makita) came with the electric brake feature, and has made me a real believer in this safety device.
Miter saw blades come in a variety of materials. Less expensive blades are usually made of steel, and are fine for quick jobs using soft woods such as pine, but they will dull quickly if you’re using hard woods like oak. High-speed steel blades will hold an edge longer, but the real ticket is a carbide-tipped blade, which will stay sharpest the longest. I was pleased to see that the Makita LS1040 came with a 40-tooth carbide-tipped blade, perfect for a variety of tasks I’m doing. When I do need to change the blade, there’s a shaft lock that immobilizes the blade, making it easier to get a wrench on the blade arbor and loosen it, avoiding nicked fingers.
So, those are the things I looked for when choosing my miter saw: a powerful motor, the ability to make both angle and bevel cuts at the same time, an easy-to-use grip, and safety features like the blade brake. I’m glad l got a durable saw, because once the crown moldings were finished, my wife started thinking about adding a chair rail in several rooms, and I was off to the lumber yard again.
Compound miter saws are more expensive than single-action mitre saws, but the convenience of a one-pass cut for both the angle and the bevel made it the right choice for my jobs. The Makita LS1040 lists for just over $300, but you can usually find it at Amazon or other online stores for less than $200.
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If you’ve ever had to cut a lot of trim or moldings with a single-action miter saw — or, heaven forbid, a manual miter box and back saw — you’ll quickly understand why a compound miter saw is the way to go! Click HERE now to find out more about the Makita LS1040 compound miter saw. You can also read reviews by other people who have purchased the LS1040 saw at the above link.compound miter saw > Makita LS1040