While miter saws are designed to cut miters and bevels in wood, it can still be a difficult tool to use. Some of the biggest issues that users have with using a miter saw is accuracy, making consistent, repetitive cuts, cutting small and large pieces, and creating clean cuts.
In this article, I will go over some of the common issues that users have when using a miter saw along with ways to fix the issue.
- How to cut accurate miters and bevels
- How to make consistent repetitive cuts
- How to cut small, thin pieces
- How to cut wide, long pieces
- How to secure wood to the miter saw
- How and when to “back cut” with a miter saw
How to cut accurate miters and bevels
- Gaps and unaligned work pieces
- Inaccurate miters and bevels
- Misaligned miters and bevels
- Not cutting the correct length of wood
Inaccurate angles when cutting miters and bevels will lead to workpieces that do not line up evenly. For example, being one degree off of a picture frame with 4 angles will lead to a 4 degree gap in the frame. If the angles are too small, then the gap will be in the outer corner and if the angles are too large, then the gap will be in the inner corner.
Another issue that miter saw users have is not being able to cut on the line. Aligning the blade without a laser guide is difficult and not cutting the correct length will also lead to gaps in your workpiece.
- Calibrate the miter and bevel guide
- Use a laser guide if available
- If no laser guide, cut the short side of the miter
- Cut on the correct side of the line
- Flush the wood to the fence and use a clamp to secure it
The top three reasons why people cut inaccurate miters and bevels on the miter saw is by using an uncalibrated saw, marking the wrong side of the miter/bevel, and by not aligning the blade correctly.
The first thing you want to do is calibrate your miter saw. You need to calibrate the miter gauge and make sure the blade is aligned to the miter fence.
Calibrate miter gauge
- Use a protractor or engineers square to adjust the blade to the tabletop
When calibrating the miter gauge, make sure the protractor or engineer square is not touching the teeth of the blade. This will cause you to misalign the blade by 1 to 2 degrees.
- Use an engineers square to adjust the blade to the fence
When calibrating the fence to the tabletop, you want to first make sure the bevel feature at the 90 degree angle mark. Secondly, you want to make sure the flat side of the engineers square is pressed against the blade and blade teeth. When calibrating the blade to the fence, you actually want the engineer’s square to rest on the teeth on both sides of the blade. This is because at least for my miter saw, the blade does not go far enough under the tabletop to miss the teeth.
Luckily, if you are touching the teeth on both sides of the blade, it will still be level to the fence. For a better example on how this would look, check out my picture below. As you can see, I have a square long enough to cover the teeth on the blade and the blade is level.
In the second picture, you can see my speed square is not long enough to over the full blade and there is a slight gap. Now if I adjusted my fence to this measurement, I would be off by a degree or two.’
Cut on the line
- Use a laser guide or cut the short side of the miter
Aligning the wood in relation to the miter saw blade can be very difficult. This is because it is good practice to cut starting from the outside of the miter. To learn why this is better practice, check out my article “How to design and build projects with the miter saw”. The issue with cutting the outside of the miter is that it is difficult to align the blade since you have to estimate the thickness of the blade.
The easiest way to ensure you cut on the line is by using a laser guide. Most miter saws have laser guides because it is difficult to align the blade for miters.
If you do not have a laser guide, which some saws don’t, then you can easily align the wood by cutting the short side of the miter. The only issue with this is that this will have to do more work to correctly mark the miters.
Miscalculation in measurements
If your miter saw is calibrated, then you may have an issue with marking the correct part of the wood. This error is a very common and easy mistake in woodworking. Essentially, miters and bevels have a short end and a long end. When designing projects, you want to make sure you take the correct measurements and mark the correct side of the wood. If your miters are of true angles, and you are cutting on the right side of the line, then your measurements may just be off. To learn how to design projects with the miter saw, check out my article here.
How to make consistent repetitive cuts
- Setting up cuts of the same size is time consuming
One of the major benefits with the table saw is that you can set up the rip fence to make consistent repeatable cuts. Well how about crosscuts with the miter saw? Marking and aligning the wood after every cut is very time consuming. Additionally, you are likely to have wood pieces that are not exactly the same length due to human error.
- Stop block, rip fence method
- Auxiliary miter saw fence
The easiest way to create consistent, repeatable cuts with the miter saw is by using double sided tape and/or a stop block. First, I align the wood to the desired location and place a piece of tape. You can stop there, but if you want to do as little aligning as possible, you can also place a stop block instead. With the stop block, you will have to clamp it using a c-clamp.
The second method you can do to create consistent repeatable cuts is by using an auxiliary miter saw fence. This method is ideal if you need to make crosscuts that are longer than the miter saw fence. My miter saw fence can stretch out to a little over 19 inches. So if I want to make a crosscut that is longer, I will need a longer auxiliary fence. To learn how to make the miter saw auxiliary fence, check out my article here.
How to cut small, thin pieces
- Integrated clamps are too far away from the blade for small pieces
- Cutting small pieces increases chances of injury
The main issue with cutting small pieces is that there is no way to clamp those pieces in place when using the miter saw. If you look at the saw in this picture, it is approximately 6 inches away from the blade. So cutting wood that is smaller will be an issue.
- Use a miter saw jig
- Use miter saw clamp jig
You can fix this issue by creating my auxiliary miter saw fence. This fence is designed with t-tracks that can be used as clamps to keep small pieces of wood secure when cutting it. To learn how to make this jig, check out my article here
How to cut wide, long pieces
- Long pieces may be hard to clamp
- The miter saw may not support wide pieces
Long pieces of wood can cause the wood to rise up on one end and the miter saw itself to tilt. This can lead to difficult cutting the wood, damage to the saw, and potential injury.
- Use an outfeed table to keep long pieces level
- For sliding miter saw, unscrew bolt to use the sliding feature
- For compact miter saws, cut one side of the wood, flip over and cut the other side
- An outfeed table may need to be used depending on your saw size
When using long pieces of wood, it is best to use an outfeed table to keep the wood level when you cut it.
When cutting wide pieces of wood, it is best to utilize the sliding feature of the miter saw, if you have it. If you do not have a sliding miter saw and/or if your workpiece is still too wide, then you will have to cut one side, flip the wood, and cut the remaining wood on the other side.
How to secure wood to the miter saw
- The wood shifts mid-cut
- The wood will not stay flushed to the miter saw fence
If the wood is not secured to the miter saw then it can shift mid-cut, leave the miter saw unbalanced, and it will not stay flushed to the miter saw fence. This can lead to injury and damage to the saw.
- Use integrated clamps and vises
- Use an outfeed table to keep long pieces of wood level
- Use a miter saw jig to keep thin pieces in place
The most useful and important method to keep the wood in place when using a miter saw is to use the integrated clamps and vises. If the wood is still unlevel then it may be too long and will require an outfeed table.
If the wood is too small or thin to be clamped, then it will need a miter saw jig like this auxiliary fence. To learn how to make this auxiliary fence, check out my article here.
How and when to “back cut” with a miter saw
- “Blowout”, or jagged wood ends show on one side of the workpiece
Sometimes wood blowout will occur which is when there are jagged ends after you cut the wood. This can be unsightly but can easily be fixed and hidden.
- Use a sharper blade
- “Back cut” with the non-visible corner facing the miter saw
The number one way to prevent wood blowout is by using a sharper blade. However, if this does not help or if you don’t want to purchase a new blade, then you can hide the blowout by doing a back cut. Back cuts are when you anticipate the blowout but have the wood in an orientation when it is not important for blowout to occur. An example of this location can be the back inside corner of a shelf or cabinet, the bottom inside corner of a bed, the bottom inside corner of edge glued panels.
The corner that you deem an unimportant or hidden should be faced down and at the back of the miter saw.
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