Choosing a Cordless Miter Saw

Dewalt Miter Saw

The miter saw might just be the most useful tool for any level of home renovator, and they can now be purchased in the cordless variety. Cordless miter saws provide ample flexibility for remote job sites or early construction (before power is available), and pack comparable punch to their corded cousins. But how do you choose which cordless miter saw is the right one for your projects? We’re here to help!

In order to narrow down the choices of miter saws available on the market, we must first understand the different types of miter saws: the stationary compound, sliding compound, and dual bevel. Once you have selected the type of cordless miter saw right for you, shop around to find the saw with the desired blade size, crosscut size, and features. Finally, compare prices to get the best deal.

The right cordless miter saw can increase your productivity around the house. Let’s dive in and explore the different options, capabilities, and features available to you on the market.

Understanding the Types of Miter Saws

There are three main types of miter saws (and one tool that commonly gets confused with miter saws). The three types of miter saws, both corded and cordless, are the stationary compound, the sliding compound, and the dual bevel, and we’ll discuss what makes them different here.

Although it shares a lot of similarities with miter saws (like a pivoting arm and adjustable stand), the chop saw is typically used to cut metal and lacks man of the features th

Stationary Compound

Stationary Compound Miter Saw

Stationary compound miter saws can pivot in the “X” plane to make angled cuts and feature an anchored “chop” saw action. They lack the ability to adjust the angle of the blade in the “Y” axis. In other words, they are incapable of more complex cuts as could be needed for things like crown molding and joints.

The action of the blade pivots about one single joint, making the effective crosscut capacity simply the size of the blade (8″ for an 8″ blade, 12″ for a 12″ blade, and everything in between). This means the saw could struggle with larger pieces of material or bigger cuts.

Sliding Compound

Sliding Compound Miter Saw 2

The sliding compound miter side carries all the same features as its stationary brother, but adds a slide-cutting action. This effectively increases the saw’s crosscut capacity, sometimes as much as double or more. The blade itself typically rests on a similar joint to the stationary compound saws, but now sits on a sliding rail. This makes the sliding compound miter saw capable of larger cuts.

Dual Bevel

Dual Bevel Miter Saw

The dual bevel miter saw brings the most capability. Not only can you adjust the saw in the “X” axis, but you can tilt the blade in the “Z” axis as well, giving the saw the ability to conquer complex cuts. Sliding dual compound miter saws bring all features previously mentioned to the table, capable of larger, more complex cuts.

Select Your Desired Blade and Crosscut Size

As we previously discussed, the crosscut size (the total width of the cutting capacity of the saw) depends on more than simply the size of the blade. Sliding compound or sliding dual compound miter saws will bring increased cutting capacity to the table, oftentimes effectively doubling the cutting capacity.

Typical blade sizes range from 8″ to 12″, with the bigger blade capacities usually coming on bigger machines. Blade and crosscut size depends on what the saw will be used for. An 8″ blade on a stationary compound miter saw can handle most lumber up to a 2×8 and 4×4 post, but will struggle with posts bigger than that and simply can’t reach wider woods than 2×8.

On the other side of the spectrum, a 12″ sliding compound miter saw can handle just about any piece of lumber you bring onto the job site (that would require a miter saw; clearly there are some cuts that are best left to a skill saw or jigsaw).

Select Your Desired Features

There are many different features included in various miter saws on the market nowadays. Everything from more standard features like fences, guides, and angle cut detents to more intricate features like laser cut guides, increased battery capacity, internal dust and sawdust extraction, material clamps, and built-in or included stands and sawhorses bring a wide range of potential features for your cordless miter saw. We’ll discuss each briefly below.

Fences

Almost all models of cordless miter saws come with a fence, which is the back support rail that holds the wood or material in place. What typically differs is the total length, height, and the units of measurements on the fence itself. The options available for the fence are completely over to your own personal wants and needs. Keep in mind that taller fences lend to more secure cutting environments, particularly for cutting taller pieces of material like crown molding and 4x4s.

When using your cordless miter saw, ensure you secure the wood or material by firmly pressing it into the fence while cutting. You run the risk of the saw blades grabbing the material and kicking it up should you fail to properly secure it when cutting.

Guides

The two most common guides are laser line guides and shadow cut guides.

The laser line guide is simply a laser projected onto the piece of material to be cut that shows a guide of where the blade will interact. The problem with these is they are not tied to the blade itself, rather a projection from the arm, which can lead to inaccuracies over time from standard wear and tear. For this reason, I personally have preferred to stay away from the buyer’s premium of saws with laser line guides as I always found myself turning them off.

The newer guide system on the market is a shadow cut guide system, which uses small light on either side of the blade itself to create a shadow cut guide line. The main benefit of this system is the fact that it is based entirely on the blade itself because the shadow created comes directly from the blade meaning we should expect higher levels of accuracy from the shadow guide line created.

In all, I personally have never placed a premium on miter saws with a guide line projection or creation system and have always preferred to simply get to know my saw to find exactly where my blade will interact with the material being cut. It is always a good idea to run some practice cuts on a new saw or after changing the blade on a scrap piece of material before making your first real cut.

Battery Capacity

Battery capacity is more or less tied to the size of the saw, but there are some exceptions to this loose rule. What I mean by that is this: typically the larger and more powerful saws also carry longer-lasting batteries, but in the fight to create more power in smaller units, we’ve seen some models focus on power over bulk.

I highly recommend researching varying models thoroughly prior to purchasing your saw, focusing particularly on battery capacity (cutting hours) and how many batteries/charging stations are included in the purchase. After all, the entire point of a cordless miter saw is to be able to use it away from a power source, so the longer the battery lasts the better.

Internal Dust/Sawdust Extraction

Internal dust or sawdust extraction measures are considered a premium feature, meaning you are likely to pay a small premium for saws that include them. In my opinion, this feature is more useful for corded units that are typically used in a garage, shop, or inside the project site. Dust and sawdust collection is typically less of an issue for cordless units that are most often going to be used outside, like on a portable stand, truck bed, or ground.

Ultimately, the decision is up to you on how much emphasis to place on dust and sawdust collection and/or extraction, but realize this is one of those features that should run a small premium.

The most common methods of dust and sawdust collection and extraction are collection bags and internal vacuum inclusions. Units with internal vacuum units will run you a small premium.

Angle Cut Detents

Angle cut detents are more or less standard nowadays amongst miter saws, but the number of detents included varies by unit. The more detents the better, meaning the saw will lock in place at more angles, allowing for a higher number of precise angled cuts to be made.

The standard base for angle cut detents are 90 degrees, 60 degrees, 45 degrees, and 30 degrees both to the left and to the right. Those angles encompass a large majority of the angles needed in construction and rehab, and a detent is not required in order to make a precise cut, it simply makes it easier. The most common angle that falls outside of the four main angles in construction is 22.5 degrees, and there are very few miter saws on the market that have a detent at that angle.

The bigger issue with angle cut detents is the actually material from which it is constructed. Most are made of aluminum, which tends to wear to faster due to repetitive use when compared to steel. This could create minute imperfections in the precision of angled cuts over time. For that reason, I prefer miter saws with steel angle cut detent plates.

Material Clamps

Material clamps are a feature that not many cordless miter saws have, but is a feature I highly recommend. What they are are small clamps attached to the saw unit itself that hold the material being cut in place. This is good for a number of reasons, primarily for the added safety they provide as well as the additional precision in cuts they provide.

Overall, material clamps are not necessary and you will pay a small premium for cordless miter saws that include them.

Included Stand/Sawhorse

Higher end cordless miter saws can include a stand or sawhorse with the purchase of the unit, which is ideal for remote jobs and early construction. That said, not many people require stands or sawhorses to be included with their unit, as most people purchasing a cordless miter saw already have something in place. For that reason, it typically doesn’t make sense to pay the premium for a saw that comes with a stand or sawhorse, but that decision is ultimately up to you.

The biggest thing here is your miter saw absolutely needs to be anchored somewhere flat and secure, which is the only safe and effective way to use the unit. That anchor can be anything from the bed of a truck to a level area on the ground to a stand or sawhorse.

Putting It All Together

With a thorough understanding of the available features and inclusions of the cordless miter saws currently on the market, we can now compare features to prices before making the purchase.

On the lower end, the Ryobi ONE 18V unit is the best combination of performance, features, and cost, coming in around $199. This unit comes with one 18V battery, a charging station, a best-in-class 2×10 crosscut capacity, and basic fence. Another positive is it runs on the same 18V battery as the entire line of Ryobi 18V tools, ideal for those that already have a number of tools from the Ryobi 18V family.

On the higher end, the Dewalt 120V max Flexvolt 12″ cordless miter saw is one of the top performing saws on the market. The unit will run you around $799, but includes two batteries, an AC adaptor, two-base charger, and detent override. The improved capacity allows up to 7 1/2″ crown molding to be cut, and the adjustable power output is ideal for a wide array of potential materials.

There are many other cordless miter saws available on the market, but those two stand out as leaders at the pricing extremes. The ultimate goal of this article was to educate you on what to look for in your search for the perfect cordless miter saw, not to recommend the exact unit to purchase, so take everything you have learned here and apply it to your own individual search.

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