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There are four different types of mitering tool readily available for purchase, two manual and two powered.
Manual Miter Saws
While the manual versions are far cheaper, they require a consistent and experienced technique to give good results. The simplest of these is the miter box, a plastic or wooden device with holes in the underside for cam pins. Rotating the pins will apply clamping pressure to the wood you insert, keeping it immobile while you work on it. Miter boxes can be used with normal handsaws, but for better results it is advisable to use a backsaw, named after the rigid metal spine on the top of the blade.
Although by far the cheapest option, plastic miter boxes can wear over time as the guide slots can widen after repetitive use, causing you to lose the accuracy you need when sawing. The guide is also limited to a few fixed angles and crosscuts, reducing its overall usefulness.
The next best option in manual miter saw also comes with clamping cam holes in the base. However, this option features a custom fine-toothed saw that is under tension to keep it rigid. As the saw comes fixed to the base, the columns support it and you don’t have to rely on the sides of the blade for accuracy and control. The result of this is a longer lasting tool that doesn’t wear quickly like its cheaper counterpart. This option also comes with an adjustable blade angle, which means almost any angle can be cut.
The one major downside to manual miter saws is their inability to accurately slice a small amount from the end of a board – something that powered miter saws can do with ease.
Powered Miter Saws
The old name for powered miter saws was chop saws, a name derived from the motion the saw makes when cutting – a straight downward action. A simple knob allows you to accurately lock and cut any angle. Some powered miter saws have a cutting platform that will need to be periodically replaced, while others have a rotating slot that moves with the angle of the saw. However, as the blade moves through a fixed arc, the crosscut range is quite limited, and angled cuts are even more restricted.
Traditional chop saws are no longer manufactured, instead being replaced by two more versatile options. The first major kind is the compound miter saw. The saw blade has a fixed arc, and the head of the saw can tilt to produce both mitered and bevelled cuts. This kind of saw also allows you to achieve compound cuts for crown moulding corners with the moulding laid flat on the saw table.
Slightly higher in the price range is the sliding compound miter saw. This version has the miter and bevel functionality of the standard compound saw, but the saw head also slides, significantly increasing the cutting range of the saw without increasing the blade size. 10-inch blades are most common, but some come with 12-inch blades as well.
Which is Best?
A professionally-made miter saw is a long term purchase, so you need to carefully consider the functionality you require versus the amount of money you are willing to invest in it. Although it can be tempting to go for the biggest and best sliding compound miter saw with a 12-inch sliding blade and huge cutting range, will you actually use its full capabilities in any of your projects?
Most 10-inch compound miter saws will handle almost anything you need, from tiny mouldings to big cuts in two-by-fours.
The compound and sliding compound saws simplify the installation of crown moulding, and the sliding function increases cutting range.