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Miter or Circular Saw? A Breakdown for Beginning Builders

Hello and Welcome Back!  If you have been following along then you know that I’m big on saying “build it yourself”.  It’s a big thing of mine.  Maybe that’s because I can’t actually afford what a want, but also because building things is so fun.  I love having unique pieces that fit perfectly (both size and style-wise) into my space.  So, in an effort to get people building more, I decided to start this little series – Tool Tuesday.  This will be a very basic, beginner series. So, if you are an experienced woodworker, get out of here!  Or better yet, stay and offer your opinion in the comments – I’d love to hear your thoughts and I’m sure the beginners would too.  First up – Miter or Circular saw?  Let’s take a look. 

Miter or Circular Saw? What's the difference and which one is best for beginning builders? UncookieCutter.com

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The Lowdown

So, the very basic lowdown is that I use the circular saw for big sheets of plywood and the miter saw is more for lumber. However, there a few more things to consider.  The name alone should indicate that the miter saw will be the thing to purchase to make, well…miter cuts.  If you are looking for a saw to do trim work, or even build furniture that is made with 2×4 or 2x6s, something like that then you want a miter saw.  If you are looking to do things like hang drywall or build pieces that require plywood, you’ll want a circular saw.

Miter cuts are any cut that you will make at an angle.  A straight cut is a 90° angle. Miter cuts are when you make an angled cut across the width of the board.  Most Miter saws will also do bevel cuts, which is a cut across the thickness.  Here is the side by side of a 30° miter vs. 30° bevel cut.

Miter or Circular Saw? What's the difference and which one is best for beginning builders? UncookieCutter.com

Now you can use most circular saw to do bevel and miter cuts, but I never have.  To make a miter cut, you would have to have a compass to mark the angle, then you just carefully cut across the line.

Miter or Circular Saw? What's the difference and which one is best for beginning builders? UncookieCutter.com

My circular saw will also make bevel cuts, it’s just an easy turn of the base or “shoe”.

Miter or Circular Saw? What's the difference and which one is best for beginning builders? UncookieCutter.com

Here is a great article that further discusses miter vs. bevel cuts.

What to buy first, a Miter or Circular Saw?

Now, this will probably be the not so popular opinion, but I went for the miter saw first.  I used my miter saw for years before ever touching a circular saw.  Why?  One simple reason…the miter saw is stationary but the circular saw you have to move. The miter saw is far less intimidating to me. It’s also way easier for a beginning builder to get straight cuts, therefore cutting down on the frustration.

The problem:  You can only cut stuff up to a certain size.

One reason to consider a circular saw first is that it can do almost all the things a miter saw can do plus more.  Also, they are considerably cheaper.  If the movement part doesn’t scare you then get a good circular saw and start cutting with it.  You’ll just have to practice getting your lines straight.  There are a few things you can do to help (keep reading), but the main way to get a good straight line is practice.  Even though a lot of circular saws will make miter cuts, it is way difficult to get a clean, straight line.

Here is one of the very first tables I made, all with my miter saw.

Use Ana White plans to create this DIY table with a removable top - Uncookiecutter.com

 

I needed my circular saw to build this vanity because it is all plywood.

 

Different Types of Miter Saws

If you do get a miter saw, I highly recommend getting a compound sliding saw in the biggest size you can afford.  The bigger the saw, the bigger the pieces you will be able to cut.  Once you get building, you will want to use bigger and bigger pieces and you’ll wish you had a bigger saw.  Ask me how I know ;).  Here are 3 different price point saws with good reviews.

Hitachi 10-inch Single Bevel Compound Miter Saw
Hitachi 10-inch Single Bevel Compound Miter Saw – $109.00

RYOBI 10" Sliding Compound Miter Saw
RYOBI 10″ Sliding Compound Miter Saw – $329.15

DeWALT 12-inch Double Bevel Sliding Compound Miter Saw
DeWALT 12-inch Double Bevel Sliding Compound Miter Saw – $599.00

 

I bought a Porter Cable one for around $150 about 4 years ago when I first started building.  I can’t find it anymore online, or I would drop a link for you.  It has been a fine saw, but it is not the most accurate.  I have not had any problems with it other than, the laser being a bit off so I never use the laser.  The Hitachi one is at a great pricepoint for beginning and got excellent reveiws.

 

Different Types of Circular Saws

Circular Saws are a bit cheaper than most miter saws and you can get a top of the line one for around $150.

I like my Ryobi Cordless saw.  It’s easy and I love that it’s cordless.  It works with the RYOBI ONE system, making it very convenient.  However, sometimes you’ll need a little more power, the corded saws work well.  I saw my contractor cut a piece of concrete backer-board with a circular saw, which I wish I would’ve known you could do before I scored and broke over 300 sq ft worth of back-breaking work.  For something like that you’ll need a more powerful saw and a different type of blade. Here are the top 3 circular saws I could find at different price points, all with good reviews.

SKIL 7 1/4" Circular Saw
SKIL 7 1/4″ Circular Saw – $59.98

Bosch 6 1/2" Circular Saw
Bosch 6 1/2″ Circular Saw – $119.00

Makita 7 1/4" Circular Saw with Electric Brake
Makita 7 1/4″ Circular Saw with Electric Brake – $169.99

Things You’ll Need to Go With a Miter Saw

You don’t need much to go with a miter saw.  If you buy a cheaper saw to start playing with, you’ll probably want to get a new fancy blade. A new blade can make all the difference for making a clean cut.  I need a new blade now, this is what happens when your blade isn’t sharp.

These Diablo blades always come highly recommended and have great reviews.  Make sure you choose the correct size and material for your projects.

Things You’ll Need to Go With a Circular Saw

First up, you’ll need a couple of sturdy sawhorses and clamps.  The circular saw is hard enough to control on it’s own, but the last thing you want is your plywood moving around.

The other thing I like for my circular saw is my Kreg Rip-Cut.  It makes it easier to get a straight cut.  The fence acts like a guide and really does a good job getting your line straight.  The only problem is it only extends out to 24″, so I couple of times I’ve still had to make cuts myself. Also, you can’t use it to make miter cuts.

Kreg Rip Cut

 

 

So, what’s my vote for beginners – the miter or circular saw?  The miter saw.  What do you think?

Thanks for stopping by!

April

If you are still reading, I would love to know if this type of post is helpful.  I plan on trying this out for the next few months, so I’d love the feedback.

Miter or Circular Saw? A Breakdown for Beginners

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23 Comments

  1. We had a circular saw before we got the mitre saw (actually, the reciprocating one was the first we got). Anyways – I feel like the circular saw is the Husband’s, and the mitre is mine, because I use the mitre ALL THE TIME and usually make the Husband cut with the circular saw if I need something done.

    I definitely get that the circular one is more intimidating – but there’s one point you forgot to mention: storage. It’s much easier to move around and store a circular saw (we keep the mitre in place on its own workbench).

    1. Ah, that’s a great point Nicole! I didn’t’ think about storage! But I’m glad someone else agrees with me about the miter saw.

    2. Great information. Im recently retired and want to do some small wood projects. I have been very much intimated by most power tools except my drill, sander and screwdriver. After reading this , i feel encouraged to try a miter saw. Thank you so much! db

  2. Thanks so much for this!! I’m looking into getting a saw to do some home improvement projects & hey… I need a saw!! lol! Looking at other buying guides but this helped sooo much more. I’m not too intimidated by power tools but I think I’ll start with a miter, it looks so much easier to use. Then I’ll see about getting a circular saw next. Storage will be the only issue. Well guess I’ll be buying a work bench too 🙂 Husky has a cute portable one lol!

    1. I say go for the miter!! I love it and it is the most used tool in my shed. I only touch the circular when I have too, haha. Good luck! Oh, and you can totally build your own workbench with your new saw ;).

  3. What about table saws? Use it to easily create a long 1.5 x 1.5 piece of lumber from a 1.5 x 3.5 that you already have.

  4. Thanks for this post. I’ve used both in an introductory class and just feel a lot less intimidated and more in control with the miter. And i don’t want to deal as much with having to clamp the wood.Nice to hear that i’m not the only one who feels this way and that the miter is appropriate for the small furniture projects i have in mind.

  5. I am glad I found your site….I am planning to make the 5 pc rustic country stars and they require cutting the wood on angles…. Tried my table top jig saw but I cant get a straight line :(. I’m looking at the B&D 7 1/4″ Mitre Saw M1805BD – I have never used one before but it seems the logical way to go…. what do you think?
    Thanks in advance.

    1. Hi Christine! I’m not familiar with that saw, but just make sure it can cut angles. Also, a 7 1/4″ is a small blade. If you don’t plan to cut any more than a 2×4 you should be fine, but it will be limited beyond that. Good luck!

  6. Hi April, I guess you are over the pond. I too need a saw. I’ve used circular before and they are very handy. Now these days I am wondering and thinking if there is a universal saw to do both jobs, mitre and circular. If not, there should be. A motor and blade that would detach from the metal jig to do circular work, then to reattach again do mitre work. Or a complete redesign of a mitre saw. If you know of such a saw please let us know. That would be nice. Best wishes.

  7. Hi April! Thank you so much for this post. I just recently retired, and want to try my hand at replacing some of the baseboards in my house. I was a bit intimidated to buy a miter saw with a bigger blade, but now I understand the limitations of a smaller blade. Go big or go home, right??? 🙂 So, the 10″ blade, it is!

    All the best,
    Kathy

  8. Thank you, I don’t feel confident in dealing with a circular saw kickback at my current healt condition, also accuracy of the miter may be good.

  9. April! Thank you so much for this article! I’m really starting to upgrade my tools & recently began getting into wood crafting! I have spent hours researching both saws and you just answered all of my questions! I can’t get over the table you made!! Holy cow are you talented!! I hope you continue this blog! You are kind to share your thoughts to help others out!
    Merry Christmas! 🎄

    1. Thank you so much! So glad to hear it helped. I’m hoping to get back to blogging as soon as school gets back in person! Thanks so much for following along.

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