How to use a miter saw | Pro Construction Guide
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How to use a miter saw

The miter saw is fast becoming one of the most versatile tools on the jobsite. But to make the best use of this valuable tool it’s important that you know how to use a miter saw safely and productively.

How to use a miter saw

Mount the miter saw securely to a workbench or an approved work stand at hip level.

Also known as a chop saw, miter saws consist of a circular saw mounted on a frame, which allows the saw to pivot or tilt, thus making angled or beveled cuts possible. A miter saw can also be used to cut wood-like and plastic materials.

Miter saws are available with 8-, 10- or 12- blades and come in three configurations: basic, compound and sliding compound.

Basic models allow you to perform crosscuts and miter cuts, while the more sophisticated compound and sliding compound models allow for bevel cuts, an important time-saving advantage when cutting crown molding, for example. Sliding compound miter saws let you make longer crosscuts (some models can cut boards as wide as 11½ inches at 90 degrees).

As with other power tools, manufacturers have been incorporating new features to make miter saws easier and safer to operate. Laser alignment systems, for instance, eliminate the guesswork from cut-line citing, while dust bags remove debris from work materials.

Other recent enhancements aimed at increasing productivity include bevel crown stops, quick-release work clasps and taller fences to accommodate larger materials. To help get the most out of this powerhouse, here are a few safety and maintenance tips.

How to use a miter saw

As with any power tool, it’s important to understand how it works, how it’s supposed to work and how it needs to be maintained. This is particularly important with a miter saw, a device that propels a large circular cutting edge at speeds up to 5,500 rpm. Rule No. 1, therefore, is: Read the owner’s manual. It contains necessary information for safe and proper operation of miter saws, as operating mechanics and maintenance can vary by brand and model.

Secure the area

Mount the miter saw securely to a workbench or an approved work stand at hip level, advises Alek Ipatenco, product manager at Benchtop Stationary Tools, TTI North America. To secure, use all four of the mounting holes in the miter saw’s base, and select bolts long enough to pass through the base, lock washers, hex nut and workbench. Before starting, make sure the work area is clean and dry. Always have ample lighting and look for obstacles that may interfere with the saw.

Get plugged in

Select a properly rated power cord capable of handling the current draw of the miter saw. When operating the saw, be aware of the cord’s location and keep it away from the blade. Inspect the power cord periodically for any loose or exposed wires. Keep the saw clear from any grounded objects, such as pipes and appliances.

Change the blade

Power Tool Institute (PTI), a Cleveland-based trade association that provides tool safety materials and programs, advises to always use sharp blades. Damaged or dull blades, it says, could throw teeth. Before changing the blade or performing other maintenance work, always disconnect the saw from its power source.

Read your manual for blade installation specifics, and verify that your replacement blade is of proper size and arbor-hole shape. According to Ipatenco, some common installation mistakes are failure to tighten the blade bolt properly and not installing the blade with its teeth pointing downward.

Always on guard

One of the most important safety features on a miter saw is the self-retracting saw guard. So important is this device that PTI warns: “Never alter a guard or use a tool with a guard missing. Be sure all guards are in place and working properly.

Do not defeat guards.” If a guard is “hanging up” or malfunctioning in some other way, take the saw to an authorized service center for repairs.  The guard should be frequently cleaned to maintain visibility and movement. To do this, use a clean, dry cloth. Warning: Solvents, such as brake fluid, gasoline or petroleum-based products, will damage the guard.

Laser, light improvements

New technologies such as laser guides and built-in fluorescent lighting have improved miter-saw safety. For instance, laser guides help locate the blade’s cut line while the cutting head is in its highest position. This allows the blade guard to provide maximum coverage as the material is positioned. Built-in lighting acts as a work light, increasing visibility around the cut area and reducing mishaps.


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