Miter saw vs. Circular saw: Both have their advantages and disadvantages. See which one is right for you as a beginner with this guide.
Beginner woodworkers are often faced with a crucial question when they first start – which saw to buy?
Three of the most popular power saws in woodworking used to cut wood are the Circular saw, miter saw, and table saw. See more about the types of saws here.
They each have their pros and cons, but most experienced woodworkers agree that a first saw should be either a circular saw or a miter saw. These are indeed the two of the most popular power tools.
That doesn’t entirely give beginners the answer they need.
One plan might call for a circular saw, and to make things even more confusing, a similar plan may require a miter saw.
Which type of saw do you start with? Is one saw better than the other? Which saw should you buy first?
Let’s dive into all of this.
Table of contents
Similarities between a miter saw and circular saw –
Let’s first start with the similarities.
- Both saws cut wood with a circular blade that spins at high speed with an electric motor’s help.
- The circular blade used in the saw helps determine the size of the saw and the thickness of the material it can cut.
Differences between circular saw and miter saw
Your choice of saw will ultimately depend on a few factors – the type of cut you want to make and the different materials you will be cutting.
Let’s understand the various types of cuts a woodworker might need to make.
Type of cuts –
- Straight cuts – these cuts are made across the board perpendicular to the grain with the blade set at 90-degrees.
- Bevel cuts – It is an angled cut across the thickness of the board. It is made by tilting the saw blade to the required angle.
- Miter cuts – This is an angled cut across the width of the board. It is made by moving the blade at an angle to the board. For example, a 45-degree angle is very common.
- Rip cuts – This is cutting parallel to the wood grain. For example – splitting a 2” wide board into 1” panels.
- Compound cut – This is when the blade cuts at a bevel and miter at the same time.
A circular saw’s primary purpose is to make straight cuts in lumber – both cross-cuts in boards and rip-cuts in plywood.
It has an encased circular blade and a wide metal base that sits on the material to be cut. You can set the blade’s depth for the material you are cutting and guide the blade along the line that needs to be cut. Most circular saws allow you to change the base plate’s angle to make bevel cuts too.
These come in different sizes, which is determined by the size of the blade. The size of the blade determines the total thickness the saw can cut.
Circular saws are available in cordless and corded versions, making this a versatile and portable tool.
- Small footprint – easy to store in a large drawer or closet if needed.
- Portable and lightweight – can be easily carried from one job site to another.
- Less expensive – budget-friendly options start at $40!
- It can be used for making long continuous cuts.
- It works best to cut straight lines but can be used to cut mitered and beveled cuts.
- To ensure a straight cut, you have to use an additional jig or guide – this is VERY important, or the blade can jam, leading to a lot of frustration. There are many options available for this in the market (listed below) or you can make a homemade jig too.
- More prone to causing injuries if you don’t follow proper safety guidelines.
A miter saw, also often called a chop saw, is a tabletop saw where the blade is mounted on a moving arm. The arm can move up and down so to help make precise cuts.
Depending on the miter saw model, you can make a crosscut, miter cut, beveled cut, or compound cut. The miter and bevels can be set to very specific angles on the angle gauges.
The one thing a miter saw cannot do is a rip cut. It is just not safe!
Miter saws also come in different sizes and the size of the blade determines how wide a board can be cut.
- Can make four different types of precision cuts depending on the model of the saw.
- It has a steel guide called a “fence” at the back to line up and support the material being cut.
- They are quick and efficient.
- It is stationary and used on a table or stand.
- Although being stationary is a good thing, it also has a downside. A miter saw can take up a lot of space in your workshop
- More expensive.
What skills do you need to use the saws
Using either one doesn’t necessarily take a lot of skill. It takes more courage to use the equipment than skill. There are safety protocols to use for each, but other than that, each one is relatively easy to use.
Please read the instruction manual and use proper eye protection to protect your eyes from splinters and sawdust. Also, ear protection is invaluable, as both saws are loud. The more you use the saw, your skills and confidence will increase..
When to Use a Circular Saw vs. Miter Saw
Both the saws have their advantages. There are times when one saw will be better than the other. Each one is better at some things than the other. The pros and cons will help you make your decision.
Miter Saw pros and cons
- Perfect for making fast and accurate angle cuts. Learn how to make accurate cuts on the miter saw
- Miter saw is efficient in crosscutting smaller pieces of wood like trim, crown moldings, baseboards, window casing, or dimensional lumber.
- The downside is that a miter saw is stationary, and the blade only goes up or down and can only cut wood up to a certain width depending on the blade size.
- You cannot rip a piece of plywood.
Circular Saw pros and cons
- Circular saws are perfect for cutting down and ripping large pieces of plywood.
- You can also crosscut boards at 90-degree or other angles using the right method.
- You need a perfectly straight edge to guide the blade. If the guide isn’t completely straight, it can result in blade binding and can cause lots of frustration. I recommend Kreg RipCut to help with this.
- The blade can be a safety hazard if all safety practices are not followed.
Should I buy a miter saw or circular saw?
If you’re looking for the best saw to start your new woodworking hobby, you need to keep in mind the type of cuts you need to make. Many beginner projects require dimensional lumber like 1×2, 2X4, etc. In this case, my recommendation is to start with a miter saw.
Both saws are fantastic tools that will speed up your project’s build. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. If you don’t want to spend a lot on your first project and still get the job done with all the cuts required, then a circular saw will serve you well.
If you plan on building lots of projects where accurate cuts matter, or if you have lots of angled cuts, then a miter saw is definitely the best option simply because of its accuracy and the variety of cuts possible.
If you have to choose between either one and your budget allows, I would recommend a miter saw as a beginner.
In a recent poll in my Facebook group of over 14,000 members, 78% recommended a miter saw over a circular saw as a starter saw.
If you want and can afford both because you want more tools (like who doesn’t?), then get both. 🙂
Miter saw – top picks
- Ryobi 10″ Compound Sliding Miter Saw (Budget-friendly and great beginner miter saw!)
- Dewalt 12″ double bevel sliding compound miter saw (The best upgrade!)
- BOSCH 12″ miter saw (small footprint – great for small workshops)
Circular saw – top picks
More Beginner Woodworking –
- How to use a Kreg Jig
- How to use a speed square for beginners
- How to use a tape measure and it’s hidden features
Learn lots more in woodworking 101.