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 very important question when they first start out – which saw to buy first.
Most woodworkers who have experience agree that the saw of choice should be either a circular saw or a miter saw. That doesn’t quite answer the question as it leaves beginners with the question – “Should I buy a miter saw or circular saw?“
To make things even more confusing, your plan might call for a circular saw, while a similar plan you love may require a miter saw. What is the difference between a circular saw and a miter saw? If you’re unsure which one to buy, this guide will help you out before you make an investment.
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Differences between circular saw and miter saw
Which one do you start with? Is one saw better than another type of saw? These are valid questions, and depending on your projects, it may require one over the other. Let’s take an in-depth look at both these saws to help you get a better idea of their use.
When it comes to ripping down boards, a circular saw is going to be your best tool for the job. It is also great for making small crosscuts on boards. This saw is often used when it comes to cutting plywood.
In case you’re new to ripping, this is when you make a continuous cut that goes parallel to the grain effectively splitting a board into 2 equal length pieces. A crosscut on the other hand is made across the grain to reduce the length of the board.
When looking for the right circular saw, remember that they come in different sizes as it’s the blade that is measured. They also come in left and right-handed, so if you’re a leftie, a right-handed circular saw may give you the same issues a standard set of scissors will.
If you need to make more accurate crosscuts, then a miter saw is the best tool for the job. These also come in different sizes. With a miter saw, the blade is measured from across the center. The size of the blade determines how wide a board can be cut.
It is important to remember that a miter saw cannot be used to rip up boards.
Miter Saw vs. Circular Saw for Beginners
If you’re looking for the best saw to start off your new 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.
Learn everything about using a miter saw here.
While you can make cross cuts with a circular saw, you’ll need a straight edge, have to measure the angles, and, most of all, hope for the best. A miter saw has an advantage in this area with its ease of use. Your hands will be at a much safer distance, not to mention, you’ll have much more control of your cuts.
However, a miter saw costs more than a standard circular saw and is much larger, and needs space for storage. A circular saw on the other hand is very budget-friendly and can be simply put in a large drawer.
The Skills You’ll Need for Either Saw
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 make sure that you have 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. No one becomes a master carpenter after the first project.
When to Use a Circular Saw vs. Miter Saw
Both the saws have their own advantages. There are times when one saw will be better over 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, molding, baseboards, 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 a 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?
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 finishing work like baseboards or molding, then a miter saw will prove helpful. If you have to choose between either one and if 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.