How to Use a Miter Saw: Training the Apprentice

Thinking about a job in construction? Understanding how to use a miter saw for trim work gives you a leg up on one of the most basic job site skills. A miter saw works best for trim projects requiring accurate straight, beveled, and/or mitered cuts.

In its simplest form, the miter saw makes angled or mitered cuts across the face of a board. The most popular Pro models include sliding rails to increase the maximum width of the cut. That translates into the ability to cut wider boards.

More expensive saws also allow for beveling to both sides. Finally, extendible fences and miter saw stands can aid in supporting longer boards.

In continuing our Training the Apprentice series, we want to ensure you understand how to best use a miter saw for trim work. We also want you to know when to use this particular tool.

A Brief Overview of Miter Saw Types

We wrote a thorough piece on understanding the types of miter saws, but here’s a quick breakdown to distinguish between various configurations.

  • Miter Saw: Has a mitering table that adjusts the cross-cut angle
  • Sliding Miter Saw: Has a rail system that slides the blade from front to back and extends the maximum cutting width
  • Compound Miter Saw: Has an adjustment left and/or right to cut through the wood at a beveled angle
  • Compound Sliding Miter Saw: Gives you mitering, beveling, and sliding functions
  • Dual Compound Sliding Miter Saw: Gives you all three functions with beveling to both left and right. This avoids having to flip the piece around when making bevels in both directions.

Note: Check out our best miter saw reviews buying guide as well.

When to Use a Miter Saw

The first rule might be—don’t use this tool unless you have to. A miter saw works best for trim carpentry. Above all else, this is a finishing tool. If you find yourself needing to cut 2x material on a framing project—a sidewinder or worm drive may be the better choice.

We’ve seen apprentices wheel these off the backs of trucks only to have them sit around the jobsite unused. A circular saw takes care of most cross- and angled-cuts. Why use a big heavy machine and lift heavy boards when you don’t have to? For 2X material—just grab a framing square and complete the cut right where the material sits.

If, however, you need one of these tools—then by all means continue reading. Hopefully, we can help you understand how to use them in a way that helps your workflow.

How to Use a Miter Saw

Safety First

Before we teach you how to use a miter saw, we feel the need to remind you about safety. Follow these safety tips and keep yourself safe:

  • Always wear eye protection—no exceptions!
  • Avoid loose clothing and jewelry that can catch on the blade
  • Mind where your hands are at all times (most saws include a warning on them to keep your hands a specific distance from the blade)
making a cut

Here are a few additional PPE considerations, depending on the material you’re cutting:

  • Gloves
  • Dust mask
  • Ear protection
  • Dust collection

You have a powerful motor spinning a sharp blade. Be sure to maintain a healthy respect for the tool. Using these saws can get really dangerous if you lose focus.

Get to Know Your Miter Saw

Before you start making those first cuts, familiarize yourself with the tool. Flip through the instruction manual (if you can find it). Learn the location of all the locks and adjustments. Each miter saw differs from the next, and even our most seasoned Pros familiarize themselves with the controls before getting started.

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