Whether working on a construction site or working in your home workshop, efficiency is always the key to completing your projects in a timely manner. Often, the best way to maintain your efficiency while completing your project tasks is to keep your most important tools accessible. For most of your power tools, that’s pretty easy…but what do you do when two of your power saws look very similar at first glance?
This is too often the case for folks using circular saws and miter saws. That kind of visual confusion may cause you to grab the wrong saw by mistake, thus slowing down your work process. Worse yet, this kind of confusion might cause you to use one saw or the other for a task it is not compatible with.
For these reasons and more, it is critical for you to learn the differences between the two. These differences range from their price and portability to their ease of use and versatility. The differences have practical implications, too, all of which will be covered in this handy guide.
Circular and Miter Saws: The Basics
Circular saws and miter saws are often confused for one another for a number of reasons.
But in truth, they are quite different when it comes to their functions. Before we dig into those differences, though, let’s dig into the basics of both of these power saws.
What Is a Circular Saw?
To start off, a circular saw is a handheld power tool that utilizes a rapidly rotating disc blade for the purpose of slicing through mostly wood. Though other material blades are available, most circular blades are optimized for making straight, vertical cuts through stock of various widths.
Between their handheld form factor and their strength, circular saws are considered very versatile.
Circular saws are also noteworthy for their ability to make extended cuts, both with and against the grain. This can be very advantageous to woodworkers who want to create elongated workpieces without needing to join or clue smaller workpieces together.
All things considered, most circular saws are also pretty affordable. This is why even most amateur woodworkers have a circular saw in their shop.
What Is a Miter Saw?
However, unlike its cousin, the miter saw is hinged to a worktable surface. This means that it can be raised and lowered at precise angles for the purpose of cutting miters. At the same time, though, miter saws are less portable due to their inclusion of a table. However, this hinging action does not require much physical effort to accomplish, thus reducing user strain substantially.
Miter saws are also designed for repetitive action, which really makes them a must-have for craftsman who need to make a lot of angled cuts in quick succession.
Circular Saw vs. Miter Saw: What Are the Differences?
Now that you know the basics, let’s take a more detailed look at their differences.
Generally speaking, most people consider circular saws to be the more versatile option of the two.
This is likely because a circular saw can be used to perform just about any kind of wood cut, regardless of depth, length, or orientation. While angled cuts do require a bit of added effort, this small shortcoming certainly doesn’t outshine all the kinds of cuts a circular saw can complete.
By comparison, miter saws are seen as less versatile given that they are designed for making exclusively angled cuts.
While this is true, miter cuts remain a fairly versatile option within that specific domain. As such, any cuts angled at between 1 and 90 degrees are well within a miter saw’s wheelhouse. But for any cuts beyond a short length, a miter saw simply won’t be able to get the job done.
Level of Precision
Circular saws and miter saws are often differentiated based upon their level of precision too.
Miter saws are generally preferred on this front due to their ability to make precisely the same angled cuts again and again. This is accomplished through a miter saw’s overall structure, which keeps the blades angle at precisely the same location after its hinged arm is lowered.
Circular saws are considered less precise by comparison, not least because they are not as easy to work with at an angle. To that end, few circular saws feature options to maintain the blade’s angle between cuts. Circular saw blades also tend to create only moderately clean cuts, which is less desirable than a miter saw’s very clean cuts.
Circular saws and miter saws have noteworthy discrepancies when it comes to portability.
This is because miter saws are unable to be separated from their connected worktables. This effectively makes them bench power tools that are intended to remain stationary most of the time. In any case, taking a miter saw to a remote job site would be a hassle due to its weight alone.
A circular saw, on the other hand, is not heavy at all, both while it is in use and while it is being transported. To that end, a circular saw’s handheld construction makes it easy to move around a jobsite without over-exerting one’s self.
This also means that you can easily take a circular saw to where it is needed, rather than needing to bring a work piece to its singular location (as you would do with a miter saw).
When it comes down to it, a circular saw is generally a far cheaper option.
To that end, most productive models on the market today can be purchased for between $70 and $250. In addition, additional circular saw blades are fairly affordable to upgrade and replace. Even a multi-pack of super-fine tooth circular saw blades only costs around $40.
Meanwhile, a miter saw is a considerably larger investment. In fact, these units tend to run between $200 and $600 these days.
That’s a lot, considering that most folks don’t use these saws but for special-use projects. The long-term cost of a miter saw use can be prohibitive to some, as well. That’s because even a single blade for one of these units may cost around $60.
One factor many prospective buyers of power saws overlook is storage.
On that front, you won’t have any trouble if you invest in a circular saw. While these units are not exactly small, they are relatively compact. This is especially true if your unit comes standard with its own storage/transportation case. These can also ensure that your new circular saw is unaffected by ambient wood dust in your workshop.
Storing away a miter saw isn’t really much of an option, however. These table-bound units must always rest on a flat, wide surface, which is why most users just keep them on their woodshop’s countertop when it is not in use. If you have a lot of workshop space to spare, this may not be an issue for you.
But if your countertop space is at a premium, then a miter saw can be a bulky hassle.
Which of the Two Should You Use?
When it comes down to choosing which of these two saws you should purchase, you should take into careful account the kinds of cutting tasks you regularly engage in.
If the majority of your cuts are vertical straight cuts or long cuts either with or against the grain, then a circular saw is for you. If you also do a lot for cutting away from a workshop setting (such as on a construction site), then a circular saw is the clear choice based upon its portability.
You can see my favorite miter saws here.
Meanwhile, if you have some space to spare in your workshop, then there’s no reason to skip out on the great functions of a miter saw.
To that end, a miter saw will slot perfectly into a woodworker’s arsenal of power tools if they regularly need to make miter cuts at precise angles. Woodworkers who also want to take some of the strain out of the angle-cutting process will find a miter saw’s arm-based operational mechanism to their full liking.
You can see my favorite circular saws here.
With all this being said, you should now see clearly that the circular saw and miter saw are very different tools.
While they may look similar and carry the capacity to slice through wood, they each are able to do this with differing levels of power and finesse. Each differs when it comes to matters of price and portability, too, which may impact which of these saws you invest in.
Regardless of which you choose, be sure to keep these important differences in mind when choosing the right tool for your next wood cutting task.