If you work in an industry where you use materials like wood or metal, it’s important to understand what kind of saw you’ll need to make sure you get the finished product you’re looking for.
It may seem like a trivial thing to pay attention to, but any experienced crafter or DIYer will tell you it absolutely makes a difference. This guide will go through the differences between two commonly used ones, a miter saw and a chop saw, and the circumstances where one or the other is the most useful.
Miter and Chop Saws: The Basics
Before jumping into the differences, let’s start by taking a look at what each of the tools is.
What Is a Miter Saw?
You can use a miter saw to make cuts for picture frames, door frames, window casings, and plenty more. There are numerous different types of miter saws with the most common ones being the following three:
- Dual Compound
- Sliding Compound
What Is Chop Saw?
A chop saw is a very similar specialized tool that is used to make square cuts. In other words, as their name suggests, they are built for “chopping” through things. These types of saws can only move up and down on its swing arm.
They are mainly used to cut pieces of steel and wood. However, depending on the type of blade you choose, you can also use a chop saw to cut a variety of other materials.
Miter Saw vs. Chop Saw: What Are the Differences?
Now that you know the basics of the two types of saws, let’s take a look at the most important differences between them.
One of the most defining differences between the chop saw and miter saw is the angle at which they can cut material.
Miter saws can be adjusted to cut at a variety of different angles and are much more versatile in that regard. Typically, they are designed to make 45-degree angle cuts that chop saws are unable to make.
Chop saws on the other hand can only make straight, 90-degree angle cuts. Of course, they are not as versatile in this way but chop saws are very precise with their cuts and leave little room for human error.
Most chop saws use a 14-inch disc for cutting. This is used so it can get through tougher materials with ease. These blades give them the kind of cutting capacity that’s needed to tackle big projects, like cutting metal frameworks.
Miter saws are most commonly available with 10- and 12-inch blades. These smaller types of blades are not quite as powerful but are precise and can be used in a variety of different projects.
Ease of Operation
There may be some debate on this from those who’ve used both but for the most part, miter saws are the easier ones to operate.
Chop saws are easy in the sense that once you get the hang of it, it is the same cut every time. There is some difficulty in knowing at which angle to cut materials with miter saws that chop saws simply don’t have the capability of having.
However, chop saws can be very powerful, and because of this, they are usually only used by professionals. Sometimes they’re powered by hydraulics and use a foot or knee switch to control them so the operator has both hands free to feed the material through.
Despite miter saws having lots of options to choose from, they compensate by making it fairly easy to set which angle you would like to cut. Once you set the angle, it is essentially the same process as using a chop saw.
Plus, miter saws are less powerful so there is a bit less bulk to them. In turn, there is less wear on your arms after continued use.
Chop saws are generally the more expensive of the two, with the cheapest ones costing around $100 new and most expensive being industrial use only. This is likely because it requires a larger blade and motor to run it and, to be frank, it can be difficult to find a true chop saw for sale as miter saws are the most popular ones by far.
Mitre saws can range greatly in terms of pricing with the cheapest ones set around $50 and the most expensive could come up to $500. In general, these saws are around $150 and are much more available than their counterparts.
While the miter saws have a bit more complex of a design, they are smaller and will need less material. Plus the extra demand for these tends to drive the price lower than your typical chop saw.
Which of the Two Should You Use?
Generally, a chop saw is only used by professionals to cut metal or large chunks of wood. They’re just too big and powerful for a typical homeowner or woodworker to really have much need for one. Especially so considering that a miter saw can do the exact same type of cut as a chop saw can, but not the other way around.
A more common use for chop saws is if you are building a house or have to cut steel rebar.
To put it simply, a chop saw (see my recommendations) is designed to do simple straight cuts over and over. If that’s all you need, there’s no need to overcomplicate things with a miter saw.
Miter saws, on the other hand, are mainly used to cut wood as they are usually not powerful enough to cut metal. Only use them for cutting metal if it is a very thin piece, and you have an appropriate blade on it.
They’re useful for cutting crown molding and baseboards as well as smaller craft projects like making picture frames, boxes, or shelves. Many DIYers will have a miter saw for their projects, just based on the sheer variety in which you can cut materials with this tool.
So to answer the question as to which of the two saws you should use, in general, the miter saw is the one you should pick. You can see my recommendations here.
There are some niche uses for the chop saw, but unless you are working with large materials and have experience with using heavy machinery, the miter saw is the one to go for. Not to mention, miter saws are cheaper and most hardware stores will have plenty available.
So if you are just looking to get some home projects done, go with the easier option that can still do the same thing as a chop saw, just on a smaller scale.
Now that you have the information you need, hopefully, you can make the right purchase for whatever project you’re working on. The differences between these two saws can be confusing but there are noticeable ones that are easily identifiable.
For the most part, the miter saw will be your best option if you are a simple DIYer doing small projects. On the flip side, if you are working on a larger project that only requires you to cut your material one way, the chop saw is a much more efficient option.