Circular saw or miter saw, which one should I get? What is the difference and do I need both?
Generally, if your project involves a lot of trimming then get a Miter saw. Conversely, if you are going to do rip-cuts or need to cut plywood, then a circular saw is what you need. However, the choice is not that easy.
Let me explain:
So, you notice it has been a while since you added a new power tool to your collection, and you decide now would be a perfect time to grab a new tool to use. But, you face the issue that all professionals face, what power tool should you get? In this article, we are going to look at two very different, and two very popular power tools, miter saw vs circular saw. You will learn what each does, what jobs each is best suited for, and finally, you will learn what person should buy each kind of saw.
What is a circular saw?
A circular saw is a power tool with a flat circular blade that rotates at high speed to cut wood, plywood, plastic and even metal.
Circular saws are pretty straightforward as far as power tools go. They are handheld and come in both corded and cordless models. They are versatile and relatively cheap (especially when compared to other top of the line power tools) so you will find circular saws in almost every workshop and garage. Most of you out there, especially if you are interested in carpentry, woodworking, etc., have seen a circular saw before. They are round handheld saws that rotate at high speeds. They are generally capable of cutting through most anything, including any kind of wood, plastics, and much more.
What is a miter saw?
Miter saw is a machine designed to do accurate crosscuts and miter cuts at the required angle. They can also cut bevel and a combination of both. For those who do not know, a “miter” essentially refers to cuts done at any angle other than 90 degrees (a crosscut). So, as you can probably guess, a miter saw is a kind of saw dedicated specifically to make those sorts of angled cuts.
Miter saws look somewhat similar to circular saws, as both have large circular saw blades that rotate at high speed and cut through the wood. However, there are considerable differences between the two power tools, which I will explain below.
Circular Saw Vs Miter Saw Comparison
Here is a quick comparison chart to help you decide betwen miter saw or circular saw.
|Features||Circular Saw||Miter Saw|
|Versatality||Excellent for wide range of cutting||Dedicated to crosscuts|
|Rip-cuts||Yes. Use straight-edge or guide rail||No|
|Crosscuts||Yes. But poor accuracy||Excellent for crosscuts|
|Rabbet & Dado||Yes. Can be done.||Requires sliding miter saw|
|Ease of Use||Takes time to master||Relatively easy to use|
|Portability||Easy to store and carry around||Requires table or workbench|
|Price||Very affordable||Comparatively expensive|
Difference between a Miter Saw and Circular Saw
Let’s take a detailed look at both the pwer saws to figure out which is best for beginners and which tool is right for your job.
How do they work?
In case of a miter saw the cutting blade is dropped from above the work-piece to make the cut, whereas on a circular saw the blade is fed against the work along a straight path. Likewise, they have a bed that is used to hold the wood (or whatever else is being cut) in place.
Types of cuts
Looks aside, circular saws and miter saws are effectively two different tools. A circular saw is an all-around tool. It can make a variety of different cuts and it can be used on a variety of different jobs. It is effectively a mobile version of a table saw. With enough experience and technical knowledge, a circular saw can be used to make any kind of cuts that you can think of. It can even make miter and bevel cuts that you would normally have to use a miter saw for.
A miter saw, on the other hand, is a specialty tool. As I said earlier, it is explicitly meant to make angled cuts. Now, you may be wondering what the purpose of a miter saw is since circular saws can also make miter cuts. Well, miter saws allow you to make angled cuts easier, faster and accurately. The problem with using circular saws to make miter cuts is that it is difficult to get the cut straight and accurate and requires a lot of practice to get it right. The chance for error is also much higher when using a circular saw.
Storage and Portability
Circular saws are small and require very little storage space. On the other hand, Miter saw requires it’s own table or a miter saw stand.
In terms of portability, circular saws are much easier to move around; especially if you have a cordless model. Transporting a circular saw from job site to job site is as easy as throwing it in your car. Miter saws are not as difficult to move from place to place when compared to table saws, but they are definitely less mobile than circular saws.
In terms of cost, there is a bit of difference, but not a major one. I generally notice that your average circular saw is cheaper than your average miter saw, but this is not a universal truth. For example, I have seen the top of the line circular saws that cost a bit more than a middle of the road miter saw. The price differences are not that major either way, at the most, you will be spending about 50-75 more dollars for a good miter saw. Still, if you are on a strict budget it is something worth considering.
When to go for a circular saw
So, when should you buy a circular saw? Well, if you have a job that requires you to make a large variety of cuts, then you absolutely must get a circular saw. The variety of cuts a circular saw can make far surpass the variety of cuts that a miter saw can make.
Almost any carpentry or woodworking job that you can think of can benefit from a quality circular saw. In order to make a perfectly straight rip-cut, first get straightedge cut from the edge of a sheet of hardboard and clamp it on your workpiece to use it as a jig. Alternatively, you can get expensive ready-made guide rails that can help you to make accurate straight cuts.
Most newer circular-saw models also come with the tiltable base, that you can set the desired angle to make bevel cuts.
Also, a good circular saw will be useful for the general house and/or property maintenance.
When to go for a miter saw
A miter saw is a specialty tool and thus you should get it if you plan on doing specialty jobs that require precise miter cuts in the future. There is no sense in buying a miter saw and just letting it sit in the garage or tool shed gathering dust.
Miter saw cannot be used for cutting plywood and can’t do long rip-cuts. You can’t make rabbets and dados unless you go for an expensive sliding miter saw.
If you plan on building something that requires a lot of trim work, like photo frames, build furniture, small tables, decks with 2×4 or 2x6s or anything else of that nature, then invest in a good miter saw as it will make those jobs both faster and easier. Learn how to use a miter saw before you build your next project.
However, if you just need a simple tool for cutting wood occasionally, then look for a different kind of saw. For woodworking, the table saw with miter gauge is a great alternative.
Who should buy what?
So, by now you have a good grasp on what each tool is and what jobs they are best suited for. The last thing I want to discuss who should buy each kind of saw.
Most beginners, especially women may find circular saw more intimidating. However, it is the most versatile tool that can perform nearly all the tasks that a Miter Saw can and more, but with less accuracy.
A miter saw is a specialized tool to miter, crosscuts and bevel cuts accurately. If the extent of your carpentry is around the house DIY work, then a miter saw is frankly just a waste of your money. You may get one or two uses out of it, but that does not really justify the cost of most miter saws. Unless you already have a circular saw at home, then I would definitely recommend buying one of those.
If, however, you know for certain that you are going to need to make miter cuts in the future. Say for example you are building some furniture and the local expert at the hardware store told you that you would need to make miter cuts, then you should definitely invest in a miter saw.
Ideally, you should get both; miter saw for your work that requires accurate trimming and circular saw for all rip-cuts. However, if you must choose one over the other, I would recommend you to buy a circular saw first since it is the most versatile power saw you get.