In the final analysis, do-it-yourself success comes down to tools, and one particular kind of tool makes building projects more fun and more productive than most others. If you’re thinking of tooling up to build your DIY skills, you’d be wise to start looking at miter saws.
The ability to easily crosscut lumber and trim to precise angles is what a miter saw is all about. The motor and blade of every miter saw swivels down, cutting wood that’s held at specific angles on the table below. All this sounds simple enough, but it wasn’t that long ago that miter saws were uncommon. Even as late as the 1990s, most contractors I knew didn’t own one. Go back to the 1970s, and carpenters were still cutting angled joints with a wooden miter box and a handsaw.
The remarkable thing about miter saws is how much they’ve improved. I don’t know of any other tool category that has changed so much for the better since inception. And most impressive of all for backyard DIYers is the small, light, cordless miter saws that are coming on stream. They’re easy to carry, they don’t take much space in storage, and they really can do most everything needed while you’re building a deck, dock, gazebo or picnic table – all without a cord.
The most impressive combination of light weight, power and capabilities I’ve seen so far in a cordless miter saw is the DEWALT 7 1/4” 20V model. This is not a brand new tool, but nothing else has come along to beat it since I first tested it in 2014. The consensus of every tool review site you’ll see online says the same thing. I get to test and use virtually any tool I want from different manufacturers, and my shop is full of tools. All I do is send an email and tools arrive on my doorstep. This little cordless model is still my go-to saw for most jobs that involve work out in the field. Using the same battery and charger common to all 20 volt DEWALT tools, battery life between charges is long, power is great and there are no drawbacks compared with corded saws with the same crosscutting capability.
When tool manufacturers talk about a “sliding compound” miter saw like this model, they mean the motor and blade assembly slide on rails to allow for crosscutting wider wood. Most sliding compound mitre saws are much bigger and heavier than the DEWALT cordless, and this translates into the ability to cut bigger wood and wider trim. That’s fine, but how big do you really need to go? This 32 pound saw crosscuts a 2×8 at 90º, and it’ll handle wood thicker than any construction grade lumber you’ll find. If you need to cut a 2×12, you can always flip the wood over and do it in two passes. This isn’t practical for every application, but for most DIYers it’s fine. Later this year Milwaukee is coming out with their own small cordless miter saw. I’ll let you know how it works after testing.
The ability to make things for yourself and save money is something like a campfire. The only way you’ll get heat out of the thing is if you put in wood first. Invest in good tools and you’ll find that it’s very easy to save way more money than you ever paid for them.