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. Also called chopsaws, 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.
Particularly impressive combinations of light weight, power and capabilities in cordless miter saws comes from DEWALT and Milwaukee. DEWALT offered the first tool of its kind back in 2014, then Milwaukee arrived a few years later. Either of these little cordless models remain my go-to saw for most jobs that involve work out in the field. Using the same battery and charger common to all the other tools in the corporate family, battery life between charges is long on both makes, 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 wood stove. 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 easy to save more money than you ever paid for them.
Click below for a detailed tutorial on how I cut miter joints. I’m using the Milwaukee saw, above, and working on a staircase project using cherry wood.