illustration of circular saw and miter saw

Miter Saw vs Circular Saw: Which One Do You Buy?

You want to tackle your list of projects and it’s time to add the next saw to your toolkit. With the addition of a miter saw, you’ll become an authority in woodworking, but a circular saw has a rugged look with a lot of power. Assuming you’ll buy one first and the other at a later date, which one do you choose now?

If you’re smart about it, you’ll learn everything you can about both saws before you make a purchase. Not only will this save you time, but it will also save you money while ensuring your projects are completed with minimal headaches.

We’ll break down each saw and compare them, giving you a good idea of which one will work best for your immediate needs.

Everything You Need To Know About Miter Saws

A powered version of this tool is relatively new to the power tool lineup. The first use was in 1922 by Raymond DeWalt. Since then, the newer versions have mostly replaced the miter box that previous generations used.

This tool uses a spinning blade mounted at a vertical orientation. The blade is between 10 and 12 inches in diameter and is pulled down towards the material to be cut.

Generic Miter Saw Illustration

The blade will go through a pre-cut space in the saw table to allow for a full cut. Think of this saw as a circular saw mounted on a pivoting, vertical arm. This tool specializes in four different cuts that include the compound, bevel, miter, and cross cut.

Miter saws are extremely accurate, can be used on any solid surface, and are beginner-friendly. However, these saws are slightly more expensive than circular saws but work well for smaller projects that need a lot of precision cutting such as crown molding.

You will read about compound miter saws and sliding miter saws below. The main difference between the two is the rails or rail. The rails allow you to slide your saw back and forth as you make your different cuts, allowing for easier cutting of wide materials.

Everything You Need To Know About Circular Saws

Originating in 1777, this tool is a very durable piece of equipment. You’ll find it as a staple tool in almost every shop and job site that specializes in construction.

This power tool has a circular, flat, vertically-oriented blade that rotates at a very high rate of speed to cut through plywood, wood, plastic, and certain metals. The blade size is typically around seven inches in diameter.

This is a handheld tool that comes in a corded or cordless design. A circular saw is not limited to just wood, as it can be used to cut through drywall or even a ceiling. They’re relatively cost-effective while being very versatile and user friendly.

One of the biggest uses for this type of tool is to cut through sheets of plywood and two by fours. It works well for projects that don’t need a huge degree of accuracy.

How Do Miter Saws And Circular Saws Compare?

How The Saws Work

A miter saw pivots on an arm that drops down to a table where you rest your piece of wood. The blade will cut through the wood on the downstroke, and the blade is brought back up to make the next cut. You should clamp or bolt the actual saw body to your workstation to ensure it doesn’t move when you work.

A circular saw is much smaller and is a handheld tool. It has a rotating blade that comes in several different sizes to allow for the easy cutting of larger materials. A sturdy handle makes the saw easy to grip, but since it’s handheld, the accuracy levels drop a bit. If you need equipment to cut through pieces of plywood, drywall, stone, or even metal, this is your best bet.

What Type Of Cuts Do The Saws Do?

Since a miter saw is extremely accurate, it works best for angled cuts, specifically cross cuts. When you do a cross cut, you’ll guide your tool across the wood’s grain. It can make miter cuts where you cut the end of a board at a specific angle like you would for trim.

It can also make bevel cuts and compound cuts relatively easy, which are popular for trim and crown molding.

Your circular saw is not designed for detail-oriented projects. However, it excels at rip cuts (which are cuts that go against the wood’s grain) and longer cuts on larger pieces of wood. This tool can take larger boards and quickly cut them down to size.

This saw can also be used to cut holes in existing pieces of wood, drywall, some flooring, or ceilings.

Pros and Cons Between The Two

There are several pros and cons that come with each type of tool. Carefully weighing these should help make your buying decision easier.

Pros and Cons of Miter Saws

  • Makes highly accurate crosscuts, miter, and bevel cuts.
  • Designed to make angled cuts in a variety of degrees.
  • Very safe to use, and very beginner-friendly.

Cons

  • Does not work well for large-sized pieces of wood.
  • Cutting anything wider than six inches is very challenging.
  • Price is typically much higher because it’s a specialized saw.

Pros and Cons of Circular Saws

  • Feature a very portable design that is easy to take from job to job.
  • Has the ability to cut rips by handling very large wood pieces.
  • More cost-effective than other saws.

Cons

  • Requires more skill to use, and it is more dangerous.
  • Has a greater degree of error.
  • Not suited for detail work.

Pricing

Ultimately, your budget may play into your final choice since one saw is more expensive than the other. Generally speaking, a circular saw is going to cost less than a miter saw. However, it will depend on the quality, size, and brand you choose.

You can purchase a circular saw for under $200, and a miter saw will range from $100 to $700. If you’re on a very strict budget, the price is going to be a major sticking point, which is why it’s important to shop around.

Setup and Portability

Which one of the two is more portable? How easy is set up? Both saw usually come set up and ready to go out of the box. You may have to attach a blade, but they both have user-friendly blade installation. The main difference comes with it’s time to move the saws around.

The circular model wins in the portability since it’s much more lightweight and has a smaller footprint. Its main purpose is to be a handheld tool so it takes up a very small space to store it between uses.

The miter saw is larger and heavier. You should bolt it to your work surface or to a miter table, which can make moving it around a hassle.

What Is The Best Miter Saw?

The best miter saw is the Dewalt DW715, which made our list of the best miter saws for 2020. The Dewalt comes with an innovative gearbox that improves cutting capacity. It’s equipped with a 15-amp motor that puts out 3,800 RMP and has a durable back fence that allows cuts at 90° and 45° with extreme accuracy levels.

The stainless steel miter detent plate ensures accuracy with every cut.

You can easily bevel from 0 to 45° using positive stops at 22.5°, 33.9°, 45°, and 49°. It also comes equipped with a dust bag and blade wrench. These features help to keep the work area tidy and make switching out the blade easy.

What Is The Best Circular Saw?

The best circular saw is the SKIL 5280-01. This versatile tool delivers 5,300 RMP with a 15-amp motor, creating fast and easy cuts. The 7¼ inch carbide-tipped blade keeps a sharp edge, and the spindle lock makes changing the blade easy. It weighs in at just under seven pounds, reducing fatigue levels on big projects.

It has a 51° bevel capacity, and the six-foot cord gives you excellent ease of movement. There is a dust blower to keep your line of sight clear of debris. The anti-snag guard allows for more narrow cuts without catching or binding on anything.

Conclusion

Ideally, you’ll be able to get both saws. You’ll use the miter for any project that requires a high level of accuracy and the circular for any rip cuts. If you can only get one, consider the type of work you do. A circular saw is the more versatile of the two, so we recommend you go with this first.

You can always come back and buy a miter if you find you need a higher degree of precision.

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