Table saws and miter saws are two of the most basic tools a woodworker can own. They both excel at making a range of cuts, allowing you to work on a variety of projects. However, they are also quite different, and each is better than the other in different situations.
If you are just starting out in woodworking and are looking to build your collection of tools, you might be wondering which to invest in first – so here, we look at the question of table saw vs miter saw to help you decide which one to go pick.
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What is a table saw?
A table saw consists of a flat work surface (the “table”) with a circular blade that sticks up through a gap in the middle. The blade spins towards the user and downwards, and cuts are made by pushing stock into the table saw blade.
There are several different types of table saw. Jobsite table saws are designed to be mobile and can be carried to wherever you need to work, hence the name.
Contractor table saws are larger, more powerful and less mobile but can still be moved when required. Cabinet table saws, on the other hand, are bulky units that are designed to be set up in one place and not moved again. In between these two are hybrid table saws, which are designed to give you the best of both worlds.
Table saws are designed for making rip cuts – long cuts along the grain of the wood. However, with the addition of a miter gauge and a range of jigs and sleds, they can also be used to make a whole variety of other cuts, making them an extremely versatile tool.
What is a miter saw?
A miter saw is a much smaller tool than a table saw and consists of a circular blade that is brought down onto the stock, which is held immobile below. The blade spins downwards and towards the rear of the saw.
There are several different types of miter saw, including standard miter saws with an adjustable angle of up to 45° in one or both directions, compound miter saws with a head that pivots from side to side and sliding miter saws that can deal with wider pieces of stock.
Miter saws are mostly used for making crosscuts – cuts across the grain of the wood. As the name suggests, they are also very useful for cutting miters (angled cuts).
The main limitation with miter saws is that unless you have a sliding version, the size of the stock you can cut is limited by the diameter of the blade. In practice, they can only cut stock of around 6” or so.
Check out this video to find out a whole lot more about what miter saws are capable of.
What are the advantages of a table saw?
Table saws are designed for making long rip cuts and are the ideal tool when you are dealing with larger, flat sheets of wood.
Most models allow you to tilt the blade, allowing you to cut bevels, and with the addition of a good miter gauge, you can cut angles too.
Furthermore, by using a range of jigs – all of which can easily be DIYed at home – you can make many other specialist cuts.
For these reasons, the biggest advantage of the table saw is that is an extremely versatile tool – it is for this that it is known as the workhorse of the woodcutter’s workshop.
They are also very easy to use. Most cuts are quick to set up, and once everything is ready, it is extremely simple to make precise cuts that can be repeated many times over.
Are there any disadvantages?
One disadvantage that many table saws have is that they are not a particularly mobile tool – although jobsite table saws are designed to be easy to transport to wherever you need to work.
Another issue is safety – table saws are arguably the most dangerous tool in the workshop, and extreme care should be taken when using one.
Something else to bear in mind is that table saws can only cut flat sheets of wood and are not suitable for working with thicker stock.
Finally, while some are more affordable than others, a quality table saw doesn’t come cheap.
What are the advantages of miter saws?
Miter saws are designed for making accurate crosscuts and angled miter cuts. Once set up correctly, they allow you to make precise and repeatable cuts through smaller pieces of wood.
They are much smaller than table saws and so are much easier to transport, meaning you can quickly set one up on-site.
Generally speaking, they are also less expensive than table saws, something that could make them seem more attractive.
Finally, although no saw is 100% safe and you still need to respect your miter saw, if you use it correctly, you are much less likely to have an accident with one than with a table saw.
Are there any disadvantages?
The main problem with miter saws is that you can only work with smaller pieces of wood. If you need to make long cuts in sheets of wood, there is no way of doing it with a miter saw.
This means that while they are very useful for making a certain type of cut, they simply don’t have the versatility of a table saw.
Another minor disadvantage is that it probably takes more time to set up each cut on a miter saw than on a table saw.
Which one should you go for?
Both of these tools are extremely useful, and in an ideal world, you would buy both. However, if your budget is limited and you can only choose one, it depends very much on what you need it for.
If you only need to make cross cuts using smaller pieces of stock, for example when making picture frames, a miter saw would be ideal.
However, if you need to be able to make a range of cuts, including long rip cuts, a table saw would be a better option.
Both useful tools – but table saws are more versatile
The difference between the two can be summed up like this – a table saw can do most of the things a miter saw can do, but there’s a lot a table saw can do that a miter saw can’t.
This means miter saws are great if you only need to make the types of cut they are designed for – but if you need something for more general use, we recommend a table saw every time. And you can always buy a miter saw later!
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