August 14, 2020

Chop Saw vs Miter Saw: Let’s Find Out What You Need

As a beginner, it’s very easy to mistake a chop saw for a miter saw or vice versa. They look pretty much the same to an untrained eye.  A lot of people use their names interchangeably, but that’s not completely right. A chop saw can be considered as a simpler version of a miter saw, but historically speaking, the miter saw came after the chop saw.

With that said, in this article you are going to learn that chop saws and miter saws don’t resemble each other that much. They have different blades and they can perform different cuts. They also have very distinctive buyers, because their usage is very different from one another.

Let’s start with a quick description of both tools, then we will dive into the differences between the two saws.  At the end of the article, you will probably have a much clearer idea of what you need for your workshop.

Chop Saw Definition

chop saw
Photo: 123RF.com

Chop saws are also known with different names, like cut-off saws and abrasive saws. The last one is very telling about the nature of this tool: in fact, this kind of saw usually comes out of the box with an abrasive blade. This saw is mainly used for rough cuts on metal in the carpentry industry. It is also very common to see it on construction sites, where it’s used to cut rebars.
It is a stationary tool: it comes with a metal base, and you need to feed the cutting piece to the blade without moving the tool. The blade is placed on top of the working surface, on a radial arm. Nevertheless, these saws are still quite portable, and that’s the reason why they are so popular. They can be dragged around and be used on-site for heavy-duty jobs that would need to be done in workshops otherwise.

Miter Saw Definition

miter saw
Photo: sawingpros.com

Like other tools, miter saws are called in many different ways, such as “mitre saws” and “power miter boxes“. They all refer to a stationary circular saw that can perform bevel cuts in addition to common straight cuts (which are called “crosscuts” when referring to wood). They can’t be used for long cuts, unlike other power tools like table saws. On a table saw, you would be able to feed the wood continuously to a fixed blade hidden under the working table. With miter saws, the blade drops from above on the working piece, so the stroke is limited to the blade’s dimension.

You can get several types of miter saws. The main difference between them is the ability to tilt the cutting head in various angles. Here you have some possibilities:

  • you can get a compound model, where you can tilt the head in one direction only;
  • a dual compound miter saw lets you tilt the blade in both directions (which comes handy for decorative operations);
  • there are also sliding compound models, where you can move the saw head on a sliding rail.

What Are the Differences Between a Chop Saw and a Miter Saw?

Tool Design

Both saws are made up of 2 main parts: a working base made of metal, and a spinning blade placed on a radial arm. However, the similarities end here.

The head of a chop saw is fixed; it can only go in a straight way, up and down. That’s the reason why you can only make straight cuts with it. On the other hand, the head of a miter saw can be tilted on a side to do bevel cuts. Depending on the model, it could even tilt both ways (that would be a dual compound miter saw).

The metal base of a chop saw is very simple. It comes with a fence adjustment that lets you make angled cuts (up to 45 degrees). The fence usually also works as a vice, to clamp the working piece firmly.

Miter saw also come with a fence, which is placed on the back of the tool. They also have a miter adjustment placed on the front of the base, in other to achieve accurate angles. The regulation is definitely more complex but leads to more precise results, that are required when woodworking.

Power and Speed

Talking about power and speed output, cut-off saws and mitre saws are pretty similar. On average, a 14″ chop saw comes with a 15 amp motor spinning at 4000 rpm. A 12″ miter saw motor is pretty much the same: the DEWALT DWS779, a best seller on Amazon, has a 15 amp, 3800 rpm motor.

Even if the power and speed output is the same, a lot of users reported that these saws feel much different when in use. A chop saw is usually considered to be more powerful. When using a miter saw, it’s likely that you will feel more in control of the machine. Probably, this is just related to the type of material you work with. Chop saws usually have to deal with hard metal, which is regarded as a heavier job than woodworking.

Speaking about the power source, they are both electric saws. Miter saws can be either corded or cordless. I couldn’t find any cordless chop saw on sale, but they are probably available if you look carefully enough.

Tool Size (Dimensions and Weight)

Let’s speak about weight and dimension for a minute. Miter saws are usually heavier than chop saws. While their heads are similar, miter saw’s working bases are usually bigger, because they include an additional regulation system. That’s why a miter saw weigh about 50 pounds on average, while chops saws weigh 30 to 35 pounds on average.

They are both portable tools regardless of being stationary tools and regardless of the weight difference. It’s pretty common to see them on construction sites.

Speaking about dimensions, chop saws usually come with a 14-15 inches blade, while miter saws are available in 7 ½, 10, and 12 inches models. The latter is the most popular version, even if it can get quite expensive. It’s probably safe to get a 10 inches model for a start: there aren’t that many jobs that require a 12-inch blade anyways. I don’t see a reason to get the smaller 7 ½ saw: you can get a bigger model with pretty much the same amount of money.

Blade Type

Let’s continue the blade talk. This is one of the main differences between the two saws, and it’s closely related to their applications. In fact, the blade type depends on the work the saws need to do.

Chop saws are primarily used for metal cutting, thus they come with an abrasive blade. That’s pretty much the same kind of blade you would see on an angle grinder. These discs usually are 14 inches in diameter, up to 16 inches for larger saws. For materials like concrete and asphalt, it’s common to see superabrasive blades in use. They last longer and produce fewer sparks, but that comes with a higher price. Chop saw can also be used for woodworking: in that case, it’s advisable to use a toothed blade; an abrasive blade would burn the cutting surface, making a mess.

On the other hand, miter saws are primarily used for woodworking, so they come out of the box with a toothed blade. That kind on wheel guarantees precise and clean cuts. Depending on the wood you are working on, it might be necessary to get a high-speed steel blade, which can spin faster. Under the right circumstances, you can also use a miter saw on other materials. We will talk about that later on.

Type of Cuts They Can Perform

All cuts can be divided into three categories, which are shown in the image below. The first type, which is spelled”mitre cut” in the image, it’s also known as “miter cut” (that’s the same terminology that applies to the miter saw):

bevel cut, miter cut, compound cut
Photo: cittatoronto.com

Let’s start with the chop saw. They are mainly used for crosscuts, which are straight cuts. You can describe them as a 90° degrees miter cuts. As I said in the design paragraph, chop saws include a fence adjustment, with which you can rotate your working piece and make a miter cut. You can’t make bevel cuts because the blade is fixed. It can only move up and down in a straight way.

On the other hand, the miter saw’s head can be tilted, so you can also realize bevel cuts in addition to miter cuts. Bevel cuts are very common in woodworking: they provide a larger contact surface for joinery, and they are aesthetically pleasing. If you have a compound miter saw, you could also make compound cuts, which are a combination on the other twos.

As you could imagine, using a chop saw is easier than using a miter saw. With chop saws, there’s only one thing to adjust (the fence). When using a miter saw, there might be multiple angles to set up for complicated cuts, and you need to get them right or you wouldn’t be able to join your wood pieces later on your project. So miter saws definitely require more skill.

Applications and Materials

Let’s talk a bit about what these blades are used for, and on what materials.

Chop saws are commonly used in carpentry for metal cutting. They can cut through metal studs, metal pipes, and more. They are preferred to big angle grinders when possible because they are easier to use. You don’t need to hold them on the working piece, you only have to gently push the blade onto the material (which is firmly clamped on the working base). Basically, the saw does the work on its own and it’s less tiring on the user. They are also used on construction sites for rebar cutting. Handheld versions are used to cut tiles, concrete, asphalt. You can also use cut-off saws for PVC pipes and wood. For the latter, you would have to get an appropriate toothed blade.

Miter saws are mainly used on woodworking. As we said before, you can create a variety of cuts that suit all your demands. Precise and clean cuts are a must in woodworking: in fact, they will impact your project appearance directly.  If needed, you can use a miter saw on other materials than wood: you can cut through plastic and aluminum, for instance. With plastic, make sure that the debris doesn’t clog the motor. I wouldn’t suggest using an abrasive blade on a miter saw for metal cutting: the sparks could easily melt some of the plastic parts of the saw.

Safety

Finally, let’s talk about safety a little bit. Both these saws are quite safe to use, but I think miter saws are a bit better than abrasive saws safety-wise. Here’s why.

Chop saws usually come with a spark deflector (abrasive blades produce a lot of sparks). Abrasive wheels generate a lot of heat while cutting, so handle your cut pieces with care. Another thing to be careful of is disc breakage, which can occur especially when the blade starts wearing out. That’s a good reason to always wear glasses when using this piece of equipment.

On the other hand, miter saws usually come with a blade guard that retracts while cutting. That’s a nice feature to have to protect yourself from injuries. In addition to that, toothed blades are safer than abrasive blades, if used properly (don’t try to cut wood with screws in it, for instance). This is why miter saws are a bit safer than chop saws.

Another thing to consider when woodworking is to have some type of dust removal (a bag or a vacuum). If that’s not possible, get yourself a mask. Don’t forget about ear protection: these saws can be very loud, so protect your ears with some plugs or whatever you like the most.

Chop Saw vs Miter Saw vs Table Saw

What if we also throw the table saw into the equation? Is a table saw a possible alternative to cut-off and miter saws?

Let’s consider some of the characteristics of this piece of equipment. Unlike miter saws and chop saws, in addition to crosscuts you can also make rip cuts with it (a rip cut is a cut made along the grain on the wood). Another point in their favor is that you don’t have to worry about the size of your working piece, and that is also true for crosscuts.

Let’s mention a couple of downsides, now. You can’t realize angled cuts with a table saw, only straight cuts. Second, this is a strict woodworking tool, so forget about abrasive blades and other materials. Finally, the safety aspect: table saws can be a dangerous tool if they are not used with care. Kickback can always occur (to be true, there are ways to prevent it).

In my opinion, comparing table saws to miter saws and chop saws is wrong. They are very different tools that serve different purposes. If you are serious about woodworking, you should get both a table saw and a miter saw.

Related Articles: Essential Woodworking Power Tools

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I use a chop saw as a miter saw?

No, you can’t do bevel and compound cuts with a chop saw. Those angle cuts are a prerogative of miter saws. You can make them with other types of saws, like band saws. On the other hand, you can use a miter saw as a chop saw: just keep the head fixed at a 90° angle.

Can you use a wood chop saw to cut metal?

You can do that if you are able to mount an abrasive blade on it. You could also use a toothed blade with a higher tooth count. I would not improvise, though. Always use the appropriate tool for the job, if possible.

Can a miter saw cut metal?

Yes, you can use a miter saw to cut softer metals like aluminum. I wouldn’t use it for tougher metals like steel, which requires an abrasive blade. I don’t know if an abrasive blade could be mounted on your miter saw, and secondly, it would produce a lot of sparks that could ignite the plastic guard of the blade. So stick to wood and softer materials. Get the right tool to cut harder metals.

In The End, Should I Get a Chop Saw or a Miter Saw?

You should get a chop saw if:

  • You are a professional looking for a solid saw for cutting metal and other hard materials;
  • The projects you will work on require abrasive cuts;
  • You don’t care about versatility: you need a tool that can do straight cuts in a fast and easy way.

On the other hand, you should get a miter saw for the following reasons:

  • You need a tool that can make all kinds of angled cuts;
  • The saw is going to be used mainly for woodworking;
  • You are not a professional and you want a versatile saw that can be used for a variety of things.

That’s it for this article, I hope you learned something along the way.