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Chop saws and miter saws look an awful lot alike. They each have a round cutting surface, hinged arm, and a stationary base. It’s easy to see why you might think they work the same way. The truth is these are two very different saws that serve two very different purposes. Let’s take a closer look.
What’s the difference between a chop saw and miter saw?
While both of these saws feature a drop down, circular blade, that’s about where the similarities stop. Chop saws are larger, more powerful, and only make 90-degree cuts. Miter saws are smaller and specialized to make crosscuts at various angles.
Because of their size and power, chop saws are usually only used by professionals doing large jobs like construction. Miter saws, on the other hand, have countless applications for the typical homeowner.
Want to break it down even more? Here are the details:
What Is a Chop Saw?
Chop saws are really powerful and are most often used in industrial and commercial applications. They have a larger motor and bigger blade than a miter saw and can cut through wood as well as large sheets or thick pieces of metal.
The major difference between a chop saw and a miter saw is that chop saws are only able to make 90-degree cuts.
Another huge difference between a chop saw and a miter saw is the blade. A miter saw uses a pretty normal looking circular blade with teeth that do the cutting. A chop saw, on the other hand, uses an abrasive disc that spins and quickly cuts through material. No teeth, no sharp edges. This is one of the reasons it’s able to get through really tough materials quickly and without a lot of effort.
Most chop saws use a 14″ disc for cutting while miter saws are most commonly available in 10″ and 12″. This gives them the kind of cutting capacity that’s needed to tackle big projects.
Because they’re so powerful, chop saws are usually only used by professionals. They’re powered by hydraulics and use foot or knee switches to control them so the operator has both hands free to feed the material through.
There are some corded options available if you’re looking for something to use at home but, again, it’s a little unnecessary to have a tool with this amount of power in your workshop unless you’re a professional contractor or planning to work on a big project, like adding an addition to your home.
Chop saws can handle very large, thick pieces of wood and metal which is why they’re used in most professional shops and construction projects. You couldn’t frame a house or cut through steel rebar without a chop saw.
What Is a Miter Saw?
Because of the cutting action of a miter saw, they’re often mistakenly referred to as “chop saws.” This is only because they use a chopping motion to cut and is by no means an accurate name. The whole purpose of a miter saw is to make miter cuts so calling it a “chop saw” is a bit of a misnomer.
As we mentioned, a miter saw makes crosscuts and is made to do so quickly and accurately. Usually, the material is held against a fence for proper and secure positioning when the blade passes through. A circular blade is brought down onto the wood in a controlled, short motion.
Some miter saws allow you to adjust to any angle, others have preset angles for standard, more popular measurements such as 30 or 45 degrees. Most miters saws can make 90-degree cuts, too, which means they can function in the same way as a chop saw only they don’t have nearly as much power.
There’s actually a lot of variety when it comes to miter saws. There are 10″ and 12″ options available as well as sliding, compound, and dual compound options that give you a little more versatility by adding the ability to make bevel cuts, too.
So, what’s the takeaway? Miter saws are designed to cut at different angles. Any miter saw can make crosscuts on the horizontal plane of the wood. Some are also equipped to make bevel cuts through the thickness of the wood.
Miter saws come in all sizes. Some are pretty big and heavy and require a stand or designated space on a work table. Others can be pretty easily carried to the job site when needed. Whatever the case, miter saws are safe for home woodshops, hobbyists, and DIYers.
When Should You Use a Chop Saw vs a Miter Saw?
Generally, a chop saw is only used by professionals in shops or in construction, most commonly for home-building or framing. They’re just so big and powerful that a typical homeowner or woodworker won’t really have much need for one. That said, if you are building a house or have to cut steel rebar, a chop saw is the best way to go.
Miter saws, on the other hand, have a range of applications. They’re useful for cutting crown molding and baseboards as well as smaller craft projects like making picture frames, boxes, or shelves. Remember, you can set most miter saws to cut at 90-degrees which allows you to get the same cut you’d get from a chop saw only in a much smaller, more manageable package.
Pros & Cons
The biggest pro to using a chop saw is also the biggest con: power.
While they can really cut through just about anything, it almost a little too much power for a home workshop. Chop saws fit a particular niche and are great for construction and fabrication projects in commercial or industrial settings.
That said, we can’t stop you from buying one for your home, but there are very few projects in the home woodworking setting that will require the power of a chop saw. Other cons to chop saws are that they’re big and require a special disc for cutting.
Stick with a miter saw for home use. A major pro is that they’re really versatile.
Some miter saws can do both miter and bevel cuts and, if you need something that will work with wider pieces of material, sliding options are also available. Some can even be set to 90-degrees and used to make the same cuts as a chop saw would anyway.
If you’re interested in buying a miter saw but aren’t sure where to start, check out our in-depth buying guide. We give you all the information you need to know and tell you all about the top products available to help you figure out which is the right one for you.