Make no mistake—miter and table saws are powerful tools for serious work in the workshop or job site. Most professionals know how to use miter and table saws, but DIYers or those just starting out may not know exactly when you want to use these power tools. Not only do we want to show you the difference between a miter saw and a table saw, but we also want to help you understand the advantages of each tool. This involves examining the pros and cons of each, as well as discussing potential uses and costs.
Editor's note: Check out our best miter saws article for our top recommendations.
Miter Saw vs. Table Saw Uses
At its core, a miter saw cuts angles in narrow wood . That's probably 2x the wood, but typically, you can cut crowns, plinths, chair rails, or fillet moldings with these saws. You may also find yourself cutting floors. If you don't need angled cuts, miter saws make quick cross-cuts when you need to shorten the length of a plank or trim piece.
Miter saws can't make longer cuts because you're limited by the combination of the saw's style (sliding or non-sliding) and blade diameter. As you can imagine, a 12" sliding saw has more crosscutting capacity than a 7-1/4" non-sliding miter saw. However, no matter the blade size, a miter saw will not be able to rip through a 3/4" piece of plywood!
Contrast this with a table saw, which is good at cutting through wood or changing the width of a piece of wood. It is usually cut along with the grain or otherwise changes the width of the board. It is designed to make virtually infinite length cuts.
Let's break it down into something simpler:
use a miter saw
- Cross-cut board
- Cutting all types of molds
- miter cut
- Repeatedly cut the board to a certain length
- Flooring, trim, siding
use a table saw
- ripping narrow boards or wood
- Cutting longer, larger lumber such as plywood
- cabinet work
- Sheet goods
With a miter saw, you use the bottom of the rotating blade to make the cut. The blade of the miter saw rotates to keep the exposed part of the blade away from you. It also means that any wood caught by the blade will be thrown away from you.
With a table saw, you use the top of the blade to make the cut. Because of this, the blade actually spins towards you. If a piece of wood gets caught by the blade (called table saw kickback), it will usually move backwards very quickly.
Both tools have safety measures and safeguards in place to prevent these problems. Miter saws have a guard that covers the blade when it is lowered to engage wood. This keeps you away from the part of the blade facing you while cutting. These saws also usually warn you not to get your hands too close to the blade when leaning material against a table or fence.
Use the included accessories!
All table saws also come with push bars. Use these instead of your hands to push the wood through the blade. There are various ways online to make jigs, feather boards, and other safety devices to help you use your table saw safely.
A table saw blade guard does a good job of covering the blade, but there are other dangers as well. Therefore, they also have a cleavage knife. This keeps the backs of the wood from bunching together and pinching. Once the wood has passed, it "re-encounters" the table saw blade and may be pushed back on top of the operator's blade suddenly and unexpectedly. "Anti-kickback pawls" are also standard on modern table saws. These help prevent the wood from returning to the blade after it has passed.
A final piece of technology for table saws comes in the form of flesh detection technology like the one found in the SawStop worksite table saw. This detects very quickly when a body part comes into contact with the spinning blade. When this happens, a violent reaction sends an aluminum "brake" into the saw blade, bringing it to an immediate stop and pushing it down under the table.
Finally, regarding functionality, the miter saw fence is located on the back of the tool, perpendicular to the blade. You lean wood against it to make bevels, bevels or compound crosscuts. Use a table saw with the fence parallel to the saw blade. With a table saw fence, you can measure between it and the blade to set the width of the cut.
When to Use a Table Saw vs. Miter Saw
As mentioned above, miter saws are often used heavily when cutting lumber. We have used them when installing hardwood and laminate floors. A miter saw can even come in handy when doing large siding jobs on historic homes.
Often incorrectly referred to as a "hack saw," miter saws are often found on framing job sites for cutting lumber to precise lengths when installing windows and doors.
Table saws are often not found on job sites unless they are really needed. When framing, many of the cuts normally made with a table saw can be made with a circular or track saw. This saves a lot of hassle than setting up a table saw to cut wood that doesn't require 1/32 inch accuracy.
A carpenter's workshop and cabinet shop remain. Here, the table saw really comes to life. It makes consistent, repeatable cuts quickly and powerfully for making furniture, crafts, and cabinets. Table saws offer excellent precision and speed when cutting in repeat widths. They also take away a lot of hassle when it comes time to cut thinner material that circular saws won't allow.
Miter Saw Stands vs. Table Saw Stands
The best miter saw stands will include outfeed brackets and/or rollers. These allow you to make length cuts quickly and easily. We prefer gravity rise miter saw stands, but they do weigh a lot more than compact solutions. Therefore, you need to consider whether you plan to push the miter saw frame in and out of the trailer, or if you need to lift it into the bed of a truck.
The table saw frame can also use a gravity rise frame. But keep in mind that most table saws are already heavy. If you're going to take it to the job site where it's needed, you can go for the compact.
For shop use, a rigid stand works best. You can even find cast-iron models with cabinet saws that come with heavy-duty casters. These allow you to turn even some of the heaviest table saws around the shop, giving you more room.
Miter Saw Blades vs. Table Saw Blades
When comparing a miter saw blade to a table saw blade, several things come to mind. For starters, most construction site table saws come with either an 8.25-inch or 10-inch blade. This allows them to tear sheets and floors. Of course, other 1/2-inch or 3/4-inch materials have no difficulty.
New rules force table saw manufacturers to increase the table size for band saw blades. This means that compact saws are now likely to come with smaller 8.25-inch blades.
Table saws also got bigger. On the face of it, large saws designed for furniture production and cabinetmaking have blades up to 16 inches or larger.
Turning to miter saws, blades typically fall into one of the following categories. A compact 7.25" blade for an ultra-portable job site saw. We like these because they provide a way to get small finishing jobs done without lugging around a big saw. You can also use the same blade mounted on a circular saw, so finding one is easy.
A 10-inch blade is the best choice for a miter saw. If you take a dual-bevel sliding compound miter saw, that triples. The best miter saws with 10-inch blades can cut almost to the capacity of larger 12-inch miter saws. The only real difference is the larger crown molding and mounts in the special cut on the rear fence.
to sum up
If you're here because you want to buy a tool but aren't sure which one…we really have an answer. Table saws offer more versatility overall. Because it comes with a rip fence and miter gauge, you can make rip cuts and crosscuts at the same time.
However, if you need to make a lot of cross-sections (as you might find in flooring projects), we recommend using both. Miter saws make it easy to start and finish cross cuts. Using a table saw, you can rip out those long boards needed for the final wall pieces.
We hope this article was helpful. If we missed something, feel free to leave a comment below.