Chop Saw vs Miter Saw: Which Saw Do You Need?

chop saw vs miter saw

Many people confuse a chop saw with a miter saw. Although there are a few similarities that can throw you off, there are also significant differences making each saw more effective than the other for certain tasks.

Using the wrong tool can cause all sorts of problems with your projects. Most of them can be avoided by doing some simple research beforehand.

In terms of appearance, a miter saw and chop saw look pretty identical to the untrained eye. Both saws have round blades that are mounted on a hinged arm. These are set on a static base to support the material you’re working with.

However, despite their similar appearance, the purpose of each saw is very different, and you'll probably find that you don't need a chop saw for what you're working on. 

Miter Saw Overview

Lets first start by looking at the miter saw and defining its ​characteristics, and when you would want to use one.

What is a Miter Saw?

A miter saw ​is a power saw with a circular blade that is used to make straight, downward cuts. The miter saw is very similar to the circular saw in that they both use circular blades to chop their way through the material.

One of the main distinguishing characteristics of a miter saw is that its axis or shaft swivels, enabling you to cut ​at a wide array of angles. When you want to make beveled or mitered cuts, a really good miter saw is the right tool for the job. 

Although both saws look very similar, there are distinct differences, including the fact that you can use a miter saw in the same way as a chop saw but not the other way around.

what is a miter saw and when should it be used

Photo credit: Jacob Davies on Flickr / CC BY-SA

​When Should You Use a Miter Saw?

Miter saws are generally preferred by DIY enthusiasts because they are versatile, easy to use and safer than more commercial chop saws. Miters have a much wider degree of versatility and usability around the various house projects that a home owner runs into. 

Miter saws make highly accurate cuts, and can cut at a variety of angles. When would you need to use one?

  • ​Cutting baseboard and crown molding
  • Picture frames
  • Door frames
  • Window casing

In short, anytime you need to make an angled cut, you'll want a mitre saw.

Different Types of Miter Saws

​There are a lot of different reasons to own and use a miter saw, and a lot of different comparisons with other saws. Very generally speaking, a miter saw can do all of the same cuts as the circular saw and the chop saw, but more accurately. 

There are a lot of different variations on the saw, such as the compound miter saw, sliding miter saw,  and the single bevel vs double bevel saw. We've dedicated a unique article to each topic, so we encourage you to dive into any of them if you have interest.

It doesn't take long to realize the value of a good miter saw. They are invaluable for cutting angles, and quickly will become a favorite in your garage. 

​This saw can also double up and serve other needs. While it isn't a true table saw, you can use the miter for a lot of the same functions that you would use a table saw for. 

In addition, if you have a circular saw lying around, you might be interested in trading it in for a miter. You can use one for the same cuts, and it is faster and more accurate. The only downside is that the miter isn't as portable, since it isn't handheld.

Chop Saw Overview

Lets dive into what a chop saw is and what it is best used for. 

What is a Chop Saw?

​Just like a miter saw, a chop saw is a power saw with a circular blade that is used to make straight, downward cuts. ​A chop saw can not rotate to cut at angles - it can only cut material at a downward angle.

The blade of a chop saw is afixed along a vertical axis. This allows it to cut very accurately. You put your material under the blade, turn the saw on, and lower the chop saw through the cut with your hand.

A chop saw allows you to make 90-degree crosscuts by pulling down the abrasive disc in a plunging action. These are highly versatile for a wide range of jobs including cutting window trims or 2x4s, however they are most often used to cut metal.

What is a Chop Saw Used For?

A chop saw is generally used by contractors and metal workers to cut very thick wood or metal. It is very powerful.

It generally is not a general DIY tool, as a miter saw is more accurate, and you don't need the extra power for general cuts.

The reason a chop saw can be used for cutting very hard materials like sheets of metal is because it has a powerful motor behind its cutting action. It also has an abrasive disc that resembles a grinding wheel for heavy-duty cutting, without shaped cutting edges or teeth.

​Miter Saw vs Chop Saw

​​Although there are distinct similarities between the miter saw and chop saw, they are quite different in purpose. Lets look at the main similarities and differences in the two saws. 

Similarities

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    ​​Some miter saws and chop saws have blades that enter the cut from above, also known as drop saws
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    ​Both saws can make straight, 90 degree cuts
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    ​Both saws can cut a variety of material (although the chop saw is better a cutting hard materials like metal

​Differences

  • ​A chop saw can ONLY make 90 degree cuts, whereas the miter saw can cut at a variety of angles, including 90 degree cuts
  • ​​There are many variations of the miter saw but there is only one type of chop saw
  • ​A chop saw is more powerful than a miter saw, although the miter is plenty powerful for the majority of DIY projects
  • ​A miter saw is more accurate than a chop saw

Both saws can both cut wood as well as metal although to varying degrees. The chop saw is generally used on building sites and construction projects, whereas the miter saw is more associated with woodcrafts and carpentry.

In terms of operation, the miter saw is much easier, and safer, to operate than a chop saw. It is also more flexible in that it can cut a wide range of angles. A chop saw is restricted to straight or 90-degree cuts only.

One advantage of a chop saw is that it cuts a wider range of materials than a miter saw, which is more designed to cut wood and thin sheet metal such as aluminum.

A miter saw is a lot more accurate and precise in its cuts.

A miter saw is generally stationary while its saw head moves, whereas lumber needs to be fed into a chop saw making it much more hazardous to use. It is generally recommended that chop saws be operated by skilled professionals because of the safety issues they present.

chop saw vs miter saw

Photo credit: Mark Hunter on Flickr / CC BY

​Final Verdict

​Unless you are a contractor or metal worker, you'll prefer the miter saw. It is far more versatile than a chop saw, and you make very few sacrifices by opting for one. You can still cut lighter metals, and you really don't need the extra power that a chop saw brings.

All you have left to do is decide on a 10" vs 12" miter saw, and you'll be set.

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