What is a Chop Saw? (And How It Differs From a Miter Saw)

chop saw being used in a room what is a chop saw

As you look to expand your workshop, you may be considering adding a chop saw to the mix. While this type of saw is very useful, it often gets mistaken for other types of saws such as the miter saw.

While the term chop saw is used to describe other saws, it really has its own purpose and function. To help with the confusion, we wanted to clear up what is a chop saw and the plethora of applications that you can use a chop saw in.

Chop Saw Operation

​So, exactly what is a chop saw? For starters, it is saw that uses a circular blade that is pulled down by your hand onto the material that is to be cut. The blade spins in a circular motion and uses your pushing stroke to move through the wood piece.

A chop saw cuts vertically and can only cut right angles. You use two fences on the base of the chop saw to hold your material piece as well as a dial to adjust the degree of angle to be cut.

Now that we have that out of the way, lets get into the details

​Chop saws are electrically powered, and typically plug into a standard 110 volt outlet in your garage.  A chop saw provides very accurate cuts, because the cutting motion of the saw is fixed and not reliant on your accuracy. When compared with a jigsaw, a chop saw is significantly more accurate.

Chop saws can cut through a variety of materials. Most commonly, you would use a chop saw to cut wood, PVC pipe, or thin metal.

​Chop Saw vs Miter Saw

​One of the most common mistakes that many people make is thinking that a miter saw is also chop saw. While the two saws have some similarities, they are two completely different types of saws

While both can make precise cuts, a miter saw moves both horizontally and vertically to cut angles of all degrees. Your chop saw will only cut a right angle by moving vertically to do so.

Because a chop saw and miter saw both use a pull-down method to cut, they are easily mistaken for each other. Both have circular blades that spin and need your assistance to make the cut. The main thing to remember when distinguishing between a chop saw and a miter saw is how they cut.

You’ll have smooth and accurate right-angle cuts with a chop saw while a ​top rated miter saw will provide precision cuts in a variety of angles.

chop saw being used in a room what is a chop saw

​Cutting with a Chop Saw

​When you are cutting with a chop saw, you need to keep a few factors in mind to be successful.

  • 1
    ​You will need to know both the length and where the right angle of cut will occur on your material piece. You can easily use a tape measure to determine the length of your material while a protractor can help you create the right angle on the piece.
  • 2
    ​As you set your chop saw to cut, you will have to adjust the blade to make the right angle cut. As you dial in the blade, it will turn along with the base to create the perfect scenario to cut the material to the right dimensions.
  • 3
    ​As the blade begins to spin, you need to pull it down onto the material to be cut. While the blade will do most of the work, you need to be there to continually guide the blade through the material. Once you have made a clean cut, you can lift the blade upwards and back into the resting position.

It is important to use the fences of your chop saw to your advantage as you work. This will help hold your material in place and allow you to set the right angle for cutting. Your chop saw has two fences – one devoted to the length and one to the right angle. Both work together to provide you the perfect cut.

The chop saw makes a seamless and ​clean cut through the material you are cutting. It cuts with accuracy and requires hardly any force or strength to make the cut. Part of this is because you are using downward force to make your cut, rather than having to push the saw through the material.

​Chop Saw Blades

​Your saw blade is the essential piece of your chop saw. This really defines what you can cut and how well it will be cut. Chop saw blades are circular and come in a variety of teeth patterns depending on the material they are rated for.

For more durability carbide-tipped teeth are recommended as they will wear less and provide a clean cut for a longer duration than other types of blades.

You need to makes sure you select a blade that is specifically for the material you are planning to cut. Wood blades are inherently different than metal blades as they don’t require additional strength and aggressiveness.

Wood blades are rated for different hardness and softness. Be sure to work with the blade that not only fits your chop saw but has been designed for the application you are going to be cutting with.

​Chop Saw Applications

​Using a chop saw is quite flexible, as with the right saw blade, these saws can be used to cut a variety of different material types.

Cutting Metal

They are ideal for cutting ​metal, though.

You can also cut aluminum and non-ferrous metals as well as lumber and timber. Decking is also a good material choice to cut with a chop saw.

You are only limited by the blade force and what material dimensions your chop saw will accept.

Multiple Precise Cuts

Keep in mind that because a chop saw only cuts right angles, you can create a series of precision cuts very quickly. Your chop saw is always ready to make the cut and with some small adjustments, you can work very quickly through a project that only requires right angle cuts.

When Not to Use a Chop Saw

A chop saw is not a good saw for cutting large diameter wood pieces such as plywood. This is far too large for a chop saw, and it will never balance properly with the fences. You'd prefer a suitable band saw or even a ​basic table saw for this type of cut.

A common area of confusion is that a chop saw can be used for cutting baseboard, which is not the case. Because base board needs to be cut at 45 degree angles, you’ll need a miter saw for that.

woodworking workshop basement with tools and equipment

​Conclusion

For a DIYer, there are a number of tools that you just have to have in your garage. Ranging from a diverse set of hammers and screwdrivers, to drills and drill bits, to extension cords and handy socket organizers - these basics keep you well stocked for a wide range of common needs.

​The chop saw is a staple tool to have in your garage. It allows you to make fast, accurate cuts across a variety of materials. It is also one of the most precise tools, and is easier to use than many other saws because of the way it makes its cuts.

While a chop saw differs from a miter saw in that it only makes 90 degree cuts, its efficiency and precision make it an essential tool for your workshop.

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