Table Saw Vs. Miter Saw (Do You Need Both?)

Last Updated on August 28, 2022 by Barry Gray

Table saws and miter saws can serve similar purposes, so some beginning woodworkers don’t know the specializations that make them both valuable. Although you can make some of the same cuts with both saws, their unique qualities make them more suited to certain tasks.

There are a few factors you can use to see the differences between table saws and miter saws. Cutting capacity, portability, price, and precision are all important things to consider. But the most important is probably the types of cuts you can make with each saw.

A table saw is a circular saw blade mounted under a table, that you use by pushing wood into the spinning blade. On the other hand, a miter saw’s circular blade is mounted on a mobile arm, allowing for different types of cuts and differences along other factors as well.

Cutting Capacity

measuring table saw cut

Because of the differences between how they’re constructed, there are different factors that limit the depth and lengths of cuts that table saws and miter saws can make. Depth of cut and width or length of cut are the two numbers that make up these saws’ cutting capacities.

Depth of cut is easy to understand: it is a measure of how deep into the wood the saw’s blade can penetrate. A table saw’s maximum depth is three or four inches, whereas a miter saw’s is two to three. That number represents the thickest wood that the saws can cut in a single pass.

While the depth of cut is easy to compare between miter saws and table saws, length and width of cut are two different measurements that are a little trickier to compare. 

A table saw’s maximum width of cut, also called its rip capacity, is the maximum width of wood it can cut when making a rip cut, or a cut along the grain. Most table saws have a maximum width of 24”, although there are accessories to extend the width. 

Miter saws aren’t designed to make rip cuts and have a maximum cutting width, unlike table saws. Standard miter saws can cut wood 5½” to 7½” wide, although you may be able to find specialized models with larger cutting capacities.

Overall, table saws have much greater cutting capacities than miter saws. Table saws have no maximum cutting width, while miter saws’ limited capacity can seriously hinder some projects. 

Portability

took miter saw to the jobsite

Table saws are, as their name suggests, built into tables. Miter saws, on the other hand, are heavy power tools on stands. While neither is easy to lug around, one has a clear advantage.

Table saws are one of the least portable tools you can find in a woodshop. They are heavy machinery made to process large amounts of hardwood. There are different models of portable table saw, but they still require considerable effort to move around. The most portable models may also make sacrifices in power and cutting capacity.

Miter saws are much more portable than table saws. They come with a built-in platform but remain relatively compact. There are even some cordless miter saw models for extra portability. All other things being equal, it is generally much easier to move a miter saw from place to place than a table saw

Price

working with the miter saw

Miter saws and table saws can both be significant investments, but their usefulness makes up for the cost. It’s also important to remember that the least expensive models of saws won’t be appropriate for everyone; if your living depends on this tool, you should make sure you buy one that’s professional-quality.

Table saws start at about $200, but you don’t enter into decent-quality territory until about $450. They can be as expensive as $2,800 for the most high-end models, but even professionals don’t typically have a need for those.

Miter saws start even lower, with the least expensive models as low as $100. Those models are usually compact and less powerful than full versions, but you can get a quality saw at around $300. The most expensive miter saws clock in at about $1,900, which is significantly lower than the most pricey table saws.

At the high end, table saws are much more expensive than miter saws. But there’s a significant difference even between the cheapest versions of the tools, and quality budget versions are about $150 apart. 

Precision

using jobsite table saw

Because miter saws and table saws work on different mechanisms, they allow for very different levels of precision. In general, the miter saw offers greater precision through both its ability to hold the material it cuts still and its greater flexibility. Table saws’ static nature keeps them only as precise as your hand movements.

Miter saws were created to make it easier to make miter, bevel, and compound miter cuts. They have multiple hinges for three-dimensional control over the blade’s location and angle, used to place cuts exactly where they need to be. 

Miter saws also hold the wood they cut firmly against the fence, creating a static target for precise cutting. With this design, you have complete control and visibility over where the blade goes.

Table saws cut with a very different method. You slide the wood along the fence and into the turning blade, pushing it all the way through for a complete cut. In this situation, both the blade and wood are moving at the same time.

While it’s possible to adjust the height and angle of a table saw blade, it requires resetting the wood away from the blade. This makes on-the-fly adjustments more difficult and time-consuming, decreasing the accuracy you can have in practical terms. 

Because miter saws are easier to adjust and hold the wood stationary, they’re generally easier to be precise with than table saws.

Types of Cuts

ready to make table saw cut

There are four kinds of cuts you can make with a table saw, and even more you can make with attachments. Miter saws can also make four kinds of cuts, but no attachments will increase that number, and it excludes some important and basic types of cuts.

Crosscut

A crosscut is a cut across the grain of a piece of wood. It’s considered one of the most basic types of cut, and it’s the first one that many amateur woodworkers learn to make.

Crosscuts with table saws are simple. They aren’t always the cleanest crosscuts you’ll find, but they’re simple and easy, and table saws can typically handle at least 3” of depth on crosscuts. While the crosscut isn’t the table saw’s specialty, it does the job with perfect competency.

While crosscuts are fine to make with table saws, miter saws do them especially well. You can make precise, exact crosscuts with miter saws, typically much more cleanly than you would with a table saw. However, miter saws have limited cutting capacities, so it’s important to make sure that yours is suited for the length of cut you’d like to make.

Rip Cut

Where a crosscut slices perpendicular to the grain, rip cuts split wood along the grain. Rip cuts are very difficult to make with most types of saw because the grain can make the saw bend and cut unevenly. 

Fortunately, table saws are designed to make rip cuts as easy as possible. They are one of very few saws that you can use to make rip cuts confidently, with the blade’s stability allowing for much more precise cutting than you’d see with a miter saw.

Miter saws are simply not suited for rip cuts. Rip cuts can be dangerous to make with miter saws, so it isn’t even advisable that you try it out.

Bevel Cut

miter saw cut

A bevel cut divides a piece of wood vertically at an angle. It’s used to make baseboards, boxes, and other projects that need wood to meet at a smooth, flat corner. 

A bevel cut is made by tilting the blade at an angle so that it is no longer vertical. Because you can do this with both table saws and miter saws, you can make this kind of cut with either. However, miter saws may allow you to do so with more precision, while table saws have the capacity to cut larger pieces.

Miter Cut and Compound Miter Cut

Miter cuts are similar to bevels, but keep the blade vertical while turning it to the left or right. A compound miter combines the two, tilting the blade and turning it at an angle at the same time.

As the names suggest, miter cuts and compound miter cuts are only possible with miter saws. Despite this, additional attachments can make miter cuts possible with table saws as well.

Dado

Dados, along with grooves and rabbets, are special cuts that you can make with a table saw but not a miter saw. They take out a channel of wood, not cutting all the way through to the other side.

While the three terms of dado, groove, and rabbet may be overwhelming at first, they all refer to similar types of shallow cuts. They’re used for projects that involve interlocking wood, such as making shelves and cabinets.

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Barry Gray

Hi, I’m Barry. I’ve loved woodworking and bringing things back to life for more years than I care to remember. I hope my passion for tools comes across loud and clear in everything you read here on The Tool Square.

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