How to tune up and use a miter saw

Complex machines like miter saws, particularly the dual-bevel slide-style models that are popular now, don’t last forever.

They are perfect straight out of the box. But, at the end, they arrive on our doorsteps with boxes that have been damaged and worn. Learn how to tune-up and maintain your mitersaw for many years.

How to use a sliding compound-miter saw

  • Step 1: Start by lowering the blade without turning on the saw. Line up the blade’s teeth with the cutline of the workpiece. Next, raise the blade head and draw it towards you.
  • Step 2: Keep the blade head in the “up” position. Start the saw. Slowly lower the head to engage the blade and workpiece.

Warning: These saws can cause serious injury if you make straight-down cuts in stock. Stock that is wider than the blade may throw the cutting head forward or kick the stock. This danger can be avoided by starting the cut at the stock’s front edge and pushing the head back as shown.

  • Step 3: Keep your head down and push the blade through the work.
  • Step 4: Keep the head down while you release the trigger. The blade should stop completely before you release the trigger. Once it stops, the head will be back in its original position.

What you need to know about compound-miter saws

Tip: Use less tear-out for smoother cuts

  • In Step 2, lower the blade head until it is about half way down. Make a shallow cut across the stock’s surface with Step 3.
  • Then pull the blade back and push it down until it reaches the score line.

Calibration tools

Carpenters will have different preferences. Here are my suggestions:

  • A straight edge. A straight edge is my preference. However, a framing square or level will work (as long it’s straight).
  • A try-square. This is my favorite type of try-square. You can register your stock on the blade. This Empire square has been my favorite for many years. Combination squares are a popular choice for carpenters, but they can sometimes be out of alignment while performing certain tasks. Rafter squares like my speed square are not a good choice as they can be inaccurate. You can check the accuracy of any square by marking it along a straight piece stock, drawing a line and flipping the square. It’s not square if the lines intersect. While you might think it is minimal, the convergence will be evident on the miter saw in multiples.
  • If calibrating a larger saw, one clamp or two. These Dewalt Track Saw Clamps have a deep throat that allows me to reach beyond the blade teeth.
  • Head of a combination-square. This is for setting your saw’s 45 degree bevel stop, if it has one. You may need two sizes depending on how your saw’s motor is oriented and how large the blade is. As you can see in the video.
  • A flashlight. This is useful for quick adjustments by shining light behind a square. This Klein one is my favorite because it’s bright and has a sidelight. It also has a magnet at the back. It’s not easy on batteries.

Three Quick Checks to Make Sure You Get Accurate Cuts

Whatever brand, size, or style, all pro-level dual-bevel sliding compound mitersaws have adjustment points to adjust for fence, miter and bevel. Some saws have a plate at the miter and others have the detents incorporated into the base. Some saws have a double-sided fence while others have one.

Some saws come with positive stop adjustment for common settings such as 22.5 or 45 degrees. Others have detent plates. It’s easy to find your saw’s style in the owner’s manual.

Step 1: Place the blade on the table.

  • Place the long leg of your square on the table and the shorter leg vertically against blade.
  • Shine a light behind your short leg. If there is a gap between the square of the blade and the square, adjust the blade’s tilt according to the owner’s manual.

Step 2: Align fence

Straight fences are essential for safety and accuracy. If the fence is bent inward towards the back of your blade, it will cause the blade’s to become clogged and kick the head out. There are two types: a continuous fence with a yoke and a two-piece one.

  • Remove auxiliary fences from saws that have a continuous fence and place a straight edge along it.
  • Adjust the fence as necessary by loosening the screws.
  • If necessary, push the yoke with a pry-bar.

After you have set the miter (below), a two-piece fence can easily be straightened.

Step 3: Place the fence at the blade.

  • Place the long leg from a try against the fence to the left.
  • The square’s short leg should be pushed against the blade. Any gaps between the fence or square will be revealed by the flashlight’s beam.
  • Follow the owner’s instructions to adjust the fence.
  • If you have two fences on your saw, align the left fence first and then align the right fence using a straightedge.

After making several cuts, check the accuracy of your saw. Reread as necessary.

A flashlight can be used to check the fence or blade of a saw by shining a light behind or underneath it. Any gaps will be instantly visible and the beam will indicate any adjustments that are required.

Safety Checklist for Miter Saws

  • Wear hearing and eye protection.
  • Securely clamp the workpiece against the table of the saw and against the fence.
  • Assist the ends of long pieces so they are flat on the sawtable.
  • Maintain a distance of at least 6 inches from the cutline below the blade.
  • Make sure the bevel cut blade is clear of the fence before you begin. If the blade doesn’t clear the fence, slide it out.

Useful Jigs

Jig with zero-clearance

1. Stop tearing out. Attach a piece of plywood or MDF to your saw table and place the blade head in it. This creates a narrow slot that will prevent the blade from splintering underside of wood. It also serves as a guide to align the cutline on the workpiece quickly, as shown.

Crown molding jig with nesting jig

2. Cut crown. Attached to the saw fence is a three-piece nesting tool that supports the molding and prevents it from twisting or sliding during cutting. The jig is composed of a 1 1/2 inch tall fence (A) and a cleat attached (B) to the base (B).

The cleat should be placed so that the flats at either end of the crown are against the fence and base of the jig. The 3/4-inch MDF sheet was used for all the pieces. The first cut, like the zero-clearance Jig above will leave a kerf within the fence of the jig that clearly indicates where to place each subsequent cut.

About the Author


Darius Matsumoto

Hi, i am Darius. Woodworking is my another hobby for the last five years. I love to write woodworking project and also ideas.

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