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How to Use a Compound Miter Saw | 7 Steps Beginner Guide

Use Safety Equipment

Are you looking to make accurate, repeatable, cross-grain cuts? Of all the tools available to woodworkers, perhaps the most versatile is the compound miter saw. While a table saw is necessary for along-grain cuts, a compound miter saw can be enough for many woodworking projects. 

With just a few pieces of stock, I’ve used just a miter saw to make jewelry boxes. While it can be an intimidating piece of equipment, relax: I created this tutorial to walk you through how to use a compound miter saw.

1. Find a Spot for the Saw

Often, the most obvious steps are the steps most often overlooked. Consider the uses of the saw and safety before ever plugging it in. Ideally, you’ll want a clutter-free spot that is close enough to an outlet that you won’t need to run extension cords to power your saw.

Many of us live far from the ideal; at a minimum, ensure the placement of the cords won’t cause any tripping hazards. Also, depending on how you’ll be using your saw, you’ll need a great deal of clearance on either end to accommodate long pieces of stock you’ll be cutting.

2. Familiarize Yourself with The Saw

A compound miter saw has several features that make it ideal for precision crosscutting. Depending on the size of your saw, it may have a sliding arm that allows for longer cross-grain cuts along wide boards. Check your owner’s manual for the maximum widths your saw will accommodate.

In some cases, you can double this width by flipping the board, joining two separate cuts in the middle. Do so with caution. A compound miter saw allows you to make angled cuts perpendicular to the board, plus beveled cuts at any angle. Most saws will cut up to about 50-degrees in either direction.

3. Adjust the Saw to the Proper Angle

Most saws are equipped with a rotating miter lock handle at the base of the saw. By tightening the handle, you can lock the saw into place. By loosening the handle, the saw is free to swing to the left or right. Almost all saws have a gauge that indicates the degree of the miter.

It’s always a good idea to make sure that the default setting, 0-degrees, is truly square by depressing the saw and measuring the angle of the blade using a protractor or carpenter’s square. It’s also a good idea to check the 45-degree setting frequently used for cutting miters.

4. Adjust the Saw to the Proper Bevel

Adjust the Saw to the Proper Bevel

With a compound miter saw, the operative word is compound – you can also make beveled cuts, either straight or angled. In short, you can change the angle of the miter saw blade relative to the miter saw’s bed.

Unfortunately, saws differ in the manner in which you adjust this level; some, but not all, have a lever release next to the handle adjustment that allows you to set up for beveled cuts. Other release using different mechanisms. You should find a bevel gauge to measure the angle of bevel below the dust port.

5. Use Safety Equipment

Before you operate the saw, put on protective eyewear. If cutting longer pieces of wood, use clamps. Make sure that the miter table is free of obstruction. Before turning on the saw, depress the blade arm until the saw contacts the wood to ensure everything is in working order. If equipped, use clamps to hold stock in place.

If you spend a lot of time cutting longer pieces of stock, over, say, four or five feet, consider building a miter table with extensions. The extensions can be used to support long pieces of wood and secure it in place to make accurate cuts.

Otherwise, you’ll be picking pieces up off the floor or asking someone for help. Many contractors make portable tables that they bring with them on the job site – this is an option, too.

6. Operate the Saw

Use Safety Equipment

Running the saw is the simplest step. Mark the piece of wood where you’d like to cut it using a tape measure, pencil, and square. With safety goggles on and wood loosely secured with clamps, depress the saw blade while it’s off. Adjust the piece of stock so the pencil line on the wood aligns with the teeth of the saw.

Firmly secure clamps. Raise the saw arm. Check the desired angle and bevel one last time. Depress the safety trigger, if equipped, and press the button that powers the saw.

Steadily lower the spinning saw blade to the wood, and with a steady pressure cut through the piece of stock. Release the trigger once the blade has passed through the stock. Raise the saw arm.

In the case of sliding saws, make sliding cuts away from you. Bringing in the blade to you encourages tear outs and/or the saw to kick.

7. Proper Maintenance

Now that you’ve run the saw once, keep practicing with various scraps of wood until you become comfortable. Always maintain a healthy respect for power tools.

Be sure to regularly check for debris that can accumulate on the miter table. This can throw off the accuracy of cuts or potentially cause injury if a piece of scrap hits a turning blade.

After each use, check the dust port, and blow or wipe off any accumulated saw dust. Between uses check that the blade guard retracts smoothly. Consult with your owner’s manual on how frequently to change your saw blade.

Using sharp blades greatly reduces strain on you and the saw motor, plus makes for more accurate cuts.


Now you’re ready to use a compound miter saw to cut trim, crown mold, baseboard, or any other type of wood. I’ve worked with a number of carpenters; while compound miter saws aren’t difficult to use, safety is often neglected. I created this tutorial to help you keep safety at the forefront of your mind.

How’d I done? In any case, I hope you found this tutorial helpful. If you did, would you please leave a comment below or share with anyone who may benefit from reading it? Also, if there’s anything we forgot or anything you’d like to add, I’d love to hear from you in the comments. Thanks for reading!

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