Carpenters and builders require at least two saws: a table saw and a miter saw. Weekend woodworkers, carpenters and builders typically get by with only one. A few standard variables make one more appropriate than the other, depending on your needs.
Saw injuries are commonly treated in emergency rooms. Miter saws are safer than table saws. Most miter saws have an automatic brake that shuts off the blade off the blink of an eye when you release the trigger. Some table saws also have this feature, but they're few and far between, and expensive.
Table saws can kick material back at you. It happens all the time when small pieces such as a knots or splinters come loose and the blade fires them back at you. Larger pieces kick back if you don't have a good grip on them. Miter saws rarely kick back. That's because miter-saw blades rotate away from your body. Table-saw blades rotate toward you.
Miter saws typically have built-in guards that shield the blade. Table saws also have guards but they're not as efficient, partially because both hands often reach beyond the blade, past the guard.
The Angle Advantage
Angles are the single biggest advantage of a miter saw over a table saw. Nothing cuts angles faster and more efficiently than a miter saw. There are built-in presets for common angles, and miter saws adjust to any obtuse or acute angle up to almost 50 degrees.
Table Saw Angles
Table saws are capable of cutting angles with the addition of a miter gauge but they're more difficult to operate, and sometimes dangerous when cutting angles on longer pieces.
Table saws are best for large materials. Table saws can 4-by-8 sheets with ease. Miter saws can't cut sheets or panels wider than about 6 inches at best. Home building requires a table saw to cut sheets for sheathing, flooring, roofing and a wide assortment of building materials a miter saw can't handle. Cabinetry also requires a table saw to cut sheets of plywood and wood panels.
Nothing rips long boards like a table saw. Miter saws can't rip boards to width. Miter saws only cut perpendicular to the length of a board. Table saws can cut perpendicular when equipped with a miter gauge but again, it's more difficult.
Nothing is better for trim work than a miter saw. It's portable, quick, efficient and easy to adjust. A miter saw fits on any tabletop or bench. A table saw is heavy, requires at least two people to move it, and requires dedicated floor space.
Table saws are more capable of joinery than a miter saw. Table saws equipped with a dado blade are capable of cutting channels, slots, rabbets, tenons and mortises. Miter saws typically are restricted to a standard saw blade.
Bevel cuts are common in woodworking and construction. The ability to tilt the blade is a distinct advantage of a table saw. A basic miter saw cuts only perpendicular to the wood, or at 90 degrees, and is not capable of blade tilt.
Miter Saw Advantages
- Half the price of a table saw
- Cuts angles faster and cleaner than a table saw
- Better for trim work
- Safer than a table saw
Table Saw Advantages
- More powerful than a miter saw
- More resale value
- More blade options than a miter saw
- Better for sheet materials and construction
- Rips long pieces of lumber
- Cuts bevels on wood