Whether it's into wood or your wallet, large sliding miter saws make the biggest cuts, so we tested them to help you invest wisely. The seven 12-inch, dual-compound sliding miter saws in this test are the best of each player in the field, and we couldn't resist throwing in a brand new, 10-1/4-inch saw with cutting capacity close to some larger saws.
For curiosity's sake, we tried out one of the smallest sliders we could find, and discovered the surprising capabilities of a 7-1/2-inch pro model.
We tested them all in our wood boat-building shop where we collected the opinions of 20 shop workers, who represent hundreds of years of woodworking experience, for this report.
Our crews used the saws to cut out parts for 28 wood boats, as well as a few other shop and furniture projects. This work required both tricky compound angles and 90-degree cutoff accuracy, giving the saws a balanced workout. We make our boat kits out of large dimensional lumber, so I appreciated the saws' ability to make big cuts. We regularly cut 4x4s both straight and with a 45-degree miter, and we also cut 2x10s with a 45-degree bevel, both straight and compounded with a 45-degree miter. All the saws except the 7-1/2-inch model we tried could handle 4x4s and could even cross-cut a 2x12, but only the 12-inch saws could fully cut 2x10s at a 45-degree miter. The two smaller saws left a little bit of wood connecting the farthest corner.
The 12-inch sliders have 15 amp motors, right and left bevel-angle capability, and all of the saws feature blade brakes. Capacity for these saws is measured by their miter-angle range, bevel-angle range, and how big a piece of wood they can cut. It's a contest that all the manufacturers are striving to win, and they've added a lot of capability through ingenious new designs.
Miter Range. Gone are the days of the simple 45- to 45-degree range. All of the saws pivot past 45 degrees in both directions, and most now hit 60 degrees in one direction. All of the 12-inch saws have detents at 0, 15, 22.5, 31.6, 45, and even 60 degrees if they go that far. The two smaller saws omit the 31.6-degree setting for cutting crown molding and use 30 degrees instead.
Bevel Range. All but the smallest saw are dual bevel models, so they tilt to at least 45 degrees left and right. A few go past that but only by a few degrees. All have detents or stops at 0 and 45 degrees, and some add 22.5 and 33.9 degrees.
Depth of Cut. There's a difference between a saw's rated capacity and the biggest piece of wood that will fit under it. For example, some blades have a clearance of 9 inches above the table, but a cutting capacity of less than half that. On some models, you can get a bigger cut than the listed specs by not pushing the head of the saw down all the way or by holding the guard open. But for safe, repetitive cutting, the listed capacities are pretty close. An exception is found when cutting tall, thin stock upright against a fence; most saws have a much greater vertical capacity than the specs show because you are using the blade above and behind the blade's central arbor height.
I observed a lot of wood shop Darwinism during the test, as the guys gravitated to the latest saw set up in the shop, then migrated back to a few consistent favorites. This quantitative natural selection reinforced my top choices, based on all of the test results.
The top 12-inch sliding miter saws are the Bosch, Ridgid, and Makita--you couldn't go wrong with any of these--but after all the dust settled, Bosch was my overall choice. The Bosch has all of the handy features that I value, and is the easiest to adjust and use. I like the long fences, the slide-out table extensions, and especially the front bevel adjustment.
Ridgid and then Makita follow the leader, with great performance and features. Then there's the Festool. This 10-1/4-inch saw was universally admired, but a few of its unique features intimidated some users, who found them nonintuitive. Those who figured it out, however, found a great, full-featured--but pricey--saw.
The Hitachi and DeWalt were well used but gradually abandoned in favor of the top three. The Milwaukee and Craftsman were also put through their paces, but the lack of a laser on the Milwaukee and the Craftsman's rougher feel left them sitting alone much of the time. None of these saws should be kicked out of the shop, but I sure do appreciate the best saw after I use it. The follow-up order goes Milwaukee, DeWalt, Hitachi, and Craftsman.
Joe Youcha is a wood boat builder and contributing editor for Tools of The Trade.
The Festool KS120EB is the only saw in the test that has a double laser line that projects the actual blade-kerf width on the workpiece, so you don't have to remember on which side of the laser the blade cuts. The lasers project dashed lines that are easier on the eyes than solid lines, and there are six adjustment screws to recalibrate the lasers. Two of them adjust the line spacing for using different thickness blades.
Another unique feature to the Festool saw is the angle-bisecting protractor, which stores onboard the saw. The protractor is put against an inside or outside corner to transfer its angle without measuring, and a white line down the middle of the device automatically bisects that angle. So to cut an exact miter for whatever angle that corner might be, all you need to do is line up the saw's laser parallel with the center line of the protractor while it is held against the saw's fence.
As for lasers, we like using them for quickly lining up our cuts in the shop. Festool, Hitachi, and Makita have built-in, switched versions that feel safer to line up with your mark than arbor-mounted lasers, which must be spinning to light up. As a result, arbor lasers have you moving your board one-handed under the spinning blade while the saw is running. And since they are not centered with the blade, the laser line shifts when the saw head is lowered closer to the wood. Arbor lasers come with the Bosch, Craftsman, and Ridgid saws.
The Festool saw is a high-quality slider with some unique and effective features. One of the best is its bevel angle adjustment knob that lets you fine-tune the bevel angle from the front of the saw. When the bevel lock atop the saw is unlocked, superb counterbalancing keeps the head from leaning over. This balance lets the fine-tuning knob tilt the entire head with very little force. Another very effective feature is its dust-routing abilities. It is the only tool tested without a dust bag, and instead has a port intended to be connected to a vacuum. But even when just attached to a passive dust diverting hose hung into a garbage can, the Festool stayed cleaner while piling up more dust than any saw with a dust bag.