By Kent Brobeck
Last summer my internal clock for a new sliding compound miter saw went off, so I made a list of desired features and went shopping. My top three requirements were capacity, accuracy, and lighting. The first two should come as no surprise, and the third — lighting — was important because my eyes are not what they used to be.
After doing some research I settled on the Milwaukee 6955-20, a 12-inch saw with exceptional cutting capacity, a digital readout, and a pair of built-in lights.
Out of the Box
I bought the tool online. Despite sturdy packaging — molded Styrofoam and a stout cardboard container — it was out of alignment when I took it out of the box.
Adjusting the miter scale was easy: I loosened the screws on the scale, moved the table until the blade was square to the fence, then retightened the screws. Adjusting the bevel was more involved, because I had to remove the dust shroud to get at the adjusting screws. Once I had access, the adjustment was straightforward.
When I used the saw, though, something still seemed wrong. It turned out the nut that holds the motor to the bevel trunnion was a little loose. After I tightened the nut ever so slightly, everything was fine.
Since I didn't like the blade that came with the saw, I replaced it with a Forrest Chopmaster (800/733-7111, www.forrestblades.com). To change blades, you loosen a couple of screws and pivot the guard out of the way. If you tighten the screws while the guard is up, it stays out of the way while you change the blade — a nice added touch.
Milwaukee 6955-20 Specs
Blade: 12 inches; 5/8- or 1-inch arbor
No-load speed: 3,200 rpm
Cutting depth, 90/45 degrees: 6.55/6.55 inches
Cutting width, 90/45 degrees: 13.5/9.51 inches
Bevel cuts: 0 to 45 degrees L; 0 to 48 degrees R
Miter cuts: 0 to 55 degrees L; 0 to 60 degrees R
Bevel stops: 0, 15, 22.5, 33.85, 45 degrees L/R
Miter stops: 0, 15, 22.5, 31.6, 45, 55 degrees L; 0, 15, 22.5, 31.6, 45, 60 degrees R
Motor: 15 amps, direct-drive, soft-start, electric brake
Weight: 65 pounds
Street price: $700
Milwaukee Electric Tool
Few sliding miter saws can match the capacity of the 6955-20. With the material on the flat, the saw can crosscut up to 13 1/2 inches wide at 90 degrees, and 9 1/2 inches wide at 45 degrees. With the material on edge against the fence, it can cut more than 6 1/2 inches high — but only very thin material (less than 7/16 inch thick).
However, it can cut 6-inch baseboard on edge in any thickness.
Accuracy. The slide mechanism and table operate smoothly, and the cutting action is tight and stable. Miter and bevel cuts are both very accurate. I made a compound 45-by-45-degree cut in 1x10 poplar, checked it with a digital protractor (Bosch DWM40L), and found the angles to be within 1/10 degree of what they were supposed to be.The 6955-20 has excellent capacity. It can crosscut up to 13 1/2 inches wide (left) and 6 1/2 inches thick (right).
One of the few problems I had with the Milwaukee happened when I was cutting pieces wider than the blade. If the trigger is released at the end of the cut while the blade is in contact with the work, the braking action torques the blade enough to leave slight teeth marks on the edge of the piece. I got around this by sliding the piece away from the blade before releasing the trigger.
Weight. At 65 pounds, the 6955-20 is heavy. But swinging the table all the way over makes the tool shallow from front to back — and therefore easier to carry than many lighter but deeper models. The soft rubber gripping surfaces at the lower edges of the table help, too.
I like the saw's grip — horizontal with no safety switch. It's mounted high, so your hand and wrist don't block your view of the workpiece.
The fences are tall and provide excellent support when you're cutting base or crown in position. The left fence slides out of the way for bevels, but the right fence doesn't — and must be removed when beveling to the right.
Setting bevels. The bevel mechanism is controlled by a large paddle-like lever behind the motor. It's easy to reach from the front of the saw and has three positions: unlocked, locked at detents only, and locked at any angle.
Digital readout. Next to the miter lock knob is a digital readout. Used with the detent override and the fine adjustment ring, this feature is of immeasurable value. You can make extremely fine adjustments to the miter setting — 1/10 degree per quarter-turn of the knob — by pulling the detent lever and pushing the adjustment ring. The readout tells you exactly what the angle is, so that you can transfer angles from an electronic angle finder and easily repeat odd angle cuts.
Another handy aspect of the readout is that it allows you to read the angle when wide material covers the miter scale.
No laser. Unlike many saws, this one does not have a laser guide. I don't consider this a problem because I've never really trusted lasers; as far as I'm concerned, they're just one more thing that has to be maintained. Pressing a detent override and rotating a fine adjustment ring allows the user to dial in miters to within 1/10 degree (left). The setting is displayed on a digital readout (right) that makes it easy to repeat odd angle cuts.
The Milwaukee's built-in lights are a big plus. Mounted on both sides of the blade and activated by a switch above the grip, they do a good job of illuminating the workpiece. The three carpenters on my crew always use these lights — quite a testament to how well they work.
The saw also has a large dust shroud that feeds an oversize dust bag through a rectangular dust elbow. According to the manufacturer, the bag collects about 75 percent of the dust. Based on my experience, that number sounds about right. I do have one minor complaint: The bag fills up quickly. I'd like to connect the saw to a vac, but Milwaukee does not yet make a fitting for that application.
Verdict. After using the 6955-20 for several months, I can report that it isn't perfect — but it's as close to perfect as any miter saw I've ever used. Next time I'm in the market for a sliding compound miter saw, I may buy this one all over again.
Kent Brobeck is a finish carpentry contractor in Beaver Falls, Pa.
Go to JLC