How to Use a Miter Saw – Tool Tutorial Friday

Hello and welcome to the very first Tool Tutorial Friday! Come right in and have a seat. If you give me less than 10 minutes of your time, I will empower you with some new power tool skills! Today, I’m going to show you one of my favorite power tools. In fact, I dreamed of owning one for years. Using a hand saw and a cheap plastic miter box was really putting a cramp in my DIY style (if you know what I mean.)

My Makita 10″ Sliding Compound Miter Saw (I just love saying that) was a Mother’s Day present to me a few years ago. That’s right, I don’t ask for jewelry for big occasions. Pretty Handsome Guy knows to ask one thing before a upcoming holiday, “So Honey, what power tool do you want now?” It’s true, I’m a power tool junky.

Here is the deal, I really want these workshops to be interactive, so don’t be shy! Ask questions, leave comments, let me know you are learning something new.

Okay, let’s get started…

This is my Sliding Compound Miter Saw (oooo, ahhhhh.) She’s a diva of a power tool and therefore demands a little respect.


Miter saws come in all shapes, sizes and colors. The size (usually from 7.25″ up to 12″) refers to the diameter of the blade on the saw. The larger the blade the wider the boards it can cut. However, if you purchase a “sliding” miter saw, you can usually cut a few inches wider than your blade diameter. Miter saws run anywhere from $80 up to $800 depending on the features and brand you choose. 

A non-slide (regular) miter saw will not slide forward and back. Most of the lower end models will still cut a miter and a bevel. Sometimes, these “lower end” models are affectionately referred to as chop saws.

I highly recommend a sliding miter saw, if you can afford it. Being able to cut a few inches wider means the difference between using your miter saw or having to break out the circular saw or table saw.

The modern miter saws have a trigger built into the handle. Some also have a safety button that you must push with your finger or thumb before you can squeeze the trigger. To start a straight downward cut, press the safety button, squeeze the trigger and wait for the saw to reach maximum rotation. Then slowly lower your saw into the board you are cutting. Never force the saw through the wood. Let the saw cut and then guide it downward. Once you have completed the cut, bring the saw back up and out of the wood, then you can release the trigger.

A compound miter saw has a blade that will cut miters and bevels at the same time (thus the name compound, as in compound cut.) The diagram below shows the bevel and miter adjustments.

Most miter saws should have a fence. The fence lets you rest the back of your board against. It keeps the wood steady and helps your miter saw cut true to the degree setting you have chosen.

My miter saw has a clamp, if yours has one, use it! Let the clamp be your right hand man (literally). If you don’t have a clamp on your saw, be sure to always position your hand far away from the blade as you hold your board up again the fence. AND NEVER reach under the saw while it is rotating (guard or no guard!)

When using a sliding miter saw, there is a proper way to make a sliding cut (used to cut wider boards):

  1. Start by putting your board against the fence and clamp it.
  2. Before you start the blade, pull the saw toward you until the blade is directly over the board’s edge that is closest to you.
  3. Squeeze the trigger to start the saw and wait for it to reach peak rotation speed. Then pull the blade down and into the wood.
  4. While the blade is still rotating, push the saw back and away from you as your blade cuts through the rest of the wood (see photo below.)
  5. Once the blade has finished cutting through the wood, raise the saw and release the trigger to stop the saw.

Before you watch the video — a few necessary words of caution:


The viewer assumes all responsibility and liability associated with the hazards of woodworking. Pretty Handy Girl is not responsible for any errors or omissions that may be present in this tutorial. She also assumes no liability for any action or inaction of a viewer.

Please use extreme caution when using power tools. Read your tool manual thoroughly and wear protective safety gear. Take your time familiarizing yourself with a tool before using it. (If you are missing the manual, you can easily find it online by going to the manufacturer’s website or google your saw’s make and model + manual.)

Please recognize that I have tried to put together a basic miter saw usage tutorial to get you started. I have tried my best to show the safest way to use a miter saw. That being said, I am not a professional (I only play one on this blog ;-).)

And now, let’s get you more familiar with using a miter saw!

I hope you have been empowered! Go on and give the miter saw a try if you own one. If you decide to buy a new miter saw, I recommend buying a reputable brand with a decent amount of features. My goal has always been to save up to buy a saw that will last my lifetime, and not settle for a cheap saw just because that is what I could afford at the time.

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  1. Thanks so much for the tutorials. I’m still a beginner but I did pass the woodworking bug on to DH. I’d love to see a tutorial on jig saws. I want to use it as a birthday gift hint :)

  2. Dang, lured out of lurkdom by an alluring pink hammer.

    Thank you, as always, for such complete, yet simple, how-to and learn-about posts. With lots of photos.

  3. Thanks so much for the tute! I just sent the link to my husband so he’s aware that yes, I will be getting into his miter saw at some point:)

  4. So much easier than the hand saw! Will look into renting one for our next project!

  5. Great tutorial. Wish I had seen this before I bought my miter saw many years ago before I really knew what I was doing. (Sometimes I still don’t!) I sure could use that sliding feature! Thanks.

  6. I love the tutorials. I can’t wait until I have my own power tools. I grew up in my dad’s wood shop!

  7. Thanks for this tutorial! We have the same saw and my husband and I love it too! I am glad you stressed the importance of the clamp..I have seen ours but have never used it…but I will now!

  8. My question isn’t about use, but about storage. Do you have somewhere your miter saw is set up and stays there? Our lives in our attic, and I don’t use it as much as I should or would like to just because of the hassel of getting it out and setting it up. Do you have tips of things I could do to ease that process? There is just nowhere we could put it to leave it out. We live in a townhome.

    Thanks, for this tutorial and all the great ideas I’ve stolen from you! When i finish the reading bench I’m making my daughter using a knock-off of your mudroom bench tut, I’ll try to remember to post a pic.

    • Ah, good question Stephanie. I’m lucky that I have a garage with a workbench. My miter saw sits proudly in the center of the bench all the time. I use it for cutting more than any of my other saws.

      Do you have a walk up or a tall enough attic that you could put up some saw horses and a plywood top and use that as your work bench? I feel for you because my saw is one hefty tool and weighs a lot.

  9. Thanks for the information. My husband has no patience when it comes to explaining things.

  10. Thanks for the chance to win…. nice looking hammer… maybe the PINK color will keep my husband from taking my it!!

    • That is what I was thinking … I “had” a set of vise grips, a hammer, screwdriver with multiple heads and a tape measure. Note the “had”. They keep going missing because the men in my family never put anything in the same place twice and know mine have a home :-)

    • Cheryl, you are welcome and yes, pink tends to deter it from being swiped by the men ;-).

      • yeah… I wouldn’t bet on it since he did allow me to paint the master bedroom & bathroom a very pale pink with burgundy accents…. I don’t think pink affects his manhood like it does with most other men. See with him it usually depends on the quality of the equipment …so if this is a great guality tool then I just might as well hand it to him and annnounce that I won it for US!

  11. M & A Creations says:

    Wow! Thank you for the tutorial. When you unveiled the post of Power Tool Tutorials on Fridays I went wild!! I was so afraid I was going to miss it somehow. I am not familiar with the Miter Saw, what projects have you done with yours? Do you have a picture of what the wood looks like after it is cut since you were mentioning that is miters and bevels? Thank you for the inspiration!! Andmre

    • Andmre, How much time do you have? I use my miter saw for almost every project that involves cutting wood! (My ladder turned into display shelves, picket fence nightstand, shelving, living room floors, son’s reading nook closet, and many more.


  12. Brittany, I am a single mom of 4 who, after renting for 11 years after my divorce, just bought my first house. The house was built in 1972 and was updated in the late 70’s….so yes, it’s VERY 70’s-licious! I recently bought a miter saw (wish I had seen this first) and am in the processing of completing my first project which is board and batten on a wall in the living room and new trim in that whole area of the house (living room and hall). You boys bathroom board and batten post was a life saver for me! Mine still is not done but its getting there. Since I know NOTHING about power tools, this series is going to do wonders for someone like me who has nobody to show her how to use them. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!! I spent most of my money on the things you don’t see (new thermal windows, new insulated garage doors, new heating and cooling systems and new hot water tank)and plan on doing things as I can, but my question is this: what basic power tools should I buy since I plan on doing a lot to bring my house into 2011? I have a Dewalt 10″ compound miter saw and a cordless drill, that’s it. What power tools will I be needing? I have 600 sq ft of pine flooring to lay (to match the rest of the house)a new kitchen to install (cabinets and all) and a lot of general maintenance and fixing up. What power tools have you found to be of the most use to you? Thanks again for doing this series!!

  13. Wow–awesome! So, what do you use your circular saw for vs. the miter saw? Thanks so much!

  14. Hello and thank you for stopping by my blog…And for the Silhouette tip… I just signed up to follow and enjoyed your Miter Saw tutorial…. My husband showed me years ago how to work it and It was fun at first but I happily let him do it as My Favorite thing to do is PAINT which he very Much dislikes… Very cute hammer…. My Husband actually bought me the Full Pink Took Bag…. I LOVE it… Happy to meet you

  15. Great post…love that I have a place to start learning about power tools! I have a long list of projects that I plan on doing around the house and can’t wait to get started.

  16. A great start to the tool tute series! I used to use an old miter box and saw my Dad had in the basement, then decided to make one of my own in a woodworking class (it was so pretty — I even refinished it — that I’ve never cut anything with it though I have thought about using it to cut bread), Dad bought me my own miter box like I used to play with, then I bought an older Delta chop saw from a neighbor, then just HAD TO HAVE a Makita sliding compound miter saw. Sometimes I’m just content to go to the garage and chop some wood, just so I can put on my goggles, ear protection, open the garage door a bit, and impress the neighbors — ha. Looking forward to a possible tute on a table saw. Now, those scare me….

    • Lucy, question for you: I love my Makita, but the only thing I really don’t like is the dust collection bag really doesn’t do diddly. Sometimes I attach the shop vac to it, but it still has a lot of sawdust.


      • I get a lot of dust, too, but just use emptying the bag as an excuse to stretch a bit and drink some water. I did try to put a bigger bag on and clamp it on tighter, but it didn’t make much difference. The old Delta chop saw doesn’t even have a dust bag, so I live with. I guess I figured they’d all be similar. I’d like to have that laser guide like you have! Heaven forbid you should hear from someone with the PERFECT saw properties and bag capabilities. I don’t think I have room for another one!!! 😉

  17. I love this series. I can’t wait to see the rest. I really want to use my husband’s power tools but I’m too scared. Maybe this series will empower me. Thanks so much.

  18. Great tutorial Brittany! I learned how to use our miter saw last summer and I’m totally addicted! Ours isn’t as nice as yours, but it does the trick. Thanks for taking the time to put these videos together. I know it’s a lot of work.

    I would love me a pink hammer! Mine is a wimpy little one that’s only good for hanging pictures. I’m always borrowing hubby’s. I’m sure he would love for me to have my own too LOL!

  19. Melinda KE says:

    I have always been afraid of power saws, but after watching this it really makes me want one! I dread using my cheap hand saw now.

  20. We have a chop saw. Yours is nicer. I have wanted to learn how to use ours. I think I need to try it out on some scrap pieces of wood.


  21. I LOVE my chop saw!!! When it comes to DIY, he’s one of my “main men”! He and I first got acquainted 5 years ago when we built our new “old” house and I put down 6 rooms of laminate flooring all by myself. Now, when hubby says “let’s DIY”, my first question is always “Do I get to use ‘chopper’???” :>)

  22. Great tutorial. I use to be afraid of the miter saw, but when we replaced our floor, my husband convinced me to give it a try. BIG MISTAKE! I loved it so much that I made most of the cuts for our floor (I totally hogged it, hehehehe). Unfortunately, we were only borrowing the saw, and I had to give it back. :-( Now I want to get my own, but they are expensive and I want to get a good one! Someday!
    BTW, I have never used a sliding one, so it was nice to see the proper way to slide it! Thanks!

  23. I’m new to your site but absolutely love it!! I really thought I was the only wife/mom that asked for power tools as gifts!!! Love this!! Thank you!

  24. Just wanting to start collecting tools :) thanks for information.

  25. Fantastic tutorial Brittany!

  26. I LOVE using my hubby’s miter saw. Such a handy tool! You know what else would be handy??? Yep… a magnetic hammer!!!!! : )

  27. Thanks for the tutorial! I just got a miter saw and I LOVE it! want.that.hammer.

  28. SheilaG @ Plum Doodles says:

    Thank you so much for the encouragement and how-to’s for using power tools! I’ve been asking my hubby for a miter saw for a while now, but he’s reluctant b/c he’s afraid to come home to a one-handed wife! :) Maybe with your help, I’ll sound more knowledgable! I’ve been following for awhile now, but just started my own blog (overwhelming!), so my info on here is new. Hope you can stop by and give me some advice! :)

  29. I’m so excited about this tutorial! I am “afraid” of the hubby’s miter saw but now I’m ready to tackle it, on my own! Thank you.

  30. thanks for the wonderful tutorial….I am so ready to get going with some power tools and your tutorial gives me some courage! Asked for a nail gun for last mother’s day and maybe can work my way up to a miter saw for Xmas!!
    thanks again!

  31. Great tutorial Brittany! I love my miter saw, it’s a Dewalt, but it’s not a slider. It was one of the best gifts I’ve ever received!

  32. I’m so glad you’re doing this series! I am a power tool newbie but am starting my collection. I wasn’t looking forward to talking to the guys at the home improvement stores because you never know if you’re going to get a super helpful guy or some guy that takes one look at you, sees you’re a woman and a young mom and just assumes you’re an idiot about projects and power tools (which I kind of am at this point but how am I to learn?) Anyway it’s so great to learn about these tools from a woman’s perspective and figure out which one to buy! Thanks! (PS I stumbled this.)

  33. This tutorial has perfect timing! I received a 12 inch miter saw last week for my birthday (and a $200 gift card to Harbor Freight!)! I can’t wait to go tool shopping. What are your must-have power tools? I’m thinking a jigsaw and a brad nailer are on my list to buy with the gift card. I too would rather have power tools than jewelry! My husband still gets frustrated with me that I always want something for our house for my birthday and Christmas. Thanks for the tutorial!

    • Beth, I do think a jig saw and a brad nailer are two great purchases. But, if you don’t have one, I’d choose a power sander over the nailer. I use my sander more.

      And, last Friday’s Tool Tutorial is on the jig saw. Be sure to check it out.

  34. Great tutorial, Brittany! This is on my Christmas list. And if Santa doesn’t get the memo, I’m buying myself one in January! lol


  35. I got some money for Christmasand I have been wanting a mitre saw for years. I was so happy to find your blog as it answered many of my questions. This will be the first time I will be using something other than a plastic box with that awful toothy saw! Seeing all the other awesome ladies on there makes me feel very empowered. Thank you so much, looking forward to reading more of your blogs.

  36. Hi!
    I have been looking for a clear and simple instruction of miter saw all morning and I’m glad I found your site. I did a big home improvement project couple of years ago using a hand saw and has’t been able to force myselt to do anything else since then. I think I got a hand saw “poisoning”. Now I plan to build a chicken coop and decided to use power tools as I can’t even look at hand saw any more. I love the consept of the miter saw, but after watching your videos I realize I need a circular saw instead. I know nothing of the power tools but I’m glad to read that ladies are using them effectively and love it.
    Thank yo for posting info on power tools!

  37. Linda Holowko says:

    thanks so much for your tutorial! i also spent ages trying to find some info and sifted through loads of rubbish today before finally finding your great site.
    Lots of pertinent info and actual video of you using the saw..brilliant!
    good to read about the dust bags not being much use…mice have eaten mine! and luckily only nibbled the edges of the manual so i can still read it! (i do intend sewing a new bag at some point!)
    My sister always did my DIY , i just bought the power tools!…now i`m finally trying to do some for myself and am in the middle of 4 projects i`ve watched your tutorial i feel much more able to get on with them ! up until now i`ve been managing with manual saws and rather ridiculously i`ve found the coping saw and hack saw give me the best cut ! …not anymore!.. onto bigger and better things!!

  38. I think this is what I’ll get for my husband a new miter saw ! I loved the explanations here and thanks so much for your articles. Now I need to choose one of them. the hardest job still. I’ll see what he likes

  39. I love the tutorials and i like this miter too :)

  40. hi, Brittany Bailey
    Tutorial about how to Use a Miter Saw is really helpful.Thank you so much for this compilation of great ideas. I’ll be making up my own design but this really helps as a starting off place for my miter saw station. I”ll post my design as soon as I’ve figured it out!

  41. I bought a miter saw last year that I am afraid to use. Maybe this post of yours will convince me to give it a try. I use a jig saw all the time and even the reciprocating saw but I’m scared of the miter saw. Sad huh?

  42. Thanks for this tutorial! We have the same saw and my husband and I love it too! I am glad you stressed the importance of the clamp..I have seen ours but have never used it…but I will now!

  43. Hi Brittany!
    My husband was looking for a miter saw. I was sent him your Tutorial link.I love to see a tutorial on Miter saw Stand.So, I subscribe your Blog for more tool tutorial.

    Thanks for this great Tutorail

  44. Thanks for your guide. I love wood working and I often use wood router and miter saw. They are the most essential tools for wood worker.

  45. I agree with you that it is a necessary product for home

  46. A year ago I purchased the Ryobi Sliding Compound Miter Saw…with the laser. I just started using it and the laser really did ensure precise cuts. lol…Unfortunately, newbie that I am, I wasn’t holding something tight enough and a piece of wood kicked the laser loose. Aaaack! Now trying to see where it was actually set so I can put back! Any experience with this?

  47. Thanks for sharing the detailed guide, Brittany

    We often get asked what our most-used tool is. I always answer the same… It’s my miter saw! I love it. I have had it on a stand for the last year.

    Happy thanksgiving day!


  1. […] other news, if you missed my post on Friday, The Tool Tutorial Friday series just started. We learned how to use a miter saw. AND, Tomboy Tools is giving away a magnetic hammer. All you have to do is comment on my Tool […]

  2. […] father-in-law gave me quick lessons on both the miter saw and the nail gun.  I also watched this tutorial on using the saw in general.  And I watched a few tutorials on YouTube on installing the […]

  3. […] to learn how to use power tools through illustrated photos and a video tutorial. Last Friday we learned how to use a miter saw. Come for the Tomboy Tools hammer giveaway or some power tool empowerment! Also, if you […]

  4. […] degree angle. That’s where your miter saw comes in. See Pretty Handy Girl’s post about how to use a miter saw here. It’s one of the first power tools I learned to use and is very easy to handle and work […]

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