Wondering what the difference is between a chop saw and a miter saw and which type of saw you should get? Or, like a lot people, are you wondering whether chop saws and miter saws are actually the same things?
If so, then this article will tell you everything you need to know.
The reason for the problem here is that the name ‘chop saw’ is often given to miter saws as a nickname. However, strictly speaking, chop saws are actually a different type of saw to miter saws.
While they may look similar and while miter saws may sometimes be called chop saws, they’re actually two completely different things. The basic difference is that miter saws are intricate woodworking saws, whereas chop saws are for making simple cuts in metal.
Chop Saw VS Miter Saw Overview
- Most chop saws use a fast spinning abrasive grinding disc to grind cuts into metal. Normally, chop saws only make cuts at a 90 degree angle across a piece of material.
- Miter saws are precision woodworking tools that make cross cuts in timber that can usually be both mitered (angled across the timber) and beveled (cut with the blade tilted).
- Miter saws are used for accuracy and speed when making joins and details in timber designs.
- Some confusion does arise where hybrid saws exist. These can cut both timber and metal.
What is a Chop Saw Used For?
At first appearance, miter saws and chop saws are quite similar. They both feature a work plate on which material is held prior to cutting. Usually, there’s a straight edge along the back of this to make sure that material can be held accurately. Above the work plate is a mounted blade that moves up and down to perform cuts.
With a chop saw, the blade is often made of grinding material (specifically designed for cutting metal) which spins at a very high speed. The blade can also usually only move directly up and down to make cuts which are at 90 degrees to the workplate below.
The most typical job that is done with a chop saw is cutting metal piping to size. However, they can perform a cross-cut into most types of metal which are as long and deep as the blade will allow, making them versatile tools. In many instances, where a piece of metal needs to be trimmed to size or shape, a chop saw will be able to do the job.
By adopting a chop saw with a guide, it is possible to do mitered cuts. However, this won’t be as easy and quick as with a miter saw. Beveled cuts usually aren’t possible.
It is worth pointing out that while most chop saws are fast-spinning saws that use an abrasive disc to cut, cold saws are available as well. These are chop saws that cut with a specialist toothed blade at a lower speed. Cold cut saws are more expensive and are a specialist’s tool.
Check out our chop saw buying guide here!
Benefits of a Chop Saw
- Great for cutting metal.
- Cutting metal with a chop saw is faster and more accurate than with other tools
- Relatively inexpensive to buy with cheap replacement blades (unless you buy a cold saw)
- Some metalwork jobs will be impossible without a chop saw
Downsides of a Chop Saw
- No good for cutting wood
- Mitered cuts require adaptation and beveled cuts are usually impossible
- Cuts can be slightly inaccurate and rough owing to the fact that the blade bends and bounces slightly
What is a Miter Saw Used For?
Miter saws are precision woodworking tools that are used to make certain woodwork cuts accurately and quickly.
Much like a chop saw, a miter saw consists of a work plate with a straight edge along the back and a mounted blade above that moves up and down to make cuts. The key difference is that the blade moves more slowly, is designed to cut wood, and can also be angled to make miter cuts. Most miter saws nowadays can also usually be tilted to make beveled cuts.
With fast and accurate adjustments available, it is easy to quickly make high-quality crosscuts in timber.
The key feature of miter saws is the adjustability of the blade. To be called a miter saw, a miter saw needs to be able to make angled (mitered) cuts. While this is the case, most miter saws also make tilted (beveled) cuts as well and are called ‘compound miter saws’ for this reason. Many miter saws nowadays also have a sliding blade which allows for longer cuts as well.
If you’re looking to purchase a miter saw, you can find our miter saw buying guide here.
Benefits of a Miter Saw
- Great for cutting wood. Miter saws make certain cuts much faster and more accurate than is otherwise possible
- Modern miter saws come with advanced features and are much cheaper than they used to be
- They usually need few repairs
Downsides of a Miter Saw
- Miter saws cannot be used to cut metal
- While they’re cheaper than they used to be, some can be expensive
- Repairs can be expensive if they’re needed
Chop Saw Blades VS Miter Saw Blades: Are They Different?
The materials used in the construction and design of chop saw and miter saw blades are completely different.
Saw blades should only be used to cut what they have been designed to cut. On top of this, blades should only be used on machines that are designed to cut with them. Attempting to cut with the wrong type of blade or fitting a blade to a machine that it is not designed for is dangerous and should not be done.
For the most part, miter saws feature toothed metal blades. These can be carbon steel blades, high-speed steel blades, carbide-tipped blades, or other designs. Most blades cut by chipping off wood with the teeth.
Most chop saws feature grinding discs. These are made of a mix of grit and adhesive and rather than cutting with teeth, they heat up material and grind away at it. Cutting is performed by friction, rather than by chipping away material.
Cold saws, which I touched on earlier, cut metal using a toothed blade (similar to a miter saw blade) made of specialist material that spins at a low speed.
When to Use a Chop Saw Over a Miter Saw
If you’re planning on cutting metal, then get a chop saw!
Chop saws are great for making fast and relatively accurate cuts in metal. With a chop saw you can position a piece of metal securely on the work plate and chop with little effort by just moving the mounted blade up and down.
With accurate positioning of the blade possible and quick secure placement of materials (many come with clamps for extra security) it is easy and fast to make professional-level cuts in metal.
When to Use a Miter Saw Over a Chop Saw
If you’re planning on cutting wood, then get a miter saw!
Miter saws are what woodworkers use to quickly make highly accurate crosscuts of various kinds in timber. If you’re planning on doing some joinery or any kind of woodwork that requires a high level of accuracy or a large number of repeated cuts of a certain kind, then a miter saw is what you need.
Most people who read this article will have come here because they’re confused because someone has told them to buy a ‘chop saw’, when what they should have said is ‘miter saw’. As we said at the start, while chop saws are unique to miter saws, the names are sometimes mixed up.
Most people will actually end up unsure about what kind of miter saw to buy. As I said earlier, miter saws are available which can do anything from just mitered cuts to cuts that are also performed on a sliding mount and can be beveled in both directions. You can learn more about miter saw vs compound miter saws here.
For most people, it will actually turn out to be simple. If you’re planning on doing woodwork, then get a miter saw. If you’re planning on doing metalwork, then get a chop saw.
As I briefly mentioned earlier, there is (on top of everything I’ve said so far) the slightly confusing matter of hybrid saws, which can cut both metal and wood. These are specialist saws with slow-spinning specialist blades which can cut both materials.
If you’re dead set on doing both woodwork and metalwork, then it may be worth looking into whether you should invest in one of these.
Another thing worth mentioning again is that cold saws are also available for cutting metal. As I said already, these are metal cutting saws with a toothed blade that cut metal by chipping it off, rather than by grinding away at it. They are generally faster than normal chop saws and also have (as the name suggests) the advantage of leaving material cold after it is cut.
While some people will be able to make use of a cold saw, for most people there will be no reason to make the extra investment to get hold of one.
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