What Is a Chop Saw?

Updated: Apr. 29, 2024

A chop saw (a.k.a. a miter saw) is a power tool made especially for accurate crosscutting of trim and lumber at various angles. Here's why these tools rule.

The chop saw (AKA a miter saw) is a motorized woodworking power tool designed to accurately and precisely complete square and angled cuts in wood. It works by spinning a circular steel saw blade at high speed. The blade cuts through the wood, laid on the support table, when you push the handle downward. There are different styles of chop saws on the market with different features. Which you choose depends on your budget and cutting needs.

What Do You Do With a Chop Saw?

There are two basic ways to cut wood: crosscutting and rip cutting. Cross cutting means cutting across the wood grain, and ripping means cutting along or parallel with wood grain. All lumber is milled so the grain runs along the length of a board. So to make a board narrower but not shorter, you need to rip cut. A chop saw is not the tool for this job. But if you want to make a board shorter, that’s crosscutting. And that’s where a chop saw excels. In practice, every woodworker, serious or casual, needs to do crosscuts and rip cuts regularly. That’s why so many people who work with wood own at least one chop saw.

Chop Saw Features

Chop saws come in four types: standard, compound, dual compound and sliding compound. All have rotating blades that move downward into wood during a cut, and all have a swiveling table so you can cut various angles in the horizontal plane. But that’s where the similarities end.

  • Standard chop saws: These “chop” only straight down, so they’re limited to angles cut in only one plane. The blade cannot tilt away from a vertical orientation, although the support table does rotate.
  • Compound chop saws: This type makes all the standard chop saw cuts, plus the blade can tilt to one side from vertical. This allows angles to be cut in one or two planes.
  • Dual-compound chop saws: These are just like compound chop saws except that the blade can tilt either left or right. This allows you to make bevel cuts in either direction without flipping your wood over.
  • Sliding-compound chop saws: With these, you can go wider than a standard chop saw. The entire blade and motor assembly can slide back and forth during a cut, allowing the widest widths of lumber to be cut in one pass.

Which Chop Saw to Buy

Not many companies make standard chop saws anymore, although you can find used ones. If you’re planning to do basic home renovations, an economical standard or compound chop saw will serve you well.

Are you planning to build a deck, dock or shed? Framing a house? You’d be wise to consider a sliding-compound model of some kind. These can be expensive, especially if you go with a big name brand like DEWALT or Milwaukee. But they’re also extremely effective, especially at crosscutting wide boards like 2x12s. The only reason to pay extra for a dual-compound chop saw is if you’re planning to cut and install wide crown moldings.