Table Saw Versus Miter Saw: Which One Should You Buy First?

miter saw vs table saw header image

I was eyeing my brother-in-law’s new Hercules Miter saw. “Man,” I said wistfully “the table saw is technically more versatile, but which one do you use more, your miter or your table saw?”

“Oh, the miter saw, undoubtedly. I much prefer it. But there are just some cuts you need a table saw for.” He responded

The right woodworking tools make all of the difference. But when you are on a budget, sometimes you need to compromise. When it comes to this face-off, should you first buy a table saw or a miter saw?

A table saw can make longer cuts, while a miter saw excels in making short, beveled and angled cuts.

A Table saw can make those same cuts if you have a jig, but it is more cumbersome. A Miter saw is limited to cuts that are under 12 inches long.

But…. a Miter saw is easier to use and way more enjoyable to work with.

Here Are Some More Comparisons

  • A Miter saw is excellent for cutting angles and bevels and is commonly used for cutting trim. It performs shorter cuts (Typically under 16 inches), but it has the advantage of being a very fast tool to use for straight (crosscuts), precision angle and bevel cuts. It is a favorite for trim-work.
  • A table saw can also cut bevels, and with the help of an added miter gauge, it can cut angles.  However, it typically takes longer to set up and complete the cut. It also has the advantage in that it can make longer cuts, ripping entire lengths of plywood.

If you could only have the budget to buy one saw, which one should you purchase? I’ll help you make the best decision to get the most value for your budget.  Once you decide, you can read my reviews on the best table saw and the best miter saw.

In classic Tool Tally review style, are some quick, at-a-glance, pros and cons.

10 Second Summary: If you can only choose one, the table saw is going to offer flexibilty that the miter saw simply can’t match.  It is your best bet for the limited budget. However, the miter saw is easier to use when cross-cutting narrow boards. Angles cuts and Bevel cuts are much easier to perform.  

Miter Saw Attributes

image of lady running miter saw
  • Bevel Cuts
  • Angle Cuts
  • Limited to cutting narrow boards.
  • Ideal for trim, crown molding, picture frames, flooring, and other narrow boards.
  • Lightweight and easy to transport
  • Easy to use

Table Saw Attributes

image of hands feeding wood into a table saw
  • Angle cuts
  • Limited bevel cut ability with added miter gauge
  • Virtually unlimited ripping capacity and width cutting
  • Ideal for ripping boards but can also do smaller cuts
  • Heavier and more cumbersome to move around
  • Ultimate flexibility in cutting wood
  • Still fairly easy to use

Side Note: sanding and drilling equipment produce fine particles that are harmful to breathe and may cause cancer. Use proper eye, ear and nose protection when performing these tasks. We don’t want anyone getting cancer from their hobby! 

What is the Differences Between a Table Saw and a Miter Saw?

Though both saws use a circular blade to make their cuts, they are often used for very different purposes. Miter saws can be used for angle cuts and straight cuts while table saws are primarily for straight cuts.

The first major difference is the direction of the cut. With a table saw the blade comes up from the bottom.  The teeth of the saw will be spinning towards you and downwards.

As you feed the wood into the saw, the blade does the cutting. As long as you have a good fence on the saw, creating straight cuts is simple.
The miter saw’s blade turns towards the back of the machine, and the blade pivots downwards nicely, making it easy to perform one-handed cuts. As long as the saw is set up correctly, it can create a high volume of precise cuts, making it a workhouse on the job site.
Another difference is how these two saws are mounted.

A table saw is larger and — unless it is portable — it is less likely to be moved about. They normally have a designated place in the shop where they provide a stable cutting base.  

Conversely, a miter saw is smaller, more compact, and more easily moved about to fit the space and to meet the needs of the user. They can be mounted to a benchtop table or a stand, for more stability. However, on the job site, you normally just see them resting on a level, stable surface (like the bed of a pickup truck).  Jobsite tables can work well, also.

This means that it is more cumbersome for something like a flooring project or for a project that requires you to make a large number of small cuts and to cut angles and bevels frequently.   Miter saws can be used for angles and can be adjusted to make any angle or bevel you want as you control where the blade comes down. The only problem is their narrow width of cut. Sliding compound miter saws give you a little more width, but it still doesn’t compare to the unlimited cutting of a table saw. 

A single bevel compound miter saw is the most basic version available and is much more affordable.

What is a Table Saw?

table saw cutting through formica

A table saw is one of the most common power tools out there. It has the blade mounted on the underside of a tabletop with the blade protruding through the top of the table.

The circular saw blade is held in place by what is called an arbor that is driven by an electric motor. This blade can either be directly driven or belt-driven.  
The table surrounding the saw provides a platform to support the item that you are cutting.

The depth of the cut can be adjusted based on how far up or down the blade is. The blade is moved up and down to make the cut either shallower or deeper by exposing more or less of the blade.

Its versatility enables it to be the foundation of most workshops. It is also a great saw for beginners and is perfect for those that may not have a ton of experience with saws and other, more intricate, tools.

It is also ideal for those who need to work with large pieces of material.

They typically either come with their own stand or cabinet and are fairly stationary. There are some lighter-duty, folding models for use at jobsites.

What is a Miter Saw?

Man Sawing Wood with Sliding Compound Miter Saw

A miter saw is a very different type of saw. The saw blade of a circular saw is brought down onto the surface that you are cutting.
These saws are easy to operate and very swift to use. You can usually operate the saw with one hand, so it is important to keep the other hand clear of the blade while performing the cut.

Depending on the angle you need to cut, you will need to adjust the saw. Because a Miter saw typically has more adjustability, you will want to double-check your settings before making the cut.

This type of saw is great for those that have a bit less space to work in and for those jobs where you are typically cross-cutting boards that are less than 12 inches wide. They are especially a favorite for trim workers who need to cut trim and crown molding to the proper angle.

As you can see in the image above, most miter saws have dust collecting features via a port that exits the back. This allows you to plug into your dust management system at a shop or use a special bag for collecting dust and shavings (something our woodworker above should be using).

There are several types. You can buy sliding models that offer wider cuts and either 10-inch or 12-inch blades.

Using A Table Saw

As always, make sure to use the proper eye, nose and ear protection and to read the owner manual.

The first danger comes in as you feed the blade. It is imperative to keep your fingers away from the blade as you push the lumber across. Most people use a small piece of wood as a “pusher” to provide a greater space between their fingers and the spinning blade.

The next major danger comes in the “kickback”. Kickback occurs when the blade binds on the wood and throws it back to the user. It’s a hard habit to form, but the first habit you need to develop is that of standing to the side ass you feed the lumber in. Never ever stand directly in front of the blade.

As always, were protection, including gloves, and never wear loose clothing.

You’ll want to adjust the fence to the correct width to help guide your cut, and then adjust the depth of cut to match the thickness of the material you are cutting. If you need an angle, you can adjust it now, as well.

Always keep it on a solid, stable surface. This is especially important if you are using a portable model.

A fantastic portable option to consider is the Dewalt DWE7491RS. This is a compact option with a 25” capacity and that is going to get the job done right.

Using A Miter Saw

Miter saws still have the spinning blade to be worried about, but I always feel much safer when operating one. You’ll be using it for narrower boards, and the cuts are quick and precise. It takes a little longer to set up a miter saw for the cut, but it’s worth the time investment.

To get started, make sure that it is mounted somewhere securely. A concrete floor is my favorite place to work.

The first thing is to make sure that the angles are set up correctly. Adjusting saws for these cuts is easy. You will likely have some detents at the most common angles that you can quickly set the saw to. If you are doing crosscuts, you will want to double-check that you are set on the correct 0-degree angle.

The bevel also needs to be checked. The bevel is easy to screw up and set at the wrong angle or to leave at a few degrees off-center. Sometimes it is nice to have a bit of scrap wood that you can test the cut on.

You will want to keep your fingers clear of the blade. Since only one hand is used to operate the saw, you need to be conscientious of where your other hand is. If you are cutting a small piece of wood, you might want to use a second piece of wood to hold the first one in place so that your hand stays clear of the blade.

Better miter saws will have clamps that you can use to hold a small piece of wood in place while you perform the cut, ensuring that your hands stay free at all times.

A great option is the Dewalt DWS780 compound miter saw. This is going to be a power saw that is going to adjust and move dependent on the job that you will be doing and that is going to offer you a great deal of power. It also has crosscutting positioning built-in to make it easier to cut wood across the middle.

Miter Saw Recommendation

Dewalt DWS779

The Dewalt DWS779 is one of the best, middle-of-the-road miter saws on the market. There are a lot of features that make this one a top pick for me. 

To begin with, this is a design that Dewalt believes in. They use almost this identical platform on their DWS780 model. (In fact, we’ve done a side-by-side comparison of these two. The only difference – aside from a much higher price tag – is the XPS light that the DWS780 comes with). 

So, with the DWS779, the first benefit is that it has a little larger saw blade. The 12-inch blade is a nice upgrade from the smaller 10-inch blade that most homeowners choose to go with on their first, entry-level purchase. By spending a little more to get a 12-inch blade, you are able to expand the type of cuts you can do. 

Additionally, this one has a sliding mechanism, which allows you to crosscut boards up to 16 inches wide. With this added capability, you will find that you use this much more than you would your table saw for simple board cuts. It is extremely handy to setup right next to your work area and to make those quick cuts and get back to work.

 The safety features are also in the sweet spot. It has an extra button that you need to press before lowering the blade, and the full guard helps to protect your hands when you are moving quickly. While you still want to unplug your power tool when it is not in use, these features do give you added peace of mind if you have kids in the house. 

Finally, it offers all of the cuts a professional would use. This tool is equally at home in the hands of a contractor as it is in the hands of a do it yourself, homeowner. 

You’ll pay a little more for this quality, however, it is an excellent value compared to the rest of the market. 

Table Saw Recommendation

Bosch 4100

The portable table saw market has become extremely competitive. Dewalt, Bosch, Milwaukee Tools and Hitachi (Metabo) are all bringing their best to this niche. Some of the saws are even now cordless, which allows you to power them from a battery pack.

The Bosch is one of my favorites for a few reasons. The first is actually the stand that it comes with. Having lugged a few broken stands around the construction sites before, I’m especially in love with the durable yet light frame, the oversized wheels that makes it easy to roll over the uneven ground of the new house build, and the easy to use collapsing mechanism.

This is also an extremely powerful saw. The 15 amp motor is one of the strongest that you can power from a regular household circuit. If you went with any larger of a motor, you’d have to use specialized 220-volt wiring to power it. Additionally, at 650 RPMs, it is tuned for maximum torque, which comes in handy when you are working with oak and walnut boards. 

This motor also has a soft start feature. This means that it takes a couple of seconds to get the blade up to speed. However, it serves to protect the motor from low-amperage situations. This reduced the number of tripped breakers that you will run into and also protect the lifespan of the motor. 

The safety features are all dialed in as well. With anti-kickback mechanisms and a clear blade guard, you can enjoy added safety while always having a clear view on the task at hand. 

The best part of this saw is how accurate it is out of the box. Many of the cheaper models require you to do a lot of adjusting in order to get a straight cut. This model is almost always ready to go immediately. 

Do They Make A Table Saw/Miter Saw Combo Tool?

For those that do not want to buy two saws, they may be in luck. There were a few brands that were trying to combine the miter and table saw into one device. I don’t think any of them are currently in production but Ryobi, Bosch, and Virutex were all playing with the idea. It seems like there are still a few of them available for sale in Europe


Q: I’m buying a miter saw and a table saw, but only have money for one, which should I buy first?

A: The table saw offers the most versatility. While it is isn’t the fastest for all types of cuts, it is capable of performing every cut you would need. This versatility makes it the best choice as the first saw for most homeowners doing DIY projects.

Q: Are the blades interchangeable?

A: The answer to this question relies really on the saw itself. Both use either 10-inch or 12-inch blades, and they are often interchangeable. For example, you should be able to put a 10-inch miter saw blade on a 10-inch table saw. One thing to be aware of is that miter saws often used a higher tooth count. A 70-tooth blade will cut much more slowly on a table saw and is much better for plywood or thin veneers. Most general-purpose table saw blades are in the 30-40 tooth range.

Q: Which is better for crosscuts?

A: It comes down to the size of the board. You can’t use a miter saw to crosscut a sheet of plywood. But for studs and trim and wood for picture frames, you can’t beat a miter saw for speed and accurate cutting.

Q: Which is better for flooring?

A: Miter saws can do a great deal of work and are great for a wide range of jobs. If you are trying to use it for flooring the real issue is the angle of the cuts you are going to need to make. If you are doing straight-forward cuts that do not require the creation of any miter angles or cutting any corners, you may be able to do the job with a table saw. If you have angles or are cutting the flooring diagonally for a specific pattern, you may want to opt for a miter saw. As a general rule for typical flooring installation, a table saw is going to get the job done just fine. (I just finished a pretty straightforward hardwood install with one.)

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Both saws both offer some great options for woodworking projects.

The table saw is a versatile workhorse. Every shop needs one, and it is the first saw you should buy after a circular saw. There is hardly a job it can’t do.

The miter saw brings those precise miter cuts and easy bevels and angles. It’d be the third saw I’d buy. (Unless I was doing a lot of Demolition work, in which case, I’d make sure to have a reciprocating saw).

And then, as you grow in the craft, it is nice to have a radial arm saw or track saw. But those can wait.

Sites like mine want to sell you one of each. After all, it’s how we make money. But coming from a poor farm family, I’ve done a lot of building with just a circular saw, reciprocating saw and table saw.

But those days working on the miter saw were always my favorite.

About Zachary Drumm

Hey! My name is Zachary Drumm! I have a great passion for blogging and trying new things. This site allows me to try these tools out, piddle around in the garage, and create fresh content for this site. When it comes to tools, home improvement, and being a “shade tree mechanic,” you’ve come to the right spot.