9 Best Chop Saws | March 2017
- on-board wheel change wrench
- quick-lock vise for fast clamping
- bogs down while cutting steel plates
- produces very few sparks
- good for 90-degree chops
- makes jagged cuts if you go too fast
- great for cutting aluminum
- very little vibration
- socket wrench stores on base
- compact and portable
- compression spring for easy movement
- hard to trip breaker
- blade cuts instead of grinding
- comes with goggles and ear plugs
- smooth-starting motor
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- tool-free fence for quick adjustment
- heavy-duty aluminum base
- lock-off button for improved safety
A Cut Above: Choosing A Fine Chop Saw
You will find a chop saw (or two or five) on almost every construction site around the world, whether the team is working on building or renovating a house, a department store, or a skyscraper. Chop saws are also ubiquitous in the garage or tool shed of any Do It Yourself enthusiast who takes pride and pleasure in his or her ability to handle many home repair and maintenance tasks without then need for a professional.
If you only need a saw for chopping lumber down to smaller sizes, such as might be merited by preparing sections of hardwood flooring or decking material, then a basic chop saw that only allows for straight, ninety degree cuts is a fine choice. You can get a decent chop saw that's lightweight enough for relative portability but potent enough to chop through hardwoods for less than a hundred dollars.
On the other hand, you can acquire a top quality chop saw for closer to fifteen hundred dollars. The massive price disparity is explained by myriad factors. The most obvious attribute you can expect from a more expensive chop saw are an adjustable blade angle (though you need only spend a few hundred dollars for this). A compound chop saw is one that can have its blade turned to create cuts at various angles. These generally range from angles as acute as five degrees all the way to cuts at ninety degrees, aka a right angle. (By flipping the wood over, an acute angle can of course also be considered an obtuse cut.)
As you edge up the price scale, you'll find chop saws that not only create compound cuts, but that also tilt their blade on its axis to cut at an angle along the axis of a board, creating miter cuts with ease -- see below for more on this important technique.
Consider next the finesse afforded an operator by variable speed control. Lower priced saws tend to revolve at one fixed speed, reducing the opportunity for fine control. Some of the pricier varieties offer revolution per minute speed settings between 1,400 RPM and speeds as fast as 3,400 RPM.
While many people think power saws are only suitable for cutting through wood, in fact they can be used to cut through anything from metal pipes to PVC plastic tubing to brick, concrete, and more. However, before cutting through many such materials, you might need to switch out the standard blade of your chop saw with a cutting disc that was purpose built for a given material. For example, a grinding disc, often referred to as a cutoff wheel, can be installed in your chop saw and is used to cut its way through metals from copper to iron to steel. (Never try to cut metal using a blade intended for wood -- it will ruin the blade, cause dangerous sparks and debris, and will be woefully ineffective.)
Power Saw Safety Basics
Before you even plug in a chop saw, make sure you know exactly how to use the tool. Take the time to practice adjusting its varied knobs and locks that control the motion of the blade, the compound angle settings, and so forth. Ensure that the dust cover is in place and that the fence and gate area are clean of sawdust and debris.
Before you begin to operate your power saw, put on a pair of work gloves, protective eyewear, and consider a mask to cover your mouth and nose and ear muffs or ear plugs to protect your hearing. The more you will be using the saw, the greater the importance of these latter two items.
When using the saw, keep your eyes on the tool at all times and keep one hand firmly on the trigger and grip, the other holding the wood being cut firmly in place. Kickbacks are uncommon with these saws, so user carelessness is the greatest cause of accidental injury.
A Few Words On Cuts Of Wood
You don't have to be an expert carpenter to get good use out of a good chop saw. These tools are as suitable for shortening lengths of wood you want to burn in the fireplace or shaving a bit of height off of a mismatched table leg as they are for helping you make perfect miter cuts for joining those sections of quarter sawn oak.
Even if you have no aspirations of achieving a master's touch in carpentry, though, it can still be beneficial to learn a few of the proper terms most commonly used to discuss the cuts made with chop saws.
But starting off with the saw itself, a chop saw is in fact properly called a miter saw and is designed primarily to cut across the grain of a piece of wood instead of cutting along its grain. (This is called a rip cut and is usually performed with a table saw -- think of the process of cutting a large piece of plywood into narrower boards for an example.) The word "miter" itself refers to the angular (also known as bevel) cut made primarily prior to the joining of two pieces of lumber. The most common example of a miter joint are the two 45 degree angle cuts that bring parts of a picture frame or door or window frame together.
The most common types of mill cuts you will find in wood intended for use in furniture, decorative shelving, or visible structure work are boards that have been plain sawn, quarter sawn, or rift sawn. The first cut refers to a section of lumber (a tree trunk, e.g.) that has been cut into as many boards as could be sourced from the wood in a series of parallel cuts all the way through the lumber.
Quarter sawn wood refers to a section of trunk first cut into four equal quarters which are then but into a a series of boards of varied size, each with plenty of the tree's rings exposed, creating a lovely surface to the wood. Finally the rift cut is the rarest and most expensive cut, as it wastes much of the wood. A rift cut piece of lumber is made by cuts that are all perpendicular to the trunk's core, with wedge shaped sections of wood between each mill cut discarded.