Set Up Your Miter Saw for Perfect Cuts

Setting up a miter sawIf you’ve got a miter saw in your shop you probably rely on it for perfectly square cuts, and maybe for cutting angles, too. Follow these simple set up tips to tune up your saw so it’s singing an accurate song.

It’s important to know, conclusively, that when you’re shooting for a 90-degree cut you’re going to get a precise 90-degree cut. While many woodworkers set up their saw by positioning a square between the blade and fence, I prefer to check the set up by making a cut. I don’t want to know if the saw is set at 90-degrees when it’s sitting still. I want to know if it’s precise when it’s cutting wood.

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Setting up a miter saw

Prepare Test Stock

Get two boards ready. You need one perfectly straight edge on each board. The best way to ensure that is by jointing the edge. The wider the boards, the better. Your test will be more accurate if you cut boards that are close to the maximum width your saw will cut.

Make A Cut

With the jointed edges against the fence make a cut. It’s OK to cut both boards at the same time. But get in the habit of helping the saw make a good cut. It’s best if you set up the cut so that the blade has material on both sides, rather than just skinning the end grain. If you merely skin the end grain the blade can deflect away from it, adversely affecting the cut. If there’s material on both sides of the blade you won’t get deflection, and the cut will be straighter.

Setting up a miter saw

Check The Cut

Place the jointed edges on a flat surface and position the cut ends against each other. Check for gaps. These boards show a gap at the top of the cut, so the saw can’t be cutting at 90-degrees. Since both boards were cut the gap amplifies the error. The size of the gap is twice the amount your saw is off. One of the things I like about this approach is that it makes small errors look big, allowing you to really dial in the accuracy. Check your owner’s manual and adjust your saw as needed. Make another test cut.

Setting up a miter saw

What You’re After

You’re done when the cut edges touch uniformly across the width of the board.

Setting up a miter saw

Check The Bevel

If you have a compound miter saw you also need to make sure the saw cuts a perfect 90-degrees perpendicular to the table. With jointed edges down on the table cut two boards. Again use material that’s close the max your saw will cut. Check the cut ends the same way you did on the previous step, and adjust the bevel angle until it’s perfect.

Setting up a miter saw

Perfect Miters

OK, second verse, same as the first. With jointed edges against the fence and the saw set to 45-degrees, cut through two boards.

Setting up a miter saw

Check The Angle

Hold the miter closed and position a square in the inside corner. If the edges of the square are in full contact with the material, you’re good to go. If you see gaps, you need to correct the angle of the cut.

Setting up a miter saw

Make A Line-Of-Cut Fence

You’re gonna love this. Make it easier to accurately position your material on the saw by adding a line-of-cut fence. This consists of a sacrificial fence you fasten to the miter saw fence. There are typically holes in the saw fence you can run screws through, into your sacrificial fence. Mine is made out of melamine. The ruler between the sacrificial fence and the saw table provides a small gap under the fence that gives sawdust a place to go so it doesn’t build up in the corner.

Setting up a miter saw

Make The Line-Of-Cut

After the fence is screwed on, cut through it.

Setting up a miter saw

Using the Line-Of-Cut

You’ve now made it very easy to accurately position material on the saw. Mark your material with a lay out line that’s near the edge, and position the line on the kerf you created in the fence.The edge of the kerf precisely indicates the line of cut of the saw blade. Works great!

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33 Responses to “Set Up Your Miter Saw for Perfect Cuts”
  1. Steve Gronsky

    George, I see that all the comments on this section are some 4 years old. I recently watched several of your videos where you employ the “sacrificial fence” on the miter saw. I have added one to mine. Since doing so my dust collection, which was attached to a shop vac, is almost useless. The kerf in the fence doesn’t allow much of the sawdust to go through. Have you a suggestion? A reply to my e-mail would likely be best. It is Umpire dot 20@gmail dot com

  2. Jenifer

    I have that same mitre saw and do love it with the laser. I have used it on many projects and my only complaint is being able to only cut 6″ wide boards. I am currently converting a 4′ wide closet in my mudroom to an open locker type with hooks and a bench. I have my hooks on a 1 x 8 board and I cut it on the mitre but had to flip it to cut the rest of the board and try to line things up. No fun! I too would like a sliding blade and may end up selling this one for one like that. They are a fun tool and essential for these types of jobs. Your condo is totally amazing! And I love that you do it all alone like I do. It’s amazing what we women can accomplish if we want to! Where there’s a will, there’s a way! Keep the inspiration coming! Videos would be helpful. Happy building!

  3. Jenifer

    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!

  4. Lawrence

    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.

  5. Shannon A. Lujan

    Thanks for sharing your experience. I’m a beginner in wooworking and the first tools I bought is miter saw. And it is quite helpful. But I have trouble choosing the right blade for my miter saw. Do you have any experience in choosing the blade?

    • WWGOA Team

      There are lots of good choices out there for miter saws these days, and it’s hard to suggest a specific one. Here are a few vendors that I’d suggest including in your list:
      – Bosch- Hitachi- DeWalt
      Depending on your price range, you might take a look at the FesTool Kapex as well. It’s spendy, but very sweet.

  6. John

    Thank you for the tips, I’m making my grandson a fire engine bunk bed and need accuracy.

  7. Rick Gillies

    These are excellent ways to test your saw. The line of cut idea is great. Just like a table saw sled.

  8. Gill Patrick

    Have a small wood shop in my garage . Enjoy making dif. Projects. Retired tradesman.

  9. greg

    wouldn’t a square against the base and on the blade be good enough ?

    • Customer Service

      Hi Greg. That can be considered “good enough” for many cuts. The approach that is detailed here will let you take your saw to a new level of accuracy.

  10. Adam smith

    thanks for really useful tips. Very clear explanations and good photos to illustrate your instructions. I am going to have a go at building miter saw stand. That way I will make much more use of my saw.

  11. Jim Gagnard

    Great calibration steps. I wish that I had read it before I cut 16 45 degree miters for two 6-foot by 3-foot standing mirrors. Also, you should give the reader an option to print the article. Thanks.

  12. David Buller

    This is the first of your ‘tips’ that I’ve read. All the material can be found in any chop saw owners manual. It is very rudimentary. I won’t waste my time looking and any more.

  13. Kathleen B. Rousey

    Great Article, one thing I would add is to make a zero clearance insert for your miter saw. This helps reduce tear out and if you are like me and mainly use your saw primarily with no angle the insert will last a while. However, they are easy to make so if you need an angled cut and the gap gets larger it is easy to replace.

  14. Paul S.

    adding that line of cut fence to enable an accurate line of cut is cool and more importantly be very useful

  15. mr sparky

    Got a garage workshop or can’t fit a shop vacuum, but still need to clear sawdust? Easy, just use a leafblower on the floor and a paddling pool/balloon pump on the saw.