The first real dedicated workshop machinery was called a Radial Arm Saw, and many are still around today and I believe you can even by the larger industrial ones to this day. The radial arm saws worked fairly well, their only real problem was the number of digits they claimed ... that's digits as is fingers. Yes they were pretty unsafe despite efforts to make them safer, but their real safety issue was "walking" that's when the blade catches the wood and "walks" toward the operator, which of course happens in a millisecond and if you happen to be holding the board in the path of the blade, you will get hurt. There is no way you can hold back that mechanism. I owned and operated one of these saw for many year and treated it like it was out to get me, which it never did. Then one day it died and it gave me an excuse to finally go out a purchase a nice sliding mitre saw.
In truth I had been looking at them for a whiles, so when the time came to get one, I only had to select a current model and the dealer I was going to purchase it from.
I had agonized for months about whether or not to get a 12" or a 10" sliding mitre. And then along came the reticulated models and it was an even harder choice to make because they took up less space in my rather small workshop ...
I loved the fact that the 12" models could cut wider boards, and thicker boards too, but thickness is not usually an issue for a woodworker. If I was a carpenter and cutting thick beams, I would certainly re-consider a 12" model.
In the end, the deal maker for me was that I could use all my 10" table saw blades on a 10" sliding mitre. For some people this is not an issue, for me it was. The variety of 10" saw blades is huge compared to 12" blades, and the 12" blades, feature for feature are considerably more. Yes you can purchase cheap 12" blades, but do you want to do that? Remember this is a 12" blade, any bit of deflection either by a blade that is not perfect, or from operator use means you are not going to get a perfect cut. If you are only cutting fence posts, it doesn't matter, but if you are cutting and matching furniture piece it does matter ... a lot. Which is another reason I decided on 10", I felt that they were a tiny bit more stable, being that they are less in diameter.
the good thing with sliding mitres is that compared to the old radial arm saws, they are much safer, but as with any woodworking tool you still need to treat it with utmost respect and adhere to all the safety rules.
With any new piece of equipment the first thing you need to do is check it to see if it is set up properly. In most case probably 95% of the cutting you will do will be simply 90 degree cuts, so your blade and your fence need to be absolutely aligned and this needs to be checked right out of the box.
Sadly, most sliding mitres come with what I would call a pretty crappy blade, and the reason for this is the manufacturers have no idea what you will be doing with the saw, so most just put any old blade on. Now, again, if you are only cutting fence posts, these blades are probably fine, but if you are cutting wood for fine furniture, the first thing you will need to do is to purchase a good quality blade.
All sliding mitre saws, both 10 and 12 inch have the ability to cut angles, or mitre, which of course is why they are called that. The mechanism to set these depends on the manufacturer and model so check your manual. The other thing that many of these saws will do is to cut angles as well. Cutting angles is great if you are installing cove ceilings. You will need both the mitre and the angle in order to make many of the corner cuts. For fine furniture make ... well, you might use these features ... rarely, but they are nice to have when you need them.
When using a sliding mitre it is imperative that the wood be up against the fence and be held securely, many saws have clamping devices that make them even safer to use. The main thing to remember when cutting wood on a mitre saw, or chop saw is to bring the saw into the wood at a slower pace. Do NOT bang or drive the blade into the wood. What can and does happen from time to time when blades are hammered at boards is, damage to teeth. What happens when the blade is banged too hard at the wood a small carbide piece can get knocked off, that will often then be driven into the tooth behind, breaking or bending it, then the ones behind that creating a cascading damage effect on the blade and rendering it useless as a cutting blade.
The final think to remember when cutting wood is to allow the blade to stop at the end of the cut before releasing it to the upright position. If you release it while the blade is still spinning there is very often kick-out, especially from the unsupported side of the wood being cut. And when you are cutting small piece be extra careful, small piece are easily the most dangerous to work with on any tool.
It is best to only cut planed and jointed wood on any cross cutting saw, even a sliding mitre. This will ensure the safest cuts for the operator, and will give you the best pieces to work with your woodwork assembly projects.
Copyright - Colin Knecht