Table saw vs miter saw: What’s the difference?

miter saw vs table saw
The right angles on the small boards were cut with a miter saw, and the workbench top was cut with a table saw many, many years ago. The different cuts, much like the wood stains, are in stark contrast.

I use to cut small boards for my projects with a hacksaw and a miter box. I had the large sheets cut at the home center before buying them. Efficient? Hardly. Did it work? Most of the time. But, now my projects require an upgrade in tools.

In this article, I compare and contrast the differences of a table saw vs a miter saw.

The gist of why to choose a miter saw over a table saw (or vice-versa) follows:

A table saw rips long, large boards with ease. A miter saw excels at cutting angles on small boards. However, a table saw can be used with a miter gauge, which allows it to cut angles, but a miter saw will never be able to cut long, large boards.

(Find the best deals on miter and table saws on Amazon.)

Comparison: miter saw versus table saw

Safety: Saw injuries are usually serious injuries. Miter saws are safer. Most have automatic brakes that stop the blade quickly when you release the trigger. Most table saws, especially cheaper ones, don’t have this feature.

Guards: Miter saws usually have a built-in guard shielding you from the blade. Table saw guards are not as effective, since one hand or both have to reach past the blade if you are not using a pushblock.

For work where a flip-down guard gets in the way, you might want to consider using a miter saw.

Kick back: Table saws can kick loose material right back at you, such as knots or hidden chips.

Larger pieces of wood can come right out of your hands if you aren’t prepared.

Table-saw blades rotate toward you, whereas miter saws rotate away from you, so you rarely have this problem with a miter saw.

Angles: Miter saws are designed for cutting angles, and nothing does it better or easier.

There are built in presets that you can move to in either direction for cuts up to 50 degrees off center.

A table saw can be used a good miter gauge to get the same results as a miter saw. But, a table saw and miter gauge are are little more difficult to use and more error-prone, especially the cheap versions, while cutting angles.

Sheets: Table saws are the best solution to cut long boards or 4×8′ sheets. Like any tool, it does take a little help and practice at first.

Miter saws are meant for small work and single boards, often 6″ or less. A sliding miter saw can extend this to 12″ to 15″, but many projects require cutting larger sheets or panels where a miter saw is useless.

Cutting to width: Nothing rips a board lengthwise like a table saw.

Miter saws can’t rip lumber to width, and hand saws are impossible to get the job done accurately. Miter saws only cut at right angles to the length of the board.

Trim: The miter saw is the perfect tool for cutting trim.

It’s quick, and easy to adjust to any angle. It’s portable, so that it can be carried where needed by one person, and rest on any table top or bench.

Whereas a larger table saw requires two or more people to move as well as ample floor space and a miter gauge, which can be a pain.

Joinery: Table saws are better for cutting joinery than a miter saws. They can also be equipped with blades for cutting channels, tenons, and so forth, and the saw cut depth easily adjusted.

Miter saws typically come with a standard saw blade, and in any case are harder to manipulate for anything other than narrow cross cuts.

If use a pocket hole jig and screws to join boards, you won’t need to cut channels or tenons or any fancy joinery cuts.

Tilt: Bevel cuts are a common requirement in woodworking and construction projects.

The ability to title the blade to any cutting angle is best done with a table saw. A basic miter saw cuts straight down at a 90-degree angle.

Budget: While it’s unfair to compare the capabilities of a $900 table saw versus a miter saw costing $100, a miter saw is generally much cheaper.

If you are going to be primarily cross-cutting single boards, save the strain on your back and your wallet and get a miter saw instead of investing in a table saw. Get the home center or lumbar yard to rip the long, sheet boards for you.

Versatility: Most shops do the vast majority of their cutting on a table saw, where the type, depth, angle, and bevel of the cut can all be adjusted accurately.

A good saw is indispensable for cutting longer lengths, and there are plenty of table saw accessories for various tasks.

But, changing blades, moving fences, etc. can be an extra hassle and time-consuming. Nothing beats a good miter saw on a job site or at the shop where a lot of angled cross-cutting has to be done to make pieces fit.

I hope this helps with the debate about the table saw vs miter saw.

(Find the best deals on miter and table saws on Amazon.)