Miter Saw Vs Circular Saw: A Buyers Guide For Beginners

Miter saws vs circular saws? Can’t decide which tool you need first? Both are great power tools used for remodeling, woodworking and metal projects. In this article, we take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of both, so you can make the right decision for which one to buy first.

Read more tips in our tool guides: 12 Must-Have Tools for Beginning DIYers and 5 Simple Tools to Make The Job Easier.

When you start DIYing, whether you’re building your own furniture or remodeling your home, one of the first big tool purchases you’ll probably want to make is a saw. But should you buy a circular saw or a miter saw to get you started?

This guide will help you decide which saw you should buy first to add to your set of tools, which saw is best to use for which job, and the main differences and benefits between the miter saw and circular saw.

Find out which saw to buy first and the differences between the tools when you have them.

Miter Saw Vs Circular Saw Rectangle 800x800 1

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What is a circular saw?

A circular saw is a handheld power-saw, typically with a 5 1/2″ to 7 1/4″ inch circular blade, used to cut wood, metal, masonry, tile or plastic, depending on your project needs.  This saw will cut material up to 3 inches thick depending on the blade diameter.  They are sold corded and cordless.

There are also mini circular saws (corded and cordless) with blades from 3 3/8″ to 4 1/2″ which can cut material 1 1/2″ to 2″ thick, such as sheets of plywood.  

Circular saws are compact saws, are very portable, and take up less storage space. With a circular saw the saw slides on the material and blade is pushed through the material to cut it. This means you have to be aware of what is below the piece you are cutting.

For this reason, many DIYers use a sheet of foam insulation beneath the material they are cutting — the foam insulation board supports the material while allowing the circular saw blade to cut completely through (and into the foam) without damaging the blade. You can also use scrap 2×4 boards as support — the blade will cut notches in the boards while the boards support the sheet of lumber.

Circular saws are great for rip cuts (cutting across the grain) or straight cuts (cutting with the grain) on plywood or other sheet goods, lumber or moldings.  They are compact and portable allowing you to use anywhere around the job site.  This type of saw is very versatile and a great saw for beginners just starting out and needing a power saw.

A beginner circular saw is typically less expensive than a beginner miter saw, so this can be a great first purchase to get you started when you’re remodeling.

We purchased a circular saw before we purchased a miter saw to use for our remodeling and projects. We used ours a lot for projects like, framing new walls, building cabinets, furniture for around the house, and pergolas and decks in the yard.

Types of Circular Saws

There are two main types of circular saws sold at retail stores. The sidewinder and the worm-drive.  They both have great cutting abilities and benefits.  For the professional there is also a track saw version.

The first saw we purchased is the sidewinder type.   The sidewinder type is most commonly used by home owners. 

Sidewinder Circular Saw 

Typically used by DIYers.

Sidwewinder Circular Saw
  • Motor on the side inline with the rotation of the blade 
  • Blade guard is a safety feature typical on most circular saws
  • Fast spinning blade around 6000 RPM
  • Right handed with motor on the left of the handle 
  • Harder to see the cutline and side of the blade
  • Light weight
  • Compact because the motor is on the side
  • Wide variety of price ranges, from inexpensive light-duty saws to more expensive heavier duty saws

Worm-drive Circular Saws 

Mostly used by professional framers.

  • Motor at the rear of blade on the left, better sightlines for cutting
  • Slower Blade Speed at around 4500 RPM
  • Increased torque – better for harder woods
  • Better sight line to the blade
  • Requires oil for the gears on some models
  • Heavier to handle
  • Longer saw, not as compact
  • Price range is more expensive

Track Saws

Used by advanced DIYers and professionals; this is the type of saw you’ll see at Home Depot or Lowe’s when they cut down sheet lumber for you.

  • Most accurate for long straight cuts
  • Fast spinning blade around 6000 RPM 
  • Slides in a perfectly straight track clamped to the material
  • Best on sheet goods

For similar track saw capability with a regular circular saw, you can add on a circular saw guide track or use this DIY hack to set up your own circular saw guide.

Circular Saw Blade Sizes and Types

Depending on the project there are a variety of blade types and sizes out there.  They have blades just for plywood, ripping lumber, types of wood or specialty blades for metals, plastics and other materials. Below is a list of blades and what they are good for.  Circular saw blades are round and come in various sizes.   

Our favorite saw blade is the Diablo.  It’s made for cutting through wood and nails making it the perfect saw blade for a remodeler.

When choosing circular saw blades you need to know:

  1. what material you will be cutting
  2. how big of a blade your saw can hold
  3. what tooth count you want (AKA: what quality of cut you need)

Below are the three things to consider when picking a saw blade.

Materials to cut

Each circular saw blade will be created and rated for different materials. This is clearly marked on the packaging as well as usually printed directly on the saw blade.

  • Wood: Hardwoods, softwoods, plywood
  • Wood and Metal
  • Metal
  • Aluminum and Plastic
  • Composite Decking
  • Fiber Cement
  • Laminate Flooring

Blade Size

5 1/2 inch to 7 1/4 inch are the most common sizes for the circular saw. There are blades up to 17 inches depending on the saw but they are not as common. The bigger the blade the wider and deeper of a cut you can make. Be sure to check the blade housing and instruction manual of your saw to know what size(s) of blade it can take.

Teeth (aka Quality of the Cut)

The more teeth a blade has, the cleaner the cut.  Depending on the material you are cutting and accuracy of the cut you need you will need to choose based on that. The number of teeth is also often tied to the material you are cutting, so check the packaging on the blade as well as the instruction manual of your saw.

Circular Saw Recommendations


7-1/4-Inch Circular Saw

Budget-friendly, all-around useful corded circular saw.


Cordless Circular Saw

More powerful cordless circular saw.

BEST: DEWALT 20V MAX* 6-1/2-Inch Circular Saw Kit

Powerful, very durable cordless circular saw.

Related accessories, upgrades or add-ons for Circular saws:

What is a miter saw?

 A miter saw has its own sturdy base that it is attached to for more accurate cuts angles and stability. Often they are attached to a bench top or portable stand for ease of use.  Miter saws do take up more storage space because of their shape and size, especially if they come with a stand.  

With a miter saw the material sits on the base plate and the blade is pulled down to cut through the material.

There are single bevel miter saws and double bevel miter saws.  Miter saws are designed to make accurate bevel and miter angled cuts for trim work, moldings, picture frames, framing and other general carpentry projects.

The blade is typically 10 to 12 inches depending on the saw.  The blade and motor move up and down to cut the material at the desired angle.  Depending on the blade you can cut wood, metal and plastics.  Typically the miter saw is used for cross cutting long boards to length.  It’s also known as a chop saw.

Our first miter saw saw in 2003 was a standard single bevel miter saw, meaning that the bevel angle could only be done by the saw rotating down to the left.  When we started working on the trim work of the house we noticed the need for more accurate cuts for our crown molding and trim work, thus the miter saw purchase.

Years later in 2015, we upgraded to a Ridgid double bevel compound sliding miter saw that has been amazing to have.  There is so much more you can do with the sliding miter saw and the double bevel for angled cuts.  It’s my go to saw because it’s plugged in and ready to go at all times.

Do I need a miter saw if I have a circular saw? 

Like mentioned before, it all depends on the type of project you are working on.  Miter saws are best for trim work and circular saws are best for cutting apart sheet goods (plywood etc).  We ended up having both because of the type of projects that come with remodeling rooms in a house can be varied.

For even more detailed and precise cuts on sheet goods or for ripping boards to thinner widths (like cutting our own 2x2s from a 2×4) we also have a table saw that is the star of our amazing table saw workbench.

Is a miter saw better than a circular saw?

Short answer is they are different and accomplish different tasks.

But also in my opinion, yes because I love my miter saw so much.  For all the accurate cuts needed for trim work that we do for our houses it’s my go to saw.  Even though the circular saw is perfect for cutting up sheets goods (which cannot be done on a miter saw at all) and is more portable, we use the miter saw first every time.  For sheet goods we do have a table saw setup for those types of cuts.  So we use the circular saw as our third go to saw.

When picking a miter saw consider the saw stand it comes (or that can be purchased to go with it) because it can add to the portability of the saw and the ease of use, which in turn makes it more useful.

Three Different Types of Miter Saws

There are three main types of miter saws depending on your needs and budget: standard miter saw (or chop saw), compound miter saw, and sliding compound miter saw.

Standard Miter Saw (AKA chop saw)

  • Best for cutting smaller material like 2×4’s and 2×6’s, simple trim work
  • Lower cost
  • More portable and easy to move between job sites
  • Bevel angle only to one side (a true chop saw is only straight 90-degree cuts)
  • Limited width and depth of cut (smaller saw blade means less width for each cut)

Compound Miter Saw

  • Best for crown molding
  • Moderate cost
  • Portable and easy to move; typically heavier than a basic miter saw
  • Miter and bevel angles on left and right
  • Limited width and depth of cut, depending on saw blade size

Sliding Compound Miter Saw

Sliding Double Bevel Compound Miter Saw
  • Best for cutting larger width material like, shelving, bench tops etc; can also do trim work and crown molding
  • Higher cost
  • Not as portable and takes up more room; better for shops
  • Miter and bevel on both sides
  • Can cut larger angles beyond 90 degrees
  • Can be purchased with a stand, or a stand purchased later

Miter Saw Blade Sizes and Types

When choosing miter saw blades you need to know

  1. what material you will be cutting
  2. how big of a blade your saw can hold
  3. the quality of the cut you need (determined by the number of teeth on the blade).

We have had the best results with Diablo blades over the years. They have lasted the longest for us and made the best cuts for our needs.

Below are the three things to consider when picking a saw blade.

Materials to cut

  • Wood: Hardwoods, softwoods, plywood
  • Wood and Metal
  • Metal
  • Aluminum and Plastic
  • Composite Decking
  • Fiber Cement
  • Laminate Flooring

Blade Size

10 inch and 12 inch are the most common sizes for the miter saw. The bigger the blade, the wider and deeper the cuts you can make.

Teeth Count

Blades come with many different teeth counts ranging from 18 teeth to over 100 teeth. Fewer teeth makes for a faster but rougher cut. A higher number of teeth gives you a slower but cleaner cut that will be smoother. Your miter saw blade teeth count will vary depending on the material it’s made for and the accuracy of the cut you need.

Miter Saw Recommendations

GOOD: RYOBI 15 Amp 10 in. Corded Sliding Compound Miter Saw

Ryobi Miter Saws Tss103 64 600

Good value miter saw that can make cuts up to 3.5″ deep and 12″ wide.

BETTER: RIDGID 12 in. Double Bevel Compound Sliding Miter Saw

Ridgid Miter Saws R4222 Ac9946 64 600

Larger miter saw with wheeled portable saw stand.

BEST: JET 12 in. Dual-Bevel Sliding Compound Miter Saw

Jet 12in Dual Bevel Sliding Compound Miter Saw

Very durable, pro-level miter saw at a reasonable price.

Budget miter saw alternatives for small projects

If you don’t own a miter saw and just need to make a few cuts, try these easy options for making angled cuts without a miter saw:

  1. MITER BOX AND HAND SAW: Just a little bit of elbow grease required to cut 90-degree, 45-degree, and 22-1/2 degree angles for trim, picture frames, or other simple projects.
  2. JIG SAW: To get a straight cut with a jigsaw, set up a guide like this. If your jigsaw has an adjustable foot, you can also bevel the cut.
    • Tip: Be sure to check the blade since most jig saw blades are designed to give a clean cut on the bottom of the material instead of the top.

Differences Between the Miter Saw and Circular Saw

Now that you have a good understanding of what each saw is and does, lets compare the two.

And you might also be wondering: how does a table saw compare to a miter saw and circular saw? We’ll talk more about table saws in a different post, but for simplicity: a table saw is basically a stationary circular saw, set in a housing. The blade is adjustable for depth and angle like a circular saw, and the mounting allows for very accurate and very straight cross cuts and rip cuts.

FEATUREMiter SawCircular Saw
Blade CuttingBlade pulled down into materialBlade pushed through material
Cut AccuracyMore accurate cutsLess accurate cuts depending if a fence is used or not 
SizeLarger to store and useMore compact to store and move around
PortabilityTypically fixed on counter top or standHandheld and more portable
VersatilityLess versatile but more accurateMore versatile but less accurate
WeightHeavierLighter weight
Power RPM3200 to 4500 RPM4,000 and 5,000 RPM
AmpsBetween 10 and 15 AmpsBetween 10 and 15 Amps
CostCosts more ($100 +)Costs less ($30 +)
SafetySafer to use because its more stationary and has blade coversRequires more focus and area while cutting
Ease of UseEasier to have setup and ready to useNeeds additional setup for straight cuts

How much should I spend on a miter saw or circular saw?

In this Remodelaholic’s opinion: if it’s in your budget, spend more for a higher-quality tool.

Let me tell you why.

We first started remodeling houses in 2002. One of the first power tools we purchased was a corded Craftsman circular saw. We needed a powerful tool to cut out and replace old floor boards in the entry way of our 1905 house.  It was the perfect tool for the job because I was able to safely plunge cut the blade right where I wanted it in to the wood planks to replace the floor boards. 

That circular saw wasn’t the least expensive option, but it wasn’t the most expensive either. It did the job we needed then, and it’s done many other projects in the last 20 years because we STILL have it and use it regularly!

Buying a quality tool will save money over time. More expensive tools last longer, typically need fewer repairs, and are generally easier to use and maintain (which makes you more likely to use them and grow your skills)

If you really need a budget option, Harbor Freight has solid budget-friendly tools, and Ryobi has affordable tools that are great for a beginner.

If you can afford it *and* if you’ll be using it for multiple projects, more expensive saws (like Dewalt, Ridgid, Jet, Bosch, and Milwaukee) are definitely worth the extra initial expense.

Different Types of Cuts and the Best Saw for the Cut

What type of DIY projects are you working on or planning to work on?

Are you going to be doing some DIY remodeling projects in your home? If you are planning on making cuts that are precise for trim molding versus rough cutting plywood sheets to size for woodworking projects, you will need different tools. This article will help you decide on the type of saw you would need to get first.

Cut Types Diagram With Text

Cross Cuts

Cross cuts are made by cutting with the saw blade 90 degree to the face of the wood and perpendicular to the length of the material along the edge, against the grain of the wood.

With the help of a clamping straight edge guide, longer crosscuts can be made on sheet goods.

BEST CUT BY: miter saw for short cuts, circular saw with edge guide (or a table saw) for wider cuts

PROJECT IDEA: Build this entire modern console table (at any length you want) or a tall shoe cubby shelf using only easy straight cross cuts.

Miter Cuts

Miter cuts are angled cuts made across the face or width of the material.

BEST CUT BY: miter saw

PROJECT IDEA: Build a simple entry bench, a wood hexagon serving tray or a set of easy triangle tree ornament displays using cross cuts and angled miter cuts.


Yes! A circular saw can make angled cuts (miter cuts) across the face or width of the material. If the blade is adjustable, it can also make bevel cuts and compound cuts.

However it is more accurate to use a miter saw for miter cuts (and bevel and compound cuts). A circular saw can cut miters when using a steady hand and a carpenters square or for a beginner a jig can be clamped down as a guide.

Also with the right kind of miter box or a cross cut station you can use your circular saw as a very basic miter saw to make your cuts more precise.

Bevel Cuts

A bevel cut is an angled cut made through the thickness of the material.

BEST CUT BY: miter saw

PROJECT IDEA: Get the beautiful waterfall leg style on our outdoor coffee table with drink trough by making a beveled cut on the corner pieces.

Compound Cuts

Compound miter angles are both a bevel cut and a miter cut at the same time.  

BEST CUT BY: miter saw for best accuracy and safety

PROJECT IDEA: Build a cedar monogram planter box for porch flowers — we’ve done all the angle math for you 🙂

45-degree Angle Cut

A 45-degree angled cut is a specific type of miter cut, always used for making rectangular or square picture frames. It can be cut with both a circular saw and a miter saw, but is most accurately done with a miter saw.

BEST CUT BY: miter saw

PROJECT IDEA: Build an large picture frame or a set of reader-favorite scrap wood herringbone trees for the porch.

Rip Cuts

Circular Saw Rip Cut

Rip cuts are made by cutting along the length of material with the grain. Rip cuts are typically longer cuts along the full length of a board or a sheet of lumber.

BEST CUT BY: circular saw 

Note: Some miter saws can rotate to make rip cuts. My father-in-law had a compound sliding miter saw that would rotate 90 degrees to allow for making rip cuts.  That was a very handy saw for a small workshop.

PROJECT IDEA: Build a toy cubby storage shelf from just one sheet of plywood, ripped to widths and cross-cut.

Plunge Cuts

Plunge cuts are done by carefully plunging the rotating blade in the the material pivoting the saw down while resting the front of the saw base against the material.  Circular saws work best for these types of cuts.  This is the type of cut I used on the floor boards I mentioned above.

BEST CUT BY: circular saw

Circular Saw Plunge Cut

Cut Types and Saw Comparison Table

CUT TYPESMiter SawCircular Saw
Rip CutsIf saw rotates 90 degrees, not typicalBest for rip cuts
Bevel CutsBestNot as easy, but capable
Miter CutsYesYes
Cross CutsLimited to narrower materialBest for wider material and longer cuts
45-degree angle cutMost AccurateCan be done
Compound Miter AnglesBest for accurate compound cutsLeast Accurate, may require box or jig
Plunge cutsLimited to narrower material
often 10″-12″ goods
Best for any width of material

BONUS: A circular saw can also be used in place of a table saw to cut a half lap joint, like in our popular farmhouse X end table plans, where half of the width of each board is removed to create a tight cross-joint.


The first saw we purchased was a circular saw, then a miter saw.  Depending on you project needs, we hope that this helped you with your decision of which one to get first.  I do recommend to have both for sure in your tool box.

Project Ideas

Now that you’ve chosen your saw (or decided to get both!) — let’s get building with these woodworking plans:

Miter Saw Vs Circular Saw Rectangle 1000x1500 1
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I am the husband of the amazing Cassity of Remodelaholic. I love to problem solve and to design and build things inside and outside the house to make life better. I am a professional Landscape Architect by trade and love the outdoors.

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