For anyone with a pile of trim work staring them in the face, a miter saw is indispensable. Any miter saw will allow you to cut angles and bevels in a fraction of the time it would take you to do it with any other kind of saw set-up you rigged. The decision to buy a miter saw is a no-brainer, but now you have to decide if you need or want a sliding miter saw.
When deciding on any tool, the first question you should ask yourself is – what do I want it to do for me? Once you are clear on that, you can compare what you want with what each tool provides. Here’s a quick run-down on what the sliding and non-sliding miter saws can and can’t do for you.
A non-sliding compound miter saw will give you four basic cuts: cross cut, angle, bevel, and compound. If you install loads of baseboards, crown moldings, or door and window trim, or if you make a lot of frames, a compound non-sliding miter saw is going to help you get the job done quickly.
Depending on the size of your saw blade, the widest wood you can run through a non-sliding compound miter saw is about 6 inches. Since standard-sized trim boards are about 4 inches wide, this saw has got you covered.
So why does anyone have a sliding style? Nowadays, many higher-end homes include massive crown moldings, and some historical renovations (and imitations) demand oversized baseboards as well. These boards will be well over 6 inches wide – sometimes as wide as 12 inches. You will be able to cut them on a non-sliding saw, but you will have to cut it twice – cut, flip it over, cut a second time to meet the first cut. Doing this occasionally isn’t all that time-consuming, but if you are doing this kind of work all the time, you’ll want a sliding saw.
The sliding saw can extend its reach out to 12 or even 16 inches, more than twice the width of a non-slider. If you’re routinely working with boards this wide, you will thank yourself every day for buying the sliding miter saw. And since you’re only cutting once, all your cuts will be cleaner and more precise.
With that extra capacity comes a few trade-offs. (Just like real life!)
Sliders are bigger and heavier. Can you carry them around at a job site? Yes, but they stretch the limits of the word “portable.” Many of them are stand models that take up a lot of room in your shop, room you might not have or want to devote to a tool that only does one or two things.
Because the saw head slides out on rails, it can’t offer the arc range a non-slider can – the head bumps into the rails. If you want to cut extreme angles, a slider isn’t the best choice.
And it will come as no surprise that a sliding miter saw will almost certainly cost more than a non-sliding one. It’s got more moving parts, it’s heavier, and it’s specialized for one task.
What do you need your miter saw to do for you? If you are expecting to cut wide trim boards on a regular basis, and you’ve got the extra cash, go ahead and pay a little more to get the sliding miter saw. It will be worth every penny in time saved flipping your boards back and forth. But if those wide boards seldom find their way into your hands, there’s no reason to invest in the slider – you’d be paying a premium for a capability you don’t need. Better to save the difference and put it towards your next tool purchase!