Should I Get a Table Saw or Miter Saw First? Making Hard Choices.


At first glance, table saws and miter saws appear to fulfill very similar functions: both cut straight lines into wood. To an experienced woodworker, however, they are a world apart. But which should you buy first if you are just getting started? 

You should buy a table saw first. Table saws are more versatile and can do most of the things a miter saw can do, but with less accuracy. It does, however, depend on the kind of work you plan to do. If you need to cut precise angles into narrow pieces of wood, a miter saw might be better for you. 

While the differences between table saws and miter saws may at first seem to be small and trivial, when you are working with these tools day in day out, the differences will become clearer and clearer. In this article, we’ll detail those differences to help you decide which type of saw you should buy first. 

What Is a Table Saw?

A table saw is just what it sounds like: a power saw built into a table. They are a staple of any workshop and for a good reason! Table saws have a rip fence that runs parallel to the blade and ensures a clean straight cut by holding the wood in place while you cut. Unlike a miter saw, the blade of a table saw is always in the same place, although the table itself can often be moved to give you a different cutting angle. 

You can choose between a portable table saw and a stationary table saw. The portable variety can do basically everything the stationary saws can do but on a smaller scale. Another drawback of portable table saws is that they vibrate more since they are not held down to the table. This could cause your table saw not to cut straight and excessive noise.

What Is a Miter Saw?

A miter saw is also a staple of any workshop, but for very different reasons. They are a slightly more specialist item and are ideal for cutting precise angles into narrow pieces of wood. Unlike the table saw, the blade moves while the stock stays stationary. With a miter saw, the blade is pulled down onto the wood rather than the wood being pushed into the blade. They are perfect for cutting your wood templates to the correct length. 

Miter saws can make four different kinds of cut: 

  • A crosscut is when you cut straight across the wood, for example, to cut a board clean in half. This is very important at the beginning of a project when your making your wood square
  • A miter cut is when you cut across the board at an angle between 0° and 90°, for example, if you wanted to prepare two boards for mating. 
  • A bevel is when you cut the height of a board at an angle. 
  • A compound cut is a combination of miter and bevel cut. 

Pros and Cons of Each Saw

Ok, now that we have a basic idea of what each saw can do, let’s take a look in more detail at the benefits and drawbacks of each one to find out which is best for your needs. It is worth noting that one is not necessarily better than the other. Rather, each one is better suited to particular jobs. To an extent, then, we are comparing apples and oranges. 

Here are the pros and cons of each type of saw:

Pros of Table Saws

Here are the pros of table saws:

  • Versatile: Table saws can do almost anything miter saws can do, but not the other way around. That makes them perfect for beginners!
  • Unrestricted size of cut: Table saws are not restricted when it comes to the size of cut they can make. That means you can crosscut a whole sheet of plywood!
  • Collect sawdust: While both types can be fitted for sawdust collection bags, table saws are more likely to collect sawdust rather than flinging it back at you while you work. 

Cons of Table Saws

Listed below are the disadvantages of table saws.

  • Imprecise: When it comes to cutting precise angles, the table saw is a little too fixed in place. A miter saw will do a much better job on these kinds of cuts.
  • Immobile: Although you can get mobile varieties, most table saws are extremely large and heavy, and they will be impossible to move around. 
  • Less safe: Table saws require you to push the wood into the blade’s path, making them more challenging to use from a safety perspective. 
  • You need more room: A table saw takes up a lot of real estate in your shop.

Pros of Miter Saws

Here are the advantages of miter saws:

  • Precise: Since the wood is held in place, it is easier to make a precise cut with a miter saw without slipping and making a mistake.
  • Safe: Again, since the wood is held in place, that means your hands do not have to be anywhere near the cutting area, making it safer to use than a table saw. 
  • Portable: While they are pretty large, miter saws are easier to transport than table saws.

Cons of Miter Saws

Listed below are the cons of miter saws.

  • A specialist: As we have mentioned, a miter saw can only do four different cut types, although they do those cuts very well. 
  • The limited size of cut: The size of cut a miter saw can do is limited by the blade’s size, which is generally between 8 and 12 inches. 
  • Messy: Because of the design, miter saws are more likely than table saws to spray the sawdust back at you rather than collecting it. 

Which One Do I Need?

I said right at the start of this piece, you should probably get a table saw first since they are more versatile than the miter, but it is not quite simple. It really depends on the kinds of projects you are looking to do. 

If you want to build large pieces of furniture of various kinds, then a table saw is what you need probably. If you are looking to make small, precise projects like picture frames, then a miter saw will be what you are looking for. 

Many beginners do not yet know what kinds of projects they are interested in making. Since table saws can do basically anything a miter saw can do, although with less accuracy. They are a better all-rounder for someone to use while they work out what kinds of things they like to make. 

For that reason, I will stick by my guns and say that you should probably buy a table saw first when setting up your workshop.

It is worth noting that you do not necessarily need to choose one saw over the other. As we have learned, the two saws are well-suited to particular jobs. If you become serious about woodworking, then it is no harm to have both!

A good beginner portable table saw is a Dewalt with an 8-inch blade(You can check the current price on Amazon here)

Summary

While both table saws and miter saws are essential parts of any advanced workshop, they do similar jobs. Table saws are big and versatile and can make long cuts in large wood pieces like sheets of plywood. Miter saws are a bit more specialized and are perfect for cutting precise angles into small pieces of wood. 

Since table saws are useful in a more diverse range of projects, it is probably better to buy a table saw before a miter saw when setting up your workshop. However, miter saws are better at cutting precise angles, so if that is what you plan on doing, then a miter saw is the way to go. 

Good luck setting up your dream workshop!

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