Sliding miter saws are more versatile, but they're expensive
and bulky. If you can get by without the wide horizontal
cutting capacity afforded by a slider, a 12-inch chop saw can
save you a pile of money — and maybe even a few visits to
For this review I rounded up professional-grade offerings from
all the major power-tool manufacturers: single- and dual-bevel
models from Bosch, DeWalt, and Hitachi; and single-bevel tools
from Makita and Ridgid (which don't currently make dual-bevel
models). After using these eight saws for many dusty hours, I
learned a lot about what traits they share and — more
important — which differences really matter.
Bosch 3912 DeWalt DW715
Hitachi C12FCH Makita LS1221
Ridgid MS1250LZ1Bosch 4212L
DeWalt DW716Hitachi C12LDH
Generally speaking, a single-bevel chop saw is lighter,
cheaper, and simpler than its flip-flopping cousin. And it just
might be all you really need: Because the vertical capacity
afforded by the 12-inch blade makes it possible to miter-cut
all but the largest trim pieces, many users find that they
rarely use the bevel-cutting feature at all.
But if you've had to do a lot of beveling with a single-bevel
saw, you've undoubtedly performed feats of gymnastics (mental
and physical) to properly orient the cut. A dual-bevel saw
won't solve all your setup problems, but more cuts in the
proper orientation means fewer mistakes and faster work.
The ability to bevel both ways will set you back an additional
$60 to $130. Depending on the brand you choose, the extra money
may also get you some upgraded features that you won't find on
a single-bevel tool.
Cutting capacity. With material lying flat on the
table, all of these saws can miter a 2x6 and crosscut a 2x8.
The DeWalt DW716 can actually crosscut a 2x10 in one pass,
although the setup process (removing the adjustable fences and
placing a spacer on the table) is cumbersome.
Real differences between the tools become apparent when molding
is cut standing on edge against the fence. In this regard, the
DeWalt saws stand out from the pack: Both can miter 6 1/2-inch
baseboard, and the dual-bevel DW716 can tackle 6 5/8-inch-wide
crown. Maximum acceptable crown widths (assuming a 38-degree
spring angle) for the other tools ranged from about 5 1/2 to 6
1/2 inches, while maximum heights for 3/4-inch-thick baseboard
varied from 4 3/8 to 5 1/2 inches. I was disappointed to
discover that many of these tools were incapable of mitering a
Portability. For lugging the machines from the truck
to the job site, each has a single grip on its backbone and
hand-sized cutouts at both ends of its base. Smart features
like these make the 36-pound Makita a joy to carry, and the
55-pound Bosch 4212L at least bearable.
Controls. While all tables and saw heads moved
smoothly and locked securely, some controls were easier to use
The two DeWalt models have the best miter lock of the bunch;
their cam-style lever is faster and easier to use than the
screw knobs that are on the other machines (see Figure
Figure 1. DeWalt's fast-acting cam-lock
miter handle (top left) proved superior to the screw-in knobs
on the other machines. Among bevel controls, the front-mounted
lever on the Bosch 4212L was the easiest to operate (top
right), and the fine adjustment knob found on both Hitachi
models made dialing in the exact setting particularly easy
(bottom). The small black (right-mounted) switch on the DeWalt
and the red (center-mounted) switch on the Bosch let users
override the detent functions.
Two bevel features are noteworthy. The Bosch 4212L has a
front-mounted bevel control that lets users lock and unlock the
saw head and override the zero stop without reaching around the
tool. And both Hitachi saws sport fine-adjustment knobs that
make it easy to tweak the bevel angle without wrestling against
the weight of the saw head.
I didn't like the left-hand thread on Hitachi's bevel lock
lever, but I got used to it.
Detents and overrides. Some of these saws have as many
as 11 detents on the miter scale; none have less than nine.
Although handy when you need them, these features can be a real
pain when you're trying to set a precise angle that's just on
the edge of one of the slots. The Bosch and DeWalt saws
eliminate this annoyance with an override that prevents the
detent clip from engaging. Both systems worked flawlessly,
making me wish every saw were so equipped.
For cutting commonly produced crowns on the flat, all the saws
include miter detents at 31.6 degrees, and all but the Hitachi
and Makita tools include bevel stops at 33.9 degrees. (The
Hitachi C12LDH does have a digital angle scale, though, so
setting the precise bevel is not a problem; for more on this
perk, keep reading).
Scales. On all these tools, the miter scales are
large, crisp, and easy to read. Not surprisingly, the bevel
scales are tiny, fuzzy, and virtually incomprehensible.
Relatively speaking, the large bevel scale on the Bosch 4212L
is the best of a bad lot, but I much preferred the innovative,
up-front LCD scale on the Hitachi C12LDH. With its clear,
sunlight-readable digital display of the saw's settings, I
relied on it exclusively when adjusting bevel angles (Figure
Figure 2. The Hitachi C12LDH's dig-ital
display made it easy to adjust angle settings, especially when
Fences. A good fence should be tall and square to the
table. All but one of the tested brands fashion the left and
right fences from a single block of aluminum, which prevents
misalignment. The Hitachi tools, however, feature two separate
fences that must be checked with a straightedge during the
initial saw setup. During my test, one pair of Hitachi fences
was spot-on, but the other required minor adjustment.
To make way for bevel cuts, five of the saws use sliding
fences, which shift horizontally after a knob or lever is
loosened. My favorite of these gizmos is the Bosch 4212L fence;
its tall, flat faces moved easily and provided exceptional
support for the work.
Instead of a sliding fence, the models from Hitachi and Makita
use an inner flip fence that swings upward and out of the way
to allow for bevel cutting (Figure 3). These devices were quick
and easy to adjust, but their irregular profiles (whether
raised or lowered) made it difficult to position and secure the
Figure 3. To make room for bevel cuts,
models from Makita (top left) and Hitachi (top right) are
equipped with auxiliary fences that instantly flip out of the
way; other makers' fences must be unfastened and slid away from
the blade. Although convenient, two of the three flip fences
tested were improperly aligned. The left fence on the Hitachi
C12LDH was out of square by a full 3/16 inch
I'm sure I could get used to this arrangement, though; what
troubled me more was that two of the three flip fences I tested
were out of square: The top of the Makita flip fence leaned
forward from plumb, and the left fence on the Hitachi C12LDH
tilted forward an unacceptable 3/16 inch. In the past I've used
chop saws from both manufacturers with dead-on flip fences, so
I don't assume these problems are widespread — but if
you're considering buying one of these models, I'd recommend
checking them out first.
Work supports. The eight saws average less than 24
inches in width, so some sort of additional work support is a
Although most toolmakers offer accessory table extensions, I
appreciated the ones that were included at no extra cost. The
Bosch 3912 and the Ridgid have short outriggers, while the
Bosch 4212L, the DeWalt DW715, and the Makita do even better:
Their extensions add about 15 inches of additional support. Of
this group, my favorite is the Bosch 4212L; its built-in wings
are exceptionally stable and include a swing-out length stop
that's handy for short repetitive cuts (Figure 4).
Figure 4. The Bosch 4212L includes the
most useful auxiliary table extension as standard equipment
(top). With Ridgid's 3 1/2-inch table height, any scrap 2x4 can
serve as a makeshift work support (bottom).
Of course, none of these outriggers do away with the need for
freestanding work supports when cutting longer pieces. With the
Ridgid all you need is a pair of scrap 2x4s to fashion an
impromptu work support system, because its base is exactly 3
1/2 inches high.
Trigger lock. I'm in favor of almost any safety device on power
tools, but I was disappointed that four of the saws (the
Makita, the Ridgid, and both Bosches) have a trigger lock-off
button that must be depressed before the trigger will function.
The worst is the one on the Bosch 3912: for left-hand use, it's
unwieldy and annoying (Figure 5). The one on the Bosch 4212L is
the least offensive because the tool's superb four-position
grip offers a variety of handholds.
Figure 5. Four of the saws tested were
outfitted with trigger-lock safety switches, the best and worst
of which were on the Bosch models. Depressing the safety
override (red button) along with the trigger on the Bosch 3912
(right) can be a stretch, especially for left-handers. The
Bosch 4212L (far right) features a four-position adjustable
grip that maximizes comfort.
Blade guard. All the guards provide adequate
protection throughout the saws' range of motion. During some
cuts, however, it's necessary to lift the guard by hand to
improve visibility or to prevent interference with the material
being cut. Since I typically use my left hand to hold the stock
against the fence, I prefer saws that let me raise the guard an
inch or so with the thumb on my trigger hand (Figure 6). The
best saws for this technique are the DeWalts and Hitachis; they
locate the guards close to the triggers and — just as
critical — don't have trigger locks to complicate the
procedure. One negative about the DeWalt saws, though, is that
their blade guard offers resistance near the end of the saw
head's downward travel, requiring a tug of extra pressure to
complete the cut.
Figure 6. Sometimes it's necessary to
raise the blade guard slightly to start a cut. The guards on
the DeWalt and Hitachi models were the easiest to elevate using
only the trigger-hand thumb.
Laser beams. As far as I'm concerned, lasers are
overrated — but I do find them handy for two
applications: cutting highly profiled moldings and using high
bevel angles. In each case the red line helps me visualize the
blade's cutting path. Of the tools I tested, all but the Makita
and the Bosch 3912 offer laser cutting guides, either as
standard equipment or as aftermarket add-ons.
I found two types of lasers (Figure 7). One mounts in place of
the outer blade washer and displays a line to the left of the
blade, but only when the saw is turned on. The other mounts on
the rear of the tool, powered by its own switch; the line is
adjustable to either side of the blade. Both are primarily
indoor accessories, because neither can display a visible line
in bright sunlight.
Figure 7. The rear-mounted laser on both
Hitachi saws is bright, accurate, and powered by its own switch
(left). Arbor-mounted lasers, such as this one on the Ridgid
model (right), operate only when the blade is
The Ridgid and the Bosch 4212L use the blade-washer laser,
which — for my work style — is worse than useless.
I'm very fond of my fingers, so my most important safety rule
is never to adjust the material being cut while the blade is
spinning — yet these arbor lasers encourage users to do
exactly that by illuminating only when the saw is
Both Hitachi saws are armed with rear-mounted lasers. With
their separate power switches, turning on the red line for
special cutting setups was a snap, as was turning it off for
other operations. The DeWalt saws offer an adjustable,
switch-controlled laser as an accessory.
Stability. Even when they weren't screwed down, the
saws were uniformly steady and showed no tendency to walk or
slip. The only problem I had was when I unlocked the front
bevel control on the Bosch 4212L for the first time and nearly
flipped the saw off the back of my stand; either the tool
should be attached to a table or its front should be held down
when the bevel lock is raised. The Hitachis have a handy rear
stabilizer, which is a good thing because the mounting holes in
their saw feet are the wrong size for common screws (Figure
Figure 8. The Hitachi saws include two
different-sized mounting holes in the base. Surprisingly,
neither fits a standard drywall (or deck) screw without the use
of washers or some other modification.
All the tools can be securely clamped to a work surface,
although clamps attached to the front feet can sometimes
interfere with the miter lock handle and thus rob the saw of a
few degrees of miter capacity. Fortunately, the clamps I used
(standard Jorgensen light-duty quick-action clamps) never kept
a saw from cutting a 45 miter. I found that they worked best on
the two DeWalts and the Ridgid; the Makita's small sloping feet
were the least clamp-friendly.
Dust collection. No single tool stood out in this
regard. Each came equipped with a rear dust port that accepted
either a dust bag or — with the proper connection —
a vacuum hose. Without exception, dust collection was marginal
when the bag was attached. Using the vacuum brought slightly
better results but all the tools still kicked up clouds of
sawdust. None are clean enough to set up inside unprotected
Blade changes. Changing blades is a straightforward
process, but some saws make it easier than others. The two
Hitachis are the best: Since their metal arbor cover swings
downward, it never interferes with the blade guard and there's
no chance you'll forget to reattach it. At the other end of the
spectrum is the Makita, which won my "Three Hands" award for
its cumbersome blade-changing procedure: First you rotate the
arbor cover in one direction while pushing the blade guard in
the other, and then you hold the arbor lock and turn the
Best accessory. I'm a sucker for clever attachments,
so I fell for the combination crown stop/length stop that came
with the Bosch 4212L. It's a great trim accessory that moves
quickly out of its stowed position to hold crown molding or
serve as a length stop for short materials (Figure 9).
Figure 9. The adjustable crown stop
supplied with the Bosch 4212L takes the guesswork out of
positioning crown molding for upright cuts.
Testing and Results
When it comes to choosing a miter saw, my criteria are probably
the same as yours: The tool must be powerful, accurate,
smooth-cutting, and easy to use.
Power. All the saws are equipped with 15-amp motors. I
tested their strength under load as they cut through an oak
blank 2 1/2 inches thick and 5 1/2 inches wide. To standardize
the test, I hung a weight from each saw head and timed the tool
as it cut through the block. The results were so close, any
differences were insignificant. Evaluated subjectively during
other tests, the Makita seemed the most powerful, while the
Hitachi C12FCH had to work the hardest to keep up.
Accuracy. Out of the carton, the Bosch 4212L and the
two DeWalt saws were square in the three critical measurements:
blade-to-table, blade-to-fence, and fence-to-table. However,
except for the problematic flip fences, I was able to adjust
all the saws so they cut accurate miters, bevels, and compound
angles. In general these adjustments were easy to make, with
one slight exception: With the Hitachis, squaring the blade to
the fence required an awkward reach underneath the tool to
access the necessary bolts.
Smoothness. To measure smoothness of cut, I made
various crosscuts through an oak blank 1 1/2 inches thick and 7
1/4 inches wide. I looked for saw marks and burns, and used a
straightedge and feeler gauges to measure how much the blades
deflected or wobbled during cuts. Because most of the saws came
with general-purpose blades, I repeated the test using my
favorite finish blade, an 80-tooth Chopmaster from Forrest
Manufacturing Co. (www.forrestblades.com).
All the saws performed well with their standard blades. The
Hitachi C12FCH showed the most wobble, but the unevenness was
only about .008 inch. DeWalt's DW715 won the first heat,
deviating only .0025 inch from perfectly straight. All saws
kicked their game up a notch when using the Forrest blade; in
that test, the Makita took first place, performing close to
Ease of operation. A tool that's easy to handle can
make work seem less like work, so how a saw operates is almost
as important as how well it cuts. I really appreciated the many
useful features of the Bosch 4212L: up-front bevel controls,
detent override, work supports, and the adjustable trigger
grip. I also liked working with the two DeWalts. Although
lacking in gee-whiz features, they're sturdily built, with an
easily accessible blade guard, the best miter lock of the
group, and no obnoxious trigger lock.
Choosing the Best
Whether it's an election, a ball game, or a beauty pageant,
every competition should produce a clear winner — or so
we hope. But choosing the best saw wasn't easy, because all the
tools performed quite well.
If you do a lot of beveling, I recommend the dual-bevel DeWalt
DW716. Although pricey, it cuts superbly, operates easily,
boasts the greatest cutting capacity, and is easy to carry. The
Bosch 4212L is a terrific saw with many clever features, but
its weight and limited vertical cutting capacity make it
slightly less attractive. If not for its troublesome flip
fence, the Hitachi C12LDH, with its innovative angle display,
would also be at the top of my list.
For users who don't need to bevel both ways, I suggest the
DeWalt DW715. With this tool, you get a saw that's the equal of
its big brother in most other aspects — for about $70
The remaining four saws are solid, workmanlike machines. If the
price is right, or a particular feature appeals to you, it's
unlikely you'll be disappointed.Andy Beasley is a veteran woodworker in