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As a finish carpenter who specializes in custom stairs and hand-railing, I've used sliding compound saws regularly for years, and have switched brands once or twice as my needs changed. Currently, I have two of these saws — a Bosch 4412 and a Hitachi C10FSH — and find plenty to like in both of them. However, a recent opportunity to check out the entire current field of sliding compound miter saws was too good to pass up, and held a few surprises. I looked at 13 saws in all, including two 8 1/2-inch, six 10-inch, and five 12-inch models.

A sliding compound saw should be user-friendly, both for an experienced user and, perhaps more important, for an inexperienced user. Positive miter and bevel detents are key for cutting crown molding efficiently. Otherwise, you go mad trying to locate and repeat the compound bevel and miter settings. Equally, those detent settings should be easy to override when necessary. But the most important detail of all is visibility. Few of these saws are used in a shop setting with good lighting. Instead they're out on the job, working in a dimly-lit interior space or outdoors in glaring sunlight. I looked for high-contrast, easy-to-read miter scales and bevel gauges and accessible controls.

Portability is certainly a consideration when choosing one of these tools, which vary both in bulk and weight from saw to saw. The lightest saw in this group weighs 43 pounds, and the heaviest weighs 59 pounds. In use, my saws are almost always bench-mounted, so weight and size aren't primary considerations. On the other hand, a trim carpenter on the go is more likely to prefer a smaller, lighter saw.

Street prices range from a low of $370 to $750, with a median price of $500 (tools priced at www.amazon.com and Home Depot), so this isn't a small acquisition. In comparing the entire field of pro-duty saws, it became obvious that higher price does not mean better quality in every case.

Making the Cut

These saws are designed to excel at cutting compound miters. But if you're switching from a standard chop to a sliding cut in wider stock, be prepared for a change in style. The recommended technique is to draw the blade forward before activating the trigger, and then cut only on the push stroke. Cutting on the pull stroke may grab the wood and send it flying in dangerous directions. For chop cuts, it's recommended to lock the slide carriage for safe operation.

Blade quality. A rough or irregular cut can prevent a mitered joint from fitting tightly together, a critical consideration in stain-grade woodworking. I tested each saw with the blade shipped by the manufacturer. And although blade styles varied greatly, from 26 to 80 TPI (teeth per inch), so did the diameter and the respective RPMs (see Chart, below). I didn't use any "after-market" blades and, because of the unique characteristics of each tool, I won't venture to say what swapping in a "better" blade might do for any one saw. All in all, I found surprisingly little difference from one tool and saw blade to the next — all produced acceptably smooth compound miter cuts in the wide poplar crown molding I used for testing.

 

Model
Weight
RPM
AMPs
Elec-tric Brake
Blade Diam.
Blade Type
Arbor Size
8 1/2-inch saws

DeWalt DW712

52
5400
15
Y
8½"
30T
5/8"

Hitachi C8FB2

41
4900
9.5
Y
8½"
24T
5/8"
10-inch saws

Bosch 4410

55
4800
15
Y
10"
60T
5/8"

Delta 36-240

51
5000
15
Y
10"
40T
5/8"

Hitachi C10FSH

43
3800
12
Y
10"
40T
5/8"

Milwau-kee 6497-6

55.5
4800
15
N
10"
80T
5/8"

Makita LS1013

46.5
3700
13
Y
10"
64T
5/8"

Porter-Cable 3807

57
5000
15
Y
10"
40T
5/8"
12-inch saws

Bosch 4412

59
3800
15
Y
12"
80T
1"

DeWalt DW708

57
4000
15
Y
12"
60T
5/8" or 1"

Hitachi C12FSA

55
3200
12
Y
12"
60T
1"

Makita LS1212

48.5
3200
15
Y
12"
96T
1"

Ridgid 1290LZ

57
4,000
15
Y
12"
60T
1"
Model
Max. Bev. Angle
Max. Miter Angle
Cap. @ 90/90
Cap. @45 Miter
Cap. @45 Bev.
Loud (db)
Table Diam
Bed Hght
Price

DeWalt DW712

48 L
50 L, 60 R
2"x 12"
2¾" x8½"
1¾"
89
10"
3½"
$400

Hitachi C8FB2

45 L
45 L, R
2½" x11¾"
2½" x8"
1¾"
93
9- 7/8"
3¼"
$370

Bosch 4410

47 L, 46 R
52 L, 60 R
3½" x12"
3½" x8½"
2"
98
12"
3-7/8"
$560

Delta 36-240

45 L
45 L, R
3"x 11½"
3"x8"
2"
97
19"
4-7/16"
$560

Hitachi C10FSH

45 L, R
45 L, 57 R
3- 3/8"x 12¼"
3-

3/8"x

12¼"
2"
94
9- 7/8"
3¼"
$500

Milwau-kee 6497-6

48 L
51 L, 59 R
4"x 12"
4"x8"
2"
91
9- 7/8"
3½"
$450

Makita LS1013

45 L, R
47 L, 57 R
3- 5/8"x 12"
2"x 8½"
1¼"
94
17-5/8"
4-7/16"
$480

Porter-Cable 3807

45 L
45 L, R
2"x 12"
2"x8"
2"
97
17¾"
4½"
$470

Bosch 4412

47 L, R
52 L, 60 R
4"x 12"
4"x 8½"
3"
94
13-3/8"
3-7/8"
$700

DeWalt DW708

48 L, R
50 L, 60 R
4"x 12"
4"x8"
2"
99
13-5/8"
4"
$600

Hitachi C12FSA

45 L, R
45 L, R
4¼" x12"
4"x8-5/8"
2¾"
91
14¼"
3¾"
$750

Makita LS1212

45 L, R
47 L, 60 R
3- 7/8"x 12¼"
3-7/8" x8"
2"
90
13"
4¾"
$650

Ridgid 1290LZ

47 L, R
61 L, R
2"x 13½"
2"x10"
2"
95
21"
4-5/8"
$597

Blade size. For really precise work, a smaller blade diameter is preferable because, in theory anyway, it produces less rim wobble and therefore makes a finer cut. But an 8 1/2-inch blade is too small to handle much of the stock I work with. And although the 10-inch Hitachi has long been my favorite saw, the 12-inch Bosch saw is a little more versatile and is set up at my primary cutting station.

Changing blades on a sliding compound saw is an infrequent event and therefore not a major consideration. Several of the saws are designed with the blade guard mechanism mounted on the right-hand side of the blade where it doesn't interfere with access to the blade arbor. Where this isn't the case, the fumble factor goes up.

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Better bevel controls.Manufacturers are making bevel controls easier to get at. Bosch has done the best job, placing the bevel lock right up front next to the miter handle.

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Ridgid's bevel lock is on the side at the rear of the saw.

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While Milwaukee's single-bevel saw has a top-mounted lock, with an easy to read scale.

Accuracy

To check the precision of the combined angle and bevel detents provided for cutting crown molding flat on the saw table, I made a perfectly square outside corner profile using 3/4-inch-thick MDF (medium density fiberboard) and screwed it to my workbench. I cut left and right compound crown miters on each saw and tested their fit against the corner. In every case, the test pieces fit tightly together at 90 degrees. Actually, all the saws performed well. Some performed perfectly; the top finishers cut a little better than the others. But in the real world, true 90-degree wall corners are the exception, rather than the rule. So I also evaluated these tools on the ease with which I could tweak the setting just off the detent, by a fraction of a degree. This is an essential ingredient that some of the manufacturers have addressed better than others.

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Faster depth stops.Bosch's depth stop has a quick-release button that allows it to quickly move in or out of position.

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Ridgid uses a cam device.

Hold-down clamp. Cupped lumber will affect the cutting accuracy of any saw. Every tool in this group features an effective hold-down as a standard option. The designs vary somewhat, but all supply more than enough force to flatten a cupped 1-by. It's like having a third hand on steroids.

Fence points. The fence has a direct effect on accuracy of cut. If not perfectly square to the table, it can throw off the cutting angle enough to create problems, especially when fitting handrail easements or performing other demanding mitering tasks. And two-piece fences have a tendency to move out of precise alignment under hard use. Misalignment affects the precision of any cross-cut where both sides of the fence are used to position the material being cut. A one-piece cast fence solves this problem.

Power

For the kind of work I do, there wasn't a saw in the bunch that struck me as being underpowered. Manufacturers routinely default to published amp ratings, but those tell little about actual performance. There's a subjective element, too; who's using the tool and for what purpose can make for big differences in perception. While I made no attempt to simulate other types of work for testing, these saws all seemed to have enough power to handle common applications.

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Versatile handle.Bosch's swivel handle fits any user preference. The two red thumb-activated trigger releases adapt to left- or right-handed use.

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Safety

Several of the saws — the Delta, both DeWalts, the Milwaukee, and the Porter-Cable — had no lock-out safety button on the trigger. While these buttons vary from one saw to the next in their comfort and ease of use, they do serve an important safety function in preventing accidental starts.

Noise. Ninety decibels is a standard threshold level at which noise becomes a threat to your hearing. By this standard, none of these tools runs at a safe level, so it's a really good idea to include some kind of easy-to-use hearing protection with your purchase.

Stability. Many of these saws are off-balance in the retracted slide position; some provide a counteracting rear stabilizing bracket. But all of the saws include mounting holes for screws, bolts, or nails, and these should definitely be used. A few of the base designs also permit them to be clamped to the bench.

What I'd Buy

If small size and portability are important considerations, the good news is that the two 8 1/2-inch saws I tested have plenty of cross-cutting capacity; both can cut a full 2 inches high by 12 inches wide at 90 degrees, and 8 1/2 inches by 1 3/4 inches at a 45-degree compound bevel. But a left-tilt-only limitation (shared by five saws in this review) means that you have to flip the lumber around instead of simply changing the bevel setting, which can be both awkward and disorienting. And, although I never noticed it years ago when I owned Hitachi's original 8 1/2-inch saw, the motor location — off to the side and low to the table — makes it difficult to see the cut line on the board.

Considering how good many of the dual-bevel saws are, I can't think of a good reason why you'd consider a single-bevel saw. Neither the Delta 36-240 or the Porter Cable 3807 saw delivered equivalent bang for the buck compared to other tools of similar capacity and price. Milwaukee's single-bevel 10-inch 6497-6 is built like a tank and might be a good candidate for general crew use and abuse. But, generally speaking, the increased motor clearance and dual-bevel capability of the other 10- and 12-inch saws make them easier to operate and worth the extra cost.

If I were considering buying a non-sliding miter saw, the additional depth capacity of a 12-inch saw over a 10-inch saw might be a persuading factor. But the advantage mostly disappears with sliding capability, where otherwise vertical cuts can be performed on the flat. And the extra blade diameter generates extra blade wobble at the rim and affects the quality of the cut. So I approached this review with a definite preference for 10-inch saws. That said, the Ridgid 12-inch saw wowed me in every respect. If I didn't already own two good saws, I'd buy this one, hands down. There's no shortage of great features on this saw, although its bulky size and weight deterred me at first. No other saw approaches its compound beveling capacity (61-degree miter by 47-degree bevel, both left and right) or equals its comprehensive attention to user-friendly details. While dust collection isn't a strong suit for any sliding compound saw, the bag on this saw is well-placed and effective. And, at $597, it's even the least expensive of the 12-inch saws.

My second choice is the 10-inch Bosch 4410. This saw is beautifully designed and couldn't be easier to use. Although the Bosch 4412 matches it feature for feature, I wouldn't pay $140 more for the larger blade, which adds only a small advantage in capacity.

The 10-inch Hitachi C10FSH is a slightly improved version of the saw I've owned for years — with a more visible miter scale and a better bevel lock — and is a close contender for second place. Its miter detents are really easy to work with, the spring return is perfectly balanced and takes the fight out of chopping, and the slide mechanism is smooth and solid. And when I need a saw in the field, this is the one I take along for its lighter weight and portability.

Richard Harkowns and operates Stairways in East Harwich, Mass.