Miter Saw vs Circular Saw: Do you Really Need Both?

The Miter Saw vs Circular Saw conversation features two of the most popular power tools in the DIY world, and advertising will certainly have you believe that you need both.

Is this true? Well, not exactly.

While each tool definitely has its own specific uses and distinct advantages, you certainly don’t need both to have a functional garage or woodworking shop.

In this article, we’ll discuss some of the key differences between miter saws and circular saws.  We’ll go over what each one is used for, and talk about some specific situations where one is preferable over the other.

Perhaps we can help you decide which is better for you and your needs if you’re stuck between choosing the miter saw vs circular saw or vice versa.

General overview: Miter Saw vs Circular Saw

To put it bluntly, circular saws are infinitely more versatile than miter saws. If you’re trying to decide between one or the other to add to your shop, definitely go with the circular saw. In fact, the circular saw, along with the cordless drill, will easily be your most-used tool for standard around-the-house type stuff.

While miter saws are great tools that certainly make some jobs (like cutting miters and squaring up edges on boards) quicker and more convenient, the fact of the matter is, they’re far from a necessity. There’s absolutely nothing a miter saw can do that a circular saw can’t do. Miter saws are what we like to call ‘luxury’ tools; great to have, but not quite essential to survival.

Circular saws, on the other hand, are an absolutely critical component for any garage or woodworking shop, DIY and professional alike.

Practical use: Why are circular saws more versatile than miter saws?

Ok, so we’ve established that circular saws are far more versatile than miter saws, but why is that?

Consider this:   

  • miter saws are big and stationary
  • the saw blade doesn’t move (except for going up and down)
  • you have to bring the wood (or other material) to it

Circular saws are the opposite: you bring the saw to the material.

Gene Longerman claims that with a hammer and a circular saw, one could theoretically build a house. While that might be a bit of an exaggeration, we’d be inclined to agree with him.

So what the heck are miter saws good for then?

Miter saws are (obviously) great for making quick and accurate miters (like 45-degree angles for picture frames), and they’re also very efficient for cross cutting small pieces of material like trim (molding, baseboards).

The major downside to miter saws is that, since the saw blade only moves up and down, they can only cut stuff up to about 6” wide. That makes them completely incapable of ripping boards to width (cutting them lengthwise). Sliding miter saws offer a little more versatility and can do stuff up to 12 or 13” wide, but even still you’re pretty limited with what you can cut. Sheets of plywood, for example? Forget about it with a miter saw.

So what the heck are circular saws good for then?

With a circular saw on the other hand, you’d have to stretch your imagination to find something where it’d be out of its element. With a simple speed square, they can be used to cut perfect 90-degree angles every time, as well as accurate miters of any angle. Simply measure and mark of the line with your square, line it up against the fence of the circular saw, and you’ve got a precise, foolproof cut.

Ripping long 2x4’s and cutting plywood sheets down to size? Easy as pie with a circular saw. Bevel cuts? Adjust the shoe with the simple twist of a knob, and it’s done.

Here’s a good video showing some proper techniques on how to get the most out of your circular saw. Also, here’s another showing how to make a jig for insanely quick and accurate cross-cutting and ripping.

Top picks: Circular Saws

Comes with one of the most durable, high-quality, general-purpose stock blades of all the major manufacturers. The DeWalt is one of the most durable designs and best overall performers, and most importantly, an excellent value for the price.

miter saw vs circular saw

A heck of a rock solid performer at an even better value than the DeWalt. Comes with all the standard industry specs like a 6,000rpm, 15amp motor and one-piece all-metal shoe. A fantastic saw from a trusted brand name. Hitachi has one of the best warranty programs in the power tool industry (5-year, compared to DeWalt’s 3-year).

miter saw vs circular saw

Bosch went out of their way designing this particular saw to give it the clearest line of sight of any circular saw on the market. A little heavier than some of the competition at over 13lbs. However, a lot of people actually prefer the extra weight, saying that it increases balance and overall control.

miter saw vs circular saw

The value buy of the bunch - an incredible deal at under 50 bucks. The Porter Cable doesn’t perform quite as well as the others, but that shouldn’t be a surprise given the price. It’s got a unique kerf cut line indicator, which helps to line up the blade perfectly with the indicator on the shoe.The PC offers quality cuts at one of the lowest prices in the biz.

miter saw vs circular saw

Top picks: Miter Saws

A true classic. The DeWalt DWS780 has all the bells and whistles for a miter saw. The DeWalt offers a 12” blade, dual bevel function, and sliding ability give it a max range of cut width (about 13”). If you’re in the market for a miter saw, might as well go full bore and invest in the best. Just be sure to put your foot down when all your friends and family start asking to borrow it. (For a little bit cheaper option, here’s the single bevel model).

miter saw vs circular saw

If any power tool could be described as sexy, this would be the one. We've probably done more admiring with a beer or a coffee then we'd like to admit. However, even though Makita knocked the aesthetics out of the park with this baby, its design and performance is even better. The Makita is truly a top of the line tool. A little pricey, but well worth the investment. (Here’s the 12” version of the same saw).

miter saw vs circular saw

Bosch always seems to have a specific purpose in mind when they design a new tool. With the 12SD compound miter saw, their main purpose was to create the silkiest sliding system in the world, which came to fruition in the form of their ‘Glide’ mechanism. On top of their best-in-class sliding function, this is one heck of an overall saw. A little beefy in terms of both size and price, but definitely one of the most powerful miter saws out there. If you work a lot with hardware for premium furniture or cabinet making, this would be a great saw.

miter saw vs circular saw

Bottom Line

To summarize the difference between a miter saw vs circular saw, the circular saw is by far the more versatile of the two. Miter saws are great for angles, trim, cross-cuts and are worthwhile to invest in if you plan on doing finish carpentry (molding, baseboards, etc). If you HAVE to choose one, choose a circular saw.  If you can afford both, you're all set!