Miter (or drop) saws are excellent tools for both amateur and professional use. They have an extensive list of advantages, among which are perfectly straight cuts and the opportunity to make bevel ones.
They are mainly used for woodworking. However, can a miter saw cut metal? My shortest answer is yes, but it’s not simple. In this article, I will talk about the peculiarities of using this type of instrument for sawing aluminum or steel products.
After reading, you will be able to do it efficiently, accurately, and, most importantly, safely for yourself and your equipment.
Cutting Metal with a Miter Saw Guide
Using a miter saw to cut metal is only possible if your tool has the correct specifications, can run at low speed, and is equipped with a metal blade. So that you understand all the complexities and peculiarities of such work, I will also give a short comparison of a chop saw vs. a miter saw below.
Can you use a miter saw to cut metal?
Technically it is definitely possible. However, before we get started, let’s take a look at some of the features of cutting metal products. When dealing with wood, the faster a blade rotates, the more accurate and even a rip is. This principle does not work with metal.
The point is, at higher speeds, you get more friction when trying to cut tough materials. It heats up both your tool and the piece you work with. Besides, when the metal comes into contact with another metal at high speed, it generates many sparks and dangerous aluminum or steel dust that can cause serious harm to your health, including the respiratory system.
Despite all the dangers, you can minimize the risks by using the correct tools and the right approach to cutting metal. First of all, you should be prepared for the fact that it is a rather energy-consuming process.
Unlike ripping wood, you have to exert more effort and move more slowly. Do not expect that you will be able to process as many metal products as wooden ones in a certain amount of time.
Also, you should choose a drop saw that can run at a lower speed (less than 3500 RPM). As a rule, hybrid models designed for both wood and metal cutting do an excellent job with this task.
Thoroughly clean all debris (such as wood shavings) from your tool before starting work to avoid heat ignition. As long as you follow these simple rules and the standard safety precautions when using power tools, you can achieve excellent results.
How to choose metal cutting blades for a miter saw?
I think it is understandable, but I still repeat that you should never use the same blades for cutting metal as you do for dealing with wood. They not only quickly deteriorate but can damage the tool and work surface and even injure you.
I also draw your attention to the fact that when choosing a blade for your equipment, you should take into account the RPM indicator for which the disk was designed. If your device can reach a lower speed (which is just needed for working with steel or aluminum), you should pick the appropriate disk.
Teeth are vital in cutting metal products. In this case, they should be smaller than when processing wood. At the same time, their total number (TPI) should be higher; as a rule, no less than 60, and better closer to 100. It will give you a perfectly smooth cut and reduce the likelihood of kickbacks and saw sticking in the workpiece.
Next, pay attention to the material the blade base is made of. It should be made of composite metal. While the most wide-spread stainless steel models are, they are not durable enough.
So I recommend looking specifically for composite items. Tips also play an essential role in high-quality cutting. If you want the perfect rip with a minimum of sparks, buy a carbide-tipped product.
I also advise you to consider the specific materials you deal with and choose the blades individually for each. Remember that metals are classified as ferrous and non-ferrous. The former is much more difficult to cut due to its high iron content. Therefore, the appropriate accessories should be chosen for cutting steel with a miter saw.
Features of using a miter saw for metal ripping
As I have written above, the friction of a metal blade against a metal product leads to rather severe heating of all surfaces. Therefore, it is important to take frequent breaks from work not to overload your instrument.
Although modern models designed for cutting hard materials are equipped with heat-resistant motors, I still recommend giving your machine time to rest and cool down. It’ll extend your equipment life.
To avoid overloading your tool, do not try to finish the job as quickly as possible. Cutting aluminum or steel takes patience, and you won’t be able to saw the same amount of pieces as you would when dealing with wood.
Since any metal, even aluminum, is a tough and difficult material to work with, the blade wears out quite often. Although manufacturers advertise 500+ cuts in their ads, they are enough for 200-250 runs on average.
Check for teeth sharpness regularly and change disks as soon as necessary. Blunt accessories won’t give the desired cleanliness of cuts, causing unnecessary stress on your instrument.
Also, it will not be superfluous to apply a special lubricant to a blade. It reduces friction, which means it lowers heating, removes abrasive dust, and significantly increases the service life of a product, protecting it from corrosion.
Safety measures when working with metal
Your routine should be based on standard power tools safety precautions. Be sure to tidy up your work area and put trash, excess items, and inflammable stuff away. Before starting, check if the correct blade is installed in the saw and the tool is clean and in good condition.
Do not forget about the need to securely fix the piece to your work surface; use clamps for it. Once you make sure that nothing will interfere with your actions, start the device and wait until the disk reaches the desired speed, and only then lower it onto the material.
Be sure to take care of your own safety and purchase a quality PPE. Your protective kit should include work gloves (Kevlar, thick leather, etc.), safety goggles, a face shield, and/or mask to protect your respiratory system.
I find it helpful to wear hearing protection, safety shoes, and a hard hat. Personal protection from sparks and metal shavings is never redundant, as they can seriously harm your health and lead to loss of eyesight or lung problems.
Never touch a fresh rip with your bare hands. It can be too hot and leave burns on your palms. Moreover, the edge can be really sharp, so you should wear protective gloves when handling cut pieces.
The same goes for metal shavings or chips. Never try to clean them off the work surface with your hands. Use a brush or whichever method that is convenient for you. Also, remember that some metal chips, like aluminum, are flammable and environmentally hazardous, so it is essential to dispose of them correctly.
Circular saw vs. miter saw comparison
Although drop saws can be used to cut metal under the conditions I described, they were initially conceived by manufacturers as tools for woodworking. They are a good option if you need to cut a piece of aluminum or steel once or twice a month.
If you plan on consistently working with different metals, you might be better off choosing a hybrid model or another type of device.
Among modern circular saws, you can find products specially designed for metal. Not only are they sold with the appropriate blade, but they also have a durable motor, are equipped with a cooling fan, and can run at reduced speed. They are able to withstand really heavy loads. Regardless, you also need to choose the right disk to use them.
The downside to hand-held circular saws is that it might be tricky to make perfectly straight (90°) cuts. If this is an important factor to you, choose chop saws. Although they are similar in design to a drop type, they still have different characteristics.
First of all, they were created specifically for metalworking. Typically, they can use larger diameter abrasive or diamond blades, up to 15 inches. Cutting metal with a chop saw is much more efficient than when using a miter one.
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Make Cutting Metal with a Miter Saw Effective
I have tried to analyze the issue of using a miter saw to cut metal in as much detail as possible in my article. I hope that after reading, you will understand that it is doable if you have the perfect tool in terms of technical characteristics, the right miter saw blade, and the correct approach to working with metal. However, I would recommend choosing a specialized device for readers who need to rip steel or aluminum really often.
Please share your thoughts on this topic. Do you think it is permissible to use miter saws for cutting metal? Do you have such experience?