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Sliding Compound Miter Saw Review - Festool KS 120 Picked as Best Bet

Sliding Compounder Miter Saw Test Sandor Nagyszalanczy took a look at the top nine compound miter saws on the market to determine the best. Ever notice how there are certain sizes of items that fit their uses just right? For example, 22" wheels on Escalades and 42" plasma screens for watching sports. That’s how I feel about sliding compound miter saws with 10" blades. They have enough power and cutting capacity to handle the lion’s share of crosscuts done in a woodshop or on a construction job site, and they tackle compound angle cuts with aplomb. These sliders are easy to set and use, compact and portable. No wonder that they’ve become the crosscutting saw of choice for the great majority of woodworkers and carpenters. For this article, I examined six 10" sliding compound miter saws: the Bosch 4410L, the Sears Craftsman Model 921201, Festool’s new Kapex KS 120, the Hitachi C10FSH, a Makita LS1013FL and Metabo’s KGS 303. (In cases where there were two or more versions of the same basic saw, I chose the model with the most features). Each is a dual-bevel saw — it tilts either way, for convenient left- or right-hand bevel and compound-angle cuts. To give these complex machines a thorough going-over, I spent a good deal of time exploring the features and performance of each saw. Instead of evaluating them individually, I decided to pit them against one another, head-to-head, in nine different areas of comparison, scoring them 1-5 (5 is best). First, I evaluated each machine’s cutting accuracy, cutting power, operating smoothness, ease of angle setting, handle and trigger comfort, portability and dust collection. I also judged the qualities of each saw’s fence, table and laser guide. I then awarded one to five points to each saw in these nine areas of comparison. At the end of the article, I’ll total the points, make a few purchase recommendations and award “Best Bet” honors for this test. Cutting Accuracy and Quality Bosch . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 Craftsman . . . . . . . . . 3 Hitachi . . . . . . . . . . . 5 Makita . . . . . . . . . . . 4 Metabo . . . . . . . . . . . 4 Festool . . . . . . . . . . . 5 [caption id="attachment_14005" align="aligncenter" width="350"]Bosch 4410L Compound MIter Saw Bosch 4410L Miter Saw
2008 Price: $499
Amps: 15
Performance Score: 31 total Even the best power saw is useless if it doesn’t cut accurately and cleanly. Although sliding compound miter saws have been around for nearly two decades, a common complaint among saw users is their saws don’t cut perfectly straight. Therefore, I checked each saw in the test for cutting accuracy by making square, mitered and bevel cuts in soft and hard woods. In each case, I set and reset the saw’s miter and bevel settings to standard angle stops (0°, 22.5°, 45°, etc.) to test for repeatable cutting accuracy. The Festool was most consistent, with dead-on angle accuracy. Most of the other saws performed angle cuts that were within 1/2 degree of exactness at all stops, although the Bosch and Craftsman took more coaxing to set correctly than the others. [caption id="attachment_14006" align="aligncenter" width="350"]Bosch 4410L Miter and Bevel Locks The miter and bevel locks and micro-angle setting knob offer easy access, but can be difficult to actually set. I then checked each cut edge for straightness and angle accuracy with a machinist’s square and protractor. Impressively, cuts taken with the Festool were near flawless. The Bosch, Hitachi, Makita and Metabo were close behind with only a hair’s breath of waviness in the straightness of their cuts. The Craftsman showed waviness I would not want on delicate work. Moving on, I evaluated the cleanness of edges and surfaces cut with the saw’s provided blade. All the saws come with carbide-toothed, thin-kerf blades. In most cases, blades with more teeth tended to leave a cleaner surface: The Festool’s 65-tooth, 260mm blade (about 10-1⁄4" diameter) and Makita’s 70-tooth blade both left extremely smooth surfaces. While the 40-tooth Craftsman and 48-tooth Metabo blades produced relatively rough cuts, the 40-tooth bladed Hitachi surprised me as it produced cut edges nearly as clean as the 60-tooth Bosch. Incidentally, each saw has a built-in arbor lock for convenient blade changes, but not all work the same: The Festool’s rotating knob locks and stays in place during blade changes. With the others, you must hold in a button to lock the arbor.
Cutting Power
Bosch . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 Craftsman . . . . . . . . . 3 Hitachi . . . . . . . . . . . 4 Makita . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5 Metabo . . . . . . . . . . . 3 Festool . . . . . . . . . . . 4 The ability to cut through thick hardwood planks or heavy, wet construction lumber is a factor of a sliding compound miter saw’s motor power. Five of the seven saws in this review employ motors rated at 15 amps, the exceptions being the 14.5-amp Festool and 12-amp Hitachi. To test the power each saw actually had on tap (amperage is only a rating of how much electricity goes into a motor), I cut up some thick scraps of oak and rock maple. Dozens of cuts later, I found that the Makita and Festool saws were the ones that handled difficult cuts with the least drop of motor RPMs. Both saws have electronic constant speed control as well as soft start (the Festool features variable speed as well). The 15-amp Metabo, Bosch and Craftsman delivered power that was only a small notch below the leaders. Surprisingly, the Hitachi’s cutting power wasn’t far behind either, despite its smaller 12-amp-rated motor.
Operating Smoothness
Bosch . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 Craftsman . . . . . . . . . 2 Hitachi . . . . . . . . . . . . 4 Makita . . . . . . . . . . . . 5 Metabo . . . . . . . . . . . 4 Festool . . . . . . . . . . . 5 [caption id="attachment_14009" align="aligncenter" width="402"]Hitachi C10FSH Compound Miter Saw Hitachi C10FSH Miter Saw
2008 Price: $429
Amps: 12
Performance Score: 34 total Next, I evaluated how easily and smoothly each saw’s sliding and pivoting cutting action worked, as even the most precise, powerful saw isn’t worth a darn if it’s a bear to cut with. The sliding action of the Festool, Makita and Metabo felt extremely silky and precise, although the Metabo’s pivoting action was stiff and a bit clunky. [caption id="attachment_14010" align="aligncenter" width="350"]Hitachi C10FSH Saw Making Cuts The Hitachi C10FSH saw lacks a lot of cutting power, but it sawed through the 4x4 test lumber with almost no difficulty. The Hitachi was also a smooth operator, but it required a bit more effort to slide through the cut. The Bosch 4410L had a very smooth sliding feel, but I felt as if the workpiece was too far away from my control of the cut. The slides on the Craftsman were very rough and required some adjustment before sliding smoothly. The auto-retracting blade guards worked well on all the saws, and I particularly like the Bosch and Craftsman guards that feature small wheels on their leading edges to prevent the guard from hanging up large workpieces.
Angle Setting Ease
Bosch . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 Craftsman . . . . . . . . . 2 Hitachi . . . . . . . . . . . . 4 Makita . . . . . . . . . . . . 4 Metabo . . . . . . . . . . . 4 Festool . . . . . . . . . . . 5 [caption id="attachment_14007" align="aligncenter" width="350"]Craftsman 921201 Compound Miter Saw Craftsman 921201 Miter Saw
2008 Price: $400
Amps: 15
Performance Score: 25 total A good sliding miter saw should be easy to set for all manner of miter, bevel and compound angle cuts, then reset for square cuts quickly and accurately. Five of the six saws have controls at the front of the saw for locking in miter angles and a lever or knob around the back that secures the saw’s bevel angle — a simple and effective arrangement. In contrast, the Bosch features front-mounted miter and bevel controls. It’s a clever idea, but I found the controls fussy to use. Both the bevel setting and miter “micro adjust” mechanisms require so many steps to implement, it reminded me of the hokey-pokey (you pull your lever up, you slide the big knob back…). The Craftsman also has a micro-adjuster for setting precise miter angles, which I liked and found easy to use. [caption id="attachment_14008" align="aligncenter" width="350"]Dual-Bevel scales on Craftsman 921201 miter saw Craftsman's 921201 Saw features dual bevel scales with vernier gauges and bevel detents at 0° - and 33.9° and 45° both left and right - which makes setting angles easy, but the locking bolt is inconvenient. All miter saws have built-in stops at commonly used angles (0°, 22.5°, 45°, etc.), and most models use a lever mechanism to lock angles positively. The Metabo’s spring-loaded miter angle stops felt a little loose, as did the Bosch’s. Both had to be set gingerly. In contrast, the Festool’s miter stop lever was a bit stiff to operate, but it locked rock solid and dead-on. When setting miter angles on the Craftsman, its table was hard to rotate and made a grinding noise I couldn’t eliminate. I liked the large miter compass scales on the Makita, Festool and Craftsman saws, which made it easier to set odd angles precisely. The location of the Makita’s scale at the far right of its table took some getting used to; it’s not as convenient as it is on the other saws. I also prefer the printed scales to the cast-metal scales on the Bosch and Metabo sliders. All the saws in the group have bevel stops at 0° and 45° right and left, and the Craftsman and Bosch also feature 33.9° stops for crown molding. The Festool’s the easiest saw to set for bevel angles: After releasing an easy-to-access top lever and turning a knob to set the bevel range (45° left only, 45° either way, or 47° either way), rotate the end of the right-hand slide bar to tilt the saw to the desired angle. The Kapex’s large bevel scale lets you set fine angles with much greater precision than on the other saws in this group.
Handle and Trigger Comfort
Bosch . . . . . . . . . . . 5 Craftsman . . . . . . . . 3 Hitachi . . . . . . . . . . 2 Makita . . . . . . . . . . . 4 Metabo . . . . . . . . . . 3 Festool . . . . . . . . . . 3 [caption id="attachment_14015" align="aligncenter" width="350"]Festool Kapex KS-120 Compound Miter Saw Festool Kapex KS 120
2008 Price: $1,300 to $1,400 (estimate)
Amps: 14.5
Performance Score: 41 total A power saw user’s comfort greatly depends on the design and qualities of the tool’s grip, On/Off trigger and safety interlock. The grips on most saws are either vertically or horizontally oriented. Which is better is largely a matter of personal preference; some woodworkers like vertical grips that are in-line with the saw blade, as found on the Festool and Hitachi, claiming that there’s less of a tendency to torque the blade out of alignment during sliding and cutting. Others prefer horizontal handles, as found on the Craftsman and Metabo, which, some say, reduce wrist fatigue during long cutting sessions. The Bosch 4410L offers the most user flexibility, with a hand grip that adjusts to four different positions: horizontal, vertical or slanted. I liked this handle the best overall. The Metabo, Makita and Craftsman have wide triggers (the Craftsman’s is good for right-handed operation only), and the latter two feature rubber overmolds like the Bosch. [caption id="attachment_14016" align="aligncenter" width="350"]Bevel setting mechanism on Festool Miter Saw The Festool Kapex KS 120 has an innovative bevel setting mechanism, which tilts the motor and rail assembly to make precise bevel angle cuts. The safety interlock buttons (which prevent accidental triggering) on the Bosch and Makita are well placed and very easy to operate. The Bosch features two buttons, to accommodate righties and lefties. The Craftsman and Metabo both lack an interlock button. I’m not a fan of Festool’s two-stage safety interlock system, which requires you to depress a button atop the grip AND partially press the trigger before you can pivot the saw head down, lift the guard and switch the trigger on. I also didn’t care for the Hitachi’s small single-finger trigger and interlock button. The grips on both the Festool and Hitachi are positioned to be most user-friendly when the saw is on a low bench, worktable or the ground.
Fence and Table
Bosch . . . . . . . . . . . . 5 Craftsman . . . . . . . . . 3 Hitachi . . . . . . . . . . . 3 Makita . . . . . . . . . . . . 4 Metabo . . . . . . . . . . . 3 Festool . . . . . . . . . . . 5 [caption id="attachment_14011" align="aligncenter" width="350"]Makita LS1013FL Compound Miter Saw Makita LS1013FL Miter Saw
2008 Price: $499
Amps: 15
Performance Score: 38 total A top-flight sliding miter saw should have a table and fence ample enough to support wide and tall stock, yet they should not compromise the saw’s overall portability. I really like the Makita’s unique round table, which is one large surface offering lots of support even for wider workpieces (I also liked its wide base that makes the saw very stable, even on uneven work surfaces). The table surfaces on the other saws are all similar in size and certainly adequate for cutting small stock. [caption id="attachment_14012" align="aligncenter" width="350"]Makita LS1013FL Saw Turntable The turntable on Makita's LS1013FL saw rotates easily for cuts, but the scale is on the right side which requires a little adjusting for most woodworkers. But with all the saws you’ll need outboard support for long, heavy workpieces. The Bosch features wonderful built-in extension supports that slide out 7-1⁄2" from each side of the base. There’s also a neat flip-up end stop, handy for cutting multiple parts (up to 19") to the same length. You can buy a very nice pair of large extension tables for the Festool as an option. These tables have slots that accept optional crown molding stops and quick-action hold-downs. The Craftsman comes with a long pair of support rails that aren’t self-supporting as well as a flip stop.
The Fences
A proper miter saw fence needs to be sturdy and high enough to support tall workpieces, such as baseboard (cut upright) and crown molding, but it must also stay out of the way during other cutting operations. The Hitachi and Makita have very similar fence setups, with a low fence that runs across the table and a flip fence on only the left-hand side, to offer more support. It flips out of the way when the saw is tilted for left-hand bevels. These fences aren’t really adequate for tall workpieces. The other four saws have tall fences on both sides of the blade, which slide side-to-side for cutting clearance during bevel cuts. While they’re certainly a blessing when cutting baseboard on edge, it’s easy to forget to reset them when setting the saw for angled cuts, leading to occasional frustration (the Metabo’s fences must be removed for bevel cuts). The Craftsman fence features markings that show where to reset the fences for different bevel settings, and the Bosch’s fence has inch and fractional markings that are useful for cutting pieces to length without marking each cut.
Laser Guides
Bosch . . . . . . . . . . . . 4 Craftsman . . . . . . . . . 3 Hitachi . . . . . . . . . . . 3 Makita . . . . . . . . . . . 4 Metabo . . . . . . . . . N/A Festool . . . . . . . . . . . 5 Once the stuff of Star Wars fantasy, laser line guide systems are now a feature on most sliding miter saws on the market. Only one saw in this review — the Metabo — lacks a built-in laser guide. The Festool features dual laser lines, which show where both edges of the blade will cut — very handy for both right- and left-hand cuts. The Craftsman and Festool project a dashed laser line (with their blade guards down), which is easier to align to a pencil mark than a solid laser line. The laser guides on the Craftsman and Bosch project from arbor-mounted discs that replace the saw’s regular blade flanges. The laser only turns on when the saw blade is running, so you don’t have to switch the laser on or off. It also minimizes drain on the batteries that power the laser. But batteries must be changed when they’re spent, and you have to do your laser aligning with the workpiece while the saw is running. The AC-powered lasers on the Hitachi, Makita and Festool have On/Off switches, allowing you to align your work to the laser line without the saw running — a much more useful arrangement. The Hitachi’s laser is mounted on the motor housing behind the blade, and it only projects onto the top and rear edge of the work. In contrast, the lasers on the other four saws project a line on the top and front edge of the work, allowing you to align parts marked on their lower edge. Are these laser guides good enough to allow you to cut marked workpieces accurately? I found that, with a little practice, I could cut pretty much dead on my pencil mark using the lasers on any of the saws. I liked the Festool’s dashed dual lines and the Bosch’s fine laser line the best. All of the laser guides except the one on the Bosch are adjustable, should they come out of adjustment with the blade, or if you change to a blade of a dif ferent thickness or want to set the laser line to the other side of the blade kerf.
Size, Weight and Portability
Bosch . . . . . . . . . . . . 2 Craftsman . . . . . . . . . 3 Hitachi . . . . . . . . . . . 5 Makita . . . . . . . . . . . 4 Metabo . . . . . . . . . . . 3 Festool . . . . . . . . . . . 4 [caption id="attachment_14013" align="aligncenter" width="350"]Metabo KGS303 Compound Miter Saw Metabo KGS303 Miter Saw
2008 Price: $549
Amps: 15
Performance Score: 25 total While many woodworkers with home workshops use their sliding miter saws mostly for in-shop cutoff work, many folks lug their saws to the job site every day, taking full advantage of the saws' portability. Although the Metabo is the lightest of these saws, its base is cumbersome and lacks carrying handles. The Hitachi wins the most points for portability, thanks to its small base, second-lightest-in-the-group weight and a top-mounted handle that makes it very easy to pick up and carry. The Festool also deserves praise, not only for its light weight but also for its compact fixed rail design, which makes the large-size saw relatively easy to carry and which requires no clearance behind the saw, thus saving space in a shop or work area. The Makita is also relatively compact but harder to carry, due to the large size of its rotary table. The Craftsman is light but unwieldy, as is the Bosch, which is also the heaviest saw in the group.
Dust Collection
Bosch . . . . . . . . . . . 3 Craftsman . . . . . . . . . 3 Hitachi . . . . . . . . . . . 4 Makita . . . . . . . . . . . 4 Metabo . . . . . . . . . . . 1* Festool . . . . . . . . . . . 5* * Vacuum collection only. [caption id="attachment_14014" align="aligncenter" width="350"]Metabo and Festool miter saw dust collection The Metabo and Festool saws don't come with an attached canvas bag to collect dust in, but both do accept a vacuum hose connection. Most powered miter saws I’ve tried don’t do a very good job of collecting the dust that’s hurled by the blade and collecting it in a little canvas bag. However, the Hitachi and Makita did a better job of capturing dust in their small dust bags than I expected. Each saw’s dust collection improved considerably when a shop vacuum was connected to its dust port. Festool and Metabo don’t bother including canvas dust bags, providing only a vacuum connection. But while the Festool does a great job at sucking up sawdust, the Metabo throws dust everywhere, even when connected to a powerful shop vacuum. And the winners are....
Point Totals (in order of score)
Festool: . . . . . . . . . 41 Makita: . . . . . . . . . . 37 Hitachi: . . . . . . . . . 34 Bosch: . . . . . . . . . . 31 Metabo . . . . . . . . . . 25** Craftsman: . . . . . . . 25 ** Total doesn’t include a laser guide score. If you count up the point totals, the Festool Kapex edges out the competition, and it truly deserves high praise for its innovative design, precise German craftsmanship and extensive features too numerous to describe here (I have to at least mention the fantastic angle gauge that stores in the base). But there’s a caveat: The Kapex costs far more than the other saws: $1,300 to $1,400 (U.S. price not finalized at this writing). If you’re a true craftsman with a healthy wallet, I heartily recommend buying the Festool, especially if you often tackle complex joinery. But if your woodworking purchases are on a tight leash, my vote for “Best Bet” in a sliding compound miter saw is the Makita LS1013FL. While it lacks many of the Kapex’s cool features, it performs nearly as well, and it will serve the crosscutting needs of the majority of woodworkers. Not far behind in points, the sturdily built Hitachi C10FSH also deserves special mention. At less than a third the price of the Festool, it’s a real bargain.