Mitre boxes have been used by home owners and those who enjoy DIY for years to help make precise angled cuts.  Ideally a mitre saw is a much better option, but those can be an expensive purchase. A mitre box is a much cheaper option. The mitre saw will be faster and more accurate, but if you only have a few mitre cuts to make, then the humble mitre box is a more sensible choice.

Types of Mitre Boxes

image of a mitre box and saw

A mitre box is simply a rectangular frame with a series of angled slots cut into its base.  Some of these come with a saw and some don't.

If they have a saw attached, they will have a metal or plastic bar that slides along the slots, ensuring consistent angle cuts.

Types of Mitre Boxes

  1. Wooden -  These are the most traditional and affordable type sold in the UK. They are not really that durable and are also pretty hard to find these days.
  2. Plastic - These are by far the most popular boxes sold in the UK today. That is because they are lightweight, portable and relatively affordable. They are not that good for heavier usage.
  3. Metal - These are more expensive, but they will last longer. They are also slightly more precise and a better choice for more demanding jobs.
  • The average cost for a wooden mitre box in the UK is between £8-£15
  • The average cost for a plastic mitre box in the UK is between £10-£20
  • The average cost for a clamping mitre box in the UK is between £20-£30
  • The average cost for a metal mitre box in the UK is between £25-£40

Pros and Cons

Like most things in life any tool will have its Pros and Cons. I have explained these just below.

Pros:

  • They are compact and light so easy to move around and store.
  • There is no real setup involved and overall pretty easy to use.
  • A good choice for beginners or someone who only needs to do mitre cuts occasionally. 
  • They are very inexpensive when compared to power mitre saws.
  • They can make accurate and precise angled cuts
  • Good for doing basic cuts on skirting boards, picture frames, covings, and smaller woodworking projects
  • The manual operation makes them safer to use and eliminates the risk of electrical hazards or kickback associated with power tools

Cons:

  • Mainly designed for small workpieces and limited to specific angle cuts.
  • Really not that suitable for large or thick pieces of wood, as they may flex or break when cut
  • Hard to be precise consistently when doing complex cuts or repetitive tasks. 
  • Prone to user error, such as improper saw alignment or hand tremors and can lead to inaccurate cuts.
  • Manual operation requires more skill and practice compared to power tools
  • Mitre boxes are slower than power mitre saws, which can become inconvenient for large projects or production work.

Summary:

Mitre boxes are light and portable, easy of use, precision for simple cuts, and safety, making them a valuable tool for beginner woodworkers, hobbyists, and those doing small jobs around the home. Their affordability further enhances their appeal.

On the downside, mitre boxes are limited in their cutting capacity. They don't deliver consistent accuracy for complex cuts or repetitive tasks, and are much slower than power mitre saws. These drawbacks make them less suitable for experienced woodworkers or large-scale projects that demand speed and precision.


Alternatives to Mitre Boxes

There are a few alternatives to buying and using a mitre box. I have listed those below:

Power Mitre Saws

If you have to do a lot of mitre cuts, then a power mitre saw is going to be a much better option. For example, if you were replacing the skirting boards in one room, then a mitre box would do the job. If you were doing several rooms, then it would be a better idea to use a mitre saw.

man using a mitre saw
Pros
  • Unmatched speed and precision for a wide range of angled cuts.
  • Capable of handling large workpieces and making precise cuts at various angles.
  • Suitable for both rough and finish work.
Cons
  • A great deal more expensive and less portable than mitre boxes.
  • Require electricity, or a cordless battery and charger, and will make more dust and noise.
  • There are safety risks associated with power tools, such as electrical hazards and kickback.

Hand Saws

If you own a hand saw then you can use that. You will however need to be able to calculate the angles that you need. That can be quite tricky to do especially for beginners.

man using a hand saw
Pros
  • They are a versatile saw and can also be used for a variety of cutting tasks, including angled cuts.
  • They are readily available and most people will own one.
  • They cut really well and also easy enough to use, though getting the angles right is the hard part.
Cons
  • You do need skill and practice to achieve consistent accuracy.
  • Will take more effort and time compared to power tools.
  • Not the best solution for large or repetitive tasks.

Japanese Saws

man using a Japanese saw

Japanese saws are also a good option for fine cuts. Like the hand saw, you still need to calculate and mark out the angles. A mitre box has those built in. These are great for those really fine neat cuts.

Pros
  • Very sharp and precise for delicate cuts.
  • They are lightweight and easy to handle.
  • They are a good choice for delicate woodworking projects or detailed joinery.
Cons
  • They will require specific sharpening techniques and expertise to maintain sharpness.
  • They are more challenging to use for beginners.
  • They have limited adjustability for angled cuts compared to miter boxes.

Making the Right Choice

There are a few things to consider if a mitre box is worth the money. Have a look at my list below for some considerations to think carefully about.

  1. Think about the type of projects you want to do or plan to do. For smaller, simpler projects with basic angled cuts, mitre boxes are a solid choice. If you are taking on bigger jobs that will demand a lot of cutting, then an electric or cordless mitre saw will give you superior speed and precision.
  2. A lot of this really depends on your current skill level. Beginners will find that mitre boxes are the best choice as the angles are there and ready to use. Trying to measure and cut angles with a hand saw is not easy. Later down the road you can always get a power mitre saw.
  3. There is no doubt that a mitre box box is the most affordable option, followed by hand saws Japanese saws and power mitre saws. Only you know how much you want to spend at a particular moment in time. If it is just for a few pieces of skirting board, or a picture frame, then a mitre box is perfect. Anything bigger or more repetitive, save up for a mitre saw and make your life easier.
  4. All mitre boxes are light, compact and portable. That can make your life easier. Power miter saws require more space and may not be suitable if you don't have a place to work or a place to store them.
  5. Finally a mitre box eliminates any risk of electrical hazards or kickback associated with power tools. Hand saws require careful handling and attention to detail to prevent injuries. Power miter saws demand proper safety precautions and training to minimise risks.

My Final Thoughts

In the ideal world, we would just go out and buy a mitre saw. They are not cheap with the average price in the UK of around £70-£150 for an electric model, and £150-£250 for a cordless model. The humble mitre box costs around £20, so a huge difference, but certainly worth the money.

You will get frustrated using a mitre box as they can be fiddly to use when you try them the first time. So for small jobs they work well and are affordable. If you have a lot of work to do, consider the larger mitre saw options.

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