Chopper or mitre?


Jul 13, 2006
North Massachusetts
As I am getting deeper and deeper into this the mitres come into question. At this point I have been using a Dewalt mitre saw with a good 120 tooth fine kerf blade, then using the mitre sander to true up.I know the saw is junk in this business, but I used to carve and gold leaf my own frames after joining so it worked just fine for me. Now I am thinking about a better mitre saw or a chopper. Which would you suggest for a home shop? I only build frames for myself which would be about 100 a year or so. Looking for the best quality possible without spending a fortune. I have limited room also, because I have so many other woodworking tools.
Hi Ceefive. I cover this topic all the time at my school, so I'll give you my $.02.

Choosing between a saw and a chopper is like choosing between Ginger and Maryanne - mostly a matter of personal taste and budget.

Although I generally prefer a chopper to a single mitre saw (no saw dust; virtually noiseless, makes two cuts at once, and you get that Stairmaster-like workout while you're framing) since you already have the saw and you only make a 100 frames per year, no need to discard it.

The Dewalt is actaully a fine saw IMO, but by itself, no single-miter saw provides the accuracy and repeatability that professional framing demands. You need a measuring and clamping system. Allow me to explain why:

A frame requires eight cuts, each of which must be at a precise 45-degree angle. Any deviation results in gaps

In adddition, the opposite sides of each frame must be identical in length. If they are not, you will again produce gaps.

Because of this extreme need for both accuracy and repeatability, a measuring and clamping system is a necessity.

The two major brands are Clearmount and Pheadra and either will cost less than a chopper.

I hope this helps. Good luck.

Paul Cascio
"The Guerrilla Framer"
American Picture Framing Academy
Or just bite the bullet, buy a used Morso for $900, use the heck out of it for 30 years, and sell it for $2,000. need there be any more discussion?

Saws wear out. Choppers just keep going. I learned on a 1928 Jyden.
Have been using our current DeWalt saw for over 7 years averaging over 100 frames a week every year. Using the Pheadra system and their blades, cutting both wood and metal.

The saw is far from junk in this business if used and maintained correctly.

Just my 2 cents
Where is the best place to buy a Pheadra system or something similar? My mitre saw is almost new and works well for the most part. I have a homemade measure and stop system set up that works okay, but would like something better if I am going to stick with the saw. It is interesting to me though that when I cut my mitres and then put them through the mitre sander that each cut is slightly different in the place where the mitre sander starts to remove material.So every cut is not exactly the same! Maybe it is slight movement or deviation of the blade, or possibly slight changes in the moulding itself (slight warp or milling irregularity)where it sits against the mitre saw shelf. Anyway, looking for improvement.
I just looked around at these two units and I like them very much. Which is the best model between the Pheadra or the Clearmount? Clearmount goes on about having silkscreened markers instead of "some others" that use labels. Anyway, just wondering if there is a difference between trhe two.Maybe I will try to get one of these and also buy the best blade I can get and see how that goes.
Originally posted by Ceefive:
It is interesting to me though that when I cut my mitres and then put them through the mitre sander that each cut is slightly different in the place where the mitre sander starts to remove material.So every cut is not exactly the same!
Without the motor running, pull the blade all the way down and observe the distance between the blade and the edge of the kerf in the table. Now attempt to wiggle the saw back and forth horizontally. I can almost guarantee that you will be able to see the blade move back and forth. Besides the flex in the saw pivot assembly, there is potential for flex in the blade itself. And beyond the stress that you can induce as you push the saw down is the opposing stress of the saw cutting into the wood, which will vary on the hardness of the wood, the width of the profile and how fast you cut through it.

Remember, this is a contractors saw: measurements of +/- 1/16" or +/- 1° is close enough for (house) framing.

However, I agree that with care, a good blade, a good measuring/stop system and a good sander you will be able to get joints as good as any other method. Since you already have the saw, your production is low, and the saw will be able to cut some things that a chopper can't or shouldn't, you may be best off to put your money and efforts into it.
Ceefive, Clearmount is in MA. They were in Worcester, but just relocated to Foxboro. Call Winnie Bates at Clearmount and go visit. Or, if you're in the Worcester area, stop by and I'll show you mine. (don't get fresh guys!)

I have a Dewalt system with the Clearmount and am very happy with it. The Phaedra is nice too. They mount to the saw differently, and each has it's advantages and disadvantages, like anything else.

But, back to your original problem ... if you're sanding every mitre, that should true up any irregularities from your saw. One of Paul's comments was concerning "matching lengths of opposite legs." Especially with the sander, this is also easy to check, even without a scale. (although the scale will help a LOT!) Just lay the opposing legs on their "backs" so you have the mitre to mitre against each other and "see" if they are equal lengths. If not, sand the long one until they are. I usually cut with an extra 1/16" so I have room to sand while still leaving the 1/8" allowance for expansion.

Hope that was clear.

Also, if your sanding, AND truing the length and your joins are still not true and flat, you'd better check and calibrate your sander!
Cliff, Thats exactly what I have been doing.I have just found it fascinating that every cut on the mitre saw (before sanding)is slightly different by a hair. Anyway, the mitres have been coming out great(after sanding), but I just want to improve the system of getting there. I did calibrate the sander and have been very happy with the results. I am going to buy a measuring system and a really good blade and go that way I think. It just comes down now to which is the better system (Pheadra or Clearmount)and who has the best blade. I am temptemted to go with Clearmount because they are local to me.
We use a 12" Dewalt single saw with the Phaedra system, and are very happy with the results. Our Mors0 F chopper is now only used for fillets. More often chops that come in from one popular vendor in particular require sanding, but the ones we saw in-house are always perfect. Some profiles that used to chip with the chopper have been put back on the wall, since this is no longer a concern.

When we were shopping a year ago, we chose the Phaedra - because we got a great deal at one of the trade shows. However, the Clearmount product is very worthy of consideration too. Both products are very similar. Winnie from Clearmount is a grumbler and literally bends over backwards to make sure customers questions are answered.

If you're going to Atlanta for the trade show in 5 weeks, both will likely be on display - with some show specials. Since you already have the saw, you'll just need the measuring guides and optional stands.

Best regards
Get The Picture
Rhode Island
Carving & gilding 100 frames a year could be nearly a full time occupation. Just curious why you are going to such great lengths (no pun intended). I'm sure there are plenty of professionals in your neck of the world that would love to have your business. Why settle for DIY? A top noch painting in an inferior frame is no longer top notch.
I personally prefer Maryanne over Ginger.
You might also look into blades that are desgned for mitering. A 120 tooth thin kerf sounds more like a laminate or acrylic blade. I have a Hitachi on a Phaedra system and I use 80 and 100 tooth blades thay have a 1/8" kerf. They are quite strong and don't tend to wander with the grain.
Another upgrade might be to get a second matching saw and have them dialed in on the left and right cuts. As you use the saw the detents will wear and you will lose accuracy.
I don't know if Framerguy's set up is still in the archives, but he had a 2 saw system that was pretty sweet, and dead-on accurate. Maybe he can post a picture again.
Terry, I just got into the framing because of inconsistancies with quality and delivery times. I had them built by several framers and was spending around 30000-40000 a year or so in 24ct frames depending on the number and the size and complexity of the frames, with some of them being questionable quality. Splitting corners, gesso peeling off the frames resulting in the gold leaf falling off etc. That got me back to building my own again at first to take up the slack, then to regain control of a weak link in my business.The art of the frame making has always facinated me also but it got to be too much of a workload, I was painting by day and framing at night. My frames were pretty top notch, but not worth the work. I also had a problem with the galleries having many artists work all having the same frames. I have now gone to museums and done drawings from antique frames and had mouldings made for me which will only be sold to me.In some cases I go to the factory and they let me have input on exactly how I want the finish also. I found a large number of my clients could not tell the difference between a chop stock and a finished corner frame, and in some cases were leaving the finished corner frame behind and having it reframed in a moulding of their choice in chop stock. I am dead serious about my work however and its presentation, which is the reason I am spending so much time trying to get things right.My work is on the expensive side and things need to be right. The other problem I had with the framers doing 24ct finished corner frames was the time. Everyone is always backed up for weeks, and though I ordered with plenty of lead time for some of my deadlines, in some cases the frames still never made it to me on time, or the quality looked rushed, which is unacceptable.Some local shops I have seen here and in Florida doing pre-finished frames in small shopos are still not up to the quality I want. I see slightly open corners, not perfectly matched corners (eith too high or too low) and things like that. Work that I would say is okay for low cost paintings or prints, but not something that can replace the finished corner frame which is what I am looking to do.As things go on with this and I have all the mouldings that I want made, I may try to find a local framer that does really good work to use my stock to lighten my work load.It would be nice to relax once in a while.
There are a number of really great framers around but by my math I'd have to say maybe you have gotten the quality & service you've paid for. If you have 100 frames average size 20"x24" x3" wide that comes to $400 per. That should get you a pretty nice pre finished stock mldg. especially if you are a good customer & work out a bit of a discount. But carved & gilded with genuine gold leaf? I could easily spend 15 to 20 hr on a frame like that. Sorry, not for $400. You are right to have high standards and I know there are framers that can meet them but you've got to understand that that with quality and service comes a comesurate price. Only fair right?
Maybe thats about right. But to me 40000 a year for frames is alot which is why I am taking this thing over with pre-finished moulding. The ones I know that are even more high end in the carved and gilded dept. are getting really price prohibitive for me and the time constraint is beyond belief. That gets tough when you are dealing with a lot of Galleries that have a short seasonal market, always demanding new things.With Galleries taking 40+% and the other materials involved it starts to hurt. Not to mention that when a Gallery ends up dinging your custom frames, no matter how you slice it the artist will end up with the responsibility of making it right.Thats how most galleries are. They always have the "I didn't do it attitude". I've been working with galleries now for over 30 years and some things never change. I will still do the occasional carved and leafed frame, because I like the quality and look for specific things. Just not for every work out the door. Just trying to make a living.
I hear ya. While 40,000 a year would be a great account to have I don't think a shop could keep its doors open on that alone. Just property tax on our business' building & health ins. for me & my family alone costs more than that. Still you should be able to get some pretty nice prefinished at that price. As for the problems with cutting & joining your equipment is fine you're just experiencing what every framer goes through on a daily basis & that's what we're expected to "make right". Hence what we have to charge. You certainly won't find many rich framers (just for kicks you oughta search out the how many miles on your car thread over on warped) but by & large, at least around this forum, you'll find they take great pride in their work & spare no effort to do great work.
Thanks Terry, I know a few framers that pretty much mirror what you say. As far as this forum and the people on it go, I have to say I am very impressed. I have learned a great deal already, and I can tell that the majority here love what they do and do it right. I appreciate the advice I have gotten here and look forward to learning more from people with more experience than I who are kind enough to be willing to share. By the way, I bought the Clearmount system today. Went down a picked it up. Nice folks and what looks to be a very nice product!