My experience with HF 12" Sliding Miter Saw #1: Setup

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Blog entry by EEngineer posted 09-06-2012 01:23 AM 81123 reads 7 times favorited 21 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of My experience with HF 12" Sliding Miter Saw series Part 2: New blade and some real work »

There has been a lot of discussion about the Harbor Freight SCMS saws. I recently purchased the HF Model #98194 miter saw thought I would share my experiences with it.

I have desired a sliding compound miter saw for quite a while. But I just couldn’t see spending $500 – $600 for the high end saws. Harbor Freight has lower cost models of sliding miter saws for sale. I looked at the HF models in the store. I could have lived with a 10” model but the 10” model from HF is junk! The 12” model seemed much better built, slide action was a helluva lot smoother and, for a $50 price difference, the extra capacity of the 12” version was welcome.

List price on the 12” sliding miter saw was $199. With a Labor Day special, the price went down to $169. With the ubiquitous 20% HF coupon, the price went down to ~$135. For that price, I couldn’t resist – I bought one.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I had been looking at this saw for several months to a year and I thought I knew what I was getting into. Reading reviews and whatever was posted about this saw on the Web led me to believe I was going to have to put in at least a couple of days tuning this saw before it would be usable. I wasn’t wrong.

When I first fired up the saw the gears sounded a little “growly” to me. One web-site suggested that the Chinese were a little parsimonious with the grease in the gearbox attached to the motor. I opened mine up and, sure enough, there wasn’t much grease in there. I packed the box with heavy-duty wheel-bearing grease that I had on the shelf and it quieted down a lot.

While I had the motor dismounted, I noticed a lot of flash on the air holes in the blade shroud for motor cooling. Since this would limit the flow of air to cool the motor, I decided to clean these up to get as much airflow as possible through the motor.

One review (it might even have been on the HF website) mentioned that after using the saw for only a few minutes the screw holding the blade guard vibrated loose and the sawblade destroyed the plastic bladeguard. Now, that big 12” blade is mighty imtimidating – the last thing I wanted was for that blade to be throwing plastic shards at me. Further, when I dismounted the motor, I found one of the 4 screws mounting the motor to be only finger-tight! I used Loctite on the gearbox screws, the motor mounting screws and the blade guard mounting screws.

Now, I am not going to spend much time describing how to setup a miter saw: there are plenty of websites that do that! In fact, I’ll include some links at the end of this chapter that show exactly that. I am more concerned with sharing the specific problems of the HF SCMS saw and what I did to solve them.

Other reviews mention this saw being adjusted perfectly out of the box. Not mine! A trial cut showed that the blade was not perpendicular to the fence or the table. I started with the table adjustments. There are two stops – one for 90 and one for 45. I had a tough time trying to adjust these – the adjustment would get close, then “jump” suddenly. I finally fixed this by dismounting the bolts they used for stops and filing the raised identification letters off the heads of these bolts. Once the heads of the bolts were smooth, I had no trouble dialing the adjustment in perfectly.

I had a helluva time adjusting the blade perpendicular to the fence. I started by locking the slide in the rear-most position, effectively making the saw behave like a fixed miter saw. I adjusted the fence perpendicular to the blade and made a couple of trial cuts on small pieces of wood – it looked good. However, when I released the slide and did a trial cut on a 2X12, the cut was not square! The blade didn’t seem to be tracking the slides. In other words, the blade didn’t seem to be exactly parallel with the slide travel. There are no adjustments on this saw for blade tracking.

At this point, the saw almost went back to Harbor Freight. But I had already spent a day and a half working on this saw. If I returned the saw and traded it for another I would have to repeat all the work I had done so far. I sat down with the assembly drawings in the manual and tried to figure out where any tracking error might come from.

The sliding tubes ride in linear bearings in the casting that swivels for bevel cuts. The head that holds the motor, swivel and blade is attached to the end of these slide tubes with two setscrews. A cap at the back end of the slide tubes keeps the tubes parallel and is also fastened with two setscrews. If one of the slide tubes was not fully inserted into the head before the setscrews were tightened, then the that would cock the head and leave the blade at an angle to the slide travel.

So I loosened all 4 setscrews and applied a bar clamp along the axis of each slide tube. I then retightened the setscrews (again, with Loctite). I also changed the way I set the blade perpendicular to the fence. Rather than just setting it static with the slides at the rear end of travel, I ran the slides through their full range of motion and made sure that the blade was traveling perpendicular to the fence. After I had it adjusted this way, I checked the blade to make sure it was perpendicular to the fence at the far end of slide travel in both directions.

Success! A trial cut on another 2X12 showed that the cut was square!

Altogether it took about 2 calendar days (I couldn’t work on the miter saw exclusively) to tune this saw up to my satisfaction. And I haven’t even touched the laser guide yet! Note that, at this point, I haven’t really used the saw. I bought this saw because I have a project in mind where I need its capabilities. Next weekend, I will see if I can actually use the saw to do real work. I’ll update this blog with the results.
Helpful links:

Miter saw tuneup:

Specific HF miter saw tips:

-- "Find out what you cannot do and then go do it!"

21 comments so far

View longgone's profile


5688 posts in 4643 days

#1 posted 09-06-2012 01:36 AM

You have a lot more patience with HF than I will ever have. I hope the saw holds up after some use.

View 47phord's profile


182 posts in 3572 days

#2 posted 09-06-2012 02:21 AM

I have a 10” HF SCMS that I bought 7 or 8 years ago and I hate it. The blade is square to the table at 90 deg. but anything else it is off. For the longest time I thought I was too stupid to cut a proper miter joint until I realized that the saw was cutting at about 47 deg when it is set for 45. There is no adjustment for this on the saw I have. Based on what you went through, I think I’ll just spend the extra $200 and get a brand name if I ever want to upgrade mine. Meantime, I’ll stick with cutting miter joints on my TS with my EB-3.

View GrandpaLen's profile


1652 posts in 3607 days

#3 posted 09-06-2012 02:43 AM

Well then, for the price of a half ways decent circular saw you have a decent, or better, 12” SCMS, even if the laser guide doesn’t line up, which it most likely will.

Just goes to show ya, those little 10 year old Chinese girls probably aren’t given enough time to properly align everything on your saw as it speeds down the assembly line, not their fault or that of the saw. ;-)

Many of the top brands are exported from there now, the fit and finish may be better on the $500.00 saws, but even they need to be tweeked some, out of the box.

Good save on your ‘out of the box’ adjustments.

Work Safely and have Fun. – Len

-- Mother Nature should be proud of what you've done with her tree. - Len ...just north of a stone's throw from the oHIo, river that is, in So. Indiana.

View thedude50's profile


3613 posts in 3812 days

#4 posted 09-06-2012 02:46 AM

Ya know I recently set up and played with the Kobalt Miter saw in this same price range and the Kobalt was square and true out of the box. I simply don’t buy any tools from HF that require accuracy so i am limited to what i will buy from them. I also look at my time as money two full days is worth 500 dollars to me Because if I work on something in the shop for 2 days I charge 500 dollars for it. That said I would have gone with the DeWalt and known it was ready to go out of the box and a better saw than the Kobalt or the HF.

-- Please check out my new stores and

View redryder's profile


2393 posts in 4436 days

#5 posted 09-06-2012 05:47 AM

I agree with Greg. You have much more patience than I have. I would rather choke down the higher price and have something I can work with instead of work on.

Good review and photos of this tool…....................

-- mike...............

View SchottFamily's profile


105 posts in 3827 days

#6 posted 09-06-2012 06:38 AM

Luckily – and after reading all of the negative hype about them, I really do feel lucky – my HF 10” SCMS was good to go after a little fence tweak and a blade change. I’ve actually got both the 10” SCMS and DBCMS on the same table. Because the miiter angle is so wonky, the slider is set to 90 and the non miter is set to 45. They’re both true, locked down, and I will never move either to a different angle. I too looked at the kobalt and I’m kind of curious about them. There weren’t enough reviews when I decided to go with the HF. For the pair, I’m in it for less than $100 – and they’re more than worth that to me. I did print out your adventure though – it was really well done and will come in handy should I need to true them up again.


View EEngineer's profile


1139 posts in 4948 days

#7 posted 09-06-2012 09:55 AM

One of the reviews I read about HF miter saws described them as “a set of castings for a very reasonable price that a little TLC can upgrade into a great deal”. My saw certainly fell into this category. The design of this saw seems good but the manufacturing process is pretty shoddy.

If I did this for a living, I too would buy something useable right out of the box. But this is just a hobby for me – there is no way I want to drop $600 (DeWalt – which I really like) to $1400 (Festool Kapex – which even those who bought it and love it think is overpriced) on a miter saw.

I have also bought several old tools that I restored and use in my shop. So far, on the HF miter saw, I have spent a lot less time than I did on some of those old tools. But, and this is a big but, I have yet to actually cut any wood I use to build something with it! This saw still has plenty of opportunity to fail miserably!

Stay tuned…

-- "Find out what you cannot do and then go do it!"

View NormG's profile


6575 posts in 4338 days

#8 posted 09-07-2012 01:13 AM

Thanks for the journal on the set up. Sounds like it will be very productive tool

-- Norman - I never never make a mistake, I just change the design.

View Nospampls's profile


1 post in 3175 days

#9 posted 05-12-2013 03:15 PM

I realize that this thread is pretty old. I found it after purchasing a similar Harbor Freight model 69684 12” sliding compound miter saw that looks like the photo in the OP’s post, with a similar tracking problem.

My first clue that something was amiss was when I couldn’t get the fence adjustment right. I finally adjusted it by making sure the scrap I cut was at 90 deg when using the saw in the rear, fixed position (not drawing it forward on the slide rails).

Then, when I made a full cut, I of course got an accurate cut when I lowered the blade. But when I drew the blade forward, the kerf moved slightly to the left. The result was a jogged kerf and the rear of the blade teeth tore up the surface behind the cut where it had been clean.

I quickly determined that the saw carriage was not tracking properly. To better see it, I took a piece of plywood with a straight side and marked a line on it at 90 deg to that side. I put the straight side against the fence and the line under the blade, aligning a tooth with the line when the carriage was fully retracted. When I drew the carriage forward, the tooth moved away from the line about 1/16” at the end of travel.

Thus the horizontal hinge pin is not perpendicular to the slide rails. The effect is that although the fence can be adjusted perpendicular to the blade, the blade will move a bit sideways as it’s drawn forward on the rails. So you can adjust the fence such that it’s perpendicular to the slide rails or parallel to the axis of the hinge pin, but not both.

There is no adjustment procedure for this misalignment.

I didn’t have two long clamps handy, so I loosened the two set screws attaching the carriage to the slide rails (part #43 on my drawing) and tapped (hard, with a rubber mallet) on the carriage at the slide rail until I got the carriage to track straight, then re-tightened the set screws. Basically, I twisted the axis of the hinge bolt relative to the slide arms, bringing it perpendicular.

I hope this helps someone else, just as EEngineer helped me!

View RibsBrisket4me's profile


1554 posts in 3840 days

#10 posted 05-12-2013 07:01 PM


View alanklink's profile


1 post in 1970 days

#11 posted 08-29-2016 08:27 PM

Thanks for this review and well-constructed detailed help. I purchased the same model, knowing in advance it would be a royal pain to fine-tune it. I bought it anyway, hoping the price would overcome any downside.

My first project was a floating shelf. Since i had read about the tool in advance of the purchase, I knew even a simple 45 cut could be a challenge to achieve, but I did not expect the laser to be off as well. I used sample cuts to determine variance and made adjustments accordingly, using a triangle to determine square of the turntable, fence and blade. The laser gave me an added checkpoint. After a few hours, I was moderately comfortable (not confident) with the idea that I would get something close enough to a squared, 45 cut.

I didn’t cut a join as the finished shelf pieces (3 sides) were screwed and glued to a 2×4 frame. Everything fit so closely that I was satisfied with the result. However, if the shelf were for a client, I would NEVER use this tool.

View EEngineer's profile


1139 posts in 4948 days

#12 posted 08-30-2016 11:34 AM

I finally threw the laser away! Useless!

I am currently refinishing my kitchen and used this saw extensively. You can make perfect miter cuts with it, but I found myself checking every change in angle with a 45 square to get good results. The worst was finished crown molding where I couldn’t just use caulk to hide minor imperfections. Each cut was 15 minutes of setup and 30 seconds of cut. The “click-ball” stops that they used on my saw are not a good choice. I notice that the later versions of this saw have more positive bar and slot stops that might work better.

If you have more money you spend less time. If you have less money, you spend more time.

-- "Find out what you cannot do and then go do it!"

View jhurrell's profile


18 posts in 2183 days

#13 posted 12-14-2016 06:28 PM

I bought this saw a couple years ago and regretted it ever since. I’m glad I found this because I may be able to fix the out of square issues.

-- John, Rochester NY

View MrPortable's profile


3 posts in 1839 days

#14 posted 01-07-2017 04:57 AM

I have the same saw. Exactly how do you open the motor’s gear box to add grease?? I can’t figure out how to do it. I removed the 2 screws but I can’t slide the bearing off. How did you do it??

View EEngineer's profile


1139 posts in 4948 days

#15 posted 01-14-2017 02:59 PM

Hmmm, it has been a while…

As I recall, it didn’t need much force. The two screws were removed and the bearing slid easily out of the saw body. Be aware that there is a helical gear attached to that shaft on the inside. Perhaps turning the shaft slightly while removing the bearing will help?

I really recommend doing this – my saw had very little grease. I got the feeling that the saw would last much longer with more grease in there.

-- "Find out what you cannot do and then go do it!"

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