Makita LS1216L – Powerful Compound Miter Saw but with Alignment Issues
There aren’t so many models competing for the position of best dual bevel sliding compound miter saw out there. They distinguish themselves in small ways – lasers here, rubber grip carrying handles there – but in the end they’re all working with pretty much the same amount of power. So in this field, it’s the design that makes all the difference.
When you’re laying out hundreds of dollars on a miter saw, you’re expecting every tiny design detail affecting accuracy and precision to have been taken care of. Isn’t precision the whole reason to spend all that extra money on a saw? The Makita LS1216L seems impressive at first, especially since it’s got an enormous capacity and a 15″ slide, longer than many competitors. But a closer look reveals unfortunate flaws that make this saw, which had the potential to be a great miter saw, a runner-up at best.
Best and worst in class
The Makita LS1216L has the largest cutting capacity in its class… which just makes it even more disappointing when this saw fails to measure up. Some features are great, but there are so many alignment problems that if you really need precision to within a degree, you’re going to have to look elsewhere. However, if you’re looking for a really powerful saw with lots of room for rough cuts, pipe, posts, and other projects that have wiggle room, this one might do the trick.
- Large cutting capacity, slide, and depth adjustment
- Built-in laser for precision cutting
- Tall fences with unfortunate alignment problems
- Some other annoying design oversights
Largest capacity, lots of power
The Makita LS1216L claims to have the largest cutting capacity in its class, and I’m not inclined to argue. The fence itself is 5 1/2″ tall, the tallest I’ve seen, and the saw retracts high enough to accommodate 8″ crown if it’s nested, and 6 1/2″ vertical stock. With most dual bevel saws, crown that’s over about 6″ has to be cut flat, which makes angle calculations tedious. With this saw, you can cut almost any commercial crown molding available without the hassle.
Not only does it make tall cuts, it handles long ones too. This saw has a sliding cut that’s a full 15″ long. With over a foot of cutting length, you’d expect the rails to be wobbly or bumpy, but they’re not. You might need to oil them a little, but they’re straight and strong and your saw will stay true throughout the entire cut (and if it doesn’t, it’s not a problem with the rails – more on that later). In fact, you can use your miter saw to do a lot of the work that your table saw previously did.
Another great function that Makita put in this saw is the ability to adjust the depth easily and quickly. There’s a screw for depth adjustment that you can use to turn your miter saw into a dado, groove, and rabbet maker. To top it all off, the 15-amp motor won’t bog down under load, so you can use that power to cut lots of other materials in addition to lumber – PVC, aluminum, even steel (as long as you have the right blades). With all of this extra functionality, you could possibly replace several tools in your workshop, or at least have a handy substitute.
Some people love lasers, and some people hate them. The great thing about the Makita LS1216L is that no matter which category you fall into, this saw will work for you. This miter saw has a built-in laser that’s thin and precise and can be used on either side of the blade. The best thing about it, though, is that it can be turned on and off at any time during the cut.
Some folks just use a laser to line up a cut, and then prefer to use their pencil marks for the actual cut. Some woodworkers hardly use lasers at all because they’re not used to them or because they tend to conceal pencil marks, which is a problem if you distrust lasers in general. With this Makita, the laser’s on when you want it, and off when you don’t.
As I mentioned, the fences on the Makita LS1216L are very tall. This is great for tall stock and crown, but it can actually be a problem with shorter stock. It’s difficult to clamp a short piece over the top of tall fence, and especially with crown and other shaped material, clamping it around the outside edge of the fence is tricky. The vertical vise that’s included only works with flat stock.
Another problem with the fence, and a more serious one, is that the fences on a lot of units are not aligned. Sometimes they’re not square to the table, and sometimes they’re not square to the blade. These fences are not machined to the base as in some other models, and you do have the ability to adjust the fence within a degree or so. However, if your unit is farther out of alignment than this, there’s no way for you to square your miter saw.
Not only this, but Makita has responded that many of the reported alignment issues are, in fact, within specifications, which means that your saw is technically not defective and you might not be able to return it. Whether you get one of these misaligned models will determine your experience with this miter saw.
Other design problems
Although there are many great things going for it, the Makita LS1216L does have some design oversights that can significantly affect user experience. For example, the carrying handles are difficult to hold, and at 58 pounds, you’re going to wish that someone in the design department had been paying more attention to this.
The manual is pretty awful – it’s printed in extremely small font with technical pictures. In another model, this wouldn’t be a problem, but since you’re going to have to make a lot of adjustments on this Makita before you can use it, the manual will frustrate you from the minute you open the box.
Some units develop problems with blade deflection in long cuts. The dust collection isn’t even worth mentioning, and if you order this saw and decide to keep it, you’ll have a hard time finding parts for it. Lots of little things, to be sure, but they can add up and take their toll on your work.
As you might expect, the reviews on the Makita LS1216L are mixed. Some customers got good units and are thrilled with their performance. Other customers got bad units and regret their purchases.
- “The single best feature that distinguishes it from the others is the laser, which unlike other brands is built in and works really well, and can be switched on and off and operates throughout the cut (unlike others).”
- “If you want a disappointing, out of square and misaligned saw with cheap bearings and no company support or willingness to fix their own design flaws, then this is the perfect saw for you!!!!”
- “Amazing miter saw! Huge capacity and accuracy. I tried others in the same class, all lacked in some department. There is nothing on this saw that I regret.”
- “A trial cut on the 0 degree miter detent revealed that the saw blade was 2 or 3 degrees out of alignment with the fence. Following the instructions in the manual for realigning the fence I found that there was no way to adjust the saw to cut square on the 0 degree miter notch!”
- “The dual rod travel reduces the depth of the unit which is a big plus in any shop. The smoothness of the movements in all directions is very good.”
Overall, it seems that ordering this miter saw is really a crapshoot. There’s no way to tell if you’re going to get a good unit or a bad one. However, the average customer review is over 3 out of 5 stars, so it seems that there are more good units out there than bad ones if you want to take your chances.
Where to get one
Makita customer service hasn’t been very sympathetic about the problems described here. If you want to make sure that you’re covered in case of a defective unit, purchase from a retailer like Amazon, which accepts returns and exchanges and even refunds your shipping costs upon receipt of your bad unit.