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Radial Arm Saw

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  • Radial Arm Saw

    Even I just celebrated my 60th birthday, yesterday for the first time I saw a radial arm saw in action.
    Old Norm Abraham plowing some slots across wide board at 4 degrees on a Craftsman and using a wobbling dado set.
    I realize how amazingly easy it is to do such a thing on a radial arm saw.
    Doing that on my table saw would have been much more difficult and dangerous (the boards were about 10 to 12 feet long).
    I was born and raised in France, radial arm saw are unknown on the other side of the great sea.
    I understand that they felt out of favor, I believe because they were very incurrate. Is this correct?
    I can pick one in good shape for $100.00 (in fact this is a Ridgid).
    Is this worth it?
    As any one tried to mount a dado set on sliding miter saw? Is the shaft too short?

    For the last few days I have been contemplating the idea of building the extension table on my new R4511 but it is just about 15 to 20 degrees in my garage, I think I wait a bit longer!.
    Does any one of you live in or around SLC, Utah?
    Have a great day.
    Last edited by b2rtch; 01-09-2010, 08:35 AM.

  • #2
    Re: Radial Arm Saw

    hopefully, cwsmith will address this thread as he is very knowledgeable wher RASs are concerned. pending his comments, i would offer the following.

    a RAS is a great cross cutting tool. they fell out of favor due to a preception of danger arising from teh moving motor carriage and a tendency to be difficult to keep in alignment. i have a sears RAS from the 60s that is a great compliment to my table saw, miter saw and band saw. for $100, if it works properly, it would be a good addition to you shop. i have used it with an 8" stack dado set to knotch balusters and it works very well. try not to use a wobble dado as they don't make square bottom cuts and be very careful. if too much material is addressed at one time, the motor cariage can accelerate towards the operator, which can be dangerous. however, with proper care, it is a useful tool. i would not, however, rip cut material on it. i have done it, but i don't make a habit of it when a table saw does a much better job of ripping. HTH.
    there's a solution to every just have to be willing to find it.


    • #3
      Re: Radial Arm Saw

      Arm saws are are a great tool

      the saws can be a pain to align, any moving of them can "unaligned them" as any twist in the base will result in a slightly different alignment of the saw.

      with that being said, if keep in one location and once one has it set up it is not usually necessary to mess with it.

      there are stops on the angles and a crank system for elevation, and the table is then adjusted to the blade or carriage.

      yes I think there is a Danger with using a arm saw, as your restricting it forward movement and have had it catch and move across
      (if it is a good solid frame I think it is less likely than a cheap unit, (Black and decker made a cheap one with a light tubular frame it was not safe),

      I will say never use a dado head on a miter saw,

      for the price it sounds like a reasonable deal, IF I did not have one and ran in to a similar deal I would more than likely buy it,
      Push sticks/blocks Save Fingers
      "The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good."
      attributed to Samuel Johnson
      PUBLIC NOTICE: Due to recent budget cuts, the rising cost of electricity, gas, and the current state of the economy............the light at the end of the tunnel, has been turned off.


      • #4
        Re: Radial Arm Saw

        Do you prefer a brand?
        Craftsman are very common.
        I can have a Craftsman with electronic controls for $150.00
        Should I stay away from electronic controls?


        • #5
          Re: Radial Arm Saw

          The first tool my rough sawn lumber ever meets when it comes into the shop is an old Craftsman RAS. It's the safest way I have for cutting long planks or flitches down to size. I attached a Drill Chuck to the other end of the motor's shaft. When the Drill Press has been set up to perform a repetitive operation and I don't want to disturb that setup, I can turn the RAS into a "horizontal" drill press. I set it up this way for attaching small sanding discs and drums.

          With the saw blade removed, it runs very quiet while sanding.


          • #6
            Re: Radial Arm Saw


            I have an old 1974 Craftsman RAS, it's the central tool for my little shop. Purchased new back then, it has seen a lot of years and is my favorite tool.

            For $100, I don't see how you can go wrong on the Ridgid RAS. My Craftsman was made by Emerson (Ridgid's parent company); but of course, in 1974 it was made in America!

            In my opinion, you will not find a better cross-cut tool. Mine will crosscut approx 14 inches or so, IIRC. Once properly set-up, and with a proper fence and stop, you can cross-cut very long boards all day long and they'll not vary a 1/32 of an inch. About the only limit on board length will be your shop area. You simply can't do that on a table saw, in my opinion.

            As Finer mentioned, I would leave the ripping to the table saw, as I think that it does the best job; but, I have ripped a lot of material on my RAS, not having a table saw until just a couple of years ago... but now, my RAS is strickly a crosscut tool! If you do try to rip on the RAS, it is absolutely essential that you feed only to the back of the blade, and only if you have the anti-kickback pawls and spreader properly adjusted!

            Safety is a concern of course! But my approach is that the RAS is a lot safer than the table saw...because you can always see the blade and the cut, there are no blind cuts on the RAS. There is of course the tendency for the blade to advance (climb) if you do not physically pull the cut at the proper rate... and that means that you have to controll the carriage as it will want to rapidly advance on it's own, especially in hardwoods and/or thicker stock. It does take an "acquired" hand, but what power tool doesn't.

            Much of the so-called danger is simply that new users don't get properly acquinted with the saw and how it should be properly used. Lot's of opinions about that, even in some of the writings you will find. So, I'd be only too happy to answer any questions that you may have.

            Bottom line, the RAS can be a great tool and a fine addition to your shop. $100 - $150 can be a good deal on a late model RAS if it is in good shape. you can often find these at garage sales for $60 to $100 too, but be aware that abuse and neglect of the tool can render the tool in sad shape.

            Look for looseness in the column, arm, and/or carriage. When things are locked in place, nothing should jiggle or move. (Not even a little!) Unlocked, the carriage travel along the arm should be smooth, with no shudder, hesitation or drag along the whole arm.

            As far as electronic stuff, I don't really know. Just so much "bells and whistles" as far as I know. My RAS is way before any of these so-called enhancements.

            If the owner can walk you through the various adjustments/actions of the RAS, that would be great and it would give you some idea of what you should look for. (Don't forget the manual!) Typically, the RAS can be raised and lowered; the arm can swing left and right and it should have index stops at least at 45-and 90-degrees; the motor carriage/blade can rotate 360-degrees under the arm, and the carriage/blade can pivot left and right 180-degrees (with the blade and guard removed of course). Overall, that blade can be put in just about any position that you can imagine.

            On Craftsman and Ridgid units (and perhaps others) there is usually an accessory thread on the motor shaft at the oposite end from the blade. With the blade and guard removed, and with an accessory chuck, you can horizontal drill, as previously mentioned. At one time or another, there were other options for use on that end of the shaft too. I've only used a drill chuck and a sanding drum though.

            One of the problems with the RAS was that in it's "Heyday", it was billed almost like a ShopSmith... the do everything tool! Frankly, it was way oversold with some options that simply were too dangerous to even try, in my opinion. I'd never run a fly-cutter, shaper head, or some of the other things that were offered as options for the RAS. But, as a "saw" it's a darn nice tool to have!

            I hope this helps, and if you have further questions or concerns, don't hesitate to post 'em,

            Last edited by CWSmith; 01-09-2010, 08:54 PM.


            • #7
              Re: Radial Arm Saw

              Bert, I have the electronic model of the Craftsman RAS and it is the only large saw in the garage (no TS). As BHD mention it stays aligned perfectly as long as it stays in one place. The only problem with the electronics is that they run on batteries that are not typically used anymore and were becoming harder to find and pricey, they would not last very long in a cold shop either. I use a power supply for mine and have never worried about batteries for years.
              Your choice in blades makes a huge difference in your saws tendency to climb cut, choose a blade that is designated as a sliding miter saw blade (eg freud LU91) as these have a negative hook angel on the teeth and will not try to climb like a general purpose blade with a 15 degree hook. If you buy a craftsman check the recall, this will give you a far better blade guard and in many cases a new table surface


              • #8
                Re: Radial Arm Saw

                What does the electronic part do for me?
                Does it control the speed of the blade or indicate the angles or is it just gimmick?
                Thank you.


                • #9
                  Re: Radial Arm Saw

                  I can pick one in good shape for $100.00 (in fact this is a Ridgid).
                  Is this worth it?
                  In a word, NO, you can't go wrong for that price. Don't walk, RUN over there and pick it up ASAP. As long as it is in decent shape I would not hesitate to grab it at that price.
                  "It's a table saw, do you know where your fingers are?" Bob D. 2006



                  1/20/2017 - The Beginning of a new Error


                  • #10
                    Re: Radial Arm Saw

                    I saw the NYW episode too, and like you, wondered at a the RAS.

                    I can't help comparing a RAS to a SCMS though. Not a mickey mouse one, something like the RIDGID MS1290LZ or the Hitachi equivalent.

                    To my mind, there seems to be maybe 60-70% overlap in the capabilities of the two tools.

                    Differences I can see are that the RAS can load a dado set (but why, if I have one in my table saw), and the SCMS can do a myriad of angles the RAS can't.

                    I have a 10 inch no-name SCMS, and it's up for replacement. There's just too much play in it. 90 degree cuts end up being 89 or 91, 45 miters end up being 44. It seems to be in the sliding mechanism.

                    Another thing, the SCMS I have is a direct drive, noisy as hell thing from unsmoothland. RAS's I have seen are also direct drive.

                    I'm tending towards replacing the SCMS with the RIDGID MS1290LZ in April (assuming the HD Ultimate Power Deal returns). I am however, considering the used RAS option too. The dollars aren't that much of a factor, in the UPD, the MS1290LZ will be <$400. 549 is a bit steep, but that should change in April.

                    Can anyone compare the accuracy of a RAS (say a Craftsman one or even a DeWalt) with the 12" RIDGID? Is blade diameter a factor? I need the width capacity (12" at 90), depth capability (4" at 90) and above all, accuracy.


                    • #11
                      Re: Radial Arm Saw


                      Read my previous post. I cannot imagine, in any way, shape, or form that a SCMS can "do more angles" than an RAS... my RAS will swivel a full 360-degrees around the column, rotate 180 under the arm, and bevel 180 within the yoke.... and do any combination of the three, plus elevate and lower a considerable distance.

                      Not that you may want to, but can you rip on a SCMS, cove cut, or for that matter position the blade horizontal to the table?

                      With the exception of the Ryobi models, I believe most, if not all DeWalt, Delta, Ridgid, and Craftsman brand RAS's are equipped with induction motors, which are quieter and stronger than the universal motors normally fitted with SCMS units.

                      The big advantage to the SCMS of course it that it is portable and because it does not have all of the movement and positioning features of the RAS, it is less prone to loose it's alignment. And of course, it is cheaper to add to your shop, at least as a brand new machine.

                      But, I do admit that I haven't looked at the SCMS in awhile and perhaps I need to take a closer look at the latest offering from Ridgid.

                      Regarding your questions, a 12-inch blade would allow you to make a complete cross-cut on a 4 x 4, which you can't do with the 10-inch blade (unless of course you have a Ryobi BT3100 or BTS 21 table saw). On my 10-inch RAS, I have to flip a 4 x 4 to cut it through.

                      As far as accuracy, a well taken care of RAS can repeat cut as accurate as any other tool I imagine. I know that on my 1974 RAS I can set the fence stop and cut a dozen or more shelf boards and every length will be exactly the same, to a 1/32 or less. (There is of course a human factor involved too.)

                      I hope this helps,

                      Last edited by CWSmith; 01-10-2010, 09:43 PM. Reason: Correction of error, Thanks WBrooks!


                      • #12
                        Re: Radial Arm Saw

                        CWS, i think you meant to say you have to flip a 4X4 to cut through it.
                        Bert, the electronics are handy, you can set 0 at any height, miter, bevel, or rip and then go from there or you can set the traditional 0/10" rip, 0 bevel etc


                        • #13
                          Re: Radial Arm Saw

                          CWS, Thank you.

                          Confession time. I'm a fan of RIDGID, and the quantum leap over the other dross in my tool repertoire has clouded my judgement. So much so, that maybe in my mind I was thinking "RIDGID don't make a RAS any more, so their SCMS must be better".

                          On balance, I think perhaps a RAS is more suited to the shop than a SCMS. The key point being that in my shop, I would never need to move the RAS, so I can have a big old beast of a machine set up permanently with a 15' working length. I could keep the "sloppy" SCMS I have for outdoor work, cutting fence posts etc, which really don't require the accuracy I was slating it for. New blade for it, and I'm good.

                          I had no idea RAS's were so versatile. I had them pegged as kind of sliding chop saw, limited in capability. It seems I was mistaken, and I'm sorry

                          OK, so with a target price of say $200-$300 for a used one, which should I look at, and which should I avoid? There's a boatload of Craftsman saws out there, but I hear there's good and bad amongst them. When did RIDGID quit making RAS's? Were they any good? DeWalt? Or is it the case that a few more $$$ would see a stepchange in capability? What wear should I look for?


                          • #14
                            Re: Radial Arm Saw

                            A DeWalt 12" radial was the only saw in my shop for many years. I'm convinced that it's the most versatile single saw you can have. You can basically build anything on it. Rip, crosscut, any angle.... I also have planer head, molding head, disc sander, and drum sander for mine. All of these are extremely useful accessories and the result is that the machine becomes an army!

                            But changing setups to use all that stuff does take time. I have dedicated machines for all those functions today and don't use the radial much in that way. It's an excellent crosscut saw, still.

                            I finally got a table saw (oh, 20 years ago or so) and firmly believe that it's a better and much safer tool for ripping. I will argue that ripping on a RAS isn't as safe as on a table because the blade is tending to lift the stock off the table. Yes there are guards. My Dewalt has caught a piece of wood and destroyed the guards in the process of kicking back the wood. Does this mean I wouldn't use the radial? No, not at all. It's a superb tool, the best choice if you can only have one saw in your shop. You had better bring a healthy dose of respect to the thing, though, and make sure you understand the forces involved.

                            About the only negative I can cite is that the machine does take up a big chunk of space. If you have the room, the benefits to your woodworking efficency of having a two-saw shop will be immense - especially if you're working with boards too wide for a CMS or SCMS.


                            • #15
                              Re: Radial Arm Saw

                              The last time I saw a Ridgid RAS was around 2004, as I recall. I'm not sure if Emerson is still the manufacturing source for the Craftsman brand. DeWalt stopped making them years ago and I really don't know if Delta still makes an RAS.

                              The popularity of the SCMS, coupled with the rumor of the RAS's "dangers" have led to the decline of the RAS, to the point where it's manufacture is simply too few and thus rather expensive. There are a few manufacturers out there, but I believe Craftsman offers the best bargain. But, I really haven't kept up with that market enough to really know.

                              In my first post on this thread, I mentioned a few of the things to look for. Neglect is usually obvious, with rust, missing parts, etc. Perhaps the most often noted problem is a worn indexing pin in the arm. On the Craftsman (or at least my particular model), you move the arm into position, set the index and use the arm lock knob to tighten it in position. To check for wear, you place your finger at the position where the upper column tube goes into the column support base. With the other hand, at the end of the arm you try to move the arm side to side. Any movement can be felt at the position where the column tube meets the base support... there should be NO movement. If there is, then either the indexing pin or it's seat is worn and may have to be replaced.

                              Similarly, the motor carriage has a couple of lock positions, one being along the arm. Tightened, you should not be able to move the carriage. With the lock knob loose, the carriage should move along the arm smoothly, with no drag; but, it should never feel sloppy either. On my Craftsman there are four bearings, two on each side of the carriage that ride along the arm rails. The two on the left are mounted with eccentric bolts. Unless really worn, these can be adjusted to properly align the carriage with the arm and thus ensure proper travel along the arm. If too loose, the carriage will rock from side to side. If too tight, the carriage will drag along the arm. If they are not adjusted properly, the vertical alignment and the blade heel will be off.

                              On the right side of the upper carriage is the yoke locking lever. Moved forward, it allows the motor to swivel left or right. Pushed back, it locks the carriage rotation. Either way, there should be no rocking of the carriage. The swivel should be smooth and once locked, it should be rock solid.

                              On the front of the carriage, is the bevel lock knob. Loosened, it allows the motor to bevel left or right, 90-degrees in each direction. Tight, the carriage should not move at all. On my model, the bevel index plate is behind the knob and is adjusted to set the carriage/blade perfectly 90-degrees with the table. Internally, there are two phenolic-like pins that provide friction and locking of the bevel mechanism. These are wear points and if worn too far, you cannot properly lock the carriage bevel. With the bevel lock knob tightened, there should be no side-to-side movement of the carriage. I'm not sure, but I suspect that these phenolic pins are still available from Sears parts.

                              Tables on RAS's are basically wear items. The blade must cut into the table about an 1/8-inch, in order to get a complete and tear-out-free cut. However, no veteran user ever uses their RAS with only the composite table surface, as it's expensive to replace and you just can't throw a piece of plywood on the RAS as a replacement. One should always place a sacrificial cover on their RAS table. I use a sheet of MDF and every so often replace it. Especially if you use the RAS with a variety of cut angles, etc., the table and the fence will get pretty cut up and replacement is needed. As a strickly cross-cut tool, the table and fence is subject to far less wear and thus replacement is less often needed. So, seeing a really hacked up table on a used saw, is not necessarily, by itself any indication of neglect.

                              Regarding the OEM table itself, Sears still stocks a replacement for my 1974 model.

                              Now, I know there is a recall on the older Craftsman RAS's. When I bought my saw, there was a lower blade guard ring available as an option. I didn't buy it. So, spin the blade up and yes that whole lower half of the blade is right there to stick your fingers in! Likewise, if you lay your hand on the table, in the direct path of the blade and you don't pay attention to your feed, you are sure as anything going to cut your fingers or hand off.

                              Apparently somebody did that and apparently some lawyers made some money as it's obviously all Craftsman's fault. So there's been a recall. The last I checked, they would send you a new lower blade guard and maybe even a table top on some models. On my unit, a modern, lower guard is not available. In such cases, they offered $100 if you dismantle your saw and send them your entire motor carriage.

                              Personally, NO circular saw device is completely safe and certainly in the case of my RAS, it can be dangerous if you shove your fingers into the open blade or place your hand on the table in the path of the blade. Guard or not, I like my fingers even more than I like my RAS... so I try not to do stupid things. However, my RAS is much more valuable to me, than a $100. One just needs to recognize that woodworking is frought with dangers and one needs to keep their mind on things and the distractions out of the shop!

                              I hope this helps,

                              Last edited by CWSmith; 01-10-2010, 10:55 PM.