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Radial arm saws are one of the most versatile tools a woodworker can think of. Doesn’t matter if you have a tiny space or a massive workshop- a radial arm saw definitely saves up a lot of space and makes an excellent option for homeowners, DIY enthusiasts, and, of course, woodworkers.
This tool was invented by famous American inventor Raymond DeWalt back in 1922. Upon its invention, this saw became the primary tool used for cutting large wood stocks in different lengths for five decades. Even now, it is great to have radial arm saws for woodworking- be it rip cuts, miter cuts, or bevels!
What is a Radial Arm Saw Used For?
Radial arm saws are basically cutting machines with circular saws mounted on sliding arms. This posture is quite unusual and looks risky at first glance, but it’s a very efficient tool to get different cuts of wood.
Here are the main uses of radial arm saws:
Rip cuts are one of the most popular woodcuts, mostly because many different kinds of saws can do it. It runs along the grain of the wood and easily cuts large stocks of wood. In fact, it’s one of the most effective ways to cut larger chunks of workpieces because the cut goes deep into the wood.
Most often than not, rip cuts are just used to cut lumber into smaller sizes. They’re mostly not fitting for furniture or different woodworking projects. However, if you have a radial arm saw and a belt sander, you sure can try!
Crosscuts are kind of the opposite to rip cuts. They’re mostly used to make a more refined and accurate cut. Crosscuts are made across the grain of the wood and are one of the main features of a radial arm.
Unlike rip cuts, Crosscuts will cut across the width of the wood. This is why they’re not suitable for large amounts of lumber; rather, they’re suitable for intricate woodworking projects.
Miter cuts are a bit more complicated, angled cut. It’s a cut that can be made at any angle along the width of the wood. This is a necessary cut in different woodworking projects like picture frames, tables, or chairs.
For a radial arm saw, making a miter cut is a piece of cake. Just rotate the pivoted radial arm according to the angle you like, and you’ll get the cut!
Bevel cuts are kind of like miter cuts, but they’re made along with the thickness of the wood, not the width. These are slanted cuts that are widely used in carpentry and in woodworking projects that require no sharp edges. As expected, you can make a bevel cut with radial arm saws.
Rabbets and Dadoes
Rabbets and Dadoes are relatively uncommon cuts that are essential in carpentry and many large woodworking projects. Radial arm saws are quite able to make these cuts. You get to use such cuts in wood joints, wooden cabinets, and furniture.
Safety Precautions to Take When Using the Radial Arm Saw
Woodworking can turn out to be a very dangerous job if not done right. The same goes for using a radial arm saw, and we’d suggest you take some safety precautions while using the tool:
Set Up the Saw Properly
First things first, you need to set up the saw in the right process. Set it at a slight angle that’s leaning away from you so that it doesn’t slide towards you.
Check the Blade Speed
Next, you have to ensure that the blade speed is set at maximum before making any cuts. It will make sure the blade doesn’t bind and makes a clean cut.
Keep Your Hands Safe
Always remember to keep your hand as safe as possible. If you need to move your hands, bring them back to your body first and then move them. Never swing your hand while the blade is running in full swing.
Turn Off the Saw Before Removing Blockages
Never forget to turn off your saw before removing all the blockages. If a small piece of wood gets lodged in the blade, first turn off the machine and then remove them.
Install a Safety Power Tool Switch
You should always use your radial arm saw with a safety power tool switch because you don’t want to be fiddling around when you need to instantly shutdown this device.
Don’t Wear Loose-Fitting Clothes
Radial arm saw blades tend to spin away from their user, so try not to wear loose-fitting shirts or having loose cuffs because they might get entangled with the blade.
Make Sure the Table Is Wide Enough for the Blade
Last but not least- you need to ensure the table it’s set on is wide enough to fully accommodate the saw. Because the saw is quite heavy and needs ample space at the table.
Disadvantages of the Radial arm saw – Why Did It Fall Out of Favor Among Woodworkers?
Radial arm saws were a must-have power tool for woodworkers for a long time until the power miter saw, a better alternative came to the market. While radial Saws are still quite efficient, they have a few serious disadvantages that make them lag behind by a significant margin.
Compared to other tools like the table saw, radial arm saws are much more expensive. For commercial/consumer purpose, people prefer a tool with significantly less cost.
Difficulty in Maintenance
Radial saws also need extra work to clean and maintain. For example, if the blade is a bit dull, it won’t work well with the wood. Moreover, these are super heavy tools that are often too difficult to control.
Lack of Effectiveness
They work wonders on cutting thin wood sheets and plywood, but they’re not as effective at cutting thick pieces of lumber. Also, blade positioning it in the right way can be a tad bit difficult, and one disposition might result in the machine cutting through your table.
These are the main reasons why radial arm saws fell out of favor.
Should You Get the Radial Arm Saw?
Truth be told, they aren’t obsolete as of now, but it’s pretty clear that they’re less popular than they used to be. Circular saw, Miter saw or even Table saws are more preferred by customers, and for the right reasons.
They’re lighter, more maneuverable, easier to use and in some cases, cheaper than the traditional radial arm saws!
That being said, radial arm saws are still very useful saws if you know how to use them properly. They’re resourceful, and if you don’t want to spend a fortune on such saws, you can always go for the used radial arm saws .
We believe that radial arm saws from the likes of Dewalt or Craftsman can still be efficient, so the choice is all yours at the end of the day!
Alternatives to the Radial Arm Saw
We now have a lot of different alternatives to radial arm saws , thanks to the advancement in technology. For your help, we have jotted down three such saws that do most of the work that a radial arm saws does.
Table saws are a much cheaper alternative to the radial arm saws. But rest assured, they aren’t just about the price tag; they’re quite efficient as well.
When it comes to rip cuts, table saw clearly gets the edge over radial arm saws because of the consistency and accuracy. In general, rip cuts don’t have a lot of measurements, but with a table saw, you can accurately make rip cuts according to your preference.
That being said, table saws don’t have a few features that the radial arm saws does. They can’t make a different variety of cuts without additional accessories like a miter gauge or a crosscut sledge. They’re also bulkier than the radial arm saws and cannot cut heavy chunks of wood.
Here is an article I have written comparing the 4 Types of Table Saw For Woodworking
Let’s be honest- miter saws are definitely more accurate and more precise than the radial arm saws. But here’s the thing, they don’t come cheap as well, and if you don’t require specific measurements in the cut- then you don’t really need a miter saw. Because when it comes to versatility, radial arm saws is way ahead of the miter saw.
To be more specific, a radial arm saw has more cuts than a miter saw. A solid radial arm saw can actually be much faster and more efficient in terms of the speed of wood cutting and the variety of cuts. Moreover, radial arm saw gets to cut much wider pieces of stock than the usual miter saws.
That being said, a miter saw does outshine a radial arm saw when it comes to ease of use, safety, and accuracy. It’s much safer and consistent than radial arm saw. Considering the blade guards in miter saws in addition to the simple using procedure, we’ll have to say that Miter saws are a much safer alternative.
Circular saws are just as popular to woodworkers as table saws; however, their working procedure is quite the opposite. It’s a very versatile tool that’s much lighter than the other options.
The portability definitely gives it an edge, but it’s efficient when it comes to cutting wood and different soft materials as well. It can also cut through metal if the circular blade is appropriate.
It’s been a tough few decades for our grand old radial arm saws. The emergence of sliding compound miter saw and circular saw did make the sales of the radial arm saw go down. And it’s understandable because not everyone can afford a proper workshop; thus, they go for cheaper and lighter alternatives.
But we haven’t given up on radial arm saw, and we believe they’re not outdated just yet. For people who can afford a proper workstation, they can still go for quality radial arm saws for woodworking!