Ever since I bought my first house a few years ago I had always wanted a nice sized workshop in my 2 stall garage. This year I was able to really get going on it. My dad who is also a woodworker was kind enough to give me his Radial Arm Saw which he no longer used. It so happens this RAS is also the first big power tool I had ever used. I grew up watching my dad use this thing on a regular basis and when I got old enough he showed me how to use it and let me make some cuts. So in a way the saw means something to me and I would never get rid of it.
The saw does not appear to be anything special. It is a Ryobi and has a 8 1/4 blade. When I got it I started searching the net for some information on the saw and I found out that Ryobi only made a limited amount of these saws and they were actually recalled. Due to these reasons I had a hard time finding information on the saw. My dad pretty much used the saw for cross cuts only but he told me of some of the other things he had used it for and also told me of many things it could do that he never tried. Well I got it set up and gave it a much needed cleaning/tune up. As I was taking a close look at the saw I started to discover all the different ways this thing could be used. In researching Radial arm saws you will get a reaction that seems to be split down the middle. A lot of people praise the saw and its abilities and still use on regular basis and others were quick to get rid of them and replace with a miter saw and table saw. There are also people who have them tucked away in the corner of the shop and only use once in a while. You also have a lot of newer woodworkers who have never even used one before due to the fact that they are in such low demand and not made much anymore. I do experience alignment issues but other then that I don’t agree with a lot of the negative things I have read from other woodworkers about the RAS.
Back to my saw… After getting it all cleaned and tuned up which included me replacing the old table and fence I was ready to start playing with it and seeing what it could do. Now before I get any feedback on this, the uses of operation that I am going to talk about can all be done using other tools and in a lot of cases can probably be done better with other tools. The point of this blog is not whether the RAS is the best option for the operation that I discuss but rather to talk about being able to do that operation on the RAS as an option.
So I got the saw all set up and the blade that was in the saw when my dad gave to me was a Forrest woodworker 2 blade which was far better then the blade in my miter saw and table saw at the time. The first thing I used the saw for other then crosscutting was cutting dados and rabbits. I was still limited on tools so I didn’t really have any other way to make these cuts. The RAS worked great, even without a dado blade I was able to cut them rather easy. The advantage to using the RAS to make these cuts was my ability to see right where I was cutting. Also the RAS will cut both ways so once I pulled through for my first cut I could slide the board a little and make the second cut by pushing the saw back. I cut a ton of dados, rabbits and lap joints this way. I now make most of these cuts with my router or table saw with dado blade but there are times when its still easiest to use the RAS, especially if I am doing slots for shelfs. I also do most of my cross cutting on the RAS. My miter saw is smaller and can only handle a board 5 or 6 inches wide so that makes my RAS the top choice.
When messing around with my RAS I noticed that it has a router collate that can take a 1/4 sized router bit, drill bet and sanding drum. I couldn’t find much information on this operation so I had no idea how it would work. I think a lot of radial arm saws came out with the router feature but I searched for a while and just didn’t find any reviews or feedback from people who have used their RAS router feature. I decided to just give it a try. I put a straight bit in and tested it out. I was amazed that not only it worked but it worked a lot better then I had expected. I know the motor does not turn as fast as a router is intended to so it does not have a ton of power but I started thinking of tons of new uses and possibilities. Using the router feature I cant take off a ton of material at once so its not ideal for deep cuts but as an over top router the bit can be raised and lowered at any point of the work piece. It is open and easy to see giving it advantage over a plunge router and also saves some time and effort from building your own over top router. It works great for small detail work and can be used as a pin router. Also before I got a drill press I used this method to cut mortise joints. Another thing I will sometimes use it for is to surface a board. I just attach a dado bit or straight bit and lock the arm and push the stock along the fence to take a very small amount off the surface of a board. Once first pass is done I pull arm forward a little, lock it down and make the next pass. In many cases its a lot easier to work with the router over top then it is in a table. I have also used this method to cut dados and rabbits and it works great.
I posted this blog because I don’t read about many people using their RAS router feature and although it may not be the best way it sure is nice to have and I plan on keeping the RAS in my shop for as long as it runs and I will use both as a cutting saw and router. It is a very handy tool to have in my opinion.
-- Dan - "Collector of Hand Planes"