Reflections on Learning How #3: To Rehabilitate a Craftsman Radial Arm Saw

  • Advertise with us
Blog entry by FeralVermonter posted 01-03-2013 10:54 PM 3907 reads 0 times favorited 3 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 2: To Set Up Your First Shop Part 3 of Reflections on Learning How series Part 4: To Restore a circa-1940s Delta Jointer »

If I were to add up every hour I’d spent in the shop, trying to get things up and running, at least half of that time has been devoted to the painstaking rehabilitation of an old Sears Craftsman Radial Arm Saw (model 113197751). The backstory: I picked this thing up, years ago, back in the auction days–for a dollar. Just couldn’t resist, even though I didn’t really know what it was, or how to use it. Naturally, it ended up under a pile of junk up in the barn for the next ten years or so.

Imagine my surprise when, digging around in the barn for anything I might use in the shop, I stumbled across this monster! Also found an old Rockwell table saw up there, but that’s a project for another day–and a team of movers–and a machinist, since there’s a few gears and parts missing.

So I dug the thing out, and managed to drag it into the shop, and…

Realized I had no idea what to do next!

What followed was a period of research and contemplation. Managed to find all sorts of pertinent information online–the manual, the parts diagrams, and so on. Spent a lot of time just looking at the thing, trying to figure out how all the moving parts worked. But I didn’t want to start fiddling around until I had at least some idea what I was doing–with my budget, if I screwed it up, I’d be stuck with a circular saw for the next six months. Weirdly, for those first few weeks I couldn’t find a heck of a lot on the topic… but then I found LJ!

When the time finally came to start breaking the thing down, I made a point of coming up with a procedure that would give me the best possible chance of putting it back together again. (Like most folks, while I like taking things apart, I’ve never been very good at getting them back together.) I cleared off the table and benches in my shop (no side projects while this was going on!) and covered these with fresh big sheets of paper. As each piece came off, it went down on the paper, and I’d write or draw how it connected up to the rest of the saw. This turned out to be an awesome way to work, not just for getting the machine back together, but also to make your own diagrams–when you’re done just roll them up and tuck them away (more on this later!).

So, I broke it down most of the way, cleaning up any visible rust or dirt, oiling the pieces that seemed to need oiling, put the thing back together, flipped the switch… and it worked! The parts seemed to slide around the way they were supposed to, and so, with an improvised table, I decided to do a test cut. When the saw jumped through the board at me, I nearly had a heart attack, and beat a fast retreat. When, the next day, I marshalled the courage to try the saw again (having exhaustively researched safety issues and proper operation), it bound up right off—also scary, but nowhere near as bad as having a big screaming monster leaping at you (especially since, by now, I knew enough to stand and keep my hands well out of its path). And it kept binding up, even with 1/2’ pine stock.

The lesson here: never, ever fire up a new saw (new to you) without first doing a LOT of reading on how it works. Certainly could have lost a finger or even a hand on my first time out!

So that binding was the next problem. And, once again… I really had no idea how to proceed. So… more research!

By this point, I was starting to put two and two together. Understand how the parts of the machine worked together. Which is to say it all started to get a LOT more complicated: each new thing figured out raised a bunch of questions. Which is to say… I started wasting a lot of time “fixing” things that weren’t part of the problem. Spent a week trying to square up the slightly twisted table, and design a stand for leveling it precisely, before learning that the important thing, with such a saw, is the saw’s alignment to the table and the fence. Not exactly a waste of time, but not a solution to the problem I was trying to solve. I started making adjustments for “heeling,” a new term for me. But still, it just kept binding up.

Finally, I bit the bullet and invited a sawyer friend over to diagnose the problems with the saw. Learned more about what I was doing in that one hour than in all the weeks leading up–can’t stress this enough, fellow newbies: no matter how smart you are, ask for help!

He showed me the right way to make adjustments–ever so gradually, that’s the trick, don’t worry about getting it perfect the first time. Go over it again and again, a tenth, a hundredth of an inch at a time. And best of all, he looked the saw over, and pronounced it “sound”–I’d started doubting. Armed with that knowledge, I kept working at it. Closer and closer. A tenth, and hundredth at a time. Learning more all the time.

Also, I bought a new blade for the saw. With my budget, this was a big investment: a 60 tooth, carbide-tipped, 1/8 thick, neg. 5 degree rake Tenryu blade (that’s right: I had that memorized). I hadn’t wanted to spend the money while I was still unsure whether or not I could actually get the thing to work. Finally, I could cut through that 1/2’ stock… but not a 2×4–which, according to spec, the saw should be able to do easily. Back to the drawing board.

I thought the problem was heeling. I adjusted again and again, developing more and more refined techniques–using a precision depth meter that my cousin gave me, shining a laser through a glass cylinder to give myself a true line, and on and on… I went back over everything I’d read, and reread the manual again and again…

Looking at page 6 of the manual, which details how to wire the motor for either 110 or 240, something started nagging at me. What I remembered from the saw didn’t match up with the diagram. Dug out the diagram I’d made while dissecting the saw and, sure enough, it was wired up for 240. Switch a couple a clips around and… hey presto! 2×4 apocalypse!

Home stretch now… with the power problem sorted, and the saw painstakingly aligned, I was making almost perfect cuts. But I kept getting this tiny deflection. So… back to the drawing board. Tore the machine down again–I can do this blindfolded, now, in about 3 minutes flat–and put it back together. Rechecked the literature. Nothing.

So… contemplation. Not a bad approach if you are, like me, the restless type who can’t normally sit still for more than a moment or so. Slid the saw back and forth a thousand times, looking for the source of this deflection. For a week, every time I’d go out for a smoke I’d just sit there and glare at the thing. I started to suspect that I had to replace the bearings, so I took one off and looked it up online. Then I looked up all the unfamiliar terms in wikipedia (great self-teaching strategy). Best I could figure out, the problem wasn’t there—the bearing worked fine, very smooth. Could use a little cleaning, though, I thought, so I popped off another one… and to my surprise, found a very curious bolt=. Checked the parts diagrams on Sears’ site—sure enough, it was supposed to be there, two of them, on the right side of the yoke, normal bolts on the left. NOTHING about this in anything I’d read, anywhere. But by this point I was starting to understand the machine pretty well. Spin that bolt around, and the bearings would move in and out. So I put the yoke back together and loaded it up onto the arm. I snugged up the nuts, then rotated the bolts so that the bearings pulled into the arm just that little bit more… and there you have it, deflection DENIED!

Whew! Well, sorry for jawing on and on, and thanks for reading. Nice to have found a place where I can talk about stuff–I think my wife is going to appreciate this site almost as much as me! Tomorrow’s supposed to be bearably warm, so I’ll be out there putting all the guards and panels back on. But what to do next…?

3 comments so far

View JoeinGa's profile


7739 posts in 2063 days

#1 posted 01-03-2013 11:40 PM

Nice write up. I did the same when I bought mine last year.

Did you see this post?

Go to the link he provides and see if yours is on the recall list.

-- Perform A Random Act Of Kindness Today ... Pay It Forward

View DIYaholic's profile


19624 posts in 2731 days

#2 posted 01-04-2013 12:14 AM

Well, I was going to mention the recall. However, as usual, I’m a day late and waaay more than a dollar short!!!

Welcome to LJs, FeralVermonter!!!
I too live in Vermont. Colchester to be precise.

-- Randy-- I may not be good...but I am slow! If good things come to those who wait.... Why is procrastination a bad thing?

View Bluepine38's profile


3379 posts in 3141 days

#3 posted 01-04-2013 03:08 PM

Welcome to Lumberjocks and the world of machines that can be fun to fix/rehab as well as work/play with.
Sounds like you are well started on the woodworking world, hope you have fun with it for many years. Great
story, and I look forward to hearing more from you over the years.

-- As ever, Gus-the 79 yr young apprentice carpenter

Have your say...

You must be signed in to post the comments.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics