I like to write and now that I am laid up from back surgery for a few weeks I figured I would take the opportunity to create a few blog posts and share some of what I have learned with others that may be new (or even experienced) to woodworking.
Like most folks these days I own a great 10” miter saw that I used for crosscuts, but I didn’t own a sliding compound miter saw, it wasn’t until after I got the miter saw that I realized that I was limited to about 5” wide boards on the miter saw (you can gain an inch or so but safety goes down uses those tricks) and suddenly I was back to using a circular saw for a lot of my wide long board cross cuts.
Then one day a friend offered to sell me a 12” Band saw and asked if I would also be interested in a Radial Arm Saw (RAS) that he had for sale, I did a little digging and found that the Rigid RS1000 that he was selling was a great saw and he was offering it at a heck of a price, when I went to look at it the thing was like brand new and even had the plastic still on the upper arm, turns out my friend didn’t like the dangerous aspects of this saw so I got it at a great discount. The fact that you can buy great RAS’s cheap nowadays is my main argument for owning one, it’s beats a slider or a miter saw at crosscutting by a mile!
I decided right away that I would not using it ripping or for making molding as I had heard about the numerous lost fingers while using the ripping configuration. I have it set up with a permanently mounted table for crosscuts, dadoes and tenons only and it excels at all of these! I used to make dadoes and tenons on my cabinet saw or by hand exclusively however now on long stock I go straight to the RAS as it is so easy to make perfect cuts with a little up front work.
Here are my favorite RAS tips:
1) When setting your table up use a dial indicator and get it zeroed in on all 3 axes across all parts of the table that are usable. This takes a bit of time but saves you a lot more time when you go to use it. Your owners manual explains how to do all of these setups.
2) Keep the saw zeroed on exactly 90 degrees on both the “blade to fence” and “blade to table.” Whenever you make a miter or compound miter remember to reset your axes back to zero as soon as you are done, this is a good habit to form. This way it is always ready to make a cross cut or a dado (with dado’s you also need to set the depth of cut)
3) I built a dedicated hood to collect saw dust with my shop dust collector. RAS’s make a lot of dust!
4) I installed a 3” tall fence on my RAS table to handle larger material with ease.
5) I cut a notch out of the fence and installed a lever clamp to keep things in place while making cuts.
6) I installed a stop block on my fence for repetitive cuts, I plan on upgrading the fence to include a ruler and stops on both sides of the fence.
7) I have a 45 degree and a 22 1/2 degree jig under construction that I plan on using to save time, this jig allows to you make common miter cuts without changing zero. Here are plans found right here on LumberJocks to do Miter Jig for Radial Arm Saw
Other RAS Notes:
1) A RAS needs quite a bit of space, if you have the extra room then this could totally replace a slider or a miter saw, my miter saw is now only used for away from the shop work.
2) I suggest a wide table for your RAS if possible, mine is 6’ wide and 32” deep, I have 14” of cutting depth in front of the fence so anything 14” or smaller is easy to cut on my RAS
Use the blade guard for all cuts including crosscuts, dadoes and Tenons. You’d be nuts to run without a guard on one of these things!
To pull or to push? Manufacturer have designed the RAS to be pulled through the wood, it seems counter-intuitive to pull the saw as the saw wants to bite the wood and pull itself through which can be dangerous however this is the safest way to handle wide boards in my opinion. It just takes a little practice. You have more control by pulling but again this seems counter-intuitive.
UPDATE – 3/27/13
So after a little digging i discovered why pulling the saw is the best approach when using a RAS, since the blade spins towards you it forces the wood down against the table and pulls the wood back against the fence. I discovered this awhile back when cutting tenons on the RAS, I was getting inconsistent results while pushing the saw through (it wants to lift the wood up from the front when you push) but when I switched to pulling as recommended I began getting very consistent results. I now always pull through the cut.
Tips for first time use of your RAS:
1) With the saw turned off, align the blade teeth to the expected cut line then push the saw back
2) For your first use take a very shallow depth of cut to get the feel for the saw.
3) Make sure the blade is fully back, as far away from you as possible, turn the saw on.
4) Keep your fingers clear of the blade and slowly pull the saw toward you
5) Once the teeth make contact with the wood you will probably feel it want to tug and pull itself across the cut
6) Hold the saw back and slowly pull the saw forward making a smooth cut, this will be at about the same cut speed as you would use with a circular saw.
7) Draw the saw all the way through the cut, you can usually hear when the saw has stopped cutting (you won’t be able to see when the saw is finished cutting so go beyond the vertical center line of the blade.)
8) Return the saw to the rear most position and shut her down, you are done.
I hope you enjoy using your RAS, just remember that these babies do like to eat the fingers of those poor souls who don’t give the RAS it’s due respect. Take your time and be safe and the RAS can be a great addition to your shop!
-- Gary - Carson City, NV - "Every man looks upon his wood pile with a sort of affection." — Henry David Thoreau