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The venerable Radial Arm Saw

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Blog entry by Gary777 posted 1094 days ago 3666 reads 2 times favorited 8 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Hello everyone,

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

Safety:
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



8 comments so far

View davidroberts's profile

davidroberts

996 posts in 1984 days


#1 posted 1094 days ago

very good points, indeed.

-- God is Great, Wood is Good. nuff said.

View Kent Shepherd's profile

Kent Shepherd

2694 posts in 1785 days


#2 posted 1094 days ago

Good information.

Thanks

-- She thought I hung the moon--now she just thinks I did it wrong

View Jim Bertelson's profile

Jim Bertelson

3589 posts in 1663 days


#3 posted 1094 days ago

First of all, hope your back gets better soon.

I have a 1970 Craftsman RAS…......that I bought new! Needless to say, I do most of my crosscut on it. I own a old miter saw, but it sits on top of a cabinet and gathers dust. I second all that you said.

Here is my take on the ruler and stop block thing:

http://lumberjocks.com/jbertelson/blog/11296

Making the stop block 10 inches allows you to set real short cuts from the back side, where you can see better. The pictured fence and block are my second generation. My table is 2×4 feet, I really don’t have space for a larger one, although that might change as I revamp the shop.

I am sure that newbies to the RAS will profit from reading your blog…..............

Jim

-- Jim, Anchorage Alaska

View gfadvm's profile

gfadvm

9525 posts in 1188 days


#4 posted 1093 days ago

A very informative post.Im still pushing my blade contrary to everyones advice but I feel safer and can see my cutline better. I always use my shop built hold downs and have had no probs or close calls.[He says while knocking on wood].Thanks for posting.

-- " I'll try to be nicer, if you'll try to be smarter" gfadvm

View Eddie_T's profile

Eddie_T

93 posts in 570 days


#5 posted 570 days ago

I built my house with a Craftsman 9 inch RAS (of late 60s era). I ripped and used molding head to make all the millwork for finish carpentry as well. I now have a Rockwell/Delta 33-227 RAS for crosscut and ripping and jigs for miters.

View Montezuma45's profile

Montezuma45

16 posts in 927 days


#6 posted 386 days ago

I have only one thing to add.

Always make sure that the wood being cut is snug against the fence. Due to the nature of the beast (a good one in the right hands), it will pick up the board and send it flying. I used mine once to cut multiple 3/4” x 3/4” x 3” pieces in a jig. One set was 1/4”+ away from the fence (I wasn’t thinking) and sent a piece flying 20 feet. Only my pride was hurt. LOL

View Gary777's profile

Gary777

82 posts in 1097 days


#7 posted 384 days ago

Hi Guys,

It’s been a while since I’ve posted but I made an update to this post above, I discovered why pulling the blade through is preferable to pushing it through. See the update above for details.

-- Gary - Carson City, NV - "Every man looks upon his wood pile with a sort of affection." — Henry David Thoreau

View HokieMojo's profile

HokieMojo

2094 posts in 2227 days


#8 posted 356 days ago

Good update Gary. You are correct. Always cut on the pull.

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