Radial Arm Saw Safety Thread (not an oxymoron!)

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Forum topic by BusterBrown posted 08-20-2013 06:55 PM 3358 views 1 time favorited 15 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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24 posts in 1814 days

08-20-2013 06:55 PM

Topic tags/keywords: resource question

I picked up an old RAS (Sawsmith) awhile back in an ill-fated attempt to build a shop around a single tool. Its since been relegated to crosscutting but I remain intrigued with its potential for other tasks. While there is a wealth of information out there on table saws (e.g. use this jig, stand here, put your hand there, etc.), I’ve found very little for the RAS. I’m starting this thread so RAS owners can exchange information on how they use their saw and how they make the operation(s) safe.

15 replies so far

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24 posts in 1814 days

#1 posted 08-20-2013 06:56 PM

Good tune-up video

I’ve searched far and wide for RAS videos on YouTube. So far, I’ve found a couple of gems like this and a few videos that seem to be good examples of what not to do (i.e. this and this).

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24 posts in 1814 days

#2 posted 08-20-2013 07:00 PM

Horizontal sawing?

From R.J. DeCristoforo’s Fun with a Saw:

Would you do this? Why or why not? If so, what jigs, techniques, precautions, etc. would you use to make it safe?

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15353 posts in 2617 days

#3 posted 08-20-2013 07:02 PM

Buster, good thread indeed.

—The back fence of my ‘58 DeWalt MBF was little more than a piece of plaster lath when I bought the saw. Well, one ‘catch’ and the piece I was cross-cutting blew through that fence and hit the wall, scaring the bejeezus out of me. Replaced it with thicker stock, and raised the height of that piece to make it a better piece to register stock against. No problems since.

-- Don't anthropomorphize your handplanes. They hate it when you do that. -- OldTools Archive --

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24 posts in 1814 days

#4 posted 08-20-2013 07:03 PM

Use as a drum sander?

Also from Fun with a Saw:

This is a great example of how’d I’d like to expand the use of my RAS. I don’t see myself buying a dedicated drum sander anytime soon but can imagine a few cases where the functionality would be useful. Would you do this on your RAS? Why or why not? What are the safety considerations?

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13 posts in 1743 days

#5 posted 08-20-2013 08:59 PM

I find it perplexing when I read quotes from people saying things like – I would only use a radial arm saw for cross cutting, I’ve read stories of lost finger and worse if ripping. So lets clear the air first on what a radial arm saw is both capable and safe to use for. I have my DeWalt 1201 set up for cross cutting, ripping, moulding, cove cutting, compound mitres, vertical>horizontal and all cuts in between. I’ve ripped everything from 1” plywood to 1/8” hardboard, 2 3/4” thick pine to some pretty hard sycamore, with and without the riving knife in place (depends if I think the wood I’m cutting will warp or twist) all without incident at least not incidents that couldn’t be handled.
Radial arm saws are safe, nervous operators are not, kickback is not a preserve of radial arm saw, the worst damage I’ve seen was from a guy, using a saw bench, feeding a long plank of yellow pine, which caught the blade when he was walking round the back to pull it off the saw table, shot out and broke a mans jaw, who was working on a bench 40 feet from the saw. Obviously not so much a nervous operator, more a cocky one, but the message is the same, it’s not the machine that causes the problem, it’s who’s operating it.

My saw is fitted with kick back prevention fingers, exit cut hold down bar and a riving knife, top and bottom guards, the latter I removed because it would catch on the wood in certain circumstances making it unsafe. I change the blade (depending on material to be cut) from a 10” combination (mostly crosscut) to an 8 > 9” rip blade for ripping procedures in real wood (composites don’t warp or twist therefore it’s the operators fault should anything go wrong) One other thing my machine is fitted with is an overload switch (I don’t know about other machines) but if there’s any twist or warp of the wood being cut and the operator stands firm with the wood, the overload switch will cut in, every time, and stop the saw. Other than this, obvious precautions like where you put your hands in relation to the spinning blade, those with the experience among us should perhaps think of those things we automatically do or don’t do before putting blade to wood, wood to blade and pass these on to the less experienced…what do you think?

Out of the box thinking, much surprisie can provide…my old padawan

-- AL, frae bonny Scotland

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24 posts in 1814 days

#6 posted 08-20-2013 09:30 PM

Yes, experience of the ‘old masters’ is invaluable. When I first got my Sawsmith, two of the first references I consulted were the manual and Fun with a Saw. They’re both well written and informative but like other materials of their vintage, they assume more of the reader than contemporary sources do. While I enjoy the challenge of thinking through things rather than following pedantic instructions, it’s also good to know you’ve got something exactly right when working with a powerful saw. The folks who’ve safely used RAS for years are doing a lot of little things right and it’s my hope that we can share and capture that knowledge here.

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4769 posts in 3242 days

#7 posted 08-20-2013 09:40 PM

I used to have a Sawsmith. I used it to rip and crosscut and route. I made tongue and groove joints on 16’ long 2×6’s for a flat roof repair, about 60’. It worked just fine. I sold it about 30 years ago, but recently acquired another RAS. I’ve used all kinds of saws including swing saws (very scary saw). I am comfortable around all saws, because I respect them and what they can do.Timid people should not use saws.

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1294 posts in 2071 days

#8 posted 08-20-2013 10:03 PM

Another who started around them, and recently came back to the fold. Don’t think I will be ripping with it, but that has a lot more to do with the saws sitting right next to it. Thanks to the kind LJ who gave it to me, it came with a big disc sanding attachment that may get some use. But mostly it will sit as a finely tuned crosscut saw in my lumber milling station. and that will be just fine, and as safe as the operator running it.

-- Who is John Galt?

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24 posts in 1814 days

#9 posted 08-21-2013 12:00 AM

MrRon, how did you route the tongue and groove joints? Was the router bit placed to the side of the workpiece or above it? Did you use any clamps or guides? As I understand it, when ripping, danger comes from the blade grabbing the workpiece and launching it like a projectile. Is that a concern with routing as well?

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186 posts in 1816 days

#10 posted 08-21-2013 12:09 PM

I agree with the comment that the operator has more to do with the safety of a machine than the machine. However some machines are safer than others for certain tasks. I would not rip on a RAS, as I see doing so on a TS to be safer. I’m sure there are many home workshops where the RAS is used for a multitude of tasks, and safely. In all the years I’ve earned a living in woodworking, working in a number of different shops and plants, making everything from machine parts to high end custom furniture, only once have I seen a RAS used for ripping, and the day it took three fingers off a man’s hand, it never ripped again. Note that there is no guard on the saw in the pic where it is making a horizontal cut. Not legal any more and for good reason. I think routing would be the same as using almost any overhead router, sanding fine as well. One downside of the RAS is that it has so many articulating parts, which can lend itself to not staying in close tolerance adjustments. Even small RAS which is what a compound miter saw amounts to, have more than enough power to clime over the work piece and cause an injury. A co-worker nearly lost an arm to CMS. But in a one man shop, these issues are somewhat lessened. Good luck, and remember to never let your fingers leave your hands.

-- Fredj

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2703 posts in 3531 days

#11 posted 08-21-2013 01:37 PM

I picked up a beauty of a 1959 De Walt AMF 925 Powershop radial arm saw about 10 days ago. Craigslist has been very good to me. It’s not set up yet, but I’m working on it. I regretted selling the Delta Model 10 that I had.

This pdf shows that the Powershop was a competitor to Shopsmith and other all in one tools. There are some features that I would not try. Jointer and shaper heads – I think there are better, safer ways. Lathe attachment – not for me.

My plans are for crosscutting and dadoes. I’ll do my ripping on a tablesaw.

I worked with several people over the years that lost fingers on the job. The worst offender in these cases is a bench grinder. Most folks don’t consider them to be a hazard.

-- My reality check bounced...

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13 posts in 1743 days

#12 posted 08-21-2013 02:35 PM

To start off I would like to directly address the issues first raised i.e. horizontal sawing and bobbin sander. First off, when rip sawing in the horizontal plane, the depth of cut is limited to the effective distance protruding past the fence and of the arbour nut at it’s closest behind the wooden fence, where it must always be, also the fence must be at such a height as to allow the blade to pass over onto the table. The guard become obsolete in this cut, but a box can be constructed to fit over the behind the fence portion of the blade to provide a guard, also the blade chosen must be small enough to clear the column when fully retracted, for obvious reasons. As the wood is sitting on the table (or sub table, depending on cut) there is no lift to it during the cut , indeed gravity works for you in pulling it down under it’s own weight (plus your secure holding grip of course) employing a push stick close to the fence, even allowing it to be cut into at the end of the cut, is good practice. If any body wants to try this cut and are not sure of the procedures, post you set up and let us review before you switch on the machine.
Bobbin sanders are in my opinion one of the dangers in the workshop. So innocent looking there ability to grab and spin the wood in your hands if your not careful, they can give you quite a bruise, I know as I well remember it. Keep the bobbin/sanding area clear of any internal corners and enclosure by say the back side of the work and you should be fine. You can also use the bobbin as a straightening sander (much like a jointer) by placing the drum within a specially made fence, stepped similarly to the jointer at the off-shoot end of direction.
I would advise all and any RAS new padawans and old alike, to get hold of, and read Wally Krunkels (Mr Sawdust) book, it’s the best mastersus

-- AL, frae bonny Scotland

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24 posts in 1814 days

#13 posted 08-23-2013 01:29 AM

Nice saw hairy! In case you haven’t come across them yet, here’s a couple resources you may be interested in:

DeWalt Radial Arm Saw Discussion Forum

Wally Kunkel’s book

Kunkel is a former DeWalt salesman and wrote his book with DeWalts in mind. I’ve heard it’s a great resource for all RAS owners and have been meaning to pick up a copy.

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958 posts in 2586 days

#14 posted 08-23-2013 01:50 AM

When I taught woodworking several years ago I had the students use every possible set up each machine could do. The radial arm saw was no exception. The text book I used illustrated each possible set up. I had no accidents on any machine.

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Jim Jakosh

20483 posts in 3104 days

#15 posted 08-23-2013 02:10 AM

I have an old (70’s) Craftsman RAS and it was my first saw. I bought it to build a deck and it did ripping, cross cutting Dadoing and finger joints on it. If that is all you have, you make it work for everything. I did some old style telephone boxes on it by stacking up the boards and then finger joining the corners. I put a big graduated wheel on it so I could finely adjust it up and down. I use it strictly for cross cut dados any more now that I have more tools, but it gets used at least once every 2 months with Craftsman wobble dado on it..

I did have a problem with the brake. I think the brake plate wore down and broke and the end of the spring was rubbing what was left. That kept throwing sparks into the saw dust which is dangerous in a wood shop. I went to get new brake parts from Sears and they are no longer available, so I just removed all the brake parts and let it coast to stop

-- Jim Jakosh.....Practical Wood Products...........Learn something new every day!! Variety is the Spice of Life!!

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