What's the story with Radial Arm Saws

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Forum topic by becikeja posted 05-09-2015 12:33 PM 1362 views 0 times favorited 30 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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617 posts in 2232 days

05-09-2015 12:33 PM

Close to 30 years ago my wife surprised me with a radial arm saw. This was the first stationary power tool I ever owned. Today I am very fortunate and I have a table saw, band saw, jig saw, scroll saw…................. but still the radial arm saw remains my go-to saw for everything I can possibly do with it.

However, the radial arm saw is slowly disappearing out of woodworking. I very seldom see people using one in magazine or internet project articles, I’m not even sure if anyone still manufactures one. I’m curious as to why, when I see it as such a fundamental piece of my shop.

What’s the story with Radial Arm Saws???

-- Don't outsmart your common sense

30 replies so far

View helluvawreck's profile


22669 posts in 2285 days

#1 posted 05-09-2015 12:43 PM

I’m glad that I have two table saws instead of a table saw and a radial arm saw. I just don’t have any room for a radial arm saw. I use one table saw for ripping mostly and another for crosscutting and everything else. They are always ready for the most common work that each does and are strategically located to compliment each other along with a handy out feed table. I wouldn’t turn down a large 24 inch industrial crosscut if I could get it at a the right price but I would have to rig it up in the barn shed next to my shop.

helluvawreck aka Charles

-- If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away. Henry David Thoreau

View conifur's profile


955 posts in 570 days

#2 posted 05-09-2015 12:46 PM

IMO I think the compound miter saw along with lower prices for a decent table saw, and the safety recalls on the Radial Arm saws did them in. At the moment Emerson, who made most of the Sears Craftsman RAS, will give you $100 and pay for shipping for your Sears RAS power head. A couple years ago, they would send you a new table top, new blade guard system for free, but they still had problems and stopped that, and went with the $100.
Ripping would on a RAS is a disaster waiting to happen, and for cross cutting had a nick name about no thumb on the users left hand.

-- Knowledge and experience equals Wisdom, Michael Frankowski

View timbertailor's profile


1591 posts in 843 days

#3 posted 05-09-2015 12:48 PM

Probably because chop saws are portable, it makes more sense to own than a RAS.

Still a lot of people that have been scared away because of long standing myths that they are somehow more dangerous than other solutions.

I love mine and have been using it since 1968 when it was first purchased. Its an integral part of my shop, as well.

-- Brad, Texas,

View conifur's profile


955 posts in 570 days

#4 posted 05-09-2015 12:50 PM

Here is the recall site.

-- Knowledge and experience equals Wisdom, Michael Frankowski

View MAKZ06's profile


49 posts in 1223 days

#5 posted 05-09-2015 12:59 PM

They went out of favor with the availability of sliding miter saws and get a bad reputation for being dangerous and inaccurate. I think the reputation is undeserved. Yes, they can be dangerous if used incorrectly or you don’t take the proper care and stay aware, but that is the case with any power tool in the shop. They do require more frequent adjustment and alignment, especially if you make beveled and mitered cuts. However, I think a lot of the inaccuracy issues some folks have are related to not understanding how to properly set them up and getting it done right to begin with…. The older, heavier cast iron models are much better than the newer ones. I’ve got a 20+ year old Craftsman which would never be considered one of the “ones to have” and even so I get great results and would not want to do without one in the shop. I wouldn’t want to do rip cuts with it on a regular basis but even did that a couple times years ago with great results when I was working out of my garage and didn’t want to move everything around and drag out the table saw which was buried at the time. On the ones I have used, the locking mechanism to set the miter angle on the arm generally seems to be not as precise and allow for more play than a good sliding miter saw. I keep a close eye on mine if I’m making lots of different cuts. Some folks set theirs up at 90 degrees and never move it or use exclusively for cutting dados. I do love it for dados….
That said, if I’m mitering or cross cutting shorter pieces I will go first to the table saw.

View fuigb's profile


391 posts in 2376 days

#6 posted 05-09-2015 01:32 PM

The versatility just isn’t there in a RAS, or so I believe. I’m judging the book by the cover because I’ve not used one, but by thinking it through it seems to be a case of great big footprint for a lot less capability than even my jobsite table saw. I have a compound sliding miter saw that lives out of the way on a shelf. A RAS would take floor space that I’d rather have devoted to something else.

A friend inherited his father-in-law’s mid-80s radial and then offered it to me for the reasonable price of free. Saw was in beautiful shape but I declined. I applaud those who own and find useful this tool, but I suspect that so many today are like me and regard the RAS as a white elephant.

-- - Crud. Go tell your mother that I need a Band-aid.

View Florida_Jim's profile


83 posts in 2296 days

#7 posted 05-09-2015 01:51 PM

I’ve used radial arm saws all my life. They’re a extremely versatile tool. The stories about them being unsafe are over hyped, usually by people who haven’t had experience with them.
I currently have a 1956 vintage Dewalt “MBF”. I use it more than my table saw. I can more easily see my cut. It’s perfect for dado’s, and rabbets. When cutting angles, and compound angles, it always returns to dead zero when done.
I also use it to rip, when I’m too lazy to uncover the table saw. I don’t see ripping as unsafe.
It’s a lot more versatile than a compound miter saw, and it doesn’t have that much larger foot print.

View Fred Hargis's profile

Fred Hargis

3841 posts in 1912 days

#8 posted 05-09-2015 02:21 PM

I blame the poor reputation they have squarely on Sears. The Craftsman saws were made in a way that they were hard to maintain, or in many (most cases) couldn’t be maintained at all. Getting a square cut with one was often impossible. Sears also tried to market them as a swiss knife of saws with all manner of attachments to do anything from Bar b Q to haircuts…almost every one of them was a miserable failure. Being the competitive markets that exist, others followed this nutso approach and so they also became a miserable tool. Had they stuck to the solid design like the early Dewalts and Delta turret arms, they would have been (and are) an extremely useful tool that can earn it’s keep in any shop. Somewhere in here it should be mentioned that the idiots at B&D in charge of the Dewalt saws after they bought that brand should all be lined up and shot for the “cost engineering” changes (the competitive thing) they made to that design. Of course, in today’s environment the trial lawyers would probably have spelled their doom. But with proper use, tuning and the right blade they are no more dangerous than any other tool in the shop. This, from a guy who has owned 2 Craftsman (both went to the recall) and 5 Dewalts (2 in the shop right now). Even so, I don’t see them as a replacement for the TS…just a complimentary tool. My opinion, of course.

-- Our village hasn't lost it's idiot, he was elected to congress.

View Rick M.'s profile

Rick M.

7696 posts in 1799 days

#9 posted 05-09-2015 02:23 PM

They are traps for careless people.


View RogerM's profile


747 posts in 1818 days

#10 posted 05-09-2015 02:52 PM

I agree with Fred

-- Roger M, Aiken, SC

View Ghidrah's profile


667 posts in 641 days

#11 posted 05-09-2015 03:28 PM

I see one reason they aren’t used as much, routers. When you toss in specialty units like panel sleds and fancy miter slides the TS handles most of what an RAS does. Personally I don’t see the miter saws replacing the RAS, you can’t use a dado set in it.

This is where my RAS gets the work, (which isn’t much because of the router) the RAS takes a dado set and hogs out all the items too large and or heavy for the TS. If the mat is 8’ or longer, multiple cuts along the mat and the cut is 1” wide and less I use the router.

I have an old Craftsman RAS, I tried ripping and even tried using the routing option, and wasn’t happy with either function which may have been attributed to the construction of the RAS.

-- I meant to do that!

View Gentile's profile


245 posts in 1237 days

#12 posted 05-09-2015 03:40 PM

I like my craftsman, 80s era, RAS. It’s great for quick cut offs and dados. I would never use it for ripping. I built my RAS into a counter so it doesn’t take up much room as it would be if it were, free-standing. I used the base it came with for the stand on my drill press. I recall I paid $100.00 for it on Craigslist. It’s a handy, quick, go-to saw. It can be dangerous if you’re not paying attention. Using a “Wobble type” Dado set without the blade guard is frightening to say the least. I save that for my table saw…
I use my sliding mitre saw for precision cuts.

-- "I cut it twice and it's still too short"

View TheDane's profile


4932 posts in 3082 days

#13 posted 05-09-2015 03:55 PM

I have used a RAS several times in woodworking classes at a local tech school. As others have pointed out, if properly maintained and used, a RAS can be a very useful (and safe) tool.

That being said, I have never felt the need for one in my shop. Several years ago, a friend offered me a fully operational 1948 10” DeWalt RAS for free … he had two and needed the shop space. I thought long and hard about it, and eventually told him no, thanks.

I have a table saw, a SCMS, a router table, and a couple of hand-held routers. While there may have been some things I could have done as well (or better) with a RAS, I haven’t run into anything yet that absolutely required one. With space at a premium in my shop, a RAS just wouldn’t make any sense to me.

-- Gerry -- "I don't plan to ever really grow up ... I'm just going to learn how to act in public!"

View BroncoBrian's profile


435 posts in 1377 days

#14 posted 05-09-2015 04:13 PM

I think of them as fancy chop saws. I use them for cutting down scrap to throw away, building playgrounds and decks, and very rough cuts if it is convenient.

-- Bigfoot tries to take pictures of me

View MrRon's profile


3891 posts in 2662 days

#15 posted 05-09-2015 07:14 PM

Fred is right. The bad reputation RAS’s got was due to Sears crap. None of the other RAS manufacturers had any problems. My first saw was A Crapsman RAS back in 1959. I remember how inaccurate it was. Fortunately circumstances in my life resulted in leaving that saw behind when I moved to another state. I now own an old Dewalt RAS, along with a miter saw and cabinet saw. I use them all depending on the job. For most Xcut work, I use the RAS. It makes dead on square cuts. Ripping is done on the cabinet saw. My shop is 1200 sf, so I have the room for all my saws.

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