Should You Still Get A Radial Arm Saw?

radia arm saw

Last updated on April 17th, 2021 at 04:00 am

Still thinking about getting the radial arm saw for your projects? Well, if you haven’t already known yet, as of today, only one company still produces it.

Before the 1970s, when the idea of the compound miter saw has not yet been conceived, the radial arm saw reigned supreme among woodworkers. It was once the go-to tool every woodworker turned to in his workshop for crosscuts, miter cuts, bevel cuts, and even rip cuts.

However, as soon as the power miter saw was invented in the 70s, its production and use underwent a huge decline.

Nowadays, you’ll find yourself lucky to find one in any woodworking shop or local hardware store sitting there being used or available for purchase.

What happened to this once popular woodworking tool? What happened to the Radial Arm Saw?

The history

In 1922, Raymond Dewalt of Leola, Pennsylvania, founder of the now widely popular Dewalt tools invented the radial arm saw, which he called the Wonder Worker.

His invention, the wonder worker was a circular saw blade driven directly by an electric motor held in a yoke. The yoke slides along a horizontal arm hanging some distance above a horizontal table that serves as the work surface.

This radial arm saw or Wonder Worker as Dewalt called it sold successful before the 70s because it does one thing exceptionally well more than table saws and other hand saws. That is cross-cutting lumber.

Table saws then and now are best for ripping large wood stocks lengthwise, but cross-cutting lumber or pushing a long piece of wood widthwise through a table saw is not only awkward but also highly ineffective.

The radial arm saw however made it possible for woodworkers then to easily crosscut lumber, because unlike table saws where you have to push the stock through the saw while the saw remained stationary, the stock remained stationary with the radial arm saw while you pushed the blade through it when making cross cuts.

When the compound miter saw was introduced in the 1970s, the radial arm saw began to lose its popularity.

Although radial arm saws performed many functions such as making crosscuts, miter cuts, rip cuts, dado cuts and so on, the compound miter saw became the primary power tool for making crosscuts and miters.

One of the main reason craftsmen favored the compound miter saw to the radial arm saw at that time and even now is because the miter saw is quite safer to operate.

Every miter saw comes with a blade guide that covers the whole blade as you make crosscuts and miters with it. The radial arm saw’s blade is also covered but not totally covered like that of a compound miter saw.

Apart from that, compound miter saws are also cheaper compared to radial arm saws. Thus, it’s easier and more affordable to own a compound miter saw even now than to own a radial arm saw.

Agreed, a radial arm saw has more functions than a compound miter saw, but if you own a compound miter saw and a table saw, you wouldn’t need the radial arm saw.

That is not to water down the importance or usefulness of a radial arm saw, because one can also argue that it can perform the combined function of a miter saw and a table saw as well.

However, when it comes to personal preferences, I’d prefer to use a miter saw today for my crosscuts and miter cuts, and get a table saw for my rip cuts than to own one radial arm saw.

radial arm saw blade

Radial arm saw vs table saw vs compound miter saws

How does the radial arm saw compare with a table saw and a compound miter saw?

Well, if you’ve read up to this extent, you should have known some of the differences or the major difference between a radial arm saw, a table saw and a compound miter saw.

Like I’ve mentioned before, the main purpose or use of a radial arm saw is for making cross cuts and miters like a miter saw.

However, if you really know your way around the tool, you can use it to make rip cuts, dadoes, cut tongues and grooves, make open mortises, taper cuts and even rabbets.

Equip it with a few accessories, and you can even use it as a router tool, a shaper, grinder, horizontal drilling or boring machine, disk or drum sander and even as a surface planer.

It tips on all its axis (except the vertical slope) making it a very versatile tool for carrying out woodworking projects.

Unlike a table saw which practically needs to be placed at the center of the workshop so it can be operated, the radial arm saw can be backed up against the wall just like some compound miter saws and thus takes up less space and footprint than a table saw.

Related: How To Choose The Right Saw Blades For Your Projects

Disadvantages – Why the radial arm saw fell so hard from the favor of many woodworkers

Every tool has its disadvantages, especially power tools, if most are not handled carefully, they can cause serious injuries.

However, it seems the disadvantages of the radial arm saw where too much to be ignored, and with the invention of similar tools like the compound miter saw, many woodworkers quickly moved on from it.

Here are some of the disadvantages of the radial arm saw that caused its demise.

The first or major reason why most woodworkers have moved on from the radial arm saw is due to safety concerns.

This safety concern is the way the blade rotates. It rotates toward the operator, which in turn causes the motor and blade to walk or self-feed towards him/her.

Because of this, most people are scared of using the saw, and that is quite easy to understand. A saw that can jump or move by itself towards you should be feared. Right?

Another reason why most people have moved on from it today is that it’s quite expensive compared to compound miter saws and contractor styled table saws.

So, instead of spending over a thousand dollars to get a radial arm saw, you can get a compound miter saw and a contractor styled table saw for that same amount, and that will give you more value for your money.

Thirdly, the main reason why people used radial arm saws was that it used to be the best tool for making crosscuts and miter cuts.

Since the compound miter saw was invented in the 70s however, it took the place of the radial arm saw as the best tool for making cross cuts and woodworking miters.

Finally, the last but not the least reason why it’s not so popular anymore is because using it means you have to be replacing the wooden table that comes with it every once in a while.

The blade tends to cut through the table when making full depth cuts, hence after some time, you’d need a new table.

When using miter saws and table saws, you never have to replace their tables, hence further reason why the radial arm saw has lost the love of many woodworkers.

Should you get the radial arm saw?

The fact that so many woodworkers don’t use it today does not mean no one is using it. In fact, the tool is still being manufactured in the United States by the Original Saw Company in Britt, Iowa.

So, if you feel you need one for your projects, you can always get one as long as you know your way around the tool and you observe all safety measures required for operating the saw.

Image Credit: Philip Fibiger / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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18 thoughts on “Should You Still Get A Radial Arm Saw?”

  1. Thank you, for the information on the RAS and Miter Saw I do own an older Craftsman RAS type and a Miter Saw as well. I was undecided about whether to replace my old RAS with a newer one. Your information has helped me to come to a final decision.

  2. Same here.. been using mine for a few decades, I believe I’m finally ready to move on. Thank you for your research! Much appreciated

  3. The radial give more functions with a small footprint and because many have moved away from it there are many used units out there at great prices for those without gobs of money to spend. Safety issues are always a concern in a woodshop and new users should get a bit of training to use one. I have all three types of saws and use them all when one or the other is set up for repetitive and accurate cuts. Love my radial and use it most. Thanks for your articles. Very informative.

    1. Thanks for the helpful input, Gerald.
      If one looks carefully, I’m sure used or refurbished units can be found at fairly affordable prices, but the new ones still come with a hefty price tag. For someone like me who prefers buying new, going that route is certainly unlikely. Like most people and like I mentioned in the article, I still prefer using just my miter saw and table saw. I agree with you, before using any tool in the shop, especially power tools, new users should always get training and continue showing respect to the tools no matter the amount of experience they gain later. Thanks once again for your helpful feedback.

      1. New is not always better. Some modern equipment is better than ever, some is cheaper than ever. I have seen the latest models of Craftsman radial saws (when the were still making them) and my 1978 model seemed much better to me. Especially in the way of blade guards. I use the blade guards that came with the saw for every cut. The more recent models had such restrictive blade guards that the saws were almost unusable.

  4. I believe that the Radial Arm Saw (RAS) still has its place for the cross cutting of wide timbers as the maximum cut of an average compound mitre saw is around 300+mm. I have personally sold my 250mm bladed RAS as I have saved up and replaced my table saw with a Felder which has a very accurate and long mitre arm. If I had not done this I would have been looking for a RAS with the long cross cut capability and a 350mm blade for the thicker timber’s. I do have a 300mm Compound Mitre Saw and I agree that the saw has its place in the modern workshop for its varied capabilities and safety record.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience with the RAS, Alan.
      I agree, just like you, there’re still people using or would still use the RAS today due to personal preferences. Of course, the saw still works, it’s still being produced, and like you mentioned, it even have a few advantages over a miter saw, such as the larger cross-cut capacity.
      But I believe, to most people today, the disadvantages far outweighs the advantage of having and using the RAS, hence the reason it’s not that popular anymore.
      I guess it all falls down to a matter of personal preference, just like I wrote in the article.

  5. Did I miss it? But did you address stacked dado and depth of cuts. I can’t use dado blades on my compound miter saw or accurately control the depth of the cuts (maybe because it’s not a top of the line compound miter saw.) Our very old Craftsman RAS does both and is a lot easier than doing this with a table saw.

    1. I did mention that RASs can be used for making dado cuts, which means they accept dado blades. Miter saws on the other hand don’t have that feature. They don’t accept dado blades.
      What I didn’t mention was the depth of cut issue. Depth of cut can’t be controlled or adjusted accurately on a compound miter saw. You can only make through cuts all the way through your stock or through part of it, depending on how thick the wood is.
      Some miters saws however come with a flip stop which you can use to adjust the depth of cut. Although, it’s not as accurate as the depth control on Table saws and RASs
      Depth of cuts can be adjusted accurately both on a table saw and a RAS.

      1. I recently acquired a 12″ Dewalt sliding compound miter saw. Most new sliding compound miter saws have a stop lever that can control the depth of cut; just used one last week to clean the shoulders on set of tenons. That is a function I kept my RAS for but now the uses for the old radial saw are dwindling.

        But it was my first big power tool purchase so she’s staying with me.

  6. I’m currently setting up a new cabinet shop and recently found a brand new Craftsman RAS still in the original box and plastic banding from the 90s for $150. I couldn’t imaging setting up a shop without a RAS and to be able to find a brand new old saw was a 1 in a million find.

  7. hello.
    do you think it would be possible to take the saw from a model 113.197151 and mount it the chassis of a model 113.199250?
    i have the first model mentioned and the saw itself is in great shape but the entire chassis and arm is shot. i have an opportunity to buy the other model mentioned which happens to have a perfect chassis and arm but the saw is shot.
    can it be done?

  8. Regarding radial arm saw safety issues, my impression is that negative hook saw blades minimize the “self feeding” problem. Is that correct? Also, I am more comfortable cutting dadoes and rabbets with a guard on. And, after making the mistake of trying to rip from the wrong direction (once – a long time ago), I have not had any problems using my saw with the blade guards and splitter in place to rip boards or sheet goods.

  9. A substantial part of the general opinion about radial arm saws is fear-based and irrational. People who have actually used the RAS regularly for more than a few days tend to be much more rational about them than people who have rarely or never used one because they are frightened of the blade. It is silly to listen to people with little or no experience in any subject.

    I am old, so quite a few of the woodworkers I know either have or did have an RAS at some point in their amateur or professional lives. Most have also used and/or owned table saws. I have heard about much more damage due to table saw kickbacks than from RASs. I know one person who cut off the tip of his middle finger on a table saw and one person who made an angled cut across all of the fingers of his left hand with a table saw. I know of no injuries from a RAS. Yes, of course there must have been injuries somewhere, but I bet if you compared injuries per 1000 work hours between the two tools you would find more injuries from table saws.

    Why is this? Well I suppose part of it is that table saws are glamor tools and so every tyro wants one, including those who really shouldn’t be using tools at all. But I think the biggest reason is that the RAS blade hanging above the table and moving around while it is running just tends to keep your mind very focused on safety. In all my years of using my saw (and I’m actually logged on to look for an outfit to do the second motor rebuild) I’ve made many measurement errors, but I can only remember one time when I was so tired and working so hard that I lost sight of safety. It was exciting, but the saw bound up in the wood and no injury occurred. I remember that every time I use the saw now, and am quite safe.

    I’ll give you all a hint as to RAS safety – and it really applies to many power tools. Keep your weight over your feet. Don’t lean on the table or the workpiece. If the blade grabs, nothing will happen to you. But if you are leaning on the table or the workpiece and the saw grabs, it can affect your balance or your grip and you could fall into the blade. The exact same thing is true of the table saw.

    One final thing in favor of the radial saw. You need a huge amount of space to use a table saw. Most small shops that I have owned or been familiar with become so cluttered that it takes hours to prepare for a cut with a table saw. If you even have that room at all. Yeah, rich woodworking hobbyists who never actually make anything in their glamor shops probably have that large area and can keep it clean.

    For me, I can setup some sawhorses, drop on some boards, position a piece of plywood, measure and setup guides, and make my cuts with a high quality circular saw. (Get one with a stiff base and no runout on the motor shaft.) And that is much faster than making space to use a table saw if I even had the space indoors.

    Everything else happens on the RAS. If doing critical work like face frames, I go through the alignment procedure first. Today I’m cutting 1/8″ shims to make some 1/2″ panels come out flush with 5/8″ sheet rock. That requires lots of ripping, but not high accuracy.

    One last thing about the RAS (though I could probably write a book about it): Use a zero or negative hook blade for crosscutting! The one thing that is most frightening to many people, and which startles all of us, is when the saw grabs as you are pulling it towards you. That is quite controllable with a zero hook blade and if you use a negative hook blade you will actually have to pull the blade through the piece. Let go and it just sits there – no grab.

  10. I am an older guy who has used a Craftsman RAS for 44 years. (Yup, I’m old..) In all those years I have had only a couple of kickbacks and have had ZERO injuries. To me, it is an awesome tool, though not for critical, finish work due to it not keeping accuracy via the fence guard and table. I have built large decks, bunk beds, tables, etc. The fact that it has accessories available, allowed me to use it as a horizontal drilling machine for boring holes. Most importantly, I like the protection it has versus a table saw with an open blade. I can shave off very small slivers to fit something; use the angled blade to make a variety of angle cuts; rip long boards, etc. With proper lighting, I can get very close to the blade to see EXACTLY how much I want to cut off a board (crosscut). Not something you would do with a table saw!!! As with any power tool, READ the instructions and use ALL of the safety procedures provided with the RAS. I just had my 2nd motor fail and will have it rebuilt. No problem. In the end, it has serviced me very well and has paid for itself many times over. Do no let the fear mongering get to you. Use your head, pay close attention, clear your work area, and use stringent safety measures. RASs are great machines!

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