All about the radial arm saw

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As a petite lady, I’ve always been absolutely petrified of a common, versatile, but big and dangerous woodshop tool called the radial arm saw. My art school woodshop had one of these monsters, and the shock-and-awe-type safety demonstrations from our burly shop manager had me nervous around the thing even when it was off, and scared for the operator when I heard the unmistakable 60dB sound off in the distance. I’ve still never used one, but reading Phil B’s guide showed me it can do a lot more than cross and rip cuts. He uses his for grinding, sanding, drilling, making moulding, and cove cuts for making bowls.

10 thoughts on “All about the radial arm saw

  1. I personally prefer the tablesaw. Maybe it’s just personal preference, but I think it’s easier and more accurate to move the workpiece than the saw head. Also, if the workpiece binds, on a tablesaw, the workpiece goes flying, but on a radial arm saw, the saw head kicks towards the operator.

    I used to be intimidated by these big, loud, scary-looking machines too, but now I don’t know how I ever did without them.

  2. The radial saw is a real finger eater. The table saw is a safer and much more accurate and useful tool. Please read up before wasting money that could be going toward good shop equipment on a radial saw.

  3. You don’t see too many sold new and there is a good reason for that. They are less accurate than a sliding miter saw and more dangerous than a table saw. Ripping with one is especially hazardous.

  4. If you shop for a radial arm saw, you’ll discover that they’re very difficult to find. That’s because virutally all professional woodworkers and most amateurs have ditched these sloppy, dangerous machines for vastly superior (and often cheaper) alternatives. Get a chop saw for precise miter cuts, a circular saw fence for dimensioning plywood, and a bandsaw for everything else, and you’ll have a much better, safer workshop for less money than the radial saw would have cost.

    Table saws are very precise and fast, but also expensive and dangerous – they’re on a par with ladders and chainsaws for serious injuries. Pros use them because they need to get the job done quickly, but amateurs willing to spend a little more time can get identical results with a bandsaw or a circular saw fence.

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Becky Stern is a Content Creator at Autodesk/Instructables, and part time faculty at New York’s School of Visual Arts Products of Design grad program. Making and sharing are her two biggest passions, and she's created hundreds of free online DIY tutorials and videos, mostly about technology and its intersection with crafts. Find her @bekathwia on YouTube/Twitter/Instagram.

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