Radial arm saws?


#1

I was chatting with a guy on an online forum about radial arm saws. He lives in Great Britain, and apparently there radial arm saws are commonly used and commonly available there. He said some brand names were Axminster, Dewalt, Minimax and Wickes.

I never hear people talking about radial arm saws here. I hear about table saws, miter saws, and then the portables: recip, circular, jig, oscillating, sometimes panel saws, but never RAS’s. Why is that? And why would it be different in the UK?


#2

Well… They are very dangerous, it’s not a question of if you’re going to loose a finger it’s when. That said I have one, a Emerson made Craftsman, I rarely touch it because it’s not portable and I do all my work on-site with miter and table saw.


#3

It’s my understanding that RAS’ got the reputation of being dangerous to use, and due to both that title and the refinement of miter and table saws, are often considered obsolete in the US. I’ve never used one, but here are a few unique opinions on the usefulness of an RAS: http://www.rockler.com/how-to/are-radial-arm-saws-a-thing-of-the-past/


#4

Thanks, folks. This guy says that RAS’s are easy to set up, and all woodworking tools are dangerous. That’s true, but…


#5

I’ve used one for cross-cutting rough lumber in order to further mill it. I also bought a used Craftsman RAS very cheap and found it was under recall. Decades after it was originally purchased, Emerson readily sent me the upgrade, though I did not end up using it, lacking space. In doing more research, my impression is that it can be used for cross-cutting safely, but many of the other operations that were advertised were potentially more dangerous than doing them other ways. For the purpose of cross cutting rough lumber that may be warped, have hidden defects, etc. it’s safer than a miter saw, not likely to kick back, etc. But it’s a limited one-trick pony.


#6

RAS were once the must-have home shop tool. Dewalt built their business on this tool - and for many years that’s all that Dewalt made… We had a huge old Dewalt that came with the business - that we used for crosscutting 4x, 6x and 8x timbers. The Dewalt RAS that we had - and others too - had a massive column, sturdy ways and stayed in alignment. Many cheaper saws got sloppier and sloppier with each cut - probably ruining the reputation of the tool. The saw could also be dangerous to use (kickbacks) for ripping and reported injuries were an issue for the saw.

Sears promoted the heck out of theirs - bearing the Craftsman brand - as the all purpose woodworking tool - able to cross cut, do dados, rip cut, cut moldings and more - some tasks requiring different cutters and jigs
My first home shop saw was a top-of-the-line Craftsman RAS (made by Emerson Electric) - that I quickly grew out of - all but replaced by a Unisaw table saw - later on adding a sliding compound miter saw. At the time I bought my RAS in the 1970’s - Sears probably sold something like 10 models. Now the tool has pretty much disappeared from manufacturer’s lineups - mostly replaced by miter saws and table saws.

Dewalt, I believe the inventor of the tool, no longer makes them. Acquired by Black & Decker - Dewalt was successfully turned into B&D’s flagship small power tool (no hand tools as well) brand. The Dewalt transformation really rescued the parent company’s position in the business - it having been severely tarnished by having the B&D name put on lots of orangey-plastic tools of sometimes dubious quality aimed at the DIY market.

The Dewalt-style saw is still produced:

https://originalsaw.com/


#7

There was a time I thought I’d want one because growing up I wanted Old Yankee Workshop and Norm had one. Delta of course. This was the 80’s afterall.

Of the people I knew that had them and used them - they all disliked them for anything but cross cutting. and in the end bought table saws of various flavors and some ended up with a mitre saw too that sits on the table they built up for their RAS.

However it’s interesting Fred put up Originalsaw - of the one place I still see radial arm saws is in the metal work arena. We have one in the hangar back. Looking back however I don’t know I would ever want one for my shop today.


#8

I too was loyal follower of the New Yankee workshop.
I dreamt about the day I would have a workshop like his. Fast Forward two decades, I have most of the tools I want but I never felt a need for an RAS. In my Jr. High school shop, we were taught how to use every stationary machine except the RAS. I think I remember it being chained-locked.
They do come up on the Used market quite often for dirt cheap.


#9

When I first started started hobby woodworking - 20+ years ago I bought a dewalt 1501.
A couple of years ago I gave it away.
I would argue that the guy koko was talking to is only telling half a story.
From experience, the Health & Safety Exec (think OSHA) don’t like these. Machinery safety requirements have been getting tighter and tighter over the years and it is difficult to make a RAS that you can’t stick your hand or finger into when it’s running. You absolutely can buy an Axminster brand radial over the counter but it has more interlocks, brake etc than the old ones used to. They belong to the "industrial " range and are too expensive for most hobbyists.
For industrial stuff, take a look at Maggi Technology - made in Italy.
There is a used market as industry are selling off old machines that don’t meet the current safety standards and there are no rules to stop a hobbyist buying one if they have space for it.
My experience of the Dewalt is that they need a great deal of careful manual adjustment to get them square in 3 dimensions, and they aren’t rigid enough to give the accuracy needed for furniture making.
They “climb cut” so they want to accelerate towards you. Fair enough, experience helps to develop the proper handling but they do bite when you have a lapse of concentration.
When turned 90 degrees for rip cutting, timber doesn’t slide too freely over the standard MDF table or along an MDF back fence. Just not great.
They are a goodish solution for a stockist who needs to cutt 600mm euro standard kitchen worktop to length without flipping it over but on site we have tracksaws these days …
Personally I now have the tracksaw plus a small table saw and excellent sliding mitre both with induction motors and these together are an order of magnitude better than the dewalt.

I should add, Minimax is brand of SCM an Italian manufacturer of professional woodworking machinery for trade and industry (or maybe the brand / company are the other way round) - well regarded. Wickes is a chain of DIY stores - a much smaller version of Home Deport. Wickes sell own branded tools in the “value for money” category. I had never heard of them doing a RAS and there is no way that I’d touch a low end version of a tool that is dangerous enough when well made.


#10

@ Alick

You provide a great synopsis of why RAS saws are no longer in vogue. Lots of hobbyist users in the US market (probably peaked 30 to 40 years ago) got into trouble using them for ripping and because of the “climb cutting” tendency. You still see big old ones in old US Lumber Yards (ones that did not go out of business in the post Home Depot era) - where they replaced old “swing saws”. The good thing is that a RAS, despite its issues, is safer than a swing saw.
But inexpensive Radial Arm Saws abounded in the 1970’s and early 1980’s - some sloppy and hard to set up right out of the box. My top of the line (most expensive anyway) Sears Craftsman’s user’s manual came with page after page on instructions on how to correct issues that they said might arise (and they did!) with wear.

BTW - Minimax saws - particularly their sliding table saws are well regarded on this side of the pond - finding use in many commercial wood shops. If I had my druthers, and wanted to replace my nearly 50 year old home shop Unisaw (with sliding table) - I probably would be looking at a Hammer K3 - as a more moderately priced and more compact alternative to a Minimax or Felder. Like you, however, I find that I use my track saw more and more for tasks once done on the table saw. I’m also getting too long in the tooth to be thinking about a major shop upgrade.


#11

Cheers Fred.
Nice to know about the Minimax.
You have the right of it with the RAS. So many individual bolts to loosen and adjust to set level or take up slack. …