Instructables

The Radial Arm Saw -- A Guide of Sorts

Featured
Picture of The Radial Arm Saw -- A Guide of Sorts
The radial arm saw is a very versatile machine around which a whole shop can be built.  It is one machine that allows a number of operations normally requiring different specific machines.  Unfortunately, electric miter saws have displaced the radial arm saw.  That is probably because many used a radial as only a glorified miter saw or cut-off saw.  This Instructable will pull together in one place a number of Instructables demonstrating various capabilities of a radial arm saw, as well as some dealing with wear and maintenance issues.  Just click on the hot links in the frames below.
 
Remove these adsRemove these ads by Signing Up

Step 1: Aligning the saw

Picture of Aligning the saw
The radial arm saw has several adjustments that need to be aligned properly for accurate cuts.  These do have indexed settings.  The owner/operator must set these properly.  They include setting the tilt of the motor so the blade is 90 degrees to the table.  The arm can swing and must be set so it is 90 degrees to the table's fence.  The most cumbersome adjustment in my experience is getting the arm 90 degrees to the fence.  But, with a slight revision of the process outlined in the owner's manual and an addition to the table, it is not difficult at all.  In use vibration can change the settings of any saw a little.  The the saw needs to be checked occasionally to make certain the arm is still square to the fence.

Phil, thanks for the serious efforts you have made to present the RAS here on Instructables. With the vast amount of fluff on the site this is real help for the shop. Please keep it up.

I am installing an old RAS into a new long workbench I am building and your RAS Instructables are printed out and will be right there. Thanks.!

Phil B (author)  Johndstewart1 month ago
Thanks. I am indebted to the guide book I bought for my radial arm saw published by Craftsman, as well as various articles in magazines like Popular Science and Popular Mechanics. Over the years I have seen a lot of good radial arm saws in home garages propping up paint cans and garden tools. It seemed someone ought give a hint about what these saws can do.
ChronicTom5 months ago
Hey Phil,

I have to admit, when I first saw this instructable (the first I ever saw of any of yours), I chuckled. Seriously, who needs a guide for a radial arm saw? I started using one when I was a kid, both at a home shop and at school.

I sure am glad I read it anyways, because not only did I learn more then a few things from it, you present it all in a great fashion.

As one of those odd coincidences that sometimes happens, I first saw this instructable the other day (by random), shortly after I had answered an ad on a local classified site for a radial arm saw. The ad didnt say anything about it other then it was old, worked great and they wanted $50.00.

It was just dropped off a few minutes ago... It's a sears craftsman 10".

lol, first thing I looked for after making sure it worked was wether or not it had the nut on the backside of the motor... which it does.

So I had to come and say thanks for this instructable, as well as the rest that I will be watching over the next while as I set up my new saw.
Phil B (author)  ChronicTom5 months ago
Thanks, Tom. One thing to watch for is unequal elongation of the yoke indexing holes. You will notice it if you carefully align the saw and it works fine for crosscuts, but heels on rip cuts, or vice-versa. The solution I described in one of the Instructables listed in this "guide" works very well and is not too complicated.
Smithadon1 year ago
Superb and quick help again Phil, thanks so much!
I will install the fence such that the blade is clear of it and toward the column at the end of a cut.

As for the ripping scales - it seems very odd for the product to pass through the production tests with such a flaw?! I was thinking of installing two metal rulers once my fence is in place so that I can rip without marking the wood before hand.

Thanks again for your help and advice - I really appreciate your time.

Joe.

(apologies for the fresh post - the captcha wouldn't let me reply)
Phil B (author)  Smithadon1 year ago
Joe,

Your Ryobi may have more sturdy indicators on the rip scales than my Sears Craftsman saw. The least bump moves the pointers. That saw also came with color-coded control knobs to make using it easier. The knob with the yellow dot in the center controls the angle scale with the yellow pointer. I always said if you need that kind of help you have no business owning the saw.

Enjoy your saw.
Smithadon1 year ago
Hello again Phil!
Please feel free to ignore this - I'm sure you are a busy man!
I am having trouble understanding the start points of the in-rip and out-rip scales in order to work out where my fence should be.  It is a hard question to phrase in writing and so here is a small (20mb) vid of what I mean.

Any light you could shed would be fantastic but please don't feel obliged!

Many Thanks,
Joe.
Phil B (author)  Smithadon1 year ago
Joe,

Thank you for the video. That helps to understand your dilemma. The in rip and out rip scales on the saw arm are virtually useless for most practical purposes. The only time I have used them has been when I was ready to rip something and wanted to test the position of the blade in comparison with where my mark was. If I found I needed to move the blade out or in three or five millimeters (I actually work with inches, but you get the idea.), I checked to see where one of the rip pointers was on the scale and used it to determine how far to move the saw on the arm in order to achieve the difference I needed.

But, your real question is where to locate the front of the table and the fence that rides against it. When you are making crosscuts, you want to be able to push the saw away from yourself toward the column so the spinning blade is forward of the fence. Then you can move one piece of wood off of the table safely and get ready for a cut in a new piece of wood, etc. That will mean positioning the fence so it is about 12 to 15 centimeters toward you from the near surface of he column. Also, your saw table will be wide enough to hang over the table supports at the rear of the saw (nearest side to you) so the edge of the table nearest you is about 4 or 5 centimeters beyond the outmost position of the blade on the out rip setting. I hope this helps. Let me know if I need to load up a photo.
Phil B (author)  Phil B1 year ago
Joe,

I actually measured the distance between the column and the side of the fence nearest to the column. It is a little greater than I thought, that is about 20 cm. The blade on my saw is 10 inches, or about 25 cm.
I forgot to mention that I made the vid for my Dad and hence it starts 'hey Pop' !!
Smithadon1 year ago
Dear Phil B, thanks for the great information, I am about to purchase a ryobi version (I think it was made in the sears factory?). Could you help me with a burning question?

When ripping on a table saw, you make sure that you cut all the way through your work by ensuring that the saw is lifted above the top surface of the work. On a radial arm saw though, the saw blade would enter the table to get the same effect. This would (over time) destroy the table. I imagine that the aim is to only just skim the surface of the table? If this is the case then the majority of the cutting action of the blade is horizontal as opposed to vertical. This would give each tooth a longer time to cut and reduces splinter lift, but increases the likelihood of kick back dramatically. Could you let me know your thoughts on this? One solution I did think about would be to build a sliding fence and have holes in the table for the blade spaced at about 200mm?
Thanks very much for any insights,
Joe.
Phil B (author)  Smithadon1 year ago
Joe,

When you go to a radial arm saw after being accustomed to a table saw, some things are strange and just do not seem right. But, they do work just fine.

After you set up and align your new saw one of the first things you will do is to set the saw in the in rip position, start the motor, lower the blade about 1/16 inch into the table, and slowly drag the motor out away from the fence to make a shallow trough in the top of the saw table. You will want to stop the saw, raise the blade about 1/8 inch and swivel the motor to the out rip position. Move the motor so the blade is over the trough you have already cut. Lower the saw with the motor off until the teeth on the blade just begin to bind on the saw table. Raise the motor a few thousandths if an inch. Start the motor and drag the blade across the rest of the table to complete the trough. Whenever you rip a piece of wood, lower the blade until the teeth touch the table. The raise the blade until it spins freely by hand. Set your guards and anti-kickback paws for the thickness of the wood you are ripping. Start the motor and rip your wood. Use pusher sticks where safety is a concern.

The only time kickback is a concern is when the blade heels, the wood is gummy with pitch, or the edge of the work piece you are cutting is not true and binds between the fence and the blade. If you have kickback problems, something is not properly set up. In my experience, you can just about take your hands off of the work piece mid-cut and the work piece does not move even though the blade is spinning. I would not recommend doing this, but you could.

Enjoy your new saw. Respect it, but you need not fear it.
dpapas6653 years ago
So, much has been made of the danger of this tool. But is it statisitcally any more dangerous than a table saw?
Phil B (author)  dpapas6653 years ago
The only way to be completely safe around machinery is never to buy it, or, if you do, never turn it on. (I know a guy who has had a used Lincoln "tombstone" arc welder for probably ten years, but he has never turned "on" because he is afraid something inside might be shorted, even though it almost certainly is not.) I know no one who injured himself with a radial arm saw, but I know at least two people who received bad cuts on a table saw. The fact the radial arm saw motor slides on a carriage while running probably spooks a lot of people. As I said in another comment, I have given mine fairly regular use, even wearing out a set of motor bearings and three switches, during 38 years without a scratch. (A few times I have come too close to a wire brush wheel I was using on my radial arm saw and scuffed skin on my fingers, but that hardly counts. It reminds me each time to wear gloves.) Thank you for your comment.
Hi Phil;

You are obviously a good craftsman and I respect the time you have taken to pass on your knowledge.

However gloves should never be worn when using any power tool, that scuffed skin could have become a broken wrist or an amputated finger if you had been wearing gloves. Where skin will cut a tougher glove may catch and draw in.

One of the first lesson you learn at a trade school is when using power tools, no gloves, no jewelery, no rings.

Cheers
Joel
Phil B (author)  bike_geek2 years ago
Thank you.
Well a Radial Arm Saw does have a tendency to self feed. And the blade moving as opposed to being fixed can present more of a hazard than a fixed blade does too. I run my RAS with no blade guard on it at all. I don't count on junk like that to protect me, and it gets in my way of seeing what I am doing. I can still count to 10 without taking off my socks ...
The day I'm not terrified of my shop machinery is the day I need to give them all away.

I've been using my table saw and radial arm saw for nearly 20 years, and they scare the hell out of me. Even my drill press has the potential to hurt me badly. This forces me to do one of two things: use them very very carefully or not use them at all.

Great write-up, Phil. I rarely use the radial arm saw outside of crosscutting because getting it square again is such a pain. Will try your stuff soon. Thanks.
Your best bet with an RAS is to square it up and leave it square and use axillary tables for any other kind of a cut. I think they put all them adjustments on RAS just to screw people up! Since I've gotten mine perfectly square I just leave it that way. And yes it was a pain!
Phil B (author)  Moore. Matt Moore.3 years ago
My father-in-law had one of these Craftsman saws from the mid-1950's forward. When I bought mine he told me very little on it would be accurate or precise. But, I never had a lot of trouble doing accurate work with mine, and built some decent furniture with mine. Perhaps something was not properly setup on his. I do not know.

I never forget what could happen if my flesh gets in the way of a power tool, especially a power saw. A friend recently failed to use a pusher stick with a table saw when he should have, and now has a bad cut in the end of a finger. He says he knew better, but became sloppy.
shinju2 years ago
hello. well i would also like to help out on the blade choice for the ras. the best i found that works good is the woodwoker two blade by forrest blades. i use the 60 tooth triple-chip blade.also you can make 8 cuts with the ras.crosscut,miter,rip,blade tilted- bevel crosscut,compound mitre,bevel rip with the blade horizontal-two edge cuts horizontal for slot.tilted for raised bevel.hope this helps out.feel free to aks any more questions will more than happy to help.
shinju2 years ago
hello i have an dewalt ras #1030.dewalt made the best ras made hands down.if you want trya ras,try to get an dewalt model. hear a a few hints.1. find a saw with at least 3/4 or more horse power.2. find one with the adustment handle in the back. 3. and most important start the motor and make sure it runs,if not dont buy it, trust me it can be very costly to repair ar replace a motor.also the best book out there on ras is " how to master the radial arm saw" by mr.sawdust.it is the best book for using and setting up the dewalt ras. hope this helps anyone how would like to try the saw.remember the saw does not have a brain. if something happens it is your fault not the saw.
jb333 years ago
Thanks for all the good info.

I have a 1950's vintage DeWalt radial arm saw that came from my grandfather. I've had it for 40 years and used it for all kinds of projects. It still works great. A few months ago, I had to replace the original key switch. That's the only repair I've had to do.
bluesblood jb332 years ago
I have an old DeWalt radial arm saw and a DeWalt scroll saw of round about the same vintage. Both are built like a tank and in great condition just waiting for me to restore them and put them in my shop. The radial saw, hasnt been touched yet but needs a little tlc. The scroll saw I've already rebuilt, but need pulleys and belt to connect a motor. I havent had the time to put into either just yet, but I'm pretty excited to get them running and put them to good use.
Phil B (author)  bluesblood2 years ago
I remember those and always thought they were great. A neighbor had one he had gotten and was just beginning to use; but for general rough work, not for fine work.
pfred2 jb333 years ago
DeWalt invented the draw saw as they called it. What we now know as the Radial Arm Saw. So what you have is not only vintage but the original!
Phil B (author)  jb333 years ago
I remember those. They are beasts! I know a gentleman who has a 1970's DeWalt for home use. It is a very nice saw, too. I wish you many more years of enjoyment with it. Thank you for your comment.
fretted3 years ago
I bought the exact same saw from a freind about a month ago exactly the same one except mine was in very very rough shape i had to rebuild the lailshaft and bearing housing the frontshaft housing was dismantled the angle lever was locked up and would not move ....

It took me 3 days of a weekend to dismantle and repair it but now it runs and works great i still have to make a descent table for it but for 25 bucks im satisfied

It makes me happy to see you have one in such very good condition

Thumbs up for this guide to

Thanks
Phil B (author)  fretted3 years ago
Dear fretted,

Thanks for the note. If you scroll down in the comments, you will see I gave dimensions and a hole location diagram for making a saw table. These are based on the factory original I replaced a few months ago.

I think there are a few linked Instructables in my "Guide" that will help you if you find wear in the yoke indexing pin holes and if you need a new switch.

My saw is in good condition because I am the only owner and because it never was taken to a job site, but was always in my workshop.

You should get a lot of enjoyment from it. Different parts sometimes show up on eBay, if you need them.
jeff-o3 years ago
See, now I wish I had room for one of these. Do you think it would be OK to keep it in the (unheated) garage, or is that asking for trouble?
Phil B (author)  jeff-o3 years ago
Mine has been in an unheated garage for years at two different places where we have lived and it always did just fine. If you have high humidity where you live, you might want to smear a little motor oil on the column to protect it from surface rust. You will also want to check it regularly to make sure its settings are square. The unheated garage will not affect accuracy as much as vibration from use.
jeff-o Phil B3 years ago
Good to know. I want to get a radial arm saw and a table saw, but the garage is the only place where I'd have room to store or use them. I was worried they wouldn't survive -20 celcius winters and humid summers, which is why I haven't bought either one yet. Radial arm saws are dirt cheap on Kijiji, too - plenty for under $100, and really good ones with all the accessories for $200-$300.
Phil B (author)  jeff-o3 years ago
The winters where we lived at the time my saw spent winters in an unheated garage were much less cold than what you are talking about. Although unheated our garages were attached to the houses and not as cold as a separate garage would be. I do not know what you have. At -20 Celsius it will be difficult to feel your fingers well very long without gloves. The motor bearings may be a little stiff from cold grease. Still, if a person worked carefully, a lot of work with a radial arm saw could still be done safely while wearing gloves.
jeff-o Phil B3 years ago
Well, it's not like I'd be using it when the temps drop that low -- no, when it drops to -20 I bury myself in a blanket and watch a movie, hot chocolate in hand.

But, the saw should survive the winter and be ready to go when my fingers thaw!
Phil B (author)  jeff-o3 years ago
I am confident the saw will be fine at -20 Celsius. Mine was never exposed to temperatures that cold because the attached garages we have had were always warmer due to heat leaking from the house portion of the building. A friend has lots of woodworking equipment in a free-standing unheated garage, which he heats for an evening when he wants to do woodworking. The coldest temperatures I have experienced here in SW Idaho (USA) were -15 Celsius (+5 Fahrenheit) for a week or so. One of his tools is a slightly different Sears Craftsman radial arm saw he uses mostly for cutoff work. He has never complained about effects of cold on his tools, and he does quality furniture woodworking. I would think he might have problems with his tools because the air in the building can be brought up to a reasonable temperature for working in a coat and hat, but the metal in the equipment will lag behind and be much colder for quite a few hours after the furnace goes "on."
jeff-o Phil B3 years ago
I've been thinking of installing a heater in my garage. But before I do that, I'll need to update the wiring in there. Currently the power consists of an overhead wire that stretches between the house and the garage, that looks like it dates back to the late 60s... Fine for some lights and a garage door opener, not so great for power tools pulling 15 amps! I actually want to install both 120V and 240V, in case I ever get my mitts on a welder.
Phil B (author)  jeff-o3 years ago
When you are one person, you can run only one tool at a time. My radial arm saw draws only 10 amps. when configured to run on 120 volts. It can also be configured to draw 5 amps. at 240 volts. A 240 volt service is nice. But, in January I used some Christmas money to buy a factory reconditioned Hobart Handler 125 EZ wire feed welder (flux core, not MIG). It draws 15 amps. at 120 volts. I had been using a 240 volt Miller Thunderbolt stick welder. I find if I do a little preheating with a MAPP gas torch and chamfer the edges on bigger pieces for multiple passes, I can weld some amazingly heavy stuff with only a 120 volt wire feed welder. A 120 volt welder might suffice for you. The Handler 125 EZ is not even the largest output 120 volt wire feed welder available from Hobart. And, some guys run 240 volt stick welders from 30 amp clothes dryer circuits. They just do not crank up the output on the welder too high.
jeff-o Phil B3 years ago
Yeah, a 120V welder would probably be enough for me, as I wouldn't be doing any heavy welding. But, 240V would be nice to have, and if I'm running a line from the main fuse panel to the garage then it may as well be a big, fat line!
pfred2 jeff-o3 years ago
Big fat lines cost big fat dollars. When I ran a #6 220V line to my garage it cost a couple hundred. But the right way to go would be to install a subpanel with a fairly decent feed cable to it.
jeff-o pfred23 years ago
Yeah, I figured that's how much it would cost. I figure I'd need a subpanel just to split up the 220 to 110 as well, since most of the tools being used in the garage would need that.
Pro

Get More Out of Instructables

Already have an Account?

close

PDF Downloads
As a Pro member, you will gain access to download any Instructable in the PDF format. You also have the ability to customize your PDF download.

Upgrade to Pro today!