The Radial Arm Saw -- a Guide of Sorts





Introduction: 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.

Step 1: 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.

Step 2: Cut-offs or Crosscut Sawing

The radial arm saw is very handy for cutting pieces to length.  Most often these cuts are at 90 degrees to the length of the piece.  Sometimes they are cut at an angle, whether 45 degrees as shown in the photo, or something else.  Although the arm has an angle gauge and pointer, the safest procedure for accuracy would be to make a test cut on scrap.  Next best is to use a "T"-bevel square to set the blade travel on the arm. 

When cutting many pieces to the same length, some like to make a movable stop that clamps to the saw's fence.  While most of the Instructables linked in this Instructable are mine, this particular one is not. 

A radial arm saw normally requires swinging the arm to the right or left in order to make 45 degree miters.  A stationary miter sled makes cutting accurate miters more sure and much easier.

Step 3: Rip Cuts

Using a radial arm saw for rip cuts is very much like making rip cuts on a table saw, except that the saw blade is mounted above the table rather than coming up through the table.  When I first began to use a radial arm saw, I found I needed to pay special attention to brushing away sawdust and wood chips that gathered on the table at the fence.  As with a table saw, a splinter of wood caught between the fence and the work piece affects accuracy. 

The radial arm saw motor has an in-rip and an out-rip position.  Choose the one that is most comfortable for your job.  The in-rip position places the blade end of the motor closer to the fence.  The out-rip position places the blade end of the motor nearer to the front edge of the table. 

The front edge of the table can be used as a saw guide for special ripping operations, as when the edge of a panel needs to be made true.

Step 4: Eventual Wear That Ruins Accuracy

I once attended a radial arm saw demonstration by a representative of Black & Decker.  He said their saws were superior to my Craftsman radial because the motor carriage yoke on their saws is cast iron and it wears better than the aluminum alloy used on Craftsman saws.  The wear of which he spoke meant the in-rip and out-rip indexing holes would no longer be 90 degrees apart from the crosscut indexing hole.  In a few years I learned I had the problem of which he spoke.  Eventually, I developed a very good solution to the problem.  And it is not difficult at all to apply.

Step 5: Grinding

After crosscuts and rip cuts, I most often use my saw as a grinder.  The 5/8" shaft accepts grindstones and cutting wheels of all kinds.  It is a very handy tool if you do not already have an electric grinder.  The one disadvantage is that you may need to change a setup you worked carefully to achieve so that you can grind for a few minutes, but that is very seldom.

I use my radial arm saw to sharpen my lawnmower blade to a very uniform cutting angle.  One of my favorite tricks is to grind something on my radial arm saw while it is chucked and spinning in an electric drill.  It is a type of improvised lathe.  See step # 2 in this Instructable.  Sometimes I make a special wooden jig to hold something just right so I can grind it rather precisely.  (The photo with this step of this Instructable is part of the Instructable linked in the preceding sentence.)  I improvised a way to cope metal tubes for welding at a right angle.  It uses a cutting wheel on my radial arm saw and a small wooden table I made to elevate the work so it is nearer to the level of the motor's shaft.  While my method worked for me, since I have learned about another Instructable that would be easier and even better for the same task.  I also use my radial arm saw when I use a special jig to sharpen drill bits.

Step 6: Sanding Drum Operations

After grinding with my radial arm saw, the most useful thing I do with it involves a sanding drum.  The back end of the motor shaft on my saw is machined to receive 1/2" x 20 thds. attachments.  I have a Craftsman sanding drum that screws onto the motor shaft. 

I do not have a planer/joiner, but learned of a way to use a sanding drum and a fence to joint wood so precisely that the eye has a difficult time finding the glue line.  I use the sanding drum and the small wooden table mentioned in step 5 for thicknessing wood to a precise dimension.  Whereas my sanding drum's face is only 3", the pieces I thickness almost need to be no wider than this size.  This process may not be quite as good as if I had commercial machinery designed for just this sort of thing, butit has allowed me to glue up panels, as you would for a tabletop.

Step 7: Concentric Drilling

The back end of the motor shaft also accepts a 1/2" Jacob's drill chuck.  This is handy for drilling or for grinding small items. 

I developed a way to do concentric drilling on my radial arm saw.  I have not needed this often, but it has come in very handy a couple of times, and the results were very precise.

I have also done some precise drilling by using the little table shown in previous steps and clamping a fence guide to it.  The choice is the user's as to whether to pull the motor into the work or push the work toward the motor and the bit.   

Step 8: Cove Cuts

A radial arm saw can do cove cuts to make bowls or picture frames.

Step 9: Pin Router

Once I needed a pin router setup and made an attachment for my radial arm saw and router.

Step 10: Curved Molding

I also developed a way to make curved molding on my radial arm saw.

Step 11: Rotary Planer

Craftsman sold a rotary planer attachment for the radial arm saw.  It fastens to the blade end of the motor shaft and uses the blade retaining nut.  It was sold for reducing the thickness of a piece of wood.  You can do that, but it leaves deep circular rings, especially if the work jumps a little in use.  Leave a little extra thickness and do some work with a belt sander to get the piece ready for finishing.  I needed to tilt the motor so I could use the rotary planer to shape a bevel on the end of a piece of plywood for some special car ramps I needed.  See step # 8 of thisInstructable.  I also used the rotary planer in step # 16 of this Instructable.

Step 12: Replacement Switch

I have had my radial arm saw 38 years.  During that time I have worn out one set of motor bearings and three motor switches.  There came a time when the factory switch was no longer available, so I adapted a switch from Radio Shack.

Step 13: Missing Table Clamps?

If the table clamps are missing from your saw, you can make your own.

Step 14: Adapting Blades to a Sawsmith

During the 1950's and 1960's the Sawsmith radial arm saw had quite a following.  Many are still devoted to it, but it uses an unusual blade size.  The arbor hole is 1 1/4" instead of the more usual 5/8" one sees today. I adapted a 5/8" arbor blade for a friend with a Sawsmith.  You might be interested in this in case you would buy a Sawsmith at a sale one day. 

Because radial arm saws are no longer as popular as they once were, you can find some really good deals on them at sales, on eBay, and on Craigslist.  They make a great main tool for any workshop.



    • Science of Cooking

      Science of Cooking
    • Pocket-Sized Contest

      Pocket-Sized Contest
    • Spotless Contest

      Spotless Contest

    We have a be nice policy.
    Please be positive and constructive.


    2 Questions

    Hi Phil,

    Can you tell me how the arbor (red button on back of saw) works & what it's used for? (You may not know it as an "arbor" so set me straight if I'm calling it by the wrong name-just heard it called that in a video.) I can't find any instructions about it in the manua.


    This is my second response. There may also be a red reset button. If the motor overheats, the reset trips the circuit to protect the motor. Pressing the button closes the circuit again.


    First, the colored buttons were a sales gimmic by Sears/Craftsman to make the saw seem easier to use because a colored scale on part of the saw matches and is controlled by a button or lever with the same color on it. Other manufacturers, even earlier versions of the same saw may not have colors.

    The arbor is the shaft in the motor. What appears as a red button on the end of the motor arbor opposite the blade end is probably not a control button, but a thread protector. It screws off to reveal a threaded end of the shaft useful for attaching a 1/2" drill chuck or a sanding drum.

    Can you name the parts of the radial arm saw and their uses


    I am assuming radial arm saws are not often seen currently where you live. They have become less popular and less available in recent years. In some parts of the world they may never have been available and many have never seen one.
    A radial arm saw allows you to cut wood to length with 90 degree cuts. This is done by pulling the motor carriage (on rollers) toward the operator with a stiff arm and shoulder to keep the blade from grabbing and propelling itself toward the operator. (If the saw is properly aligned, it does not bind, and this is not a problem.) The blade may be tilted to cut with a bevel cut. A knob and a locking pin near the handle on the motor carriage are used to change the tilt of the blade. Another knob cranks an elevation screw that raises the motor or lowers the motor by raising or lowering the arm on which the motor carriage is mounted. That means your cuts can form a dado groove rather than a complete separation cut. The motor carriage has a locking lever and an indexing pin that can be used to swivel the motor 90 degrees to the left or to the right. This is for making rip cuts. A fence on the saw table guides the wood. There are two swivel positions: an inrip and an outrip position. These are necessary so any width can be ripped. Two positions are necessary because the blade is offset from the swivel axis. (Cross cutting keeps the wood stationary while the saw motor moves. Rip cutting keeps the motor in a stationary position while the wood is fed from one side of the saw table to the other, much like ripping with a table saw. The arm may be cranked up to make a dado cut rather than a separation cut. The blade may also be tilted to make a beveled rip cut. And, a knob on the arm can be loosened so the arm can swing 45 degrees to the right or the left for making miter cuts. An index pin on the arm helps lock the arm position at 45 degrees left, 90 degrees, and at 45 degrees right.


    I got my last RAS from a friend and I cannot get it to go up and down. I used break free and loosened the bolts and screws in back of the shaft and it will still not go up and down by turning the handle in front. Please help. It is driving me crazy. thanks. Ed

    I am assuming you have a Craftsman saw like the one in the photos. As you know, the crank turns a shaft that goes to a set of gears to turn a threaded shaft inside the column. If the arm is already too high, the screw threads will disengage from the arm, but I doubt that is your problem. Are your gears stripped? Is a pin connecting a gear or the crank to the shaft sheared? To my mind it has to be one of those things. Also, make certain the wedge assembly that eliminates side to side movement of the arm is not too tight.

    Do you see any problems with installing a wire brush wheel "8 inch dia." onto my 10 inch Dewalt PowerShop radial arm saw? I want to raise the grain on 1 x 3 inch cedar boards. This would be done in the rip position.

    It should work. Wear eye protection. I heard an eye doctor talking about trying to remove wires thrown by a wire wheel from someone's eye and how painful the embedded wires are. Maybe experiment with holding the wood to the wheel by hand. The first wire wheel I had was well balanced. Years later I had to replace it with an import that was badly out of balance. Try to get a good wheel. The bad wheel caused the motor carriage to knock on the saw arm and left a rough spot that causes other problems.

    I love my RAS. My dad had one that I learned to use growing up, guess I never learned to fear it but instead learned to respect it. ;)

    Great thread! You gave me the courage to tear into my craftsman vintage 1970 (113.29441) to un-freeze the bevel adjustment. Here are some photos of the handle, handle parts and yoke parts that pertain to the bevel, bevel adjustment, bevel pre-sets and bevel brake. My handle was stuck/frozen to the motor yoke. I dismantled it to clean & sand the corrosion from all the moving parts. Fresh lube and reassembly and it works as good as new. Thanks again for the great info contained in this guide.

    Radial Arm Saw (4).JPGRadial Arm Saw (5).JPGRadial Arm Saw (6).JPGRadial Arm Saw (9).JPGRadial Arm Saw (11).JPG

    What you have posted may help someone with a similar problem. Thank you. Enjoy your new saw. It is a great tool.

    Good morning all. I have a Craftsman RAS model 113.29410 and am having a bit of trouble. According to the manual, the arm should automatically lock at 0 degree. 45 degrees and 90 degrees. Mine does not. It freely swings when I have the knob loosened counter clockwise. If I turn the knob clockwise, it will engage the brake. This saw if from the late 60's I am told. Very little use. Part number 34 is the lever, arm latch. It moves very little when I try to apply pressure. Guessing it is stuck in the 'open' position. I have disassembled but just do not see where it is going wrong. HELP Steve

    Did you see step 12? I described how I fitted a push button switch to my saw.

    I am not much help to you. I have never disassembled anything in the arm or its lock, save changing the switch a couple of times when it failed. One other commenter took his apart and had quite a time getting it to work properly again. I am not sure if he commented on this Instructable or on another, though. I am including the drawing of the arm components from my manual.

    RAS arm lock.jpg