The Radial Arm Saw -- a Guide of Sorts





Introduction: The Radial Arm Saw -- a Guide of Sorts

About: I miss the days when magazines like Popular Mechanics had all sorts of DIY projects for making and repairing just about everything. I am enjoying posting things I have learned and done since I got my first ...

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.



    • Water Contest

      Water Contest
    • Creative Misuse Contest

      Creative Misuse Contest
    • Oil Contest

      Oil Contest

    111 Discussions

    I recently purchased a used saw like the one in the picture at a garage sale anyone know the year and or model number.interested in finding an owners manual for it

    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.

    2 more answers

    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.

    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.


    8 months ago

    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

    1 reply

    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.

    1 reply

    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.


    1 year ago

    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
    1 reply

    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

    5 replies

    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

    Here's how I got mine unstuck. I'm detailing the re-assembly to describe how to get the shaft, locking pin, and brake pin assembled and working properly. The problem is that without doing something like the steps below, you can't get the collar on the shaft seated in its slot in the locking pin AND over the brake pin at the same time. So:

    1. Take the arm all the way off the tower (part #45 in the above diagram). It's easy: remove the cap, remove the two 9/16 bolts on the inner tower shaft, and use a car jack to gently push it off the tower. Don't drop the bolts into the tower!

    2. Two parts will come free inside the top of the tower when you do that: the miter lock stop guide (# 51) and the brake shoe (#52). Note which way the brake shoe goes in so you can reinstall it right, because it's not symmetrical.

    3. Look in the tower-end of the arm and you'll see the locking pin (#25 - the top one, which is split to fit the notches in the lock stop guide) and the brake pin (#26). Push that locking pin out from the other end (the front), clean it well, and lube it up. I used a long dowel and a hammer to get it out. You'll note that it has a slot milled into it, into which the collar on the shaft (#24) fits. This allows the shaft to pull and push the locking pin back and forth along the axis of the arm and engage/disengage the stop guide.

    4. With that locking pin out of the way, you can now use the shaft to spin the brake pin all the way down as far as it will go. SLide it into the arm, and fit the collar on the brake pin, just like a socket on a bolt.

    5. With the brake pin seated all the way, slide the well-oiled and clean locking pin in from the back (tower end) so that the front end is sticking past the hex head of the brake pin by a good inch or so. Clean that hole it goes in as well. You want it to be easy to push back and forth.

    6. Now the tricky part: slide the shaft into the front of the arm and fit the collar into its little slot on the locking pin. It's fiddly. Use patience. Once you've got it in the slot, push the shaft, making sure it stays in the slot in the locking pin until the shaft slips onto the hex head of the brake pin. You might have to spin the shaft slightly to get it to line up. You'll know immediately when you've got it right.

    7. Put the spring, the front plate, and all those little washers and the knob back together, and the arm should be good to go!

    8. Now, clean that lock stop guide, the brake shoe, the top of the tower, and the part of the arm that slips over the tower. I used 1000 grit wet/dry sandpaper and some honing oil.

    9. Put the arm partway back on the tower, just far enough so that you can slide that brake shoe into place where it came from - and right side up!

    10. Slide the lock stop guide in place as well

    11. Lower the arm with the car jack until the bolt holes line up. This was fiddly - I found that snugging one down a bit helped line up the other.

    12. Put the cap back on, square the guide on top so that it reads correctly, and you're done!

    I set up the brake pin as well as the locking pin as you noted in step 5. Then at step six, I turned the arm upside down and rested it horizontally on the workbench. I then inserted the long drive shaft (with the collar at the far tip of the shaft) and easily positioned the collar in the locking pin 1/2 moon slot located at the tower end of the arm tunnel. As the arm was now upside down on the workbench, gravity and the weight of the collar and shaft made the job extremely easy to match-up the collar with the locking pin 1/2 moon slot. In fact, with the arm resting upside down, it was difficult for the collar to slip out of its proper position once placed in its 1/2 moon slot of the locking pin. The next step was to slip the shaft onto the hex head of the brake pin. It slipped right on. You can visually see, with the help of a flashlight beam shining down the hollow arm tunnel, whether or not the shaft is properly mated with the hex head of the brake pin. Also, with the arm in this upside-down position, it is very easy to confirm that the collar and hex are properly placed. Simply spin the shaft, which will spin the hex head, which will cause the brake pin to begin to disappear inside the arm (at the tower end of the arm), which will simultaneously cause the locking pin "gear tooth slot" to begin to disappear inside the arm (at the tower end of the arm). If both these parts (the visible portion of the brake pin and the visible portion of the locking pin gear tooth slot) freely move in and out, in sync with one another, by rotating the shaft clockwise and counterclockwise, then you have confirmed good placement of the shaft and good placement of the collar within its 1/2 moon slot. Thank you for your excellent step by step on rebuilding this part of the radial arm saw.

    I thought it would be helpful to post a few pix. The views are of the arm (that has been removed from the tower). We are looking at the tower end of the arm. The first photo just to the right of the power cord shows the visible ends of the "brake pin" (circular in shape) and above that is the visible end of the "locking pin" (cylindrical in shape with two vertical bars -- a cut-out into which the tooth of the "mitre lock stop guide" will mate. The next photo shows the placement of the brake shoe. The shoe appears to have 3 general sections (bottom, middle and top). As the shoe is not symmetrical, make sure when re-installing it, that the middle section aligns with the two "squared shoulders" of the arm that are located immediately to the left and right of the middle section of the shoe. This is the proper placement of the shoe. If the shoe is placed upside down, the middle section of the shoe will not align properly with the left and right hand shoulders of the arm. With the shoe resting in its place, then rest the "mitre lock stop guide" (that semi circle that has gear-like teeth in it) above the shoe so that the "locking pin's" sole female groove mates with the center/middle gear of the "mitre lock stop guide". With those two pieces resting in place (the mitre lock stop guide and the brake shoe), I lifted the arm onto the tower and aligned the holes that house the two tower bolts. Finally grease the exposed shoe and "mitre lock stop guide" before capping the tower and setting the power cord plate back in place.

    Radial Arm Saw Craftsman (1).JPGRadial Arm Saw Craftsman (2).JPGRadial Arm Saw Craftsman (3).JPGRadial Arm Saw Craftsman (4).JPG

    I have recently acquired one of these saws and the one thing that I can't seem to figure out is how to get the drum sander off. Its just like step 6. I have been searching the internet and cannot seem to find this one piece if info. Any help would be appreciated.