What Is A Radial Arm Saw?


The Radial Arm Saw is essentially a circular saw suspended above a work table.  For most operations, the blade cuts through the workpiece and runs along a kerf in a piece of hardboard or plywood that is glued to the saw table.

There are so many helpful options when it comes to saws for your project. Each tool has a specific purpose and function that separates it from the others. I’ve researched through the internet and put together a quick summary on the Radial Arm Saw.

What is a radial arm saw? The radial arm saw is primarily a wood cutting tool that consists of an engine motor that drives a circular saw suspended from a long arm with a burden. This lets the saw pivot at different degrees making it very versatile.

Keep reading below to learn more about the radial arm saw and what it can be used for.

What Is A Radial Arm Saw?

The radial arm saw is primarily a wood cutting tool that consists of an engine motor that drives a circular saw suspended from a long arm with a burden. This lets the saw pivot at different degrees. The motor interfaces with the overhead arm and the operational parts can be locked down or left to rotate. This saw gives the operator a lot of cutting options. This tool is ideal for making more precise, manipulative cuts (such as miter cuts and crosscuts). Certain types of radial arm blades can also be used for cutting lighter metals such as aluminum.

Unlike a table saw, where the blade protrudes through the cutting table and can have its height adjusted, the radial arm saw has the blade cutting from the top. This means that the saw’s position can be adjusted to the lumber it’s cutting rather than adjusting the wood to work with the saw’s positioning.

Another notable benefit of the radial arm saw is its compact size (at least by comparison to table saws). It can be tucked into smaller places and does not require the real estate that the table saw does. The maneuverability of the radial arm saw’s parts means that the wood can go through it at different angles, and unlike the table saw, does not necessarily require space for the cut wood to clear on the other end from the one where the cut was started.

Some downsides of the saw are their weight. These are not very portable devices so once installed in a dedicated workspace, they are unlikely to be conducive to moving around. They are also generally regarded as less safe to use than other saws. The maneuverability of the blade increases the risk of accidents. Both of those reasons make this instrument one better used in a more industrial setting than a personal woodworking shop, although that is also very common.

Click Here to read another article I wrote on all the different parts of a radial arm saw.

History Of The Radial Arm Saw

The radial arm saw was initially developed in 1922 by DeWalt. Before its invention, the radial arm saw’s primary purpose, lumber cutting, was primarily done by hand saws and table saws. Neither was especially convenient for this job as the handsaw tends to rip the wood it cuts and the table saw is not convenient for pushing a piece of lumber through widthwise.

The radial arm saw was an essential device utilized for cutting long pieces of wood to a certain length until the arrival of the force miter saw during the 1970s. Radial arm saws are still produced and used, even though sliding miter saws work more precisely to complete the process of crosscutting better than a radial arm saw.

What Is A Radial Arm Saw Used For?

Radial arm saws are used for cutting more extensive sheets or boards to the preferable length. While the radial arm saw is primarily used for cutting long bits of wood, some blades can also handle cutting particular metals like aluminum. The wood or metal to be cut is set under the bar while the blade slides from left to right and back to cut through the material.

Do You Push Or Pull A Radial Arm Saw?

Radial arm saws generally have a single inclining blade from above and the saw is pulled and pushed evenly toward or away from the operator while cutting. Most radial saws are manually operated with the operator controlling the cutting strokes. Radial arm saws are popular with professional laborers who need to do all their cutting on one machine as the blade head can be pivoted up to 90 degrees to permit ripping and cross-cutting.

How Wide Can A Radial Saw Cut?

One reason this saw remains so famous is due to its versatility. It can tear, crosscut, groove cuts (rabbet cuts), and miter cuts. With the correct adjustments and connections, it will fill in as a shaper as well.

The normal size radial arm saw model used in home workshops is 10 inches while industries utilize larger radial saws. There’s certainly nothing wrong with the performance of a 10 inch model. The industry model will cut 2.75 inches deep at a 90-degree point, 2.5 inches deep at a 45-degree angle, and cross slices up to 16 inches.

Are Radial Saws Accurate?

A radial arm saw is an expert tool. It is capable of cutting wood at the same width with extraordinary accuracy. It could likewise make more complex cuts as compound miters saw accurately, and can sometimes do so faster.

Why Is A Radial Arm Saw Dangerous?

The nature of radial arm saws makes them versatile and highly efficient instruments. This also makes them quite dangerous to use. This increases the safety precautions that must be taken while they are being operated.

Never position your hand in the path of the saw while working. The power of this saw can tend to jerk the blade forward when it cuts certain wood. The same goes for the region behind the blade as well.

Protective gear is always advised when using a radial arm saw. You should wear a face shield or safety glasses while operating the machine. Wearing gloves is not advised, however. While it may guard you against injury from splintering wood, the blade can catch the gloves easily if it gets too close and will cut them, as well as the hands inside.

The radial arm saw is a loud instrument. When in proximity to such loud noises, always wear hearing protection devices. It is also important to keep your workspace clean. Obstructions in the way of your cutting could provide a distraction that can result in an injury. It can also skew your material, ruining the precision of the cut.

It is important to maintain the saw appropriately. Parts that are not meant for your radial arm saw can cause the machine to malfunction. This can either further break down the machine or cause a serious injury.

When operating the radial arm saw, always ensure that the blade guard is on the saw before operating. This will keep the sawdust from flying in your face while you are working as well as significantly lessening your chances of injury if you were to come too close to contacting the blade.

Kevin Nelson

I will always have a special place in my heart for woodworking. I have such fond memories working on projects with my parents on the weekends in the garage growing up. We built tables, shelves, a backyard shed, 10' base for a water slide into the pool, 2 story fort playhouse with a fire pole, and so much more. This woodworking blog allows me to write helpful articles so others can enjoy woodworking as much as we have.

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