Radial Arm Saws
Many experienced woodworkers, were they only able to have a single saw for their workshop, would choose a radial arm saw. The radial arm saw is often used as a cut-off saw. While it is ideal for this purpose, it can also be used for crosscutting, ripping, mitering, beveling, cutting dados, making moldings and more. The fact that this saw is capable of miter, bevel, rip and compound cuts makes the radial arm saw one of the most versatile saws you can own. Before you learn about your options, use these questions to start assessing your needs:
• What sizes and types of materials do you need to cut?
• Do you need accessories for shaping? Molding?
• Is initial price a primary consideration?
Options, Size and Power
With a head that swivels, tilts and slides, a radial arm saw works like a sliding compound miter saw, but with much more versatility. With the right accessories, such as dado blades or molding heads, a radial arm saw can do the jobs of several other tools. In addition to the wide range of standard cuts it is capable of making, this single machine can be used to shape and miter molding. Radial arm saws also offer the convenience of moving the saw through the stock rather than moving the stock through the saw, as you would with a table saw.
Options: Unlike many other power tools, you won't have to decide between types of radial arm saws or lots of detailed features. There are no bench-top or portable radial arm saws. Radial arm saws are all floor-standing, or stationary, models. There aren't very many models to choose from, so you'll only have to make a few basic decisions about your needs.
• All radial arm saws are floor-standing, usually weighing between 200 and 300 lbs.
• Radial arm saws are not transportable and are designed for use within a workshop
• Capacity and power are your major options and should be largely determined by the size and type of
materials you work with
Size: The size of a radial arm saw is determined by the diameter of the blade. Like table saws and miter saws, most radial arm saws are 10" or 12", though larger models are available for commercial use. If you have another saw with circular blades that are the same size as the blades your radial arm saw uses, you can swap blades between saws and save yourself some money.
• 12" saws have more cutting capacity than 10" saws, but there are large price jumps as blade diameter
• Check the blade diameter and arbor size of your circular, miter and table saws to see if you want to
share blades between them
Power: Most radial arm saws are between 1-1/2 hp and 3 hp. If you're going to be cutting thick stock regularly or put your saw to frequent, heavy-duty use, look for a model with higher horsepower so you don't overtax the motor. Harder woods and cuts that remove more material in a single pass also require more horsepower. Horsepower usually increases as blade diameter increases.
• For heavy-duty use, look for higher horsepower to prevent motor damage
• Typical power ratings are 1-1/2 hp for 10" saws and 2 hp for 12" saws
Quick Spec Check: If you're not sure what a certain dimension means, use the following chart as a handy reference.
What It Means
|Arbor size||• Size of the hole in the center of the blade
• Match the blade and arbor diameter of your radial saw with your
other saws if you want to be able to swap circular blades
|• 5/8" or 1"|
|Blade size||• Diameter of the blade
• Larger blade diameter delivers more cutting capacity but also a
higher price tag
|• 10" or 12"|
|Crosscut capacity||• Tells you the maximum stock width you can cut at 90º||• 14" to 16"|
|Depth of cut at 45° bevel||• This is the thickness of stock you can cut at a 45º bevel angle
• A bevel cut is made with the blade tilted to one side, so depth of
cut is less than with the blade perpendicular to the workpiece
|• 1-1/4" to 2-1/2"|
|Max. dado capacity||• Determines the width of dado blade that can be used with the
• A wider dado blade allows you to make a wider groove in a single
|• 13/16" to 1-13/16"|
|Max. depth of cut||• This is the maximum stock thickness you can cut at a 90º angle
• To create a cut that exceeds this depth, you would have to flip
|• 2-3/4" to 3-3/4"
Turret Arm: A turret arm rotates 360º to deliver full table capacity for making right- and left-hand miter cuts.
Electric Brake: An electric brake stops the blade from spinning within seconds after the cut, enhancing safety and allowing you to quickly line up for the next cut.
Cast-Iron Construction: Cast-iron construction is extremely durable and minimizes vibration. The rigidity of cast iron also helps promote lasting accuracy.
Caster Set: A caster set provides the mobility you need to easily move your saw around the shop.
Dado Blade: Dado blades are used to cut grooves and rabbets. They're usually adjustable, so you can change the width of the cut. If you need to cut wide channels in a single pass for efficiency, check the maximum dado capacity of your saw.
Molding Head: A molding head is installed in place of the blade and allows you to shape your own custom molding. Some molding cuts may also require a molding head guard.
Sanding Disc: A sanding disc replaces the blade, allowing you to smooth and shape your work.
Positive Stops: Positive stops make it quick and accurate to set common miter or bevel angles.
Large Table: Look for a table that offers enough width and depth to easily support your workpieces. If you work with particularly large stock, you'll need a large table.
Easy-to-Use Controls: All controls should be durable, easy to use and easy to access. It's particularly important to have fast access to the on/off control in case of emergency.