My Radial Arm Saw- Not just a cross cut saw

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Blog entry by Dan posted 09-01-2010 11:00 PM 3320 reads 0 times favorited 6 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Ever since I bought my first house a few years ago I had always wanted a nice sized workshop in my 2 stall garage. This year I was able to really get going on it. My dad who is also a woodworker was kind enough to give me his Radial Arm Saw which he no longer used. It so happens this RAS is also the first big power tool I had ever used. I grew up watching my dad use this thing on a regular basis and when I got old enough he showed me how to use it and let me make some cuts. So in a way the saw means something to me and I would never get rid of it.

The saw does not appear to be anything special. It is a Ryobi and has a 8 1/4 blade. When I got it I started searching the net for some information on the saw and I found out that Ryobi only made a limited amount of these saws and they were actually recalled. Due to these reasons I had a hard time finding information on the saw. My dad pretty much used the saw for cross cuts only but he told me of some of the other things he had used it for and also told me of many things it could do that he never tried. Well I got it set up and gave it a much needed cleaning/tune up. As I was taking a close look at the saw I started to discover all the different ways this thing could be used. In researching Radial arm saws you will get a reaction that seems to be split down the middle. A lot of people praise the saw and its abilities and still use on regular basis and others were quick to get rid of them and replace with a miter saw and table saw. There are also people who have them tucked away in the corner of the shop and only use once in a while. You also have a lot of newer woodworkers who have never even used one before due to the fact that they are in such low demand and not made much anymore. I do experience alignment issues but other then that I don’t agree with a lot of the negative things I have read from other woodworkers about the RAS.

Back to my saw… After getting it all cleaned and tuned up which included me replacing the old table and fence I was ready to start playing with it and seeing what it could do. Now before I get any feedback on this, the uses of operation that I am going to talk about can all be done using other tools and in a lot of cases can probably be done better with other tools. The point of this blog is not whether the RAS is the best option for the operation that I discuss but rather to talk about being able to do that operation on the RAS as an option.

So I got the saw all set up and the blade that was in the saw when my dad gave to me was a Forrest woodworker 2 blade which was far better then the blade in my miter saw and table saw at the time. The first thing I used the saw for other then crosscutting was cutting dados and rabbits. I was still limited on tools so I didn’t really have any other way to make these cuts. The RAS worked great, even without a dado blade I was able to cut them rather easy. The advantage to using the RAS to make these cuts was my ability to see right where I was cutting. Also the RAS will cut both ways so once I pulled through for my first cut I could slide the board a little and make the second cut by pushing the saw back. I cut a ton of dados, rabbits and lap joints this way. I now make most of these cuts with my router or table saw with dado blade but there are times when its still easiest to use the RAS, especially if I am doing slots for shelfs. I also do most of my cross cutting on the RAS. My miter saw is smaller and can only handle a board 5 or 6 inches wide so that makes my RAS the top choice.

When messing around with my RAS I noticed that it has a router collate that can take a 1/4 sized router bit, drill bet and sanding drum. I couldn’t find much information on this operation so I had no idea how it would work. I think a lot of radial arm saws came out with the router feature but I searched for a while and just didn’t find any reviews or feedback from people who have used their RAS router feature. I decided to just give it a try. I put a straight bit in and tested it out. I was amazed that not only it worked but it worked a lot better then I had expected. I know the motor does not turn as fast as a router is intended to so it does not have a ton of power but I started thinking of tons of new uses and possibilities. Using the router feature I cant take off a ton of material at once so its not ideal for deep cuts but as an over top router the bit can be raised and lowered at any point of the work piece. It is open and easy to see giving it advantage over a plunge router and also saves some time and effort from building your own over top router. It works great for small detail work and can be used as a pin router. Also before I got a drill press I used this method to cut mortise joints. Another thing I will sometimes use it for is to surface a board. I just attach a dado bit or straight bit and lock the arm and push the stock along the fence to take a very small amount off the surface of a board. Once first pass is done I pull arm forward a little, lock it down and make the next pass. In many cases its a lot easier to work with the router over top then it is in a table. I have also used this method to cut dados and rabbits and it works great.

I posted this blog because I don’t read about many people using their RAS router feature and although it may not be the best way it sure is nice to have and I plan on keeping the RAS in my shop for as long as it runs and I will use both as a cutting saw and router. It is a very handy tool to have in my opinion.

-- Dan - "Collector of Hand Planes"

6 comments so far

View William's profile


9950 posts in 4128 days

#1 posted 09-01-2010 11:33 PM

When I first got into woodworking, I hot hold of a Craftsman RAS. It was old but would still rip through thich stock like hot butter. As I started learning though, I kept hearing all the dangers of these saws. Mine did have a tedancy if you weren’t very careful to make sure the blade stopped turning before letting go of it, of the saw body moving back towards you dangerously. So, I got rid of it and bought a table saw with the money I got from it.
I wish I hadn’t listened to everyone else on that one. I have since came a long way in woodworking. A very important lesson I learned along that way was to not listen to everyone else on certain matters. I wish I had kept my radial arm saw.
You live and learn. Maybe one day I’ll be able to afford me another one.

The one I had didn’t have a router attachment.


View Uncle_Salty's profile


183 posts in 4358 days

#2 posted 09-02-2010 02:34 AM

I have a Craftsman RAS at the school shop. I only use it for crosscutting. It can do everything you mentioned above, but it is just a little too… persnickity… to do some of the things.

View Gregn's profile


1642 posts in 4269 days

#3 posted 09-02-2010 04:01 PM

I think the reason you hear a lot of negative feedback is because as Uncle Salty said, they are a finicky beast to set up at times. If the RAS is set up and tuned properly it is one of the most versital tools in the shop. While I will admit that I don’t use my RAS to its fullest potential it is also one of the most used tools in the shop. As you mentioned change overs can be done quickly because of everything being right there in front of you. I have a 1958 model Craftsman that runs like a champ. I guess one of the reasons I don’t use mine to its full potential is because I have what I consider to be a complete shop. I like the fact that if needed it, it can be used as a pin router even though I haven’t had a need for it as of yet. So while there are a multiple number of attachments that can be used on the RAS such as a molding head cutter, sanding disc/drum sander, router, surface planer, drilling attachment, when you have those other machines to do these operations its just easier to use them instead of setting up those attachments. So would I ever give mine up, I don’t think so. I would also replace mine if it should die as I do use it a lot, more so than my 12” SCMS.

-- I don't make mistakes, I have great learning lessons, Greg

View Dan's profile


3653 posts in 4166 days

#4 posted 09-02-2010 06:54 PM

Yes they can be a little hard to get set up and aligned but IMO its still worth having one.

Greg- Is there such thing as a complete shop? :) I also don’t use my RAS to its full potential which is why I started playing with it. Its not so much that I need it in the shop but more like its there so lets see what all I can do on it. When I build things, and this may be because I am still newer, I don’t always look for easiest or best way to do certain operations. Part of the fun for me is trying all different ways and seeing what each tool is able to do. That is what really sparked my interest in my RAS. When I got it and saw all the different abilities it made me want to spend some time with it and test it all out. I think you are correct in the sense that most people have a separate tool set up for these cuts. I also do most of my cutting on the table saw and most of my router work with my router but now that I have played with the RAS a little I know I will get a lot more use out of it in many ways, even if its just for the fun of using something different.

-- Dan - "Collector of Hand Planes"

View Don Niermann  's profile

Don Niermann

219 posts in 5258 days

#5 posted 09-02-2010 10:13 PM

Had one for 30 years. Would not give it up for anything.

-- WOOD/DON ( has the right to ones opinion but not the right to ones own facts...)

View Gregn's profile


1642 posts in 4269 days

#6 posted 09-03-2010 12:29 AM

Well Dcase, what I consider a complete shop is having the majority of machines. Lets just say that I could get by without having to buy any new tools. Not that will ever happen. But yes its fun to see just what you can do with a tool. I remember the first time a ripped a board on my RAS liked to have killed myself. Learned quick about feather boards and push sticks. I did have my RAS before most of my other tools including the table saw. So I did play around quite a bit when I first got mine. Sounds like your enjoying yours as much as I do mine. Have fun and be safe.

-- I don't make mistakes, I have great learning lessons, Greg

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