LumberJocks Woodworking Forum banner

Ripping short and narrow pieces on a radial arm saw

10155 Views 25 Replies 15 Participants Last post by  KTNC
Ripping short and narrow pieces on a radial arm saw

To: all you radial arm saw users

I was working with 12" x 12" Baltic birch plywood sheets - 1/8" and 3/8" thick.

I needed to cut 2 3/8 inch wide by 12 inch strips from the 1/8" sheets.

If the pieces were longer, I would use my board buddies. I want to share the way I did it and find out if there is a better way to do this on a radial arm saw.

The first picture shows the material I was starting with and the resulting pieces I was trying to create. The saw is all set to rip 2 3/8 inch wide strips.

Sewing machine Wood Creative arts Household appliance accessory Sewing machine feet

The next picture shows the push stick I came up with. In the picture it's being held up on the far end by a chunk of 4×4. When in actual use, I held it by the two vertical dowels.
Wood Hardwood Composite material Wood stain Gas

In the picture below you can see it from the front side of the fence
Wood Creative arts Gas Hardwood Machine

The picture below is from standing behind the saw. This is where I stand when I actually use this device to move the work through the cut. I put one arm one each side of the column and hold onto the two vertical dowels. This lets me apply force down and towards the fence all the way through the cut while keeping my hands far from the blade and my body out of the line of fire. Because it's necessary to have one arm on each side of the column, this will only work for short pieces. It will also only work for those who have access to the back of their saw. Many radial arm saw users push the back up against a wall: this would not work in that case.

Wood Hardwood Machine tool Machine Wood stain

The last picture is looking from the exit end of the cut. I cant go much narrower with this set-up as the push stick is already very close to the guard.

Wood Floor Flooring Gas Automotive tire


See less See more
1 - 20 of 26 Posts
Interesting. It was rip cutting on a radial arm saw that convinced me to buy a table saw. The only time I've ever been happy to get rid of a tool was when the RAS left the building.
Very creative jig, thanks for posting.
Good approach to an awkward cut. I hope you had a piece of rubber, or something similar, glued to the bottom of the push stick to be sure the strip was being held tight to the fence, otherwise a bare push stick might occasionally not hold it to the fence.
Your RAS looks identical to mine, which was purchased new November 1, 1961 (My Dad's 44th birthday).

While I only use mine for crosscuts, it's interesting to see how you guys rip with 'em.

A sometimes difficult machine to use as it can leave one blind to the cutting. You did well for the cut you had to make.
Not only very interesting, but also an excellent demonstration of the challenges of using a radial arm saw. I admire the perseverance of those who continue to use them, most especially for any ripping cuts.

Your approach is creative, and hopefully gave you the results you were hoping for. If the pieces are short enough, couldn't you just crosscut them? If too long for that, I don't have an alternative to share, I think you did it about the only way possible with this tool. I owned one for 25-ish years, but no longer have it. I never once used it for ripping.

You saw looks like a nice example of solid older equipment, by the way. And your post with photos and good text, with short paragraphs, is certainly excellent - wish more were of that style!
Good way to handle the problem on that saw as long as you can get to the back.
On pieces similar to the size you show that are longer then the travel of the cross cut ability of the saw I set up a stop block across the table perpendicular to the back fence and the width of the desired cut, cut the piece from one side, flip it over and complete the cut from the other side. My saw travels about 15" so I can easily make cuts up to about twice that this way.

I have essentially the same saw and started with it in 1968. I have replaced the bearings in the motor once. I did a lot of different things with it including mounting a drill chuck on the opposite end of the motor and using it like a horizontal drill press. I also have a variable dado cutter (wobble blade type) for it, rotary and drum sanding attachments , a molding head blade, and a rotary plainer device that scarred the hell out of me to use.

One problem that I had with the saw was ripping lumber and keeping the saw square for cross cuts. Every time I did any ripping I had to re-align the saw before doing any cross cuts. Today the saw is uses only for cross cuts which it does very precisely.
See less See more
Be more than very (think ahead) careful. I smashed one of my fingers before learning that.

I use it now for crosscuts as LesB does by flipping it if I need more distance. I can also set my fence back farther on the saw for longer crosscuts but seldom do that. Just be very careful and don't fear the saw. If you are scared..don't make the cut, do it some other way.
Push boards on a RAS should be considered sacrificial and ride flat on the table against the fence - not on top of it. Simply stop pushing once the cut is finished. When the end of the push board starts to get chewed up, trim the end of it off the next time you have the saw set up in cross-cut mode. This procedure is described in Chapter 4 of "How to Master the Radial Arm Saw" by Wally Kunkel - AKA "Mr. Sawdust".

When ripping a narrow piece off a large piece of stock, it is generally safer to keep the larger piece next to the fence and let the smaller piece fall off the unsupported side. (The same is true on a table saw.) Kunkel describes a tragic accident that occurred when a guy didn't properly position the guard and anti-kickback pawls before ripping a thin strip off of a full sheet of plywood. (The guard is properly position in the above photos.) When he reached the end of the cut, he apparently put pressure on the lead end of the thin strip which caused the tail end to kick back and strike and kill his young son who was standing behind the blade. I should note that the same thing can happen the same way on a table saw - especially one that doesn't have a splitter or guard.
See less See more
I think that was a clever solution to your problem, well thought out.
I owned a radial arm saw for 35 years and never once used it to rip a board. I finally sold it because I had come to the conclusion that there is no safe way to use a radial arm saw. Even if you don't hurt either the project or yourself the saw will fill the shop and your lungs with dust. I had reduced my usage to cross cutting long boards then decided that wasn't enough to justify the amount of space it took up in my shop.

The safest way to rip small pieces is on a band saw. The second safest way is on a table saw with a riffing knife and a push block that straddles the blade. I'd use a hand saw before I ripped on a radial saw.

After digging a piece of wood out of the wall at my brother in laws work shed, I decided I'd never rip on a Radial arm saw again.
Thanks Everyone for your interest, advice and comments. Some specific replies follow:

LittleShaver: That is interesting. It was last summer when I had to rip some ten foot long 1×4 in half that I fell in love with my radial arm saw. Last fall, I started restoring my 1960 ish Craftsman 113.29003 and it's been totally operational since February 2018. Different strokes I guess.

Smitty_Cabinetshop and Fred Hargis: Thanks

AAL: I think rubber is a great idea. I didn't have any at the time, so I glued some sandpaper on the bottom. I also drove a small finishing nail into the bottom and left the head protruding about 1/16" so it can catch the back end of the workpiece

Ocelot: I got my saw from my father in law around the year 2000: don't know when he bought it. I remember back when I first got it, I found it delightful to crosscut but I had to read the manual for a long time to figure out how to rip. I really didn't use it for ripping much, but needed to last summer and that's when I fall back in love with the saw.

Jimintx: You are very kind! Glad you like this style. I did get the results I was looking for: six identical pieces.

LesB: Wow! You've been using your same saw for a very long time. Glad to hear it's still working well for you. That crosscut alternative is a good one. If I was only cutting one piece or if each piece was a different size, I would probably do it that way too. I was trying to get six identical so the rip operation seemed like the best way to go. I have several of those accessories you mentioned, but haven't yet tried any but the dado. I look forward to it though. In regards to getting your saw back to square for crosscuts, I wonder if the column/arm index got too gummed up to work properly? I totally restored my saw so now it's working like new. With the knowledge I gained from Jon Eakes "Fine Tuning Your Radial Arm Saw" and with the saw in good working order, I can always return it back to position for a precise cross-cut. Sounds like you are happy leaving it locked in crosscut position, so I won't encourage you to change that.

Ohtimberwolf: Thanks for the caution. When I set out to learn all I could about radial arm saws, I ran into many, many cautions about it. I'm grateful for that because it's caused me to be very careful which is important around all power tools, especially a radial arm saw.

Roy Turbett: Great Advice. Previously, I found that when I pushed from the back only the board tended to wander away from the fence. Looking at the Mr. Sawdust book, I see the pusher board in the diagram is pretty wide. It could be that my push sticks were too narrow. Next time I need to rip, I'll try a wide push board. This will be a better solution if I can get it to work. As far as having the keeper piece fall off the side … I was trying to make six identical pieces, so I prefer to leave the blade fixed in place and keep pushing the ever diminishing source through until it's used up.

MagicalMichael and Sparks500: If you are convinced something is inherently unsafe, it's best for you not to have one around. Good luck!
See less See more
Glad to see you own arguably the two best publications on the radial arm saw. I wish I had Eakes' book "Fine Tuning a Radial Arm Saw" when I had my old 70's vintage Craftsman RAS. I had a very difficult time returning it to square because I didn't understand the "end of play" principle that he describes in his book. That said, my 50's vintage DeWalt GWI is inherently more accurate because it is designed with virtually no play in the arm but it still needs to be fine tuned to work properly. Kunkle's book "Mastering the Radial Arm Saw" is exceptional for both setting up and using a radial arm saw.
update 5/6/2018

I needed to rip two short/narrow pieces yesterday and I did it like Roy suggested. The pusher is wider than the workpiece and there is a stop block on top. The stop block is arranged so that when it hits the blade guard, your workpiece has cleared the blade. To use, start feeding the piece by hand and then use the pusher to finish. When the stop block hits the guard, stop and turn off the saw. Once the blade stops, pull the pusher back and retrieve your work. It worked great! Thanks Roy!!

Wood Hardwood Wood stain Creative arts Workbench

Wood Rectangle Font Hardwood Beige


See less See more
Sorry to necro thread but I figured if I ran across this someone else might as well and this could help them. I grew up with a radial arm saw in the workshop working beside my dad and pépère and I would never be without one if I have a choice in the matter.

This setup works nice and easy and safe for making thin strips on the radial arm saw. You can adapt it for any width you want. I originally came across this in an ancient hard cover Popular Mechanics set I inherited from my pépère but this is identical.
Why not a sled?
It's not necessary and it requires awkward positioning without a clear an unobstructed view of both blade and work piece throughout the entire cut on a radial arm saw. The original poster's solution also wouldn't work for most people either as most people do not have access to the back of the machine. Most people have it either built into a bench or on a non-movable stand against a wall. This method works with the saw the way the saw was intended to work which makes it a bit safer in my opinion. I've used the method I linked to to rip 3/32" thick strips off of 4' long boards for use in inlays. After finish sanding once glued in place they come down to 1/16". I use a Freud thin kerf glue line ripping blade when I do this. I can chew a whole board into veneer in just a few minutes like this. A band saw could do the same thing but getting long strips like that on a band saw is more difficult and obviously requires a band saw which I do not own.
This setup works nice and easy and safe for making thin strips on the radial arm saw. You can adapt it for any width you want. I originally came across this in an ancient hard cover Popular Mechanics set I inherited from my pépère but this is identical.

- Padriac Riley
Thanks for adding to this old thread!! The link you gave us is a bit vague. I'm hoping you could add a few pictures showing how you actually use that jig. How do you actually push the workpiece through?

The article you referenced says he was ruining pieces because they lifted up in the front. I wonder if he knew that you are supposed to lower the guard so that it's just a little bit above the workpiece and that will keep the work from coming up very far off the table. I concede there is about a 2 inch space between the edge of the guard and the front of the blade where the guard would not stop it from rising: this jig solves that problem.

I think the jig could be made better/safer if you did this
- make it the full length of the fence
- attach it permanently to a fence so the whole thing can be substituted for the regular fence
- add an opening so that the anti-kickback device could be used

I've been using the method suggested by Roy Turbett and documented on my 5/6/2018 update without trouble. It's much better than my original solution.
See less See more
1 - 20 of 26 Posts
This is an older thread, you may not receive a response, and could be reviving an old thread. Please consider creating a new thread.