First Power saw: Radial vs Compound Miter vs Table vs Plunge?

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Forum topic by m88k posted 04-27-2010 05:05 AM 10582 views 0 times favorited 45 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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83 posts in 3863 days

04-27-2010 05:05 AM

Note: Title changed to match suggestions

I’m considering getting a power saw to let me work more/faster. I’m a college student, and my woodworking projects could generally be described as cheap, ugly, and seriously overbuilt. Anyway, I’m debating the merits of an old radial arm saw vs a power miter saw. Total space is limited, And I’m not building a complete shop.

Power tools aren’t foreign to me, I just haven’t owned many. The radial arm saw was definitely my favorite in middle school, but they ended the shop program my freshman year, so I’m referring to those with more experience for advice. The local Craigslist postings seem to have a wealth of radial arm saws, such as this one.

I figure a table saw is more limited, and I don’t imagine I’ll be ripping anyway. The miter/compounds would probably cover the bulk of my cutting, but the radial seem so much more versatile, allowing my to do projects where the miter would leave me at “I can’t make the cuts for that…”

Any advise is appreciated, let me know if you think I’m headed down the wrong path!

Almost forgot: I’ve already checked out blake's project with a similar saw. (Absolutely gorgeous)

Also, can’t a radial of the same size blade cut thicker stock than a miter? Seeing as you can use the entire radius of the blade…

-- ~Mark

45 replies so far

View Peter Oxley's profile

Peter Oxley

1426 posts in 4786 days

#1 posted 04-27-2010 05:20 AM

Oh, man – you’re opening up a can of worms with this question! Most guys either love or hate their RAS!

Radial arm saws generally aren’t very accurate, but they have a really wide cross-cut and the ability to be set up for ripping when necessary. They tend to be underpowered and can jump at you when the blade grabs.

A miter saw just makes cross-cuts, but most are much more accurate than an RAS.

-- -- --

View Brandon Hintz's profile

Brandon Hintz

53 posts in 3920 days

#2 posted 04-27-2010 05:33 AM

If you are just starting out and the last time you used a RAS was middle school I would reccommend going with the miter saw or even a sliding miter saw, while the RAS is more versitale it can be one of the most dangerous tools in the shop, especially for someone not familiar with it, its capabilities or its limitations, however if you have someone to assist you in properly learning how to use it, it may make you time in the shop much more enjoyable

-- Potential is limited only by imagination

View richgreer's profile


4541 posts in 3986 days

#3 posted 04-27-2010 05:35 AM

I once had an RAS and I got rid of it when I got a sliding compound miter saw (SCMS). I also have a table saw, a band saw and a track saw so, in my opinion, I have everything covered quite well.

There are a few woodworkers that really like their RAS but, in general, they are out of favor. They are considered to be a more dangerous tool than most other saws.

Your case is interesting because, apparently, you do not have other saws. You’re looking for the best all purpose saw. This may surprise you but if I had to get by with only one saw, it would be a track saw. They are amazingly versatile. The best known is the Festool but other brands are now offering track saws.

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

View Beginningwoodworker's profile


13345 posts in 4584 days

#4 posted 04-27-2010 05:36 AM

I pefer miter saw, I have miter saw and I love my.

View Wintersedge's profile


83 posts in 3885 days

#5 posted 04-27-2010 05:42 AM

I would have to go with Rich and second the track saw. The dewalt or festool. If not I would consider a contractor table saw. I go with those two because you can rip, cross cut, hand miters and also have a blade that can cut on an angle. You get ever cut you need.

-- Motivation alone is not enough. If you have an idiot and you motivate him, now you have a motivated idiot.

View reggiek's profile


2240 posts in 4181 days

#6 posted 04-27-2010 05:47 AM

I second the notion of being very knowledgeable with a radial or they can be extremely dangerous. I would recommend that you get a sliding compound mitre. They are immensely easier to setup and use. They dont have all RAS capabilites. But I would recommend a better table saw then trying to use a RAS.

I have the Bosch 5412 12” and it has served well. I also have a Makita LS1016L 10” that I take out for jobsites (very light…very versatile). The Makita is not as easy to use, but a heck of a lot lighter. The Bosch is a better shop tool.

The best made (I think) is the Festool Kapex (it is around $1300 though and out of most hobyist budgets…but I would say worth every dime)...I would love to have a Kapex as they are very accurate and precise (I am hoping to replace my ageing Bosch with a Kapex when the Bosch goes to the big toolland in the sky). There are also good models from Hitachi, the Bosch above and Makita. Dewalt is another possiblity but I have heard a few rumours that the quality is slipping?

-- Woodworking.....My small slice of heaven!

View ND2ELK's profile


13494 posts in 4685 days

#7 posted 04-27-2010 06:02 AM

I have a Makita 12” sliding compound miter saw and would highly recommend it over a radial arm saw. I did a tool review on it, if you care to look. I feel a miter saw is more accurate and safer. Good luck on picking a saw. A lot depends on what you are cutting.

God Bless

-- Mc Bridge Cabinets, Iowa

View m88k's profile


83 posts in 3863 days

#8 posted 04-27-2010 06:03 AM

The track saw is a surprising suggestion; I’d never heard of it. However, it’s looking expensive. How does it compare to Panel Saw conversion kits? It looks like these things are meant for cutting large stock, and not my regular small cuts….

I’m somewhat familiar with the radial’s dangers. We had pretty extensive written and practical tests to get approved for each tool; I was one of the only middle school students that was cleared for the thing.

I also remember Doc demonstrating what happens when the thing kicks; he set the saw perpendicular to it’s axis and started ripping a chunk of 2×4, which quickly flew 100 feet across the shop, denting the back wall of the welding station. What else do you need to watch out for on the radial arm saw. I keep my hands FAR away from the blade on any power saw…

I have other saws, they just require a reciprocating arm!

-- ~Mark

View Gregn's profile


1642 posts in 3895 days

#9 posted 04-27-2010 06:11 AM

Space is limited meaning you have decided to make one or the other your main saw right? Since most of your cuts will be cross, mitered or compound mitered cuts my suggestion would be to go with the SCMS. Its more portable and is quicker to set up angled cuts, with repeatable accuracy quickly. Being a college student this also allows you to move things by yourself if need be. If you were setting up a permanent shop I would suggest the RAS. I love my RAS, but as mentioned they can be a bit temperamental when it comes to setting them up for angled cuts. That’s not to say they’re not accurate because if set up right they are. They’re also quite heavy for a college student to move around by himself. I have a 12” SCMS that handles about as much as my RAS can. What you can’t do with the SCMS you can do with other power tools if needed. Ya the RAS can do dado’s but so can a router. Save the Ras for when you can set up a permanent shop.

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

View richgreer's profile


4541 posts in 3986 days

#10 posted 04-27-2010 02:29 PM

I’ll respond to the question about track saws. I have a Festool TS55. It is on sale through the end of April for $450 (have to hurry). Most SCMSs cost this much or more.

When one compares the track saw to the panel saw conversion kit the first thing to note is precise depth control and the plunge feature. I put my stock on top of a piece of cheap OSB and set the depth to just barely go through the width of the board. I leave a shallow scratch on the OSB. Note that you have a micro adjustment capability that lets to adjust the depth to the nearest 1/10 mm. You can control depth of cut with any circular saw but it is very difficult (impossible) to make micro adjustments. The same is true for the tilt function.

The track is amazing because I don’t need to clamp it down. I just set it in place and it stays.

All of the adjustments on the Festool are very accurate and percise and easy to change.

Most people will tell you that you should buy any Festool tool with a dust extractor. I think that is true with some of their tools, but not the track saw. Without dust collection you will sent sawdust flying (but you can control the direction of the exhaust). Or you, with a little ingenuity hook it up to a shop vac.

Since I own the track saw, I am finding that I am using it instead of my table saw more and more. A track saw can do just about everything a table saw or a miter saw does except handle a dado stack.

One accessory you will want – the saw comes with a 55 inch track. For smaller cuts the 55 inch track can be a bit awkward to handle. I have ordered a shorter additional track (32”).

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

View davidpettinger's profile


661 posts in 4112 days

#11 posted 04-27-2010 02:50 PM

Sorry guys, I have a 10” CSMS, RAS, TS and I love them all. However, the versatility of the RAS puts it ahead of the CSMS. There are certain jobs that just call for the RAS. You just have to respect it and practice safe use. I mean, there are times when certain tasks with a CSMS are pretty dangerous to our phalanges but we make the cut anyway.

Remember, most injuries are caused by operator error. The machine did not set out to intentionally injure YOU.

-- Methods are many,Principles are few.Methods change often,Principles never do.

View Jesse's profile


66 posts in 4130 days

#12 posted 04-27-2010 04:02 PM

My vote would be for the RAS, BUT, it must be setup properly. Eakes and Mr. Sawdust have great books on the subject. The quickest and easiest answer would be the CSMS.

If setup properly, with a dead-flat table, proper roller-head bearing drag, and the right blade, I think the RAS is quite safe. You can always see what you are doing.

But many people do not like RASs, for whatever reason they may have, which keeps a steady supply of nice cheap used Dewalts. I would keep an eye out for a Dewalt 7790 which can run on 110 but has about 1.75HP and is a good all around saw.

-- Jesse, Hopewell Jct., NY

View MyFathersSon's profile


180 posts in 4225 days

#13 posted 04-27-2010 08:17 PM

Many good points have been made here—the best of which I think was
“It depends a lot on what you want to cut”
I would add to that—Your personal work style.
No one tool is best for every application – or for everyone’s approach.

I can only speak to what I do – cabinets, bookcases etc, the occassional picture frame and some trim work.
For this type of work I think my little Ryobi miter saw is one of the best investments I have ever made.
I love the simplicity, accuracy, repeatability of cut and portabllity (so I can put it out of the way when not needed)
It IS a bit limited as to width—making me wish at times i had gone with a sliding miter

When I need to do dados – it is usually on large side panels and it is much easier (for me) to take my router to the workpiece than to jockey the workpiece up onto a saw. I do have a table saw I use for that task when it seems appropriate. —Again – different tools for different needs – and workstyles.

Admittedly—I’ve never used an RAS, though, so I may just not know what i am missing.

-- Those who insist it can't be done - should politely refrain from interrupting those who are doing it.

View reggiek's profile


2240 posts in 4181 days

#14 posted 04-27-2010 09:19 PM

I also have the Festool Ts55 and consider it one of the best buys I have made in a circular saw. I originally bought it to break down larger panels. I now find that I use it alot in place of setting up my table saw. It is easy to make dados by just moving the track. I have made a few mitre cuts using a protractor or mitre fence to set up the track.

One thing though, I sometimes wish I had gone with the Ts75 when I am cutting thicker stock (the Ts55’s limit is 1 and 15/16” in depth where the 75 is near 3”). But as a replacement for a mitre or RAS…I had not considered it as such (I have a mitre and the TS), but if I only had one choice….I would go with the Track.

-- Woodworking.....My small slice of heaven!

View SCOTSMAN's profile


5849 posts in 4497 days

#15 posted 04-27-2010 09:26 PM

I have a larger 12 inch blade dewalt ras and don’t find it a problem to use.However I only ever us it for straight crosscutting depending on mitres from 2 mitre saws I own when I get the space I intend to set the miter saws up for left and right mitreing with 2 sliding roller tables underneath so that will take care of all my sawing work apart from my bandsaw which I have 3 one set up the big one for bookmatching and cutting larger pieces it can do 18.5 inches under the guides the other is for fine work and the other I intend to move to my metal shop for cutting metal only..Alistair

-- excuse my typing as I have a form of parkinsons disease

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