Ripping short and narrow pieces on a radial arm saw

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Forum topic by KTNC posted 04-03-2018 03:43 AM 5838 views 1 time favorited 25 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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163 posts in 1133 days

04-03-2018 03:43 AM

Topic tags/keywords: radial arm saw ras ripping narrow short push stick

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.

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.

In the picture below you can see it from the front side of the fence

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.

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.

25 replies so far

View LittleShaver's profile


695 posts in 1496 days

#1 posted 04-03-2018 12:22 PM

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.

-- Sawdust Maker

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile


16935 posts in 3495 days

#2 posted 04-03-2018 01:01 PM

Very creative jig, thanks for posting.

-- Don't anthropomorphize your handplanes. They hate it when you do that. - OldTools Archive -

View AAL's profile


91 posts in 2303 days

#3 posted 04-03-2018 01:28 PM

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.

-- "Socialism is a philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy, its inherent virtue is the equal sharing of misery." Winston Churchill

View Ocelot's profile


2612 posts in 3515 days

#4 posted 04-03-2018 01:38 PM

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.


-- I intended to be a woodworker, but turned into a tool and lumber collector.

View AAL's profile


91 posts in 2303 days

#5 posted 04-03-2018 01:46 PM

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.

-- "Socialism is a philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy, its inherent virtue is the equal sharing of misery." Winston Churchill

View jimintx's profile


934 posts in 2461 days

#6 posted 04-03-2018 01:50 PM

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!

-- Jim, Houston, TX

View LesB's profile


2620 posts in 4320 days

#7 posted 04-03-2018 05:27 PM

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.

-- Les B, Oregon

View ohtimberwolf's profile


1022 posts in 3229 days

#8 posted 04-03-2018 07:16 PM

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.

-- Just a barn cat, now gone to cat heaven.

View Roy Turbett's profile

Roy Turbett

176 posts in 4457 days

#9 posted 04-04-2018 02:10 AM

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.

View Fred Hargis's profile

Fred Hargis

6492 posts in 3370 days

#10 posted 04-04-2018 10:50 AM

I think that was a clever solution to your problem, well thought out.

-- Our village hasn't lost it's idiot, he was elected to congress.

View MagicalMichael's profile


166 posts in 1393 days

#11 posted 04-04-2018 11:48 AM

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.


-- michael

View Sparks500's profile


279 posts in 1207 days

#12 posted 04-04-2018 12:00 PM

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.

-- A good day is any day that you're alive....

View KTNC's profile


163 posts in 1133 days

#13 posted 04-05-2018 03:23 AM

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!

View Roy Turbett's profile

Roy Turbett

176 posts in 4457 days

#14 posted 04-05-2018 08:08 PM

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.

View KTNC's profile


163 posts in 1133 days

#15 posted 05-06-2018 03:22 PM

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!!

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