table saw vs. radial arm saw

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Forum topic by gav0 posted 10-04-2008 08:01 AM 18807 views 0 times favorited 39 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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15 posts in 4132 days

10-04-2008 08:01 AM

I just purchased a table saw, however before I did so, my uncle mentioned that either a table saw or radial arm saw would be suitable for most things that I might make at this point. I did negelct to ask him what the differences are between the two aside from the ripping capabilities on the table saw. So I was wondering if anyone on here would be kind enough to fill in the blanks for me.

39 replies so far

View Peter Oxley's profile

Peter Oxley

1426 posts in 4481 days

#1 posted 10-04-2008 02:47 PM

Gav – I have both. Most of the time radial arm saws are used more like giant miter saws. They aren’t usually quite as accurate as a miter saw, and most tend to need to be adjusted frequently to maintain accuracy. They can be set up to rip, but the rip capacity is limited to the length of the arm. A lot of radial arm saws have the ability to be set up to do other operations besides sawing, like vertical/horizontal drilling, planing, etc. A radial arm saw “climbs” at you when cross cutting, which creates another set of safety concerns. For 90% of woodworkers, a table saw and miter saw are the way to go. If you only have space or budget for one tool, a radial arm saw will do a respectable job.

-- -- --

View snowdog's profile


1167 posts in 4589 days

#2 posted 10-04-2008 02:49 PM

If I had the room I would get a radial arm saw. I don’t thing it could ever replace my table saw but I remember using one when I was much younger and it made some cuts much easier. I am thinking about replacing my 15” chop saw with one of the new smaller versions, the Compound Miter Saw seems to be part radial arm saw but for $600+ I may not get permission from miss bossy :)

-- "so much to learn and so little time"..

View CedarFreakCarl's profile


594 posts in 4660 days

#3 posted 10-04-2008 03:18 PM

I’ve got both and the radial arm saw hasn’t seen electricity in 5 or so years. I purchased a 12” sliding compound miter saw a couple of years back and it does everything the radial arm saw does and more only with better accuracy and safety. Now there was a time when all I had was the radial arm saw and it served me well as you can perform a lot of table saw functions albeit with limited ripping capacity. But, if you’ve aready got a table saw, it seems to me that a scms would be the most bang for the buck.

-- Carl Rast, Pelion, SC

View jroot's profile


295 posts in 1829 days

#4 posted 10-04-2008 04:15 PM

This is neat information. I have a table saw already, and was considering investing in a radial arm saw or a mitre saw. Good discussion. Keep it coming.

-- jroot

View John Ormsby's profile

John Ormsby

1288 posts in 4344 days

#5 posted 10-04-2008 04:48 PM

This is a tough one. I have had 3 radial arm saws (RAS) through the years and now have none. I now use a sliding table saw with a 9’ slider. It is extremely accurate and I do most cuts on it. The bandsaws get used almost as much.
However, am not against RAS. A good quality one will cut very well and can in many cases cut faster. I once worked for a trim contractor in the late 70’s doing a commercial interior out of redwood. We used at least 10,000 BF of redwood plus some 1,500 BF of oak. I was making as many as 3,000 cuts a day on a RAS. Now, w are talking extreme here. But, the cuts were perfect and the machine performed well. Bottom line is that they are fast. The biggest problem I see with RAS is that most are just not accurate enough to warrant the space they take up.
There are many good quality miter saws out there that will cut just as well as a good RAS and take up much less space. They are also mush more portable.
One other thing. I would not recommend using the RAS to rip. These things are too vulnerable to kickbacks and I have seen way too many accidents because of this practice. The wood is trapped between the fence and the blade. The blade does not come from under the table top, rather it is suspended. The guards are normally taken off or at least the plastic flex part is removed. Bad practice? Yes. But it is all too common.

Hope this helps. John

-- Oldworld, Fair Oaks, Ca

View MrWoody's profile


338 posts in 4381 days

#6 posted 10-04-2008 06:23 PM

I have had 2 RAS’s and got rid of both. I have a small workshop and I just couldn’t justify the space the RAS took up compared to the use it got. RAS can be as accurate as a compound saw if they are set up properly and not moved. I used a book by Jon Eakes “Fine Tuning Your RAS”, but it is no longer in print.
Some things can be done easier and probably better on the RAS. They just take up too much room. I feel the Compound Miter saw has replaced the RAS in most shops.
My $.02 CDN

-- If we learn from our mistakes, I'm getting a fantastic education.

View brianinpa's profile


1812 posts in 4330 days

#7 posted 10-04-2008 07:14 PM

I have a table saw and a RAS and both are very useful. The RAS is perfect for cutting miters, cross cutting and even ripping, but the width of the rip can be the only limiting factor. Using a RAS requires a great deal of attention to prevent accidents.

I really like using my RAS when cutting dados – this can’t be done on a miter saw and it is a lot easier than cross cutting a dado on a table saw. A table saw or RAS requires fine tuning to keep them accurate. For me it is what I learned on growing up. I have tried all types of power saws, but prefer these to any other on the market today.

-- Brian, Lebanon PA, If you aren’t having fun doing it, find something else to do.

View Doug S.'s profile

Doug S.

295 posts in 4315 days

#8 posted 10-05-2008 12:33 AM

I think for dados or rabbets I’d actually prefer the RAS as you can see the cut. But I’d avoid ripping on a RAS like the plague. Even with the right blades with hook angles made for them, they can be notorious for wanting to lift stock and kick it back. I used to have a part time job during high school at a lumber yard that also did a bit of millwork. Even the old timers there were leery of ripping on the 12” (or was it 16”?) RAS. One epioide had a 16 ft 2×12 shot back straight into the entry doorway and flung it open and tore one of the hinges off. I think the guy standing about 20 feet outside the door had to go home and change his pants. Another time I saw it shoot a 8 ft 6×6 missle back and missed the door but knocked 2 cinder blocks out of the wall. This was on a machine run by guys who knew what they were doing with hook angles on the blades meant for RAS use. That lesson has stayed with me a long time.

-- Use the fence Luke

View mleedix's profile


63 posts in 4157 days

#9 posted 10-05-2008 02:09 AM

Well my beliefs have changed over the years when it coms to RAS. Wanted one for years, we have two of them. One was setup to use as a pin router after a few years and the other was donated to us. Frankly, I can not recall the last time we used it. Dangerous? IMO yes it can be if proper care isn’t used. But as others metion above, even with proper care and saftey it can still be dangerous as all our tools can be. Our reason for not using it is acuracy. Maybe I’m a perfectionist… but the tools we use the most often [TS, MS and drill press] are all set to 90.0 with a digital gauge. The RAS, neither of them will hold the angle. We can set them with no problems but it seems within a few cuts they are off one way or the other. No Thanks. Just my opinion though others may find RAS their best friend. Mine well I’d just as leave sell em both.

-- - Michael "Over 300000 species of trees, yet we take the credit for their beauty..."

View tooldad's profile


660 posts in 4321 days

#10 posted 10-05-2008 02:30 AM

I have all 3 (Table, Miter, Radial) and wouldn’t get rid of any of them. My craftsman radial is awesome and I use it for 95% of all cross cuts. I have T track built into the fence and an adjustable stop for repetitive cuts. Really the only time I use the miter saw is to make miter or angle cuts. Also on jobs away from the house. One thing a sliding miter saw can’t do that a radial can, is dado cuts with a dado blade. I make my rabbets for drawers, and dados for bookshelves using the RAS. I have had the experience to work with about 5 different RAS’s. I bought myself a used craftman for $200 back in 1998 and still am using it now 10 years later. Had the chance to buy a newer one for my school for the same money in 2002 and jumped on it. However as the old saying goes, they don’t make them like they used to. The newer one had a single track that the saw rode on. The older one had 2 tracks with 4 wheels. The newer one basically had wobble to it and couldn’t guarantee square even if locked. I have no problems with my older craftsman. We then purchased a Ridgid in 2003 and it was basically a twin to my older craftsman, good saw. At my current school we have an older Dewalt that will rip 16” and it is awesome, I would take in a heartbeat over my craftsman. At our sister school they have the 10” and the 12” Deltas. Those work pretty good also. However the switch is on the saw rather than the arm, kind of making it a nuisence to shut off, all the others have arm mounted switches and can be turned off quickly.

All in all RAS are good tools if you keep them maintained as with all tools. However I would buy a table saw, then a miter saw, and if you have the space, a RAS. it is just safer and less cumbersome to have to get out a sled every time you want to make a crosscut.

View Llarian's profile


128 posts in 4214 days

#11 posted 10-05-2008 02:44 AM

I prefer by RAS for precision crosscutting, mostly because I find it easier to target the exact mark than with a CMS. However, since I don’t have an SCMS, that might be the difference.

I used to use the RAS for ripping, trying to do it accuratly is what led me to get a tablesaw in the first place. The RAS still serves a purpose, but I suspect long term I’ll replace it with a SCMS and never look back, the only reason I haven’t is because of the cost of the SCMS. The RAS takes up a LOT of room in my shop, and space is at a premium.

However, if you have one, I think they are excellent for precision crosscuts, so long as its kept adjusted and never moved out of the 90 degree position. I use jigs to do miter cuts, rather than changing the arm position, and I never do compound miters on the RAS.

-- Dylan Vanderhoof - General hobbiest and reluctant penmaker.

View Beginningwoodworker's profile


13345 posts in 4280 days

#12 posted 09-15-2009 01:37 AM

I was taught to use a SCMS for most of the crosscutting and the table saw for ripping, this is the method we use at school!

View a1Jim's profile


117908 posts in 4184 days

#13 posted 09-15-2009 04:40 AM

I use a sliding compound saw instead of a RAS and say don’t even think about ripping on a RAS that’s what table saws are for. If I had to start with one saw it would be a table saw you can rip and cross cut on it.


View degoose's profile


7265 posts in 3961 days

#14 posted 09-15-2009 05:00 AM

I have a Dewalt RAS and you can have it… I don’t like it or want it… come and pick it up bench and all.

-- Don't drink and use power tools @

View Cato's profile


701 posts in 3919 days

#15 posted 09-15-2009 01:22 PM

Probably the sliding compounds are the way to go these days. I have an older Craftsman RAS that I use for crosscutting, but the others are right it does take up a lot of room, and for that it may have to go one of these days.
It is fast to use, however, and nice because of the large table size for work support, particularly when cutting long boards 6’ and up.
Mine was free, so I still have it and use it all the time, and not ready to spend the extra for an sliding miter just yet.
Emerson, the OEM, recently sent me a safety guard upgrade kit, new table board, and handle with trigger that raises the safety guard as it crosses the fence. Just got it, and have to install it. Should shroud the exposed portions of the blade better than the old one.

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