There are as many opinions as there are woodworkers. There is no right or
wrong answer to your question for so many reason such as your intended use,
space available, funds available etc ad inifinitum. So... Here is my
It is generally accepted that a radial arm saw unless it is a very expensive
precision machine can be troublesome. With a stop pin at the back post to
set the saw at 90 degrees, 45 degrees and others there must be some amount
of clearance to allow the locking pin to be inserted and removed from the
locking position. One thousands of clearance CAN equal 1/4 inch or more off
of the 90 degree setting and you must then use a square to reset the saw
each time you change it. Many people have concluded that these saws are
good for rough in use but not generally real accurate work where angle
changes will be made frequently. Plus the length of the arm limits the
width of a board that can be cut.. There are a lot of opinions on the topic
but I'd summarize it by suggesting that you not consider one.
A table saw in my opinion is a "must have item". It is more flexible in
A miter saw is a valuable tool. I have 2 Dewalt's though they are not
Naturally the whole and real question is over the long term, what will you
be cutting? If mostly 4X8 sheets of plywood this can be cumbersome on a
table saw and even dangerous. So a vertical panel saw is the solution.
To summarize the whole thing IN MY OPINION...
I'd start with a table saw and a miter saw. These will do a lot of work for
The next question is how much should you spend and that is a double edged
sword. One thought is buy now what you can afford and get started on the
hobby, upgrade later if the hobby really catches on for you. Yet the other
side of sword says buy the very best you can even extending yourself some
and you will have good tools that can do much better work for you and
strengthen your interest in the hobby. But it does not sound like you're
inclined to spend $3000 on a Powermatic saw at this time. But if you did,
your results would be much better than a $100 saw and yield more rewarding
Bottom line, like all the rest of us, you have to do some serious soul
searching, financial planning, and consideration of just how far you expect
to take the hobby and proceed as best you can.
Now there you go, a lecture instead of a simple "buy one of these and one of
Garbage. Assuming a 24" long arm and a 4" diameter column (which means
approximately a 2" radius to the locking detent), each 0.001" of slop in the
detent translates to 0.001" * (24 / 2) = 0.012" error at the end of the arm,
or approximately 1/80 inch. You'd need to have an arm FORTY FEET long before
the error amounted to 1/4 inch.
While far from perfect, the angle settings on the typical radial arm saw are
considerably more accurate than the factory-supplied stock miter gauges on
most table saws. Just as the use of a high-precision aftermarket miter gauge
improves the cut accuracy on a table saw, so will the use of appropriate jigs
and fixtures improve cut accuracy on a radial arm saw.
My RAS can crosscut boards up to a bit over 13" wide. That's wide enough for
And I would summarize by suggesting that people who don't use radial arm saws
should refrain from commenting on what they can't do.
Agreed -- a table saw is a must-have. But so is *either* a RAS *or* a compound
More garbage. A vertical panel saw is *a* solution. Sawhorses, a circular saw,
and a good edge guide is another solution -- one which fits into the budgets
of most folks a whole lot better than a vertical panel saw does.
*And* a band saw.
Doug Miller (alphageek at milmac dot com)
I use / have used my 1947 Redstar 7 1/2hp 16" turret arm radial arm
1) Cutting brick
2) Cutting metal tubing and angle iron to make my own chop saw
3) Scoring retaining blocks so I could shear them with a chisel
4) Cutting PVC
5) Cutting plexiglass
6) Cutting sheet metal
7) For 90% of the cuts I make in wood.
9) Cutting tenons
10) Cutting miters
I use "Old Green" my powermatic cabinet table saw for
I grew up learning woodworking on my dads Delta 10" turret arm RAS.
Until a year ago (50+ years of woodworking) he has never owned a table
saw. The bench on his Delta RAS is about 9' x 4' and it is easier to
rip sheet goods on this RAS than a table saw without a lot of extra
supports. I paid $600 for my table saw and only $400 for my RAS. I
would part with my table saw long before I would part with my RAS.
That being said not everyone has learned how to use a RAS properly.
At the same time I have not learned how to make the most of my table
saw, I have never had too I have a RAS. My first RAS (a craftsman)
did leave a lot to be desired as far as accuracy but it did do a nice
job once I learned how to tune it up. Once the play was adjusted out
of the column by loosening one of the hex bolts on the back and
tightening the other even the craftsman returned to 90 without having
to check every time the arm was moved. A good blade (Freud is my
choice) makes a world of difference when is comes to making accurate
Everyone has their own preferences. A mastery of the tool in use is
the key to success. I don't know where you learn to use a RAS
properly if you don't have a father that can teach you?
I have found that you can do 90% of the work you do a table saw with a RAS
and 90% of what you do on a RAS with a TS. The techniques are different and
each saw has it's own strength . If I could only have one it would be hard
to say which I would keep, but I would lean toward a RAS. The TS is easier
to learn to use for most basic uses and does not require as much maintance
as the RAS but it takes up more room in the shop. The TS needs more "jigs"
to do a lot of the jobs the RAS does, but the RAS requires more time setting
up for some jobs. It is a trade off either way you go. I worked for years
with a RAS and did fine, I bought a TS and found that it is a great tool and
can save me a lot of time and I am glad I got it to replace one of my RASs
that died on me instead of buying another RAS. I would not want to work with
out a RAS though and would not buy a second TS to replace another RAS. just
my 2 cents worth.
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