03 June 2011

Radial Arm Saw

Is the Radial Arm Saw (RAS) a misunderstood gem, or is it truly a dinosaur?  I was introduced to the RAS when I had the privelige of working with an experienced woodworker in his shop when making my router table.  We used the RAS a lot.  I found it convenient (ready to go with no setup-to clarify we only used it in crosscut mode), quiet and versatile.  With the aid of stop blocks we cut multiple pieces to the exact same size quickly and without measuring.  By raising & lowering the table we cut tenons again quickly & accurately.  Rabbets and grooves for drawer bottoms were a breeze.  With a mitre jig we cut accurate mitres without changing the machine's setup.  It obviously cuts wider pieces than the modern compound mitre saw and I liked the larger surface area of the table top.  Dust extraction was easier (more focused)-with the compound mitre saw the dust blows all over the place.  Another advantage is that the arm didn't slide back so it can be placed right up against a wall-an important factor when your workshop is small. 

That was over 2 years ago and I never considered buying a RAS because of the cost.  But the other day I picked up an unused De Walt RAS for R1500.00 (about $215.00).  And that was the 1st time that I hunted the net for articles related to this tool.  Hence my blog today.  Before I carry on I must explain my situation-I don't have a table saw (yes the 'heart' of my workshop is missing).  There is no space for one.  And if I did have one, I don't know if I would change the contents of this blog.  What I found on the Internet disappointed me.  Both in quantity and in content.  The woodworking community normally loves to debate different tools and techniques.  From tails first/ pins first, to the best way to glue up a panel, to comparing the strengths of various joints, to the choice of glues and finishes.  We thrive on controversy and it makes us better woodworkers.  But when it comes to the RAS, not a whisper.  All I found is that the saw is dangerous in rip mode (we all know that), and that the compound mitre saw has replaced the RAS.  Well I don't agree.  I think that the compound mitre saw is good for a contractor who works on site.  It is a tool that has its purpose.  But the RAS has more applications than the compound mitre for a fine woodworker as opposed to a carpenter.  The depth and width of cuts is why I say this.  If you spend your day chopping cornices, mouldings and 2x4's, then the compound mitre is fine.  And then again, I don't own a table saw...

To conclude and like I said in my previous blog.  If you use the tool, it becomes essential.  I am happy I own a RAS, and I know that I will work faster with it, without compromising my accuracy.