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The Sounding Board

The Sounding Board

Radial Arm Saw Owners Unite
We got a lot of very strong opinions about the obsolescence of radial arm saws (RAS). It was far and away the topic that drew the most response from readers last time out. Most of the comments were passionate RAS supporters. We received 23 messages from this camp, and only three flat-out didn't like the radial arm saw. With some qualifications and reservations, the rest saw it as a still useful tool if properly tuned and set up. Here are the detractors:

"My sliding compound miter saw does everything but rip and make overhead dadoes. It is far more accurate than a radial arm saw."

"I got rid of my commercial radial arm saw three years ago and got a top of the line sliding compound miter saw. I have reduced the number of minor accidents in my shop to the point where a first aid kit has lasted more than two years. The miter saw will do all of the cross cutting that I normally require for a project and, with a little patience, can be set far more easily and accurately than my old radial arm saw...I would not go back to a radial arm saw at this point in my woodworking, even though the doctors at the emergency room say they miss me."

We've decided not to include all 20 of the RAS boosters here, but here's a sampling of what they said. Most had been using radial arm saws for upwards of 20 years, and most lauded its multiplicity of uses.

"I am an amateur woodworker who has two 60's/70's arm saws. I would not be without them...I often get the nasty feeling that they will still be going when both I and our more modern counterpart saws are not."

"My first experience with my brother Jim's radial arm was a disaster. I made the mistake of blindly cutting out mitered joints without checking with a square. After I aligned the saw, every cut was right on...the effort you put into your tools' care will show in the final product."

"I keep reading how inaccurate and unsafe radial arms saws are. What a bunch of hogwash! I have used a radial arm saw as a primary saw in my shop for more than 40 years."

"When you only have one saw, I believe that the radial arm saw is the better choice."

"I recently replaced my 24-year-old Craftsman with a new power feed (3 speeds) Craftsman radial arm saw. This feature keeps the blade from Ôclimbing the wood' and is a lot safer."

"The radial arm saw, in my opinion, has been maligned too often. It will do all the things mentioned — rout, cut off, drill, etc. — but what is missed is that it will rip if used correctly. The only exception is that short rips (under 2 feet) are a real hazard."

"They do tend to take a while to set up, and if I'm careless I don't get the kind of results I want. But I feel their versatility and the concentration required to get a consistently accurate and precise cut from it makes it a necessity for every beginner."

"I use it for cross cutting, ripping, sanding and dadoing. I think the only thing it can't do for me is crank up the coffee pot."

"It is a fantastic tool and I feel it gets a lot of undeserved bad publicity. I recently bought a Delta contractor's saw and it is great, but the radial arm is still king in my shop."

On a final note, one message we got mentioned Wally Kunkel's book How to Master The Radial Arm Saw! We will be reviewing that book in an upcoming issue of this eZine, right after I use it to tune up my old DeWalt RAS.

In response to last issues's comments about craftsmanship, our panel had some good tips on how to achieve the next level, whatever that might happen to be, of woodworking. Here are some other helpful comments on the topic of climbing the ladder of craftsmanship.

"Practice, practice, practice. Build things, anything, but build and strive to make the next one better than the last."

"I feel that choosing projects that will make you learn new skills is essential for moving your level of accomplishments up the ladder."

"Making something more quickly is not a marker of craftsmanship; it's a marker of production ability. Craftsmanship for me is being one with what I'm doing. It's being so focused with doing the best I can that I lose all sense of time."

"I am considered a master woodworker by a lot of people. I think what that means is that my dumb mistakes are so unique to me that people often purchase my work because of themÉI always feel like a beginner and a novice no matter what people call me."

Dado Blades: Wobbly or Stacked
We got three messages about the advantages of stacked versus wobbly dado blades. They brought up some good issues.

"The only safety issue I can see with stacked dado blades compared to a wobbly blade is saw arbor length. An early 1940s 10" Craftsman table saw of mine has an arbor that is just barely long enough for a stacked dado if the stabilizing washer is left off."

"if you have a Craftsman table saw, or one made by the same manufacturer, the arbor is slightly smallerÉcausing the outboard blades of the stack to drop and cut a much worse dado than a wobble blade."

"Rick White mentioned that stacked dado sets require him to be creative when making oddly sized cuts. This year I bought two sets of stacked dadosÉboth came with five chippers (four 1/8" chippers and one 1/16" chipper). With these, a great variety of cuts can be made easily."

(c) 2002, Woodworkers Journal. All Rights Reserved.