Radial Arm Saws
No video - but an entire book
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Principles of Precision - excerpted from the book
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Anyone who has worked a few days with a radial-arm saw knows that the manufacturers' manuals do not show you how to get the machine to work as precisely as needed for good woodworking. The text books on radials tease you with accessories, jigs and projects but still don't give you much help in setting up your machine.
In the early '80s I presented seminars on the use of the radial-arm saw to craftsmen and hobbyists across Canada. The first hour of each seminar was dedicated to these problems of line-up and precision. No, you will not find videos on the Radial Arm Saw here -- I never shot any video for that back in 1980. But I did write a book.
This book is, in fact, the refined product of all those teaching sessions. In plain language, it gives detailed instructions on making the notoriously sloppy radial arm saw cut dead square and to a tolerance of one 128th of an inch with a simple saw blade. This book is the necessary companion to all other information on your radial-arm saw and I like to think that it is helping craftsmen everywhere to keep their solid old saws working.
Since 1987 when this book was first published by Lee Valley Tools, it has been recognized as the bible for setting up and using radial arm saws in a precision fashion. But with the advent of the sliding miter boxes, and the fact that few people ever used their radial arm saws as precision instruments, the use of this wonderful machine has declined. Some manufacturers have dropped out of the market; others don't take their saws very seriously. So, although we sold 5,000 copies of this very specialized book, sales were not strong enough to warrant a new press run.
But then along came cyber space and the potential for web publishing or at least electronic distribution of books. This has opened the door to cost effective publishing of very limited quantities of a given book, and hence the revival of out-of-print books. Essentially all I have to do is the layout, and you print it yourself, all of it, or only the pages you want. You will find that if you can print in 600dpi, the photos will come out as clear as the original publication. Since then a few people every week ask for the book -- so here it is available as a download pdf for purchase.
How to best print the PDF
The one publishing bug is that the book layout was designed for left and right pages (even pages on the left - odd pages on the right), rather than consecutive pages out of your printer. Hence the text and graphics make good sense when you see two pages side by side. Knowing that will help if you get lost in the text. The best copy of this book can be had by printing both sides of thick paper stock and then recreating the left/right layout of a book by putting it into a three ring binder. The blank pages were left in so that such a layout would work. -- but see the note below on Version 2.
Download the book
I read through this book twenty+ years later and found that nothing needed to be updated; those old saws just keep on cutting. Hence the rest of this book is as originally published. For a while I sold it on the web, then as part of a DVD, and now here it is back on the web.
Well "nothing has changed" is almost true. Thirty years after the first printing, readers pointed out a problem with modern PDF readers that required that I adjust a page, so that when viewed in two-page (side-by-side) view, as the original printed book, the graphics lined up properly. (If you have a PDF program that will allow you to delete pages in the first PDF version – identified as the Electronic reprint 2000 - delete the second page (a blank page) in the version 1 book, identified as page “0”. Things will now line up as in Version 2.) And on page 64 I added in a great critique/suggestion from a wood worker. So as of November 2021, there is a version #2 – identified as such on the credits pages.
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Just click here to go to PayPal to pay for it ($14.95).
After paying, you will be sent an e-mail with the download link. We don’t give you the download directly because some browsers have problems with downloads, pop-up windows and the like. If you don’t get an e-mail quickly, check your spam for a letter from email@example.com.
An electronic book is easy to copy and pass around, or even post on the web. I appreciate that most woodworkers recognize the labour that goes into the production of something, be it a chair or a book, and that they respect the copyright on this book. Thank you for copying the link to this book, not copying the book itself or taking rip off copies found on iressponsible British or Russian sites through Google. I get a great deal of satisfaction hearing that this book has helped woodworkers and continues to do so since when it was first published in 1987. Somehow that seems to be a statement against the planned obsolescence so common in tools today.
There are many forums on the web related to the Radial Arm Saw, one of the best is Paul Snotzalot’s DeWalt Radial Arm Saw forum – which covers more than DeWalt. http://forums.delphiforums.com/woodbutcher
The Principles of Precision
Chapter 2 of the book has some information that applies to many tools beyond the Radial Arm Saw, particularly to the miter saws and sliding miter saws. I offer the whole chapter to you here. The rest of the Radial Arm Saw book deals with specific nuts and bolts adjustmements and jigs to attain this precision.
Accurate results can only come from precise work. In this sense the "precision" of the machine and of your working techniques means the ability to work to close tolerances. Cutting wood to close tolerances at the correct dimension will result in accurately made, well fitting joints.
Although craft books dealing with such delicate manual tasks as dovetailing and marquetry frequently deal with the details of precision, the subject is rarely discussed when dealing with power tools. Yet how can we expect to understand the importance of detailed adjustments and techniques unless we understand their role in obtaining precision from our radial arm saw? My radial and I work with six principles of precision. I will outline these principles here and then apply them in detail throughout the rest of the book.
Principle 1 -- Snug Movement
"Things that move must move smoothly and firmly."
Whenever wood and a machine come together they need to be in firm constant contact. Vibrations in the machine will mean a clattering contact between the cutting edge and the wood. A hand plane with a thin blade digs in and out of the wood grain. A jig saw who's shoe is allowed to rise off the wood will not give a clean cut. Grime, dust and rough surfaces make consistent contact equally as impossible.
On the radial arm saw the biggest offender of the principle of SNUG MOVEMENT is the roller head. It must not move freely, nor even easily but rather it must move firmly. That is not to say that it should bind, but a loose roller head is the major cause of the "running forward" feeling with most radials. When the roller wheels are adjusted loosely on the overhead track, the entire motor assembly has a tendency to lift up during a cut, but because of the offset blade it does not lift straight up nor does it necessarily stay up. The entire motor comes rattling forward, with the saw blade climbing up on fibers it should be cutting. The cut is ragged and your right arm is quickly exhausted not knowing if you should draw the saw forward or hold it back. When it is adjusted for "firm" travel you rarely have this problem. You must however clean the track several times a day (exactly 23 seconds of work) as the least bit of dust or even grime accumulation will block its movement and make drawing it forward firm but jerky. We want firm and smooth.
The column must move up and down smoothly and firmly in the base casting. Too much freedom here can cause the arm to pivot up or sideways or both. Too tight and it binds and becomes jerky in movement.
Similarly, the arm to column connection must be firm and free from slack.
Equally important is that when the wood moves, it too must move firmly and smoothly that is why I include hold-downs as part of the fine tuning of a radial arm saw.
Principle 2 -- Positive Clamping
"Things that should not move, must not move."
Almost all adjustments on woodworking machines hold their positions by means of friction clamps; two surfaces that bind together relatively solidly by pressure alone. Hand planes as well as power planers hold their blades by friction. Table saw depth adjustments are locked by friction. The radial arm saw relies on friction all over.
Whereas bolts and pins lock things absolutely into position, friction clamps hold them "positively". This means that they should clamp sufficiently solidly to prevent the pressures that the saw will exert on them from moving their position, but at the same time they should not be over tightened to either harm the machine or tire your hands.
The prime example is the arm to column clamp (the miter clamp). If the arm is set at 30° on the miter scale and the clamp is engaged, it will always be possible to force the arm to 35° despite the clamp because of the tremendous leverage you have on the end of the arm. To try and tighten it so that it would be impossible to move would rapidly wear the cam parts or break a pivot somewhere along the linkage. It must be set tightly enough to effectively resist the lateral forces of the cutting action of the saw. These forces are in fact rather minor except when ripping. This exception can be dealt with by proper use of the fixed 90° indexing as will be explained in the alignment procedure.
People tend to tighten the bevel clamp so tightly that the handle eventually breaks and gets replaced by a pair of vice-grips. The common cause of this is that they never did understand that the 90° index point can be calibrated to be dead on, so they kept trying to set the bevel to 1° or 2° in an effort to get a square cut. But at 1° it clamps very poorly (the beveled indexing pin itself is fighting the setting) and overkill becomes the standard procedure.
The use of sandpaper in certain circumstances can help to achieve positive clamping without undue pressure as is explained when considering the sandpaper miter fence and the wooden feather boards.
Surprisingly enough, even chipping on the bottom side of the cut can be eliminated. It's a question of clean back-up and eliminating vibration between the wood and the table as with my "fence hold-down" jig .
Principle 3 -- Use of the End Point of Slack
"Slack always has an end point, use it."
Ignoring slack in screw drives and indexing pins leads to sloppy results. You must take up the slack right to its end point to maintain precision.
The arm to column indexing pin must have some slack in its adjustment or the pin simply will not pivot in and out of its indexing slots. This means that when the pin is indexed to 90° the saw may very well be cutting at 88° or 91°. In fact many people find it hard to get the same result twice. If, however, some clear point within that slack is defined and calibrated to exactly 90°, then the saw could be set to exactly 90°every time despite the slack. I seat the pin into the column and before clamping it tight I shove the arm to the right until it comes to a full stop against the indexed pin. It is this "end point of slack" that I calibrate to exactly 90° and it stays there, waiting, dead on every time.
When a screw drive is used in any machine there is always slack between the screw threads and the nut threads. Although the threads may be an exact dimension (such as 1/8" per revolution), changing the direction of rotation will throw the slack into any effort to use screw pitch for depth measurements. If turning is done only in one direction you will be sitting firmly on the end point of slack all the way and depth adjustments can easily be made to 128th of an inch (if the column is sliding smoothly and firmly) by simply watching the crank handle position. With the blade in the horizontal position this allows for cutting surprisingly accurate box joints without either measuring or marking the wood.
Principle 4 -- Squaring to Actual Work Surfaces
"Align a machine at its production end."
Too often instructions say to square the saw up to the table rails or some other reference point that is not the same surface that will be holding the wood. Even lining up the table and then attaching a covering can change the angle of the cut in the wood. It is the final table surface and the final fence that should serve as reference points for alignment of the saw.
If temporary tables or fence additions are added, the actual angle of cut in the wood should be verified before trying to produce accurate results, since the precision of your machine may have been compromised by inaccuracies in your temporary additions or their installation.
Principle 5 -- Verification on Cut Wood
"Rough static alignment is done with instruments on the machine; dynamic fine tuning is done with a blade cutting wood."
It doesn't matter if a jointer, for example, looks good. What counts is that it produces straight square boards and this is always the final test of alignment.
There are two reasons for using wood cuts, not metal squares, as the fine tuning instruments for a radial arm saw.
Firstly, by using manipulation tricks when cutting wood, you can adjust the saw square to the table for a 6 inch depth and square from the fence for a 26 inch cut -- twice the actual cutting capacity of the machine. This means that within its actual cutting capacities it will be twice as precise as can possibly be measured with metal squares.
Secondly, the end product is really what counts so I don't care if something may look out of line on the machine as long as the results of the blade passing through wood gives me the perfection I demand. This difference in apparent alignment and actual cutting results can be due to the fact that the metal square by necessity gives a static picture of the machine's alignment. The blade engaged in wood gives a dynamic measurement identical to actual working conditions.
Principle 6 -- Definition of Entry Before Cutting
"Know where the blade will cut before cutting."
We often scratch up the edge of a piece of wood or create considerable scrap trying to determine exactly where the point of entry will be for a cutting edge. Whether a drill press or a table saw, we are used to a lot of trial and error.
The fence on a radial arm saw is usually a sorry looking chopped up mess, often hiding down below the wood to be cut. The gaping hole in the vicinity of where the blade passes through provides no backup against splinters on the back side of the cut and certainly is useless in guessing where the blade will strike the work piece.
You must get used to the idea that the fence can be shifted an inch or two to the right or the left without really affecting its function at all as a back stop. This shifting allows you to put it in its normal position during line-up and general work, and then, when you want to get down to the business of precision, slide the fence over to a clean spot and make a nice fresh kerf cut through. This new cut defines quite precisely both sides of the cuts you are about to make and backs up against splintering on the backside of the work piece at the same time. If in addition the fence is about 1/4 inch taller than the wood you are to cut, this slot in the fence becomes a precise index against which cut marks on the work piece can be accurately placed before ever coming near them with the blade. See the graphic.
Unfortunately there is no precision guide for ripping so the final check on a rip setting is to actually cut a piece of wood and verify the results before putting the real work piece to the blade.
(Scroll a little to see blog comments below)
Work safely -- Jon
Learning Curve 75
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Showing 19 comments
Hi Jon, Glad to just discover you are still active!
I love your book “Fine Tuning Your Radial Arm Saw”, it taught me at least one thing, and that is that the DeWalt DW125 I bought and restored a couple of years ago for fun is not worn on some places as I thought (the height adjustment) but that it is normal that there is some clearance there in the spindle and nut assembly and to always work on the same side of it.
One thing I found recently and which goes against your recommendation of which saw to buy for production (RAS or table) is the Youtube video “DEWALT SAWS IN WORLD WAR II PROMOTIONAL FILM 50674”. If you haven’t seen it yet it is highly recommended you have a look, I am sure it will give all radial arm saw lovers a damn good feeling!
Thanks for taking the trouble to write that book!
Thank you Henk for that video. What stands out is the critical importance of jigs, and how simple they are for the Radial Saw. The reality today is what you see here is the human version of modern robotics in production work - where saws like this are so common today. What also stands out is the almost total lack of modern safety standards -- and a running full out of manpower driven by a war effort. Jon
Here is the YouTube link - its worth a watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HiGH0Qsu3ak
Hi John. I've consulted several RAS resources, including Delphi forum, and can't find discussion that addresses what I'm experiencing with my Craftsman RAS 315.220381. Page 38 of the manual shows how to align the blade to table at 0 degrees bevel. Mine was out of alignment with a gap at the bottom of the blade. I made the adjustments and locked down the 4 socket head screws. After cross cutting maybe 10 2x2 and 1x5 pine boards, the cuts were visibly out of square. The gap at the bottom had reverted back to where it was prior to adjustment. If you've got any ideas about what might be causing this, I'd appreciate your feedback very much. Thank you.
Page 38 talks about getting the roller bearings snug so they always have the same angle. This has nothing to do with being square -- only smooth firm movement.
Pages 53+ of the book (54 of the pdf) talks about the blade square to the table. What you need to seek to do is to get the STOP on the lift side of the cut (blade wanting to ride UP) to be exactly square and lock that in. Either you don't have that exact, or you locked in the other side of the stop slop. In either case, you would have to find square and then squeeze down the clamp to hold it there. That will move with work. That is precisely why we lock in the upward moving part of the stop when the locking pin drops in at 0deg. Now locking in just makes things stable, but it is the stop itself, not the friction of the lock that will hold your 90 deg to the table, the zero setting.
I am not sure what the "gap at the bottom" was. The blade needs to cut slightly into the table and that is the column height adjustment done after the bevel angle is set.
I hope this clarifies things for you.
I bought a 20 year old Craftsman radial arm saw model 315.220381. The saw arm required full strength to move forward/back. I cleaned the track with a rag and mineral spirits. Then I removed the four carriage bearings and cleaned each with a mineral spirits soak followed by an alcohol soak, and then used an air compressor to blow out the crud. Each bearing required multiple cycles of this process. After adjusting the bearings as per the owner's manual, the saw arm moved smoothly and much more easily (this was last night). This morning, the saw arm movement was much stiffer. Could 35-ish degree overnight temperatures have caused this? Thank you.
A 20 degree temperature change could cause enough expansion and contraction to throw off a snug adjustment. Test sliding the head when the room is cold and when it is warm to see if there is a difference. If it does change, you will need to tune and use it at the same temperature. If it simply gets stiff after a cold spell, you probably have a lubricant that is thickening. Go back to clearing all the lubricant out and then use only silicone spray which will not thicken because of cold weather.
Can you please recommend a saw blade for a 10" DeWalt radial arm saw. The saw is mainly used to cross and rip cut softer and ply woods.
Your book is extremely helpful to set up the radial arm saw - thank you.
For general purpose work, I use a carbide tipped combination blade -- the one with 4 little cross cut teeth then one large rip tooth with its large dust gully, and that set of teeth repeated all around the blade. It is not a perfect rip nor a perfect cross cut blade, but it does both well. For rough ripping Oak I have an old 4 tooth 10" blade, yup, only 4 teeth, but it rips oak like butter. For clean cross cutting you might use a blade with from 40 to 90 teeth! For speciality cuts, see the learning curve on Speciality Blades.
Hope this helps.
I wanna have this book printed out but what's with all the blank pages with nothing but a page number and all the pages where there's only writing on one tiny bit of tue page? Out of 107 pages 8 have nothing but page numbers. (Why have a page 0?) And a whole lot more only have writing on a tiny like 3x3 spacing or at most half the page. Lots of waste there
On page 8 of the book, (page 10 of the PDF), you will find the answers to your questions about printing.
“The one (electronic) publishing bug is that the layout was designed
for left and right pages (odd pages on the right, even pages
on the left) as in a book, rather than consecutive pages out
of your printer. Knowing that will help if you get lost in
the text. The best copy of this book can be had by printing
both sides on thick paper stock and then putting it into a
three ring binder. The blank pages were left in so that such
a layout would work.
In fact, if you select the ringed binder layout in Word you will have space for the binder punches on the right side of even numbered pages, and on the left side of odd numbered pages. Then the photos and text that were designed to read across an open book will still read easily.
Jon - I purchased a Craftsman Radial Arm Saw in the late 1970's, but did not discover your book until about five years ago. I bought a previously owned (but nearly pristine) copy through Amazon. My copy is now well marked with highlighter and marginal notes. I have found it very valuable in keeping my saw set up for precision as well as safety. (I still have all of my "original equipment" body parts - something too many table saw users cannot say.) I still have my original saw, and I am able to do better work with it now that I know much more than was in the original pitiful excuse for a manual. Thank you for your work on that. (And I really like the cover art as well, having been a fan of classical music most of my life.)
Mr Eakes, I am so pleased to be able to communicate with you. The notes I made in your book, Fine Tuning Your Radial Arm Saw, indicate that I first availed myself of it in 1981 when I would been 27 (wow!). This past October my wife and I moved from our spacious home in Pepperell, MA to a smaller home in Peterborough, NH. Fortunately, the move didn't require downsizing my shop. I am still getting my shop back into working shape and this week has me finally getting to the radial saw. Your book is once again proving to be invaluable. Thank you and warmest regards, Tom
I've had this book for a few years now and I consider it to be on the same level of usefulness and relevance as Wally Kunkel's masterpiece. I bought your book right after getting my first DeWalt radial arm saw. I've since "collected" a couple more saws and find this work to be unmatched. It's easy to understand, well presented and very thorough. I tuned a DeWalt R1511 5 years ago and it is as accurate today as it was then thanks to this book.
Thanks for the compliments. It is really good to feel that I wrote an "evergreen" book.
I have the same model DeWalt RAS that is in your book. I'm trying to decide how best to extend the work area. The three options are: (1) build cabinets or tables and place them on either side of the RAS table, (2) build a single cabinet or table in such a way that the saw sits in the middle, with a one-piece table spanning the cabinet or table tops, or (3) removeable extensions on both sides of the saw.
It seems that any option will have to consider making the saw table parallel to the motor’s travel—something that would be impossible to adjust in option 2. In option 1, the adjustment might make the saw table out of plane with the cabinet or table tops. That leaves option 3.
What are your thoughts?
Page 91 of the book actually talks about table extensions, including one plan for a portable installation.
First realize that nothing is "impossible" to adjust. You want all the tables to be in the same plane, and the fence must be perpendicular to the travel of the saw in the cross cut position. So if wings are temporary, they must be adjustable, lining up with the saw work surface. If you have a single table, then the saw mounting must have a "pivot" to get the blade travel perpendicular to the fence. That could be as easy as one snug fit and three oversized holes for the column base mounting bolts.
Remember the critical fence is about two feet each side of the blade -- the rest is just support for weight. What you want is flat with straight edges. Then the final adjustments are made on the saw itself -- in fact that's what the book is all about.
So the most important question you have is: Do you want to travel with your saw or not? Do you have 8 feet accessible on both sides of the saw (at least a horizontal slot about 5" high) -- above that you can have overhanging cupboards! I saw a creative garage arrangement where the saw was very close to the driveway side of the garage. Then there was a large "mail slot" that could receive an extension wing that could be set-up in the driveway. The whole thing could be advanced so that the fence cleared the door opening, allowing for ripping plywood.
The core work surface and fence are critical -- the rest are just support. You can shim side supports to level and lock it all in, or have adjustment screws for both the wings and the extension fences. The fence directly on the work surface will be changed often either for function or too many cut points. Don't dream of making it a perfect permanent 16 feet long.
I hope this helps,
Thanks for an excellent download, it's very helpful.
My Craftsman RAS's model is 113.19770 and is in great condition, considering its age.
However, the arm has restricted movement when swung to the left, hard-stopping at around 50-55 degrees, whereas when swinging to the right, it goes past 0 degrees to about -10 before stopping.
Any suggestions? Thanks much!
What comes to mind is the possibility that the stop collar has rotated on the main shaft. These are usually welded in place, but it might be worth looking at.
Why do you think radial arm saws have become so unpopular?
Most people only used radial arm saws as a cut-off saw and when the sliding miter boxes came out with their extended reach, they filled that need easier and cheaper.
Few people ever learned to use a radial arm saw in a precise manner -- so they blamed the saw -- thinking that the table saw was easier to use. Actually the table saw is very complicated to use for complicated tasks because you are always moving the wood, not the saw.
So it became a market question and now radial arm saws are only made for industry.
I want a hard copy.
Sorry, they have been out of print for years. I see them on sale on Amazon for between $50 and $150. It would be cheaper to get the PDF and print it. -- Jon
Cutting crown moulding using the fence is extremely simple for odd sized corners as you simply adjust the miter setting in either a miter saw or a radial arm saw. The book does show jigs for working with the fence.
Trying to do compound cuts flat on the table require having the actual corner, miter and bevel numbers. What the book does is get your saw accurate enough that they will actually cut specific angles. For the basic numbers look up Crown Moulding in the search tab, or go to http://joneakes.com/jons-fixit-database/1660.
You can also see jigs in action in a miter saw -- same concept as on the radial arm saw -- in the Learning Curve tab: http://joneakes.com/learning-curve/143
Hi Jon I need some help to do crown moulding against the fence and laying down does your book show how to do this.As you know the corners of the rooms are not square.. w,trainor
Jon - I just ran through the adjustments outlined in "Fine Tuning Your Radial Arm Saw". My 1961 Craftsman 10" machine has never performed better. I used to enjoy the hilarious results when I would cut off the end of a 4x6 by rotating and never get a square end. Now the cuts line up. The new table is flat, the column adjustment is smooth, and roller head tracks are clean. But I have a new problem - when project parts don't fit together now, I can't blame the machine anymore. What can we do about that ? Thanks very much.
This book is a CLASSIC! The radial arm saw has to be one of my favorite of all shop woodworking tools.. Growing up with one,and being the first power saw I used as a teen (my father had one always set up in the basement) most likely had an impact on my opinion. You can't beat the radial arm saw for precision dado's and crosscuts... This book has to be one of the best books ever written, concerning any type of shop woodworking equipment...Concisely written and complied to the utmost detail. The reader will understand all the adjustments on the machine, and most importantly, how these adjustments interact which each other.....This book has been on my library shelf for a few decades.. I liked it so much, I bought the hardcover version off Ebay a few years back....Now I have two copies to look at Jon's 70's style mop haircut which graces the cover..! Though at times when looking at his photo, I can't help but think of Dudley Moore in his "Arthur" movie role....Tuxedo and all!...Great work Jon....
I had always hated and feared the radial arm saw that my Dad bought (craftsman circa 1982) and was prepared to push it out into the rain, until set straight by my friend Douglas, who pointed me at your book. Douglas said something like "The properly configured radial arm saw is one of the finest pieces of wood working equipment that you will encounter. You simply need to learn and use Jon Eakes' methods."He was correct. I downloaded your book about a year ago, and I am now a fan of both the saw, and your work.Please continue!
Funny, when I got my radial, I got especially for precision work.(I got to thank my shop teacher in high school for that)
You might be interested in a question/answer exchange about the sanding disk shown on page 52 to level out the table. You can see it all with photos in a database article: just search "Radial Saw" for "Radial Arm Saw Sanding Disk".jon