Radial Arm Saw vs. Table Saw: Which is Better for You?
The radial arm saw got invented by Raymond DeWalt in 1922, but the history of the table saw is not so clear. Both tools work well in the shop anyway and both use circular blades to do their jobs.
Still, the question often comes up about the best saw between the two and the better choice to buy over the other. While many woodworkers love the two and work with both, others tend to lean towards one or the other.
This side by side review will offer you all the relevant information about both table saws and radial arm saws so that you'll be better informed when you make your choice between the two.
The radial arm saw got invented in 1922 by Raymond DeWalt. Its success and popularity as a power tool turned DeWalt into one of the world's best power tool brands.
A radial arm saw has its blade hanging from the top and mounted on a horizontal arm, on which it slides forward when pushed and backward when pulled. As its blade rotates and it gets pulled, the radial arm saw cuts through everything in its path.
Given this peculiar design, radial arm saws are great for making cross cuts, as well as rabbets, dados, and half lap joints. A radial arm saw requires more skill to use than a table saw, but it can also be a very efficient and dependable tool when mastered.
Different radial arm saws come with different settings and precisions. They can get configured to make miter and bevel cuts, plus more amazing stuff like drum sanding and routing.
Although radial arm saws are slowly being replaced by sliding compound miter saws, they're still widely available.
A radial arm saw can also be used to rip wood along the grain, although this is usually limited by the size of its workbench. They are great for cutting through heavy materials though, as you only have to move the saw while the stock rests.
- Great for cross cuts. Radial arm saws are good for many things, but they truly shine when it comes to cross cuts. The only problem people have with a radial arm saw is adjusting it accurately, although this is usually not the case with the top of the line models. Once properly adjusted though, nothing beats it when it comes to cross cutting rough boards and wider stock.
- Versatile tool. The uses of a radial arm saw go beyond simply cutting wood. You can use it for routing, drum sanding, surface planing of your boards, and horizontal boring. The possibilities are so many and some radial arm packages come with so many accessories, that they can get confusing. All you need is enough time to study the radial arm saw and you'll be alright.
- Great for heavy pieces. If you've got to cut a heavy board then a radial arm saw is the better-suited saw. It does not depend on you pushing the wood at the blade, which is usually the case with a table saw, rather, you'll just pull the saw towards you to cut the heavy block, which continues to sit on one spot.
- Needs less space. One final advantage of radial arm saws is that they need less shop space than table saws.
- Safety risk. The safety risk posed by radial arm saws is higher than that of table saws. The reason is that of the exposed and moving blade, which is not stationary like that of a table saw.
- They're being replaced. Woodworkers who have mastered their radial arm saws continue to swear by them and use them consistently, but more and more people are switching over to sliding compound miter saws, because of their precision and ease of use.
- Higher cost. Radial arm saws are more expensive than table saws. They were traditionally very expensive and although the present contractor-sized radial arm saws are much cheaper today than they were many decades ago, they still cost more than table saws.
- Less versatile. Radial arm saws are versatile, but they are less versatile than table saws.
A table saw also features a circular blade, but it's mounted below the workbench and can either be raised up or down as is needed.
Tables saws offer the perfect setting to easily rip wood boards, although they're also great at cross-cutting and other jobs like miter and bevel cuts.
For many woodworkers, the table saw is the heart of the shop and this is understandable, given the ease, speed, and comfort of working with a table saw.
One can also make grooves and dados using a table saw, but this requires precisely setting the blade's depth. Most models will additionally allow the beveling of the blade to make yet more complex cuts.
In order to make them safer, some modern table saws come fitted with automatic braking systems, which immediately stops the blade once it detects contact with a conductive material like the human body.
Most table-saw tops include a fence and a miter gauge groove for making precise and complex cuts. The offering for table-saw Jigs and accessories is very large and this makes the use of table saws ever more popular.
- Great for ripping. The earliest known table saw patent in the United States was labeled a circular rip saw. The table saw design is without doubt very ideal for ripping through wood boards. It makes ripping an easy and comfortable task, which demands fewer operator skills and saw adjustments than the radial arm saw.
- Easier to use. The table saw's popularity also comes as a result of its ease of use. A table saw's system feels natural to most woodworkers, and it's easier to understand and work with than a radial arm saw.
- Precision. Table saws are also popular because of the precision they offer. Since the blade itself is in a fixed place, it becomes easier to make and use Jigs, including other accessories. This is because they rely on the saw's fence and miter gauge groove, which are parallel and perpendicular to the blade, respectively. Radial arm saws can also be precise, but these are mainly the high-end models. The cheaper models suffer from precision issues, which is making them give way to sliding compound miter saws.
- Less noisy. Table saws are generally less noisy than radial arm saws because their motors are hidden under the workbench, while a radial arm saw's motor is usually above the board.
- Safer. Both saws are dangerous machines, but table saws are safer than radial arm saws. Table saws also continue to get developed and get safety improvements from time to time.
- You have to push boards through it. Feeding a table saw with stock is the natural way of working with it, and it makes things simple and easy to do. When it comes to heavy pieces though, this becomes a disadvantage for table saws and an advantage for radial arm saws, which leave the board in place, while you move the saw itself.
- Takes up more space. Some table saws are larger than others, no doubt, but most table saws take up more shop space than a radial arm saw. This might not be of importance to many woodworkers with enough space, but for those with limited shop space, the size of a saw can become an important point for consideration.
- Kickbacks. Table saw kickbacks can often get dangerous, but they can also be prevented. This includes using a good parallel fence, using feather-boards, not tilting the blade towards the fence and never ever using a broken or bent blade.
Making the Right Choice
You'll need to weigh the different features of radial arm and table saws to choose wisely, and decide on the best tool for the job. Here once again is an overview of these features.
Radial Arm Saws
Perpendicular to fence
Parallel to fence
Ease of use
Requires more skill
Easier to use
Needs less space
Needs more space
We have reached the end of this side by side review of radial arm saws and table saws, and you should hopefully have made a choice by now.
If you choose a table saw, then good for you, many woodworkers will also make the same choice.
If your choice tends towards radial arm saws, however, maybe for its space economy or because it's the perfect tool for a specific job you have on hand, then I'll suggest you first take a look at sliding compound miter saws.
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