You might have heard of a radial arm saw if you are familiar with power saws. It has been called one of the most dangerous saws ever. I wondered if it was a good idea to buy a secondhand one, but I thought twice after some of the horror stories I heard. But the major question on my mind was, why are radial arm saws dangerous?
Radial arm saws are dangerous because the blade tends to get too much traction, grabs onto the material it’s cutting, and causes the saw to fly back. The kickback is unexpected, leading to severe injuries like losing a limb. Older versions are noted for injuries to the midsection of some users.
Radial arm saws were a staple in woodworking shops in the early years of power tools, but they had a major learning curve. I researched the dangers of these saws and saw that many people still use radial arm saws while others consider them dinosaurs. I decided to share what I found on why these saws are so dangerous.
Why Are Radial Arm Saws Dangerous?
The debate over the dangers of radial arm saws has been going on for years, with both sides making good points. The fact remains any saw can be dangerous, and radial arm saws are no exception. We will look at the radial arm saws’ evolution and the hazards it posed in the past, and if that is still the case today.
The History Of The Radial Arm Saw
The radial arm saw was invented by Raymond DeWalt in 1922 and was the primary saw used to cut long pieces of wood to size. That was until the introduction of the compound miter saw in 1970. It was mainly used to make bevel cuts, miter cuts, and cross-cuts, but it couldn’t make rip cuts.
Although the radial arm saw was used for decades, it was flawed because the design of the blade and arm created a blind spot when cutting bigger-sized materials and the blind spot led to many injuries. DeWalt stopped making their radial arm saw in 1988.
The blade tends to get too much traction and climbs the piece it cuts, leading to the saw flying back. The kickback can cause serious injuries. In the early years, some people sustained deep cuts to their midsection because they couldn’t see where the blade was cutting until it was too late.
These injuries included:
- Lacerations: jagged cuts that tear through the skin and underlying tissue.
- Avulsions: an injury that leaves a piece of skin or tissue, either partially or entirely torn away from the body.
- Amputations: When an entire body part is lost.
- Crushing injuries: when a body part is crushed between two objects.
- Fractures to fingers: when fingers are broken.
What Is A Radial Arm Saw Used For?
Essentially a radial arm saw was a circular saw mounted with a horizontal sliding arm. If you use a radial arm saw for cross-cutting, the timber remains stationary, and the arm and saw is pulled through the wood toward the user. You can adjust the angle of the blade to make various cuts.
Some radial arm saws can turn the blade parallel to the back fence for rip cuts. With a radial arm saw, you can make miter cuts, bevel cuts, cross-cuts, and rip cuts. It can also make dado cuts, tenons, mortises, taper cuts, and rabbets.
How The Radial Arm Saw Has Changed
We have looked at how a radial arm saw worked in the past; now, we can look at how the saw has improved and if there are new features to improve safety. Over time, the manufacture of radial arm saws dwindled. Today, only one company that manufactures this power saw, The Original Saw Co.
They added safety features like upper and lower blade guards, adjustable cross-cut stops, and automatic blade braking systems. They are mainly used commercially, but some original saws are still available on the secondhand market. The Original Saw Co. sells replacement parts for some of the original DeWalt radial arm saws.
Correct Protection You Need When Using A Radial Arm Saw
If you use a radial arm saw, you must use the correct PPE to help keep you safe. Here is the PPE you will need:
- Safety glasses
- Ear protection
- Safety shoed
- Dust mask
- Face shield
Things You Need To Remember When Using A Radial Arm Saw
When you intend to use a radial arm saw, you need to take some precautions; here are a few tips to help you:
- Read the owner’s manual carefully before you start.
- Learn the applications and limitations of the saw before use.
- Refer to general safety guides for working with power saws.
- Ensure you understand the instructions before using the saw; if you don’t, you should get advice from a professional.
Things Not To Do When Working With A Radial Arm Saw
If you are working with a radial arm saw, there are certain things you want to avoid doing like:
- Avoid cutting stock with foreign objects like stones, nails, or metal.
- Avoid cutting stock that has defects, knots, or splits.
- Avoid using a radial arm saw for ripping unless the riving knife (the spreader) and the anti-kickback devices are provided and properly installed.
- Avoid taking your hand off the operating handle unless the cutting blade (head) is behind the fence.
- Avoid using damaged or dull blades.
- Avoid wearing jewelry, loose clothing, neckties, or work gloves that can become entangled in the moving parts of the saw.
- Avoid leaving a running radial arm saw unattended.
- Avoid cutting “free-hand”; you need to use the fence or back guide to keep the workpiece still while cutting.
- Avoid taking any piece off of the table before the saw is back in its resting position at the back of the saw table.
Radial arm saws like all saws are dangerous. While they have made many improvements to the radial arm saw over the years, it does pose dangers. The manufacture of radial arm saws is in decline, and the production may completely stop one of these days.
There is only one company that produces radial arm saws in the U.S today, so you might only find one secondhand, or you will pay a hefty price for a new one from The Original Saw Co. It’s essential to take all the proper precautions to keep safe, like using PPE and following the manual when using any power saw.