I am shopping for a used Radial Arm Saw to set up for fret slotting, and other tasks. Looking for brand, model suggestions, info, input, experience, etc. Small foot print would be nice. Thanks, Tom

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Not intending to derail the topic by why a Radial Arm saw instead of a table saw?  I briefly owned a Radial Arm Saw for a while and never got comfortable with it simply because the blade moves, ripping material is more hazardous and there was more blade exposed than I needed.  On a table saw, the blade is always in the same place and I know where to not put my hands.  I really wanted to like it - particularly for precision cross cuts on wide stock but it didn't work out.

I love my Delta Table Saw.  Have had it since the mid 80's.  Setup checked once a year with dial indicator and master plate.  Have invested in a good fence and miter gage. It is a precision machine.

I'm with JR on this. The problem I've always had with Radial Arm Saws is keeping them accurate. There are a  lot of moving parts involved and I've never found them to be accurate enough that I'd want to use one for "fine" work. 

If you're set on not using a table saw. I would suggest that you look at some of the better compound, sliding miter saws.  I think you would probably have to invent a way to lock the blade height to make it work but they definitely take up much less room. 

Useful for cutting lumber to length, but they have mostly been replaced on construction sites with sliding miter saws.

Nothing it can do for a luthier that a table saw can't do better, more safely, and more accurately.

It's not the footprint of the radial arm saw that takes the space up, BTW.  It's the table, without which they are not very useful for anything.

There are usually 1-2 of them at the local weekly auction and they go for less than $20, and usually get thrown in with other items because no one wants them.  They are dangerous, and are now only made for professional use.  The used ones that are sought after are 12-16" blades with 3+ horsepower and are bought by commercial woodworking concerns.  We have 2 of the big ones at the tall ship boatyard that I volunteer in, and they are SCARY to operate.  Try a nice tablesaw.


It should also be mentioned that a couple of luthier supply shops sell blades and jigs for slotting fretboards with a table saw.

Thomas, I too had my heart set on getting one a few years back.

Thing was, I did not do my research, and actually bought one.

     I got a friend to show me all the ins and outs of the machine, but not before getting this statement from him " You bought WHAT???"      These machines are good for such a limited number of things, and even those things are quite dangerous to do.

It's way outdated tech, and should be relegated to the history books as an incredibly dangerous and badly thought out tool  that has no place in a modern shop. I used mine to rough cut lumber a number of times, and even after following all the safety guidelines my friend showed me, still had several kickbacks. The machine was quickly retired, and I sold the bloody thing right quick and at a loss. Good riddance to any machine as potentially life changing dangerous at these horrid antiques.  

Yeah, It's the only saw I ever used that required me to hold it back and pull it forward at the same time. 

Thanks everyone. I appreciate your responses. I have a 'Skil-Saw' table saw. The unfortunate thing is that it uses T shaped slots for the miter square. Making it difficult to easily rig jig sleds. My focus is repair work. The table saw has not been a main tool thus far. However, I am tooling up to build guitars of my own design. What prompted my inquiry was this video of John Greven:

The common low price of the Radial saw is what attracted me to the idea. A fret slotting station is my main goal. Maybe I should reconsider a better table saw? ... Recalculating. Thanks again for your time. Tom

Thomas - thank you for having an awesome attitude!  You are a consistently positive contributor to this forum and it shows in your posts.

My Delta also has a tee shaped miter saw slot but that does not prevent one from creating jigs and sleds.  If you make the guide bars the same with as the narrow portion of the tee slot, they will track just fine.  I have panel cross cutting (home made)jigs, Tenon jigs (commercial designs), etc that I have used for years.  As long as the tee slots in the table are cut true and are of consistent width you should get good results.

On a table saw, the most used fixtures are the fence and miter gage.  I use a Delta Unifence with a Peachtree Woodworking beam (original damaged by....  apparently, my 3 pound Yorkie who has a vertical jump of over 3 feet...  LOL).   It has precision alignments for tilt (w/r to table) and parallelism to the blade.  It is equipped with "Board Buddy" rollers that help the workpiece track true to the fence and help prevent kickback.  An assortment of Featherboards (should have) , push sticks (must have) and auxiliary fences make precision rip cuts safe and sure.  My miter gage is a JDS.  It is rigid and rock stable but the shot pin alignment on this jig is not as precise as I would like.   If it is ever damaged, I'll probably purchase an Incra brand.

On the Table Saw, I'll offer that I built a lot of furniture and a few instruments using a direct drive 8" Black and Decker bargain saw.  On year, I used my bonus to upgrade to a Delta Contractor Saw in the late 80's and never regretted it.  Cast iron table, precision adjustments and plenty of cutting power.  That being said, the little B&D served well - the main difference is that I had to verify fence and miter alignment on every cut to achieve precise results. This is not necessary with the Delta.  When you can afford it, consider an upgrade and I would make this a priority before the upgraded fence and miter saw accessories described above.  With regard to brand, I like Jet , Delta makes a pretty good direct drive 10" saw sold through Lowes (wife's son has one) and I'm sure the other folks on this forum have other recommendations.

PLMK if I can help figuring out the jig designs.

Just a thought but if you're just starting to build from scratch, you probably won't be making a lot of fingerboards, at least for a while yet. Unless you are wanting to cut several different scales you might save yourself some time and trouble and purchase pre-cut FB. Actually, you probably would do fine with a manual fret saw and miter box setup until/unless you start needing a lot of fretboards. 

I like power tools but, sometimes, using a hand tool is more efficient. Going to the hassle of setting up a power saw and jigs to cut a few fretboards a year may not be worth the trouble.

Just something to think about.

No disrespect to Howard and the other, but I will gracefully disagree on the radial arm saw in a guitar shop. I have made over 700 necks and quite a few more loose fingerboards. Thank goodness for the radial arm saw. It may just be one of the most useful items in a workshop. It may not fit your particular style, but it's works well and once set up is as accurate as any other tool. Just like any tool, as long as you don't jar or relocate it, it will stay true. I had a dedicated Raidial arm saw for fret slots. With the smaller diameter blade (from high mountain) the guard cover the blade nicely and safely. In my case, all my fret slotting jigs had the a stew Mac template screwed to the bottom. I could place a neck or fretboard into the jig and have it completely slotted in less than a minute. All the time with a clear view of the blade and my work. Slotting on a table saw you loose visibility of the blade until it comes out on the other side of the wood. There are some clever safety tricks I have seen to avoid the dangers of this, but it does not change the fact that you can not see the cut until it's done. I've moved several times recently and sold my big tools and re-bought at new location. The first tool was the RA saw.

BTW, the also can be used as an Overhead pin router or shaper though the speed will have some restriction on what you can do with it.

If you chose to buy a used one, I would stay away from the older Craftsmen ones with the round knob on the front. The are more difficult to adjust. I like the older DeWalts 10" 1 or 2 horse units. But my dad has an 8" DeWalt with 1/2 horse motor that works great for guitar building too.


I have one.  All of the things others warned you about are true.  Been doing woodwork for many years and other than back problems, the worst injury I have had come from trying to rip some wood on my RAS.  It kicked the wood back and it hit me in the rib cage.  Hit me REALLY hard.  Thought I might have gotten a broken rib but it was only a bruise.

On the other hand, I have found one really good use.  I make mostly ukes and use the spanish toe/heal for the neck.  I use the RAS to cut the slot in the neck where the sides will be inserted.  I cut them at a slight angle (about 1 degree off 90) by using a small shim between the neck and the fence at the nut position.  I then reverse the neck to the other side and follow the same procedure.  The 1/8" kerf is a little wider than I need, but it gives me room to wiggle and then I shim the sides against the neck when gluing.

Other than than, I only use it for 90 degree cuts and never change any settings other than raising and lowering the cutting head apparatus.

Have fun, be safe!


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