Radial Arm Saw Vs. Miter Saw

by Joost Nusselder | Updated on:  March 21, 2022
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Some will say that the Radial arm saw is a thing of the past. It had its day, and it served us well. However, the technologies of the new era have left it obsolete. But is it really so? Is the Radial arm saw actually as redundant as they say?

Let’s put the tool side by side with a modern-day tool, the miter saw, and see the comparison, radial arm saw vs. miter saw. In all honesty, The radial arm saw has been around for quite a while.

The woodworkers of the 90s and early 2000s have been fond of this tool. That’s because the tool is very versatile, and it is that much useful. It is highly customizable, and it can perform many tasks that a miter saw can. Excelling the miter saw in some cases even. Radial-Arm-Saw-Vs.-Miter-Saw

However, A miter saw does provide a handful of advantages. It has to, right? I mean, when you want to push someone already established and make room for yourself, you have to put something special on the table. So, how did the miter saw nearly replace the radial arm saw? Let’s dive deep into the answer.

What Is A Miter Saw?

I’m sure most of the woodworkers and even enthusiasts have come across a miter saw at some point. A miter saw is a power tool (here are all the types and uses) that specializes in, well… miter cuts, as well as bevel cuts. Both single vs double bevel miter saws are available in the market.

The saw usually sits on a table and is controlled with a handle. The saw can move up and down. The workpiece is usually set on the table beforehand, and the blade is lowered on the workpiece. That’s the gist of it.

Some miter saws allow you to make bevel cuts in one or even two sides. A few advanced saws have a slide that lets the blade and the motor slide forward and backward, essentially increasing the zone of access.

The tool with all its set-up is pretty compact. It can be tucked in a corner when not in use, and it only takes about a couple of minutes to get it ready and functional.


What Is A Radial Arm Saw?

This item is somewhat harder to come by nowadays. Basically, a radial arm saw is a bigger and bulkier version of the miter saw. However, they are not exactly the same thing. On a radial arm saw, the arm/blade and the motor stays in position while operating. The workpiece is moved across the table.

Where the blade will be situated and at what angle, you need to program that beforehand, prior to inserting the workpiece. A radial arm saw is highly customizable and offers a wide range of operations like rip cuts, miter cuts, bevel cuts, dadoing, and similar cuts.

However, there are a few notable points that effectively pushed back the radial arm saw from the meta. It lacks a few safety measures that modern tools offer. Since the blade is prepositioned, you need to be accurate before you start operating. Otherwise, it’ll cost you the piece that you’ve been working on.

So, the question remains, how is it if we put a miter saw next to a radial arm saw? How do they compare? It is about time…


Similarities Between A Radial Arm Saw And A Miter Saw

As the two tools are of the same category, a miter saw, and a radial arm saw have quite a lot in common.

  • For starters, both of the tools are used for more or less the same purpose. Cutting wood, shaping workpieces, and making good things happen.
  • Cross-cut, miter cut, bevel cut, or even compound miter-bevel cut are the strong suit for a miter saw, which is also achievable by a radial arm saw.
  • The operation and maintenance of the two tools are fairly close to each other.
  • With proper customization, A radial arm saw can handily cut through nearly any type of wood, even some relatively softer metal. As long as you use the right blade, a miter saw can also do the same.

Differences Between A Radial Arm Saw And A Miter Saw

As much as they are similar to each other, there are a few significant differences.

  • Operation

For starters, The blade of a radial arm saw is stationary. You need to set it in the right position before operating. This gives the saw and the blade more stability but less control overall.

A miter saw blade (these are great by the way!), on the other hand, is directly controlled by you the whole time. Thus, if you suddenly feel unsatisfied, you can stop at any moment without risking ruining the whole piece. A miter saw offers more preciseness overall, as well as more control, but at the cost of some degree of stability.

  • Advantages Of A Miter Saw

The miter saw specializes in making miter and bevel cuts. They are as easy as a simple crosscut with a miter saw. They are also doable with a radial arm saw, but it takes quite an effort for this.

  • Advantages Of A Radial Arm Saw

A radial arm saw can do rip cuts on a board as easily as a crosscut. However, it is pretty dang hard, if not impossible to do, with a miter saw. A rip cut is to split a board in two, along with its length.

  • Workable Materials

A radial arm saw is a fair bit stronger than a miter saw. This has to do with the bigger size and weight of the machine. This allows a radial arm saw to work with tougher materials than a miter saw can, such as thicker planks, harder metal.

However, it also limits a radial arm saw from working on a few items. A miter saw works well on softwood, some semi-soft hardwood, ceramic, softer metals, plyboard, hardboard, and plastic.

A radial arm saw works well on almost all types of wood, also considerably thicker planks, soft metals, and plyboard. (no hardboard, ceramic, or plastic)

  • Designing

Dadoing and Rabetting is another factor differentiating between the two. A radial arm saw is a pro at doing these cuts. But it is next to impossible for a miter saw.

  • Safety

One big feature that a miter saw offers and a radial arm saw lacks is safety. Almost all miter saw models have a built-in blade guard that automatically moves out of the saw when operating and gets back to cover the blade when not. A radial arm saw does not have such dedicated safety features.

  • Size

A radial arm saw is significantly bigger in size compared to a miter saw. This allows more space and freedom on the worktable but demands a bigger footprint on the workshop. A miter saw is much more compact and easily portable.

  • Ease Of Set Up

Setting up a radial arm saw is also considerably tedious when compared to a miter saw. It takes time and effort to set up and calibrate a radial arm saw. A miter saw is simply ‘plug and play’.

Last Words

More or less, all the operations that a miter saw is capable of can be performed with a radial arm saw as well. So, why did we need a newer tool? Because of two simple yet significant drawbacks.

The first one being portability. A radial arm saw is not easily portable, which is a tough thing to deal with when you need to move it or reorganize the workshop.

Another big issue is safety—the stronger blade and powerful motor bite back. I mean figuratively and literally. It had a tendency of biting, especially when the blade gets jammed.

However, by no means, a radial arm saw is completely a thing of the past. It may not be at its former glory, but still useful, nonetheless.

I'm Joost Nusselder, the founder of Tools Doctor, content marketer, and dad. I love trying out new equipment, and together with my team I've been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with tools & crafting tips.