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Miter Saw vs Radial Arm Saw – Which One Is Better?

miter saw vs radial arm saw

Cutting is as essential for construction as hammering and drilling, so having the right tool for the job makes a big difference in effectiveness, efficiency, professional work, and sound assembly. However, when it comes to cutting there are lots of choices of what to work with. There are plenty of automatic blade tools as well, so which saw works better for larger jobs?

Two saws come into mind right away for wood construction professionals: the radial arm saw vs miter saw. That said, they are not the same, and both the radial saw vs miter provide very different advantages for how they work and what can be cut with them.

As a beginner builder and woodworker, it’s very easy to confuse the Radial Arm saw vs Miter saw together as power tools. After all, they both work on a table and have very easy, effective ability in cutting wood and other building materials. That said, the woodworking job is often the dictator of the tools that need to be used, not the other way around. For general woodworking construction, miter saws are probably the best general saw approach for a majority of work. It has a higher safety aspect in operation, and provides every major angle needed in cutting, and it can be quick, precise and easy to work with as a power tool. That said, Miter saws don’t do well with big wood pieces. The Radial saw can cut stronger and becomes the master power tool in this regard, often working better for larger pieces that also need precise cutting in an efficient manner as well. Here’s how the two work out in woodworking practice.

radial arm saw

The Miter Saw

The Miter saw works extremely well for short, quick woodworking cuts that need to be made with different angles. No surprise, Miter saws are a favorite tool for workers who deal with a lot of small size wood pieces that need to be cut frequently different ways. Baseboard and crown molding are great examples of this kind of work. Miter saws sit on a small table, and the miter saw itself rotates in different directions on a circular pattern than can be locked. The saw can also be angled in shallow or deep measurements for different cutting results. Because Miter saws can be controlled with precision, it is ideal for small, delicate cuts that require gentle work versus hard, blunt cuts in wood. Many have found that the Miter saw and its swing arm are excellent for notching, slits, and lots of repeat work, like fence boards. The overall blade diameter on the saw ranges from a small size of 8 inches to larger 12 inch version.

Most Miter saws have a blade guard that surround the blade at all times except when it is directly cutting. The blade guard also helps trap dust creation from a saw as well as keep the spinning blade separate from any exposure to hands or arms. The saw rotation ability also helps the positioning, and the Miter saw is often adjusted, locked in place, cut, and then the saw is repositioned again.

Types of Miter Saws

Miter saws come with three big categories of variation:

·       Compound Miter saws allow the blade to be relocated left or right. Compound cuts are particularly useful in advanced projects for woodworkers. Compound saws do take some practice to work with.

·      The Dual Compound Miter saw enhances the ability to make bevel cuts while also moving left or right.

·       The Sliding Compound Miter saw adds two more movement directions with forward and backward as well as left and right. This saw version is probably the most complicated of Miter saws but most capable to work with by woodworkers.

Types of Cuts with a Miter Saw

Cross-cutting with a Miter saw

The common cut method of wood with a Miter saw is to cut against the grain. Known as cross-cuts, it breaks the fiber of wood the fastest and is the one people are most familiar with. The Miter saw is extremely effective in this setting, cutting downward into the wood with slight pressure, using speed to effect the cut versus cutting friction. The wood is put in place, lined up, and the Miter saw blade is turned on and lowered. As long as the miter cut blade is large enough for the wood piece, the cross cut is complete and smooth without splintering or fragmenting.

Saw Miter Cuts

The second cutting method is what the Miter saw is named after, miter cuts. Before electric-powered saws were created, hand-saws had to use pre-determined guides to keep hand-driven cuts applied in the correct direction. Even expert carpenters grow tired over time cutting the same cuts again and again, and miter blocks make the job easier and simpler. The Miter saws utilized this concept with pre-determined angle cuts that allow for quick sawing as needed. Applications are often seen in finished carpentry where wood pieces have to bind with each other or be “wrapped” around corners.

Saw Miter Bevel Cuts

The third method made possible with the Miter saw is the bevel cut. The bevel works very well when one wants multiple pieces of wood to fit together, like puzzle pieces that together form greater assemblies almost seamlessly.

miter saw

The Advantages in Using a Miter Saw

The benefits of the Miter saw are multiple but most effective in how it can be used in short, frequent cutting. Other saws vs Miter saw advantages are limited. These Miter advantages include:

  • Multiple variations of cutting choices for woodworkers come with Miter saws.
  • Precision cuts in application and performance from saw Miter work.
  • Additional angles and saw movement depending on the type of Miter saw used.
  • The Miter saw has lots of safety blade guard additions and additions put in place to keep the woodworker separated from the saw at all times.

The Disadvantages

Miter saws can’t be used for every cutting need out there. They are handicapped when it comes to cuts that need to be applied in larger pieces of wood versus smaller. Handicaps include:

  • Being a weaker tool, the Miter saw does not work well with larger pieces of wood or much harder wood forms that required a strong saw to cut through. The miter saw can't match the higher cutting depth of other choices. But higher cutting depth doesn't work so well on delicate work, so there's a balance.
  • The Miter saw is limited in angles and approaches and does not have as much flexibility as the Radial arm saw in choices of cut directions. So the Miter saw not the best choice of a dado blade tool.

The Radial Arm Saw

The Radial Arm saw is a more traditional power arm saw that is also table-based. The arm saw can power through all types of wood, small or large, and it can be used in very small, tight spaces as well. The table and saw are essentially one unit as the blade cuts from beneath the wood instead of being lowered from above downward on the target wood piece. Radial Arm saws cut better than a jigsaw or portable power blade, and it can be positioned in different angles.

Radial Arm Saws Missing Safety Features

However, the Radial Arm saw is famous for its lack of safety in that the blade is upward and can become exposed to hands pushing the wood through the blade for the cut. Users are absolutely advised to wear leather gloves at all times with a Radial Arm saw, not because it will stop an injury but because the leather just might provide a split-second warning to pull back before the cut separates a finger or two with how fast the blade can move.

Saw vs Hardwood

The Radial Arm saw blade can easily make its way through thicker wood, with a blade diameter size ranging from 12 inches to as big as 22 inches, and half the blade being exposed above the table level to cut into the wood. The blades frequently need to be changed to keep them sharp as well. A dull blade on a Radial Arm saw will easily sink into wood instead of cutting it, flinging the board up and over and potentially causing projectile injury to someone as a result.

Application and Performance and Types of Cuts

Radial Arm saws provide a number of cutting options that can be useful with carpentry and construction projects, particularly when dealing with larger assemblies or the need for cutting through hardwood quickly. Flooring projects, framing, board and layering cuts and more are often applied with Radial Arm saws.

Crosscut Work

Crosscutting is quite possible with the Radial Arm saw vs Miter saw, just like any other arm saw out there. The difference with this Radial Arm tool is that the scale of what can be cut is far greater in size. One simply marks the wood where the arm saw cut needs to be, the pieces are lined up against the blade in a perpendicular position, and then with the Radial Arm saw is turned on and is pushed onto the wood until cut clean through by the arm saw.

Arm Saw vs Angle Cutting

Angle cuts are quite possible with the Radial Arm saw, but the open blade on the arm saw makes it much more dangerous to work with especially with a deeper cutting depth. It is technically possible to apply a miter or bevel cut to the wood as well as non-standard angles, but one has to keep the wood in place and cut carefully. Radial Arm saws can be locked in place, but the angling and application are not as accurate, which makes the Radial Arm saw tool far more challenging to work with on smaller pieces of wood versus bigger ones.

Saw Radial Arm Ripping

Radial Arm saws are very good for ripping similar to a table saw vs miter use, which essentially involves taking larger pieces of wood and bringing them down to size that can be used for smaller work and specific job applications. However, unlike cross-cutting, the separation with Radial Arm saw rip cuts is with the grain of the wood instead. This can be risky however as the wood can involve the blade until it’s too late. The saw can cut quickly before one realizes what is happening. There's less application of a Radial Arm blade guard. Many use another piece of waste wood to push the target piece through the blade and avoid risk of contact altogether.

The Advantages of the Radial Arm Saw

There is no question that the Radial Arm saw is designed and works best in heavy-duty application. It’s strengths include:

  • An industrial-level cutting ability that can go through thick pieces of wood without issue as well as make short work of hardwood pieces that can dull weaker saws. The cut depth is hard to beat.
  • The flexibility of the Radial Arm makes it a go-to saw for cutting where a variety of angles are needed, especially non-traditional cuts.
  • The Radial Arm saw can be used in tight quarters and does not need a separate table to be based on.

Disadvantages of the Radial Arm Saw vs Miter Saw

The disadvantages of the Radial Arm saw include:

  • A lack of accuracy and fine application so it cannot be applied to work requires precise, finished cuts of small size and detailed application. For example, it's going to be hard to apply bevel cuts.
  • The Radial Arm saw tool vs miter choices has less safety features as a table saw, making it riskier to work with. Injuries can be far more severe with the Radial Arm saw as a result, so people need to apply greater care in its use, especially when dealing with extended cuts such as those involved in ripping.
  • There are less additional features on Radial Arm saw choices like dust collection or blade guard buffers.

Always Do Research on the Radial Arm Saw vs Miter Saw Before Buying

When choosing a saw power tool, always make sure to research the tools and what you expect to do in terms of work and cutting. Ask a question or two. Confirm the ease of use. Don’t dive in to buy a saw right off the bat. You could end up stuck with the wrong saw tool and have to buy a second one. Not that having both is necessarily bad, but if you’re on a budget, it’s spending more money on qualifying purchases than necessary. Once you have the saw, don’t just dive into cutting. 

Read the saw manual and go through the set up slowly. Run a few test cuts to make sure everything is working as well. Different brands of Radial Arm saw products and miter saws operate slightly different from each other. Saw options are not all identical. When operating any saw type, make sure to use protective gloves and eye goggles, especially with angle cuts. It might seem like overkill but it is not. Believe it or not, a simple splinter flying off can hit your eye and cause a serious injury. Use the correct circular blade for your equipment and always clean up after turning everything off and use. By protecting your saw equipment you protect yourself.
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