Radial Arm Saw vs Miter Saw: Which is Better?

black radial arm saw

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For a power tool beginner, choosing between radial arm saw and miter saw options can be tough. Although these are two of the most versatile tools in the industry, we can’t deny that they have different cutting capabilities suited for different projects. 

In this radial arm saw vs. miter saw comparison test, we’ll determine which of these power saws can offer a better woodworking experience. 

Comparison Chart: Miter Saw and Radial Arm Saw

  Radial Arm
Saw
Miter Saw
Cuts Miter cuts, rip cuts,
compound cuts,
cross cuts, bevel cuts
Miter cut, bevel cut, compound cut, and cross-cut
Advantages

Produces cross-cut precisely

Includes safety features

Capable of ripping cuts

Relatively easier to use

Higher cutting depth

Good for repeated precise cuts

Disadvantages

Less accuracy when cutting 

Limited cut variations

Safety concerns for newbies

Not suitable for thick pieces 

Its construction is too light

More expensive than some power tools

Versatility Trimming & angular Trimming & angular 
Saw Blade Straight cut saw blade Fixed pivotal saw blade
Blade Diameter 12-22 inches 8-12 inches
Cutting Capacity Powerful cutting depth Not for cutting thick wood
Portability No Yes
Safety Mechanism Minimal safety specifications Side Fence & Blade Guard
Applications Carpentry/Woodworking Crown molding, trimming wood pieces, framing
Precision Less accurate  Accurate cuts 

Key Differences Between Radial Arm Saws and Miter Saws

Cutting Depth

Although both miter and radial arm saws offer adequate cutting capacity, the latter has a design that can handle thicker wood. You may not know, but even modern miter saws are more suited for cutting smaller pieces. 

Cuts

Besides cutting thicker lumber, professionals seek radial arm saws because they offer more versatility. While a miter saw can produce basic cuts, a radial saw can do a wide range of cuts from bevels and miter angles to ripping. 

Portability

Based on our team’s first-hand experience, radial arm saws are heavier than miter saw options. Because of this, miter saws offer more portability in the workshop. 

setting up miter saw

Precision

While it’s true that a radial arm saw is more versatile, the latter is still more precise in repeated angled cuts. Its lighter design makes its circular blade capable of moving in different directions.

What is a Miter Saw?

Generally, a miter saw is considered one of the best power tools for precise angular and cross cuts. It has a circular blade mounted on its frame and a hinged arm that explains its impressive user control and accuracy. 

Compound

You can tell you’re using a compound miter saw when its saw blade can be pivoted from left to right. 

Dual Compound

Like the previous variation, a dual compound miter saw lets you tilt the blade left and right. However, the only difference is users can do bevel cuts from any cutting angle.

operating a sliding miter saw

Sliding Compound

As for sliding compound miter saws, their sliding arm allows forward and backward action. Because of this, sliding miter options are suitable for longer wood materials.

What are the Uses of Miter Saws?

Miters

Miter cuts are great for carving corners, so creating door frames and boxes should be easy for this type of power tool.

Crosscuts

Since it has a circular saw blade just like the skilsaw and circular saw, users can make cross-cuts faster without the need for clamps. 

Bevels

Having an angular blade meant that a miter saw could execute an automatic bevel. With this, you can select your desired angle with no hassle. 

adjusting miter saw to make a bevel cut

Compound Cut

It’s a combination of bevel and miter cuts, and you can rely on it for projects like crown wood moldings.

Key Features of a Miter saw

Pros

Precision

Because of its blade’s diameter, accuracy is guaranteed during the cutting operations.

More Room for Customization

Since it can do basic cuts at different angles, making customized cuts isn’t impossible to achieve.

making a bevel cut on a miter saw

Equipped with More Safety Features

Miter saws offer safety gear options like a fence, guard, and dust collection mechanism.

Cons

Less Power

Miter options are equipped with engines with less power, so they can’t handle thicker material as a table saw and radial arm saw options can. 

Not Much Variety of Cuts

Typical miter options only offer four cut types. If you need more, we suggest opting for its variations.

What is a Radial Arm Saw?

Like its alternative, a radial arm option includes a power circular saw blade that’s placed on a mechanical arm. Its long arm can also be adjusted to multiple angles, but its biggest perk is its blade size which ranges up to 22 inches. 

RIGID radial arm saw

Are Radial Arm Saws Obsolete?

No, radial arm saw options are not yet obsolete. However, they’re not as popular as lightweight power tools like miter and table saws which dominate today’s market. 

What are the Uses of Radial Arm Saws?

Crosscuts

This type of saw can do cross-cuts, but you’ll have to mark exact wood measurements for better results. 

Miters, Bevels, and Compound Cuts

Similar to miter models, it can produce basic cuts. However, radial arm saws lack measurement indications. 

Dadoes and Rabbets

These power tools can make perfect L-shaped and U-shaped cuts, which means they can be handy for projects that need dadoes and rabbets.

Ripping

Because radial saws have blade rotation, adjustable height, and lock features, making rip cuts in thick pieces won’t be a problem.

radial arm saw

Key Features of a Radial Arm Saw

Pros

Cutting Depth

Above all else, its blade’s size range allows radial saws to have higher cutting depth than their alternatives. 

Versatile

Its ripping and cutting capacity is highly owed to its versatile blade rotation feature.

Smaller Than Table Saw

Unlike other powered tools, it has a compact design, so it doesn’t take too much storage space.

black radial arm saw

Cons

Less Precision

It takes time to get used to, making it less precise and not beginner-friendly.

Less Safety Features

As it lacks portability, this tool is more susceptible to accidents. 

What to Look for in a Radial Arm Saw or a Miter Saw

Power

The power of your cutting tool signifies its cutting capacity. It depends per model, but you can check it in the saw’s specifications. 

Blades

Professionals often opt for radial arm saw options because they have blade sizes ranging up to 22 inches. Meanwhile, miter blades are only up to 12 inches, which are perfect for intricate cuts. 

person operating a radial arm saw

Safety Features

Many people consider radial arm saws dangerous as they don’t offer tool safety[1] features like miter options. We recommend reading safety tips if you really need to buy a radial arm saw.

Accuracy

 If you’re making repeated cuts, accuracy is important for the power saw you’ll purchase. 

Brand

Power saw features could differ per brand, so buying ones that offer more safety and convenience is better.

FAQ

How can you cut more accurately with a radial arm saw?

You can cut more accurately with radial arm saws if you use a template for repeated cuts.

Will I need a radial arm saw if I already have a miter saw?

Yes, you will. Although miter saws are great with precision, there are thicker materials that only table and radial saws can handle.

Is a radial arm saw dangerous?

If not properly used, radial arm saws can be dangerous. Furthermore, their safety guards aren’t widely available in the market.

Conclusion

As we conclude the miter saw vs. radial arm saw evaluation, our resident woodworkers remind you that your purchasing decision should still depend on the overall project requirement. 

If you need more versatility, radial models are your solution. But if you’re a beginner looking for portability, the miter saw is for you.

Robert Johnson is a woodworker who takes joy in sharing his passion for creating to the rest of the world. His brainchild, Sawinery, allowed him to do so as well as connect with other craftsmen and women. He has since built an enviable workshop for himself and an equally impressive online accomplishment: an extensive resource site serving old timers and novices alike.
Robert Johnson

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