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Thread: Radial Arm Saw in Timber Framing

  1. #1
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    Radial Arm Saw in Timber Framing

    I am in the process of planning a smedium covered porch for the front of my ranch house. Add some curb appeal for the future sale and cover packages when they are delivered. I am interested in trying my hand at timber framing, and this seems like a great opportunity. This is my general design of what i want to do. Im thinking about having a timberframe design service draw it up and send me plans, but it most likely wont be constructed using huge timbers. These are currently drawn as 6x6s, i think. I would rather add more timbers to add more visual complexity rather than use four 8x8s or 10x10s. With 6x6s in mind, i started to think would it be beneficial to pickup a large RAS that could cut a 6x6 in one pass? It would also have the capability of running a dado head for tenons. Specifically, there is a Dewalt GE in my area. This is a 16-20" saw.

    In my searches, some timber framers suggest a RAS is not that useful. This question was posed at general timber framing, and most pros suggested anything other than the largest RAS's wouldnt be beneficial. Too difficult to move the 12"+ beams to the saw, rather than the saw to the timber. Also, these large beams are often not perfectly true and square, which means referencing them properly for cuts on an RAS isnt ideal. Finally, no RAS can cut 10x10 or even 8x8 to my knowledge. In my case, the 16"+ saw could cut a 6x6 perfectly. I also see some benefit to cutting tenons with a stop block and a RAS.

    Seem worthwhile to pick up a single phase Model GE, or do it the old fashion way with a circular saw/ryoba and chisels?
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  2. #2
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    I grew up in the midwest and made barns and homes with a medium sized crew. A radial arm saw was our tool of choice, but it was a beast. It was a 16" Comet, and towed by a trailer. I occasionally see these on Craigslist and eBay and it gives me fond memories. I would also consider a chain mortiser. A band saw with some large infeed and outfeed tables would also be a tool of choice.

    However, this is really an area where hand tools rule. A good 12p crosscut Disston, some large chisels (including some mortise chisels), a No. 7 Stanley plane, and a spokeshave will serve you well.
    Regards,

    Tom

  3. #3
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    I cut some joints this winter, I brought in an 8x8 and 16 feet of 4x8 just to give it a try. Timbers, in my limited experience, are not square and keep moving. Once you have a straight arris with a perpendicular face and edge you can do your layout. Those suckers are heavy with any kind of length on them.

    My most used tools were a circular saw, 8 point crosscut, 5 point rip, 1.5 inch chisel, slick, framing square, pencil and marking knife, 3 pound mallet and a scrub plane. Auger.

    I did use a Jack plane to take down some of the roughness left by the scrub on exposed interior surfaces, sky is the limit for cosmetics.

    I have found practice to be invaluable. Next up for me is going to be a 1:8 scale model of the shed I want to build, probably next winter. You might try a model in 4x4, but leave a lot of the length out while keeping all the joints. If you buy untreated 4x4 the pieces can go in your fire pit after.

    Good luck.

  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by Patrick Kane View Post
    I am in the process of planning a smedium covered porch for the front of my ranch house. Add some curb appeal for the future sale and cover packages when they are delivered. I am interested in trying my hand at timber framing, and this seems like a great opportunity. This is my general design of what i want to do. Im thinking about having a timberframe design service draw it up and send me plans, but it most likely wont be constructed using huge timbers. These are currently drawn as 6x6s, i think. I would rather add more timbers to add more visual complexity rather than use four 8x8s or 10x10s. With 6x6s in mind, i started to think would it be beneficial to pickup a large RAS that could cut a 6x6 in one pass? It would also have the capability of running a dado head for tenons. Specifically, there is a Dewalt GE in my area. This is a 16-20" saw.

    In my searches, some timber framers suggest a RAS is not that useful. This question was posed at general timber framing, and most pros suggested anything other than the largest RAS's wouldnt be beneficial. Too difficult to move the 12"+ beams to the saw, rather than the saw to the timber. Also, these large beams are often not perfectly true and square, which means referencing them properly for cuts on an RAS isnt ideal. Finally, no RAS can cut 10x10 or even 8x8 to my knowledge. In my case, the 16"+ saw could cut a 6x6 perfectly. I also see some benefit to cutting tenons with a stop block and a RAS.

    Seem worthwhile to pick up a single phase Model GE, or do it the old fashion way with a circular saw/ryoba and chisels?
    Hi Patrick, I'm a timber framer and in the process of rebuilding my Wadkin 18" cross cut saw that is capable of cross cutting 33", 5.5" deep, pivots 45deg one way and 60deg the other way and has a canting head up to 45deg. It also has a long arbour capable of accepting moulding heads. An immensely capable machine, but I will only be using it for braces, struts, decorative teasle tenons, and small members for smaller structures. It, along with many other woodworking tools, requires that at least two faces mate up perfectly with the saw table - the bed and the fence. Typically you won't have perfect timbers even if you could (and wanted to!) muscle them up onto the table. The smaller members I can joint and plane to make them perfectly square and thus suitable for the RAS, or mitre saw, spindle moulder, slider etc. The rest of the timbers are worked on the horses with a combination of hand and portable power tools.

    That said it looks like your design incorporates a good number of smaller members and provided you can joint them you might find you could make use of it. I wouldn't go for a GE model as the ways are not serviceable without machine shop work. I'd suggest something like a delta with replaceable guide rails or a Wadkin Bursgreen BRA model.

    As any questions you'd like along the way, I'm happy to help!

    B

  5. #5
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    The guy who built my timber frame just used a 16" circular saw for cutting beams. Maikita makes them.

  6. #6
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    Yep, they are called Beam Saws, and I see on them Craigslist frequently for $250 or so.
    Regards,

    Tom

  7. #7
    The big Makita sidewinder is the most common tool for cutting beams in my experience. Prazi makes an attachment for worm drive saws that's looks like a small chainsaw bar, but I think the big Makita sidewinder is easier to make precise cuts with. Plus, the Prazi is, if I recall, more oriented to just through cuts, not cutting tenons. The Makita sidewinder adjusts for depth of cut just like a normal circular saw.

    That said, if I were going to buy a specialty tool for this job, I'd be thinking more about the mortising than the sawing. Makita makes a chain mortiser that's a huge time saver; if you could pick up a used one for a reduced price, I'd go there. With 6x6 members, you can cut almost all the way through with a 7.25" circular saw, which I'm guessing you have, and just finish the last bit with a hand saw if needed. A 7.25" cuts more than deep enough to make shoulder cuts on tenons. If it's not deep enough to make the cheek cuts, you can make a series of cross cuts and pare to the line with a timberframing chisel.

    Unless you just want the RAS in general, or one falls in your lap, I wouldn't bother, especially for just this one little job. I think the chain mortiser will resell more easily too if you don't intend to keep it past this one job.

    Unrelated to your question -- I don't know what climate you live in, but I would strongly reconsider protruding rafter tails. Substantial maintenance hassle, even if they're capped with copper or whatever -- just another place for moisture to sit. You can still have decorative tails while keeping them under the roof.

    My $0.02.

    Dave

  8. #8
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    I have a Prazi saw attachment for my circular saw. It's a very crude saw. I needed it for cutting the foam panels for the exterior timber frame walls. It's at best a small step up from a chainsaw, not much more. I wouldn't use one to cut beams.

  9. #9
    Most timber framing involves portable tools, whether powered or not, as material handling is such an issue with typically green material. Even with 6x6's it would be considerable work to position the material accurately on a radial saw table. Stationary tools come into play for braces and the like. My son is a timber framer by trade, and pretty much all the joinery is done with hand-held circular saws (up to 16"), a chain mortiser and a router for housings, plus hand tools for fitting and cleanup.

  10. #10
    You might not need a big radial arm saw for this project.......but that doesn't mean you don't need a big radial arm saw at all.

  11. #11
    I'm a timber framer (worked in a production shop for several years) and I agree with much of what has been said so far. Perfectly square timbers along their entire length and on 2 adjacent faces that you want them to be on are practically non existent and spending the time milling them to such a state is most of the time a bit of a fools errand as the timber will likely move enough in time to thwart your efforts. The RAS is not the tool for most timber work, except for, as Brent suggested, smaller brace type stock that has been jointed and can be lifted and moved around fairly easily.

    If you're looking to tool up for some relatively efficient timber framing, I'd suggest the following: mortising machine (the makita is the most available and cost effective but the Mafell is a dream machine that is worth the cost for production work or any kind), at least a 10 1/4" circ saw, but that size + a 16 5/16" beam saw and a regular 7 1/4" saw is a really versatile combo for crosscutting and joinery work, plunge router with a mortising bit, Sharp and long chisels (1 1/2" and 2" are good sizes), a trusty mallet, 300mm Ryoba, fine string/ink lines, a couple of reliable framing squares, stout sawhorses that you can build a bit lower to accomodate a more comfortable working height with taller timbers. You might also do some quality reading on different lay out methods (square rule, centerline) and practice a bit with each as they both have their place depending on different scenarios. Timber framing is all about layout and the work will suffer without doing it deliberately and confidently.

    You will also need to consider the space where you will work on the timbers as you start with lay out, cutting, any type of pre-assembly (not necessary, but always recommended when possible) and if you want to do any pre-finishing before raising. You will also want to consider how you physically will get the timbers into place during the raising. Timber framing can present some interesting physics and spatial challenges that are fascinating and frustrating at the same time. I have done smaller raisings all by hand (with at least a couple or three bodies), medium scale stuff with a telehandler/boom forklift, and several large (full house) type frames with a crane and a 4-6 man crew scrambling to keep up.

    It's super satisfying work that you will likely always be proud of if you take your time with the design and think it through before you execute.

    Looking at your design, the only thing that makes me scratch my head a bit is the flat 2x6 members running perpendicular to the rafters but under them? I would instead consider moving them either above the rafters or notch the tops of the rafters to let them in. Remember that you just because you can draw an elephant in the closet doesn't mean that it's physically possible or a good idea to actually try it. I'd say that paying a relatively small price for a pro timber shop to do some drawings for you that are ideally stamped by an engineer is absolutely worth it. You should ask if they could provide "shop drawings" with it that is basically a full page drawing per stick of wood that shows all dimensions, joinery, quantity, etc. This can be done easily in conjunction with timber frame CAD software and is worth a great deal.

    There are other points I could make about this particular type of application (timber frame roofed structure tying into entry of an existing house) like the importance of establishing a solid connection between the plates/beams and the existing house as well as the connection at the post bottoms to prevent uplift, not wick water through the end grain, and still look elegant...but we can save that for another post if you're interested. Hope this helps.

    Keep us posted on how this develops!

    Here’s a few random photos of a few of the many timber projects I’ve been a part of, just so you know I’m not blowing hot air
    Last edited by Phillip Mitchell; 05-07-2020 at 10:29 PM.
    www.stillwaterwoodworks.com

  12. #12
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    I keep doing this where i start a thread and then disappear for a few days. First, thanks for all the input. I am glad I asked the question. I understand the futility of using a stationary tool on timbers seen in Phillip's excellent examples, but it seems im also ignorant of the trueness of beams off the sawmill. I hoped to get the timbers from the mill and try to finalize all the joinery in 7-9 days before the beams moved too too much. It sounds like that might be wishful thinking. I have pretty large stationary machines that i could easily joint and plane the 6x6s to be perfect, but it would be a fair amount of labor. I just did about 20 dry 4x4s that were 9-10' long over the weekend. They had quite a bit of twist or bow in them, and it was really a pain. I started with close to 4" square, and ended up around 3.25" square. This material is a poor example--they were almost free, most likely dried in the worst manner possible, and not stored much better--but to move a 6x6 beam through machines 4-8 passes, and then do that 30 odd times would be a lot of labor. Labor im happy to do if it means perfectly flush joinery and simple layout, but ive seen how much 'dry' milled lumber can move in the coarse of weeks.

    This is the front porch that i liked and wanted to emulate. It looks like its not a traditional timberframe, I see a lot of metal fasteners. Phillips examples are fantastic, but that size and scale wouldnt translate well to my tiny project. That is why i liked the look of smaller timbers in greater quantities. My sketchup model was only to cycle through about 20 different iterations of size and scale with my wife to settle on something close to send to someone to finalize. Im guessing i will need to think enough to build the thing from plans, let alone design it correctly and then build what may be an improper design.

    Closing thoughts on tools. The RAS is single phase and $500. I always envisioned having a big RAS as my rough chop saw when i have more space one day, but i dont know if i want one long term where i currently am. For the life of me, i cannot find used chain mortisers. I remember a makita or two on ebay over the winter, but at $1200, i might as well have purchased new. In general, i dont see many used timber framing specific tools for sale too often. I search nationally quite a bit for everything from wadkin saws(still looking for a PK or PK-F to work on) to timber framing tools. Ideally equipping yourself for these jobs can be quite the investment given the price of a chain mortiser, 6-12" hand planer, portable bandsaw, and large circular saw. Thats why i considered the RAS. For $500, if it made my cutting to size and tenoning life easier, then it would be worth it. I dont know if it makes sense to spend $1500-2,000 on portable tools i wont use for a long time afterwards. My current portable tool lineup pales in comparison to my stationary shop. In the field i have a $15 craigslist ryobi circular saw and a 12" dewalt non-sliding miter saw, where as in the shop i have a 20" italian jointer, Felder 700 slider. I have a 3" slick, 4" slick, and new 1.5" barr chisel, and while i theretically do not need more than i have, i also dont want to kneecap myself on what will already be a new and demanding challenge. I need to rethink ponying up a couple grand for the right tools at the onset...
    Attached Images Attached Images

  13. #13
    Quote Originally Posted by Patrick Kane View Post
    I keep doing this where i start a thread and then disappear for a few days. First, thanks for all the input. I am glad I asked the question. I understand the futility of using a stationary tool on timbers seen in Phillip's excellent examples, but it seems im also ignorant of the trueness of beams off the sawmill. I hoped to get the timbers from the mill and try to finalize all the joinery in 7-9 days before the beams moved too too much. It sounds like that might be wishful thinking. I have pretty large stationary machines that i could easily joint and plane the 6x6s to be perfect, but it would be a fair amount of labor. I just did about 20 dry 4x4s that were 9-10' long over the weekend. They had quite a bit of twist or bow in them, and it was really a pain. I started with close to 4" square, and ended up around 3.25" square. This material is a poor example--they were almost free, most likely dried in the worst manner possible, and not stored much better--but to move a 6x6 beam through machines 4-8 passes, and then do that 30 odd times would be a lot of labor. Labor im happy to do if it means perfectly flush joinery and simple layout, but ive seen how much 'dry' milled lumber can move in the coarse of weeks.

    This is the front porch that i liked and wanted to emulate. It looks like its not a traditional timberframe, I see a lot of metal fasteners. Phillips examples are fantastic, but that size and scale wouldnt translate well to my tiny project. That is why i liked the look of smaller timbers in greater quantities. My sketchup model was only to cycle through about 20 different iterations of size and scale with my wife to settle on something close to send to someone to finalize. Im guessing i will need to think enough to build the thing from plans, let alone design it correctly and then build what may be an improper design.

    Closing thoughts on tools. The RAS is single phase and $500. I always envisioned having a big RAS as my rough chop saw when i have more space one day, but i dont know if i want one long term where i currently am. For the life of me, i cannot find used chain mortisers. I remember a makita or two on ebay over the winter, but at $1200, i might as well have purchased new. In general, i dont see many used timber framing specific tools for sale too often. I search nationally quite a bit for everything from wadkin saws(still looking for a PK or PK-F to work on) to timber framing tools. Ideally equipping yourself for these jobs can be quite the investment given the price of a chain mortiser, 6-12" hand planer, portable bandsaw, and large circular saw. Thats why i considered the RAS. For $500, if it made my cutting to size and tenoning life easier, then it would be worth it. I dont know if it makes sense to spend $1500-2,000 on portable tools i wont use for a long time afterwards. My current portable tool lineup pales in comparison to my stationary shop. In the field i have a $15 craigslist ryobi circular saw and a 12" dewalt non-sliding miter saw, where as in the shop i have a 20" italian jointer, Felder 700 slider. I have a 3" slick, 4" slick, and new 1.5" barr chisel, and while i theretically do not need more than i have, i also dont want to kneecap myself on what will already be a new and demanding challenge. I need to rethink ponying up a couple grand for the right tools at the onset...
    I personally think you can get great joy from completing a project like this with the tools you have available. Though it will certainly be slower, you might find the financial balance easier to swallow. You have a nice big jointer and I expect will be able to straighten a large portion of the timbers you have such that you could use your slider to accurately cut shoulders. Your bandsaw followed by a bearing guided template bit in the shaper would form the arches (this is how I do it) and a good quality drill bit coupled with someone to help with drill alignment would hog out the waste from your mortises for you. Your existing skil saw coupled with a sharp handsaw will cut cheeks and shoulders on timbers too large for your slider, and if you have imperfect timbers that can't be straightened, there are many techniques available to timber framers for this. I employ an approach that borrows from some old asian techniques that works very well for me. I did my best to describe this in a long and wordy YouTube video on my channel, I believe it's the shop build Part 7a.

    Your biggest time saver would indeed be the chain mortiser and if you find a used one, I expect you'll be able to resell it at the end of the project for as much as you paid for it. They are not the final step in mortising though. Most folks will leave a 1/16" for hand work anyway.

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by brent stanley View Post
    I did my best to describe this in a long and wordy YouTube video on my channel, I believe it's the shop build Part 7a.
    .

    I found your youtube channel, and ive only watched the first 3 videos. I am very much looking forward to an indepth explanation on layout and the different methods. Youtube can be awesome, and it is for a lot of things, but for some reason, timber framing is a void on Youtube. Really appreciate the time and effort to make the videos, i hope they are long-winded and detailed for the rest of the videos! I just said to Phillip in a PM that i would probably buy the Shelter Institute's online course for a few hundred, but $800+ for about 10 hours of video is a pretty steep price. They have to inflate it, im sure, to make sure they dont undercut their in-person classes. Anyway, look forward to watching the rest of the series, and thanks for making them.

  15. #15
    Quote Originally Posted by Patrick Kane View Post
    I found your youtube channel, and ive only watched the first 3 videos. I am very much looking forward to an indepth explanation on layout and the different methods. Youtube can be awesome, and it is for a lot of things, but for some reason, timber framing is a void on Youtube. Really appreciate the time and effort to make the videos, i hope they are long-winded and detailed for the rest of the videos! I just said to Phillip in a PM that i would probably buy the Shelter Institute's online course for a few hundred, but $800+ for about 10 hours of video is a pretty steep price. They have to inflate it, im sure, to make sure they dont undercut their in-person classes. Anyway, look forward to watching the rest of the series, and thanks for making them.

    Thank you for the kind words, and part of the reason I started down this path is to deal with the lack of in-depth YouTube content on timber framing. Part 7a is indeed pretty wordy but please ask any questions if anything is left unclear. When I get back to the next part, I'd like to offer clarifications for folks. Some people take naturally to working in 3D space, where others don't and I'm trying to find the balance! I'm familiar with Shelter Institute but I've never seen them deal with this aspect of things.

    B

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