Chop Saw vs. Radial Arm Saw: Which to Use?

Chop Saw vs. Radial Arm Saw: Which to Use?

Handyman's World is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

When it comes to carpentry, there is a variety of cutting tools that are often put to use. Yes, here we are talking about various types of saws. Specifically, today we are here to compare two types, the chop saw and the radial arm saw.

We are going to cover the basics of both tools. We will then move on and see what makes them similar, and what makes them different. The goal is to help you choose the best of the two for your needs.

Chop Saws and Radial Arm Saws: The Basics

Before we get into talking about similarities and differences, let’s first figure out exactly what both of these tools are.

What Is a Chop Saw?

Chop Saw What needs to be made clear is that a chop saw is a miter saw. This is the same thing. Most people call them miter saws, so we will do the same. A miter saw is a medium size power tool, a special type of saw. The miter or chop saw features a circular blade with sharp teeth, which spins at very high speeds.

A chop saw is like an upgraded version of a circular saw. It features an arm that the blade is attached to, which is moved down through the wood being cut. Chop saws are designed primarily for making cross cuts, miter cuts, and bevel cuts.

These saws come complete with blades that can swing in one or two directions for making angled cuts, as well as blades that can tilt in one or two directions for making bevel cuts. High-end chop saws, known as dual compound sliding miter saws, can perform miter and bevel cuts simultaneously.

What Is a Radial Arm Saw?

We then have the radial arm saw, which is admittedly not overly popular anymore. Although some still use it, it has fallen out of favor when compared to the chop saw. The radial arm saw also has a large circular blade that spins at high speeds. Radial arm saws really aren’t very portable either.

This blade is mounted onto a large arm that can slide back and forth. Radial arm saws can be used to perform a wide variety of cuts on some fairly large pieces of wood. Keep in mind however that one reason why these saws have fallen out of favor, to a certain extent, is because they aren’t the safest tools around.

Similarities of Chop Saws and Radial Arm Saws

Now that we know what chop saws and radial arm saws are, let’s take a quick look at the similarities that they share.

1. They Both Have Circular Blades

One basic similarity here is that both of these saws have circular blades that spin at high speeds. These blades can have varying tooth numbers and sizes. That said, radial arm saw blades are usually larger in diameter, substantially so.

2. They Both Cut Wood

Another main similarity here is that both the chop saw and radial arm saw are designed primarily for cutting wood. Although, depending on the blade in question, both saws may also be able to cut plastics, ceramics, metals, and even tile.

3. They Can Perform Some of the Same Cuts

Both the radial arm saw and chop saw can perform some of the same cuts. These include rip, cross, miter, and bevel cuts. That said, these two saws have different cut types that they excel at.

Differences Between Chop Saws and Radial Arm Saws

Now that we know what makes them similar, let’s figure out what makes chop saws and radial arm saws different from each other.

1. Portability

One major difference between these two types of saws is that a chop saw is far more portable than a radial arm saw. A radial arm saw requires a really special setup that you really can’t take with you on the go. This is one of the main reasons why the chop saw is much more popular.

2. Types of Cuts

A chop saw or miter saw can make four main cuts. These include crosscuts, bevel cuts, miter cuts, and sometimes rip cuts too. That said, a radial arm saw is better for making rip cuts. However, radial arm saws can also make joint cuts, mainly rabbet cuts.

3. Blade and Arm Movement

The way in which these two saws function is a bit different as well.

With a chop saw, you bring the miter saw blade down onto the workpiece. A sliding miter saw also allows you to slide the blade. However, with a radial arm saw, the blade is attached to a straight arm that is fixed in nature. When making rip cuts, the wood has to be moved against the rotating blade.

4. Size of Wood That Can Be Cut

Chop saws or miter saws are designed to cut fairly small pieces of wood. Radial arm saws on the other hand can have blades with diameters up to 20 inches and are far better for cutting large pieces of wood.

5. Cutting and Angle Accuracy

Although radial arm saw can make miter cuts and bevel cuts, they aren’t quite as accurate as if you were to use a miter saw. In terms of overall accuracy, a chop saw is definitely the better one.

6. Safety Concerns

Another thing to consider here, especially when making rip cuts, is that a radial arm saw is not overly safe. Chop saws have more safety functions that help keep you safe during use.

Chop Saw vs. Radial Arm Saw: Which of the Two Should You Use?

If you need to cut thick pieces of wood, and you don’t mind something stationary, then a radial arm saw is fine. However, if you want something more portable that is more adept at miter and bevel cuts, as well as something safer to use, then the chop saw or miter saw is the way to go.


As you can see, both types of saws have their specific uses and advantages. However, that said, if you had to choose just one, it’s probably the chop saw that you should choose. In fact, the radial arm saw is rarely used these days and you might even have a trouble finding one.