Appendix 18: The Impact of thr Radial Arm Saw
material in light gray box below is adapted From Wallace
Kunkel’s How to Master the Radial Arm
Saw 1989? (The publication date is not indicated
in my copy, but I believe I saw a 1989 date posted in another
I have placed this (incomplete)
material on the Web as a pivot point to work out the mental issues --
my mental issues, at least -- of combining the many factors in the
dynamic of the shifts (social, economic, political) of the post-WW II
era: explosion of house building, emergence of the "do-it-yourself"
movement, and the co-emergence of array of woodworking power tools
designed for home purchase, Shopsmith, Dewalt Radial Arm Saw and all
the RAS is dead!
outside of a few exceptions, I think it is safe to claim that the RAS
is dead. Its replacement: the sliding compound miter saw.
Nonetheless, the enthusiasm
exhibited by Kunkel in his great book, How to Master
the Radial Arm Saw, gives us a measure of the wide
embrace of this power tool by amateur woodworkers in the post-WW II
era. (See more details in Chapter 6
and in Herman
Hjorth's review of models of RAS being marketed to amateur woodworkers
in a 1950 issue of the Home Craftsman.)
Kunkel material, from pages 4 - 6 of How to Master
the Radial Arm Saw, begins here:
Thus, the beginning of a great story of innovation and
From the 1920s, to the present
day, wherever builders could set up for gang-cutting operations on-site
or pre-cutting operations off-site, the Dewalt has been an amazing
My introduction to this sort of thing
was in 1948. Mr. DeWalt was still around the plant and his brother was
still "keeping the books."
He had just sold his
company to American Machine & Foundry — and I was in
their New York advertising agency, the writer on the AMF account (and a
woodworker in the basement of my home in South Orange, NJ). Somebody in
the agency suggested I go to Levittown, on Long Island, for a "little
education" on the DeWalt.
What I saw was
probably the single most extensive use of radial-saws ever conceived.
saw a row of huge, 7-1/2 hp DeWalts (Model GEV) — 18 of them,
in gangs of six — standing in a single straight row, ONE (1)
MILE long — separated by long roller-tables and surrounded by
big stacks of lumber as far as I could see — standing there
like huge animals waiting to be fed.
[will try to locate a much clearer
photo of construction at Levittown.]
be loaded on the front-end of the production line. A dozen 2x8s, 2x6s,
or 2x4s on edge, strapped together like one solid timber, moved along a
conveyor from one machine to the next in each gang — all
sitting in a straight line.
Batches of ends would
be squared in one sweep of a screaming 20" blade.
The next DeWalt would cut them all to length. Then a dozen rafters, on
edge, would be cut with beveled-ends on another DeWalt — then
cut to length with a duplicate bevel on another DeWalt — then
notched, in one full sweep, with an angled 12"-diameter shaper-head on
At Levittown, whatever would be required
for studs, rafters, and joists — a complete house of framing
members — were cut every 23 minutes.
the left is my 1945 Dewalt 12" blade "GP", said to be a "portable"
model. I have seen photos of this saw with two under-bearing 2X4s
extending out from the table, meaning that it takes two men to manage.)
1500 houses in 65 days!
was the only way for War Veterans to own a good home for under $7,000!
World War II, the Army Engineers had a need which resulted in
one of the most unusual requests ever made to a machine
The Army needed the largest Dewalts
possible — and weighing as little as possible. Magnesium was
the answer — and any machinist knows the difficulties and
hazards of working magnesium. Worst of all, it is extremely
combustible. Chips of magnesium will start a fire with no
What they wanted
were DeWalts, each with its own generator, mounted on 2-wheel trailers
— light enough for two men to lift easily. Except for the two
rubber tires and the windings in the DeWalt motor and the generator,
they would be made entirely of magnesium. They were to be
parachuted into Pacific battle zones where they could
immediately go to work cutting bridge-timbers.
of those machines must still exist somewhere. Being magnesium, they
would never rust — even if they're still sitting in a jungle
somewhere. I saw one advertised in Philadelphia some years ago
— and I've wished ever since I'd bought it.
time or peace-time, the DeWalt Saw found a ready and continued
acceptance by the Construction Industry.
for "Heavy Industry", it was a different story — much slower
in acceptance. There was a reticence — which can always be
expected in that
market — especially for
something totally new.
The attitude of "heavy"
industry is to let small industry barge in and make all the mistakes
— to prove the need. They hold back till "the bugs are out"
—and continue with established methods as long as
The truth is — the larger the
company, the more reticence! It's full of committees —
individuals who are expected to make decisions, individuals
who can't make decisions, and individuals who won't make decisions.
Such groups of people tend to cancel each other out in the planning
Eventually, however, one of the group
will finally surface as the decision-maker — and he too-often
also decides against your totally new idea or product!
with ever-increasing production requirements, however, the
large companies eventually began to learn that men of little experience
could produce accurate results with this new kind of saw —
starting with their first days on the payroll! And, as the die-hards
lost their "say", the DeWalt moved in — and stayed!