Appendix 18: The Impact of thr Radial Arm Saw

The 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 location.)

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 spin-offs.

Today, the RAS is dead!

Today, 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.)

The 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 entrepreneurship.

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 performer.

The links below lead to images and the pdf text of Dewalt Radial Arm Saws in 1925 posted on the Old Woodworking Machines website
Saw CW #4351 16 inch March 3, 1925 wonderworker

1925 DeWalt catalog with Wonder Worker and many accessories

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.

I 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.

Levittown under construction 1947

[will try to locate a much clearer photo of construction at Levittown.]

Material would 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 another.

At Levittown, whatever would be required for studs, rafters, and joists — a complete house of framing members — were cut every 23 minutes.

(On 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!

It was the only way for War Veterans to own a good home for under $7,000!

During World War II, the Army Engineers had a need which resulted in

one of the most unusual requests ever made to a machine manufacturer.

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 seem­ing provocation.

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.

A few 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.

War time or peace-time, the DeWalt Saw found a ready and continued acceptance by the Construc­tion Industry.

As 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 possible.

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 process.

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!

Faced 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!