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January 5, 2005 7:25 AM CST

Hand-held Saws: Holding Their Own


Choosing the right hand-held cut-off saw can slash overhead and keep you on the job.

Whether you do routine work or immense masonry projects, your choice of a hand-held power cutter may have a critical impact on job performance ? and make a major difference in maintenance service and costs.

Cut-off saws and other hand-held power cutters get tossed around on the job, and are often put to relentless use on many different kinds of tough materials. Mason contractors may cut mostly concrete, brick or stone, yet give their cut-off saws plenty of wear and tear. The following tips will help you to choose the right saw and keep it working as long as you do.

More to Consider than Size and Power
There are a lot of hand-held cut-off saws on the market that are available in a wide assortment of sizes, power sources and ratings, but size and power alone won't solve all your needs. While it is essential that the cut-off saw perform the work at hand, it is also important to consider those factors that will greatly impact the associated maintenance costs and service life of the product.

"First and foremost, users of hand-held cut-off saws should avoid the urge to service their saws in the field," says Leif Persson, Technical Manager at Partner Industrial. "Cut-off saws should be serviced preventively by mechanics in the shop at intervals dictated by hours of usage and type of material cut. Even air filter changes should be performed at appropriate periods in the shop."

Air Filtration - The Critical Factor

Durability has been requisite for power saws since they first came on the market in the late 1950s.
When purchasing a hand-held cut-off saw, the air filtration system is one of its most important design features to consider. When filters become clogged and are not replaced as specified, a cut-off saw will begin to lose power.

Many brands include a felt or foam pre-filter, and a paper secondary filter. Persson recommends a multi-stage filtration system, consisting of a specially designed flywheel that blows dust away from the motor, a high-capacity oil-soaked foam primary filter and secondary paper filter. Holding up to 10 times its weight in dust, the oiled foam filter requires changing at fewer intervals than other filters, thereby ensuring peak power in the field as well as lower maintenance costs. The frequent changes of paper filters adds up; if you have to change a $15 paper filter once a week, you could save up to $75 per month by purchasing a model with an oiled foam primary filter.

Carburetors that Compensate
Since a clogged filtration system will choke off the air supply, it is important to ensure that your gasoline-powered saws have a "compensating carburetor," which will adjust the fuel flow downward (lean) when less air is available.

"This means that engine power is retained, and you do not need to adjust the carburetor manually or replace the filter in order to continue cutting, although cutting power will be somewhat reduced," explains Persson.

Keep a Clean Starter Assembly

Lighter-weight molded materials have been enhanced the ergonomics and utility of power saws, making them easier to hold and manipulate.
In gasoline-powered saws, a dirty starter assembly can cause failure in the field. When starter recoil springs get dirty, they lose tension and sometimes break. If spring tension becomes overstressed due to improper installation, the spring can also break. Here again, service should be performed by qualified mechanics in the shop, since pull-cords and springs are difficult to install correctly in the field. The best remedy is a cut-off saw featuring a heavy-duty starter cord and sealed starter assembly, which can provide practically maintenance-free operation for many months.

Lightweight but Tough
Durability has been requisite for cut-off saws since they first came on the market in the late 1950s. Today, these saws must be tough and lightweight at the same time. Thanks to innovative composite materials, many models include high-impact "plastics" in housings, fuel tanks and handles. These lighter-weight molded materials have enhanced the ergonomics and utility of some cut-off saws, making them easier to hold and manipulate. Molded composite components also lower the cost of the original saws as well as replacement parts.

Accessories can Extend Usefulness
The availability of accessory items may also be an important consideration when shopping for hand-held cut-off saws. Such accessories can extend the usefulness of a saw and provide users with added flexibility in certain situations. Some cut-off saws are available with water kits to enable wet cutting, as well as specially designed carts to carry gas and pneumatic power sources.

Ask the Experts
If you want to know how your choice of a power cutter can affect your overhead and performance on the job, it makes sense to check with someone who makes their living with it. While building contractors probably own much of the population of hand-held cut-off saws, specialists such as masons are especially reliant on having the right saw for every situation.

About the Author

Ed Sullivan is a technology writer based in Hermosa Beach, Calif.


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