Cool Tools: Cutting Tools
Published: August 2010
Smaller, lighter in weight, more durable and easier to use—today’s power hand tools are superior to products first available only a few years ago. Lithium-ion power sources have revolutionized cordless power tools.
However, no matter whether a power saw or drill is corded or cordless, productivity is a direct function of the saw blade, drill bits and other cutting accessories. Accessories have evolved to meet demands of today’s more powerful tools, which operate at higher speeds than older models.
Among the cutting accessories most used by electricians are reciprocating saw blades, a variety of types of bits for work in different materials, hole saws, circular saw blades and portable band saw blades.
“There has been much advancement in cutting accessories,” said Web Shaffer, director of global product management at Lenox (www.lenoxtools.com). “Cutting accessories now utilize optimized blade geometries for specific material applications. Blades incorporate a high-speed steel cutting edge or bimetal technology welding high-speed steel to a backing steel. Specialty coatings are applied that dissipate heat and extend blade life including titanium nitride coatings.”
Other specialty blades use carbide-tipped cutting teeth and carbide or diamond grit applied to the blade edge. Specialized kits have also been developed to provide the tools needed for common jobs and to target common jobs performed by specific tradesmen, such as electricians. In general, he said, multipurpose blades work when cutting materials, such as wood, plastic or thin-gauge metals.
“These blades give the user maximum flexibility on the job,” Shaffer said.
However, they often do not provide the longest life with tough metal cutting applications, such as stainless steel or abrasive materials (e.g., tile or concrete).
“These application require use of a saw blade that is specifically designed, for the specialty application,” Shaffer said. “When an improper saw blade is used, premature tool failure occurs, causing end-user frustration. Specific product pages on websites or catalogs are helpful in selecting the proper blade or bit for different applications.”
Shaffer said the top-ranked accessories are hole saws, varibits, reciprocating blades and ship augers.
Milwaukee’s Scott Griswold, senior vice president and general manager, accessories (www.milwaukeetool.com), said that advances in power tool design are driving continuous upgrades in speed and power.
“The result,” Griswold said, “often is greater stress placed on the cutting accessory in the form of impact, heat or other forces that limit the accessory’s performance and/or reduces its usable life. To address this, we take a comprehensive systems-design approach instead of designing the accessory without the tool needed to operate it or vice versa. This system approach, coupled with extensive end-user research and statistical analysis, allows development of new products that perform even under the toughest applications. Among other characteristics, this process delivers enhancements in heat treatment options, ice coatings and new cutting geometries.”
Professional tool users have various needs ranging from general purpose cutting accessories to products that are highly specialized for certain applications.
“Ultimately, a user must ask the question: ‘Do I want excellent performance across a narrower range of applications, or do I want good performance across a broader range of applications?’ While both general-purpose and specialty blades will ultimately get the job done, matching a specialty blade to the material at hand will deliver faster cutting speeds and more productivity,” Griswold said.
The rapid development of lithium-ion technology has allowed the expansion of power tools into applications that once were considered the sphere of hand tools, Griswold said. For example, a compact lithium-ion powered reciprocating saw can replace a hand hacksaw in tight working areas.
“Furthermore,” he said, “lithium-ion batteries have driven the growth of the impact driver market. Until recently, drill bits with -inch hex shanks (power groove) were not durable enough to withstand the high torque these tools produce and were very susceptible to break upon impact. Now, drill bits are available that are manufactured to withstand elevated and extreme torque applications with a solid taper-fit connection between the drill bit and the hex shank. This trend necessitates accessories designed to meet the unique challenges posed by new applications.”
Milwaukee cutting accessories most purchased by electricians are linear edge blades, such as those for reciprocating and portable band saws and hole saws.
Brian Allison, senior product manager for Greenlee (www.greenlee.com), said that cutting technology is as old as the need to cut different materials.
“Some of the basic designs that still work the best were created and patented many decades ago,” he said. “However, significant improvements have come in tool design and the materials used to achieve performance and durability.”
Quality cutting accessories, Allison said, begin with the materials used in their manufacture.
“Manufacturers,” he said, “use different materials either to gain better performance or to reduce the cost of a product, usually at the cost of performance. When creating professional tools to be used in extreme conditions, the performance will depend on the material selection. Beginning with cheap material makes it very difficult to achieve the same result/performance provided by high-quality material.”
Quality materials and good design add to performance.
“A small change in the tooth design can provide big advantages to overall cutting performance,” Allison said. “Many companies try to use, and advertise, high-quality coatings like titanium to improve the performance of their bits. From my perspective, bad design or inferior material covered with a thin layer of titanium doesn’t substantially improve the performance of the product. It may look pretty and it may be easier to market, but performance typically does not improve. As a standard, professional-grade products are made of better material with better designs by advanced manufacturing processes, and they last longer.”
Allison said multipurpose bits and saw blades are great for a do-it-yourself user, but while a multipurpose tool may do a reasonable job cutting a lot of things, it cuts nothing perfectly. The best cut is achieved the fastest, and the tool lasts the longest if it is specific to the material being cut.
The most popular Greenlee cutting accessories among electricians, Allison said, are knockouts and punches, hole saws, auger bits, flexible steel bits and step bits.
Joe Soto, vice president, accessories for Makita USA (www.makitatools.com), said that new technology has allowed design improvements in most cutting accessories across the board.
“For example,” he said, “today’s bimetal reciprocating saw blades are a big step up from their older counterparts. With their improved design, materials and production methods, today’s bimetal reciprocating saw blades give the user a longer lasting sharp edge. When cutting metal, it’s more important than ever to match the correct accessory to the application. A general-purpose blade will work in some metal-cutting applications, but when it comes to harder materials, like stainless steel, a specialized accessory is required for the best result. It is important for electricians to read the tool’s owners’ manual, and talk to suppliers about using the right accessory for the job.”
Soto said the best-selling Makita cutting accessories for electricians are reciprocating saw blades and portable band saw blades.
Bosch (www.boschtools.com) Group Marketing Manager Chad Reynolds said the biggest shift in cutting accessory design in the electrical market has been the use of impact drill/drivers, which has created a new category of impact-tough accessories.
“Wood and plastic can be cut by virtually any product,” Reynolds said. “For fiber and plasterboard, tile, brick, block, and metal, the right accessory is needed. Using the wrong accessory for the material can potentially damage the material and lessen the life of the product.”
Reynolds said Bosch has focused on design innovation for significant performance increases over previous versions.
Matching inexpensive, poor-quality cutting accessories with quality tools does not make sense.
“Purchasing an expensive, top-of-the-line tool and using the least expensive accessory possible is a waste of money,” Reynolds said. “The result will not achieve expectations of the tool’s performance.”
Reynolds said the Bosch cutting accessories purchased most often by electricians are holes saws, space bits, auger bits, step bits, installer bits and reciprocating saw blades.
GRIFFIN, a construction and tools writer from Oklahoma City, can be reached at email@example.com.