Published: November 2007
Make a list of essential hand tools needed by electricians, and it likely will include several different kinds of saws. Reciprocating power saws probably top most lists. Other types of power saws needed for electrical work include chop or cutoff, hole and portable band saws. Cordless saws are most popular.
Although the lithium-ion battery revolution in cordless hand tools is now more than two years old, the technology continues to influence the power tool market with more types of tools—including saws—available in lithium-ion models. Even so, cordless models have not displaced heavy-duty corded saws, which remain the best choice for many projects with large amounts of continuous cutting, and power saws have not replaced the manual versions, including hack saws, jab saws and folding saws.
For power or manual saws, continuing improvements of saw blades mean they last longer, and the trend continues toward specialty blades for different materials.
Cordless and corded saws
BOSCH POWER TOOLS, Edwin Bender, group product manager: “Reciprocating saws and circular saws are most popular with electricians, with recip saws a little more popular, because they are easier to use for in-place material removal, such as on remodeling jobs. Cordless saw sales are heavily driven by combo kit demand.
“Recent improvements in battery technology opens the door to use cordless tools, where in the past, only corded tools could be used, either by delivering more power or longer run time. Most of the new products coming out right now are focused on lithium-ion technology. With lithium-ion technology, some manufacturers offer more powerful saws without increasing tool weights. For example, you can buy a 36-volt lithium-ion recip saw weighing the same as an 18-volt NiCd [nickel cadmium] model, and it cuts faster and runs twice as long per charge. There are flexible battery systems that allow users to choose either higher power or lower weight. Such options will gradually cause a shift from traditional NiCd platforms to lithium ion, but NiCd still holds a cost advantage, which will keep NiCd tools around for the next several years.
“Saw blade technology, including laser blade body features, coatings and improved carbide formulations expand cutting to include many composite materials, synthetics and metals, while limiting noise and vibration.”
DEWALT, Will Robinson, product manager, cordless saws: “How has lithium-ion battery technology affected the cordless tool market? Users do not buy batteries. They buy tools. Users are going to buy the tools that meet their needs regarding the amount of power, runtime, durability, value and performance-enhancing features that the tool provides.
“There is still a huge market for NiCd and nickel metal hydride [NiMH]. These battery technologies are going to be relevant, as they provide the necessary amount of power and runtime for most end users.
“Lithium ion is beneficial for users looking for a power-to-weight ratio. However, users focus on the tool’s entire packaging when making purchasing decisions. If a tool has the weight, power, run time and features needed to complete an application, that tool more than likely will be purchased, regardless of the battery technology. Innovations in cordless tools offer professional users increased levels of power and runtime, while weighing a similar or less weight than their corded counterparts.
“Corded saws are typically used for the more heavy-duty applications that need the maximum amount of power. Today’s corded saws are more powerful, faster and provide greater power density and significant value for users.”
HILTI, Kris Cleveland, cutting and grinding product manager: “Lithium-ion technology has allowed for greater capacity and less weight, which has helped to grow the cordless market, but demand for corded tools seems to remain constant to do high-volume applications. Lithium-ion batteries allow manufacturers to add the capacity necessary for sawing without adding a tremendous amount of weight. At this point in time, there is still a need for nickel batteries in the market, especially for price-sensitive customers whose applications do not demand longer run times. Customers’ applications drive the type of battery they choose along with price.
“Corded tools would be used where high volumes of material are being cut at a stationary working area. Corded tools have moved from heavy steel housings to highly glass fiber composite with more ergonomic designs. Saws with ‘smart’ power capabilities increases the amperage to the motor if the saw begins to bog down, which helps to keep the cutting speed constant.
“New blades with progressive teeth can increase the overall cutting speed. In addition, the variety of blades to meet specific applications has improved dramatically.”
MAKITA USA, Brent Withey, brand manager: “Makita believes that the future of cordless tools is lithium-ion. Today’s cordless models are more compact, weigh less, are better balanced, offer better ergonomics and have more power. For example, our 18-volt lithium-ion battery technology offers 18-volt power with 12-volt tool weight. Our new tool models have slide-style batteries that do not extend batteries into the handle, allowing product designers to build the handle around the human hand and not the tool’s battery.
“As cordless products get lighter with better ergonomics, many of these design features are being applied to corded products. Portable band saws are a good example.
“The corded-versus-cordless question is often easily decided when portability is not an issue. We also see the decision for corded versus cordless driven by power, cutting capacity and product availability. Corded tool improvements reduce vibration increasing power efficiency by allowing more generated energy to be delivered to the cutting edge.”
MILWAUKEE ELECT Tools, Scott Teson, product manager: “Lithium-ion battery technology remains the most significant factor affecting the power tool market. The impact is twofold: Lithium-ion has allowed corded tool performance with a cordless platform—the reciprocating saw is a good example—and has given birth to cordless tools that have previously not been available—the cordless band saw is an example.
“Lithium-ion technology has affected other systems, but NiCd is not going away, and NiCd-powered tools will be available for the foreseeable future. There are hundreds of thousands of NiCd tools in use, including saws, and it would be a significant investment to switch. Although lithium-ion is the best long-term value, the initial investment for NiCd tools is less.
“Corded tools provide constant power and run time without running out of battery power, and there are times that is a factor. A development in corded reciprocating saws is reduction of vibration.
“Whether cordless or corded, the focuses of new product development in both cordless and corded tools are more ergonomic designs that are easier and more comfortable to use, lighter in weight—anything we can do without compromising performance. The biggest advances in saw blade is the use of improved materials and heat treating to lengthen blade life and development of specific-application blades, which optimizes cutting efficiency and tool performance.”
GREENLEE TEXTRON, Brian Allison, senior product manager: “Traditional manual hacksaws are used by the electrician to cut conduit, cable shielding and threaded rod. Jab saws can be used for a variety of installation projects, such as cutting holes in drywall to install switches and receptacles. Most electrical installation projects require on-site modifications, sizing, etc., and manual saws often are best used for on-site fabrication. Manual handsaws are lightweight and compact, making them easy to carry to the job site, store in standard tool bags and require no special requirements like power or expensive blades. Many power saws can throw sparks and metal chips, which can be dangerous. Manual handsaws allow for a more controlled cut, basically spark-free and with little to no chip throwing.
“Manual saws have advanced with the addition of features, ergonomics and cutting technology. Examples of additional features include blade storage in the saw handle and reciprocating saws with blade mounting that permits flush cutting. Many high-end manual saws have also added ergonomic handle designs with various materials molded onto the handle to create a soft, comfortable, non-slip grip.”
IDEAL INDUSTRIES, Jeff Tisdell, product manager: “Smaller cutting jobs are better handled by reaching back for a manual saw instead of dragging out a power saw from the truck. Using a manual saw is faster, safer and less disruptive to contractors working around you.
“The jab saw has a plunge tip to punch through thick drywall and cement board and will accept reciprocating and hacksaw blades for cutting virtually any construction material, such as conduit, wood, PVC or drywall. A traditional hacksaw is required for efficiently cutting metal pipe and conduit clean and straight. In addition, an all-purpose saw is a necessity for other cutting jobs that always crop up.
“The biggest changes have come in the areas of blade life and ergonomics. Ergonomically, manual saws are now lighter in weight yet have improved strength due to upgraded materials. By applying softer materials like Santoprene to the handles, manual saws weigh less and are more comfortable to hold. Saws engineered with forward weight designs concentrate energy on the cutting zone. Blades simply last longer than they once did, especially the newer bimetal blades that can make up to 10 times more cuts than conventional carbon steel blades. They cost more initially but save money in the long run by minimizing replacements.”
Saw manufacturers emphasize the importance of blade improvements, and a saw blade specialist provides additional details.
LENOX SAW, Brian Rooke, director of marketing, power tools and accessories: “Application-specific saw blades that provide cutting solutions for materials that are difficult to cut. Titanium coatings significantly extend the life of blades and dissipate heat generated from the act of cutting metal with metal translating to quicker cuts, longer blade life and fewer blade changes. Electrical customers have responded to trade-specific ‘kits’ of products, such as sets of holes saws designed with the exact applications and correct sizes of saws organized and nested in a protective case, keeping the proper tools readily available.” EC
GRIFFIN, a construction and tools writer from Oklahoma City, can be reached at 405.748.5256 or firstname.lastname@example.org.