Innovations and advances of handheld power drills, saws and other tools that cut and make holes have proceeded at a rapid pace. Lithium-ion batteries, brushless motors, conveniences and ergonomic features enable electricians and workers in other trades access to cordless tools that can match or exceed corded models.
However, the efficiency and productivity of these tools ultimately depends on its bit, blade and other cutting accessories that directly engage materials being sawed or drilled.
“Advances in power tools often lead to the need for advances in cutting accessories not only to maintain productivity, but also to reduce overall costs,” said Mark Senske, senior vice president of product marketing for Milwaukee Tool, Brookfield, Wis.
Senske said the growth of cordless power tools has created an opportunity for power tool and power tool accessory providers to look at the entire tool and cutting accessory to make improvements. Cordless tools perform differently than corded models, and they require accessories that reflect those differences. Milwaukee has engineered many of its latest accessories to cut and drill more effectively with the latest cordless models.
“We also are finding that the power tool preference of the electrical trade continues to shift from drill/drivers to impact drivers, so it’s important to understand the differences in impact speeds versus drill/driver speeds,” Senske said.
The continuous upgrades in speed and power often result in more stress placed on the accessory in the form of impact, heat or other forces that may limit the accessory’s performance. Within the step bit category, innovations in flute and shank design and material coatings help to increase bit life and performance, allowing users to maximize productivity and match their tools to the proper accessories.
The step bit provides a good example because it is a single bit that allow users to enlarge holes in electrical panels, boxes and enclosures.
“Step bits can provide unmatched performance across a variety of materials,” Senske said. “While they have been available for a while, all step bits are not equal.”
As impact drivers became more popular in the electrical field, Milwaukee introduced a range of Shockwave Impact step bits to meet a growing need to cut into stainless steel enclosures in areas such as outdoor boxes, kitchen facilities, hospitals, water treatment facilities and other areas.
“Electricians need a step bit that can provide more than a few holes in stainless steel and deliver exceptional performance in mild steel, and Milwaukee recently introduced a cobalt step bit that sets the bar for step bits,” he said.
Senske added that this premium bit is designed to deliver up to 15 times longer life in stainless steel and more than 1,000 holes in mild steel. Cobalt step bits have an elongated dual flute design to help with heat management, and it allows the bit to run cooler and longer.
“And as do other Milwaukee step bits, the cobalt bits have a Rapid Strike Tip for fast and accurate starts to minimize heat, reduce walking and deliver two times faster starts in stainless. Laser etchings allow controlled step management, enabling users to stop at any hole size for precision and accuracy,” Senske said.
In addition to acquiring new accessories to match advanced tools, users are upgrading their cutting accessories for older tools.
“Time is money on every job site, and electricians today are commonly cutting into rigid conduit, threaded rod, Unistrut and EMT,” Senske said. “The need to cut stainless steel is a lot more common on job sites today than in years past. To maximize on-the-job application efficiency, manufacturers are updating saw blade teeth per inch (TPI) and tooth designs so electricians can easily cut through any material they encounter.
“Milwaukee’s 12/14 TPI extreme metal band saw blades are the perfect solution for the electrical trade, providing users with an efficient cut and yielding about 25% longer run time per battery charge with cordless power tools.”
Multipurpose saw blades and bits are widely available. But are they a practical option?
“It’s clear that there are different cutting product needs in the electrical field, and there are situations where both multipurpose accessories and specialty accessories are necessary,” Senske said. “Ultimately, a user must evaluate the application and determine which route is the right fit. For example, an apprentice might not know the proper speeds required for drilling into mild steel versus stainless steel. If the wrong bit or the wrong speed is used when cutting into stainless, not only can it damage the bit, but it can also damage the material. By using a specialty bit, such as a cobalt step bit, it can lead to premium life for the bit and effectively complete the job.”
The wider use of impact drivers also has resulted in a new hole saw category.
“There have also been innovations in the hole saw category,” Senske said. “The new line of Shockwave Impact hole saws is engineered specifically for use with impact drivers to provide professionals with a hole-making solution for pairing with these power tool advancements.”
Milwaukee’s cutting accessory line includes reciprocating saw blades, step drill bits, hole saws, portable band saw blades, circular saw blades, twist drill bits, annular cutters and wood boring bits.
Tom Thrawl, channel/product marketing manager at Bosch Power Tools, Mount Prospect, Ill., said one of the newest cutting accessories to the Bosch lineup is a nail-strike bit.
“This robust and durable bit was designed for applications where drilling might encounter the occasional nail,” Thrawl said. “It is designed to power through and cut the nail so the user can complete the hole while other spade bits would meet their demise.”
Thrawl said another new release is a turbo high-speed step drill bit designed to drill a hole fast and finish with a quality cut. Its provides a smooth finished hole with no burrs, so little to no filing is needed to smooth out the hole. These step drills are designed with higher cobalt content, which makes the bit more durable and capable of keeping its sharp edge. It helps the bit resist heat breakdown in tough drilling materials such as stainless steel.
Also recently released are cobalt spiral drill bits. These are designed with higher cobalt content, which makes the bit more durable and capable of keeping its sharp edge and helps the bit resist heat breakdown in tough drilling materials, such as stainless steel.
Thrawl said the accessories Bosch sees most commonly used by the electrical industry are spade bits commonly known as “Daredevil” bits, step drill bits, metal cutting circular saw blades, band saw blades, self-feed bits, hanger bits, auger bits, high-speed auger bits, self-feed spade bits, nail strike spade bits, hole saws, HTW “Edge” impact-tough hole saws, spiral drill bits (black oxide, titanium, cobalt), taps and dies, bit tips and holders, sockets, carbide concrete bits and hammer steel, diamond cutting wheels, abrasive cutting wheels, reciprocating saw blades and oscillating blades.
While drill and saw manufacturers also offer cutting accessories designed specifically for their products, there also are specialty companies that manufacture and market quality bits and blades.
Matthew Savarino, senior product manager at Lenox Tools, East Longmeadow, Mass., said based on sales, his company’s best-selling cutting accessories used by electricians are portable band saw blades, hole saws and reciprocating saw blades. (The list is not ranked).
“The most notable trend we see is that carbide-tipped products become more prevalent on job sites as they offer superior cutting and drilling life compared to the standard bi-metal product,” Savarino said.
“Lenox has expanded our carbide-tipped reciprocating saw blade range with blades that have a 1-inch tall profile that provides straight cuts in large-diameter material, such as metal conduit or Unistrut. In addition to welding carbide to each tooth, a titanium performance coating is applied on the cutting edge. Combining these two features delivers up to 50 times the life of a standard bi-metal reciprocating saw blade when cutting cast iron or rebar. This blade comes in 6, 9 and 12 inches and is best suited for tough metal cutting applications.
“A new carbide tipped speed slot hole saw has been completely overhauled this product and is now a true trade-up to our speed slot bi-metal hole saw,” Savarino said. “These new saws have an optimized cutting edge, making them more durable and versatile than the previous generation. They also are taller in overall height and have our patented speed slot plug ejection. When paired, these features make struggling to remove a wood plug a thing of the past.”
Selecting the right cutting accessory is essential.
“Misapplication of a reciprocating saw blade or hole saw can lead to a variety of issues, but most notably, early blade failure or workpiece damage,” Savarino said. “The introduction of carbide-tipped reciprocating saw blades and hole saws will certainly result in fewer blade changes and down time as a result of much longer life. However, given their price tag, it is important to take the application into consideration to realize the true value that these new products can deliver.”
Lenox offers a full line of bi-metal reciprocating saw blades, bi-metal hole saws and bi-metal portable bandsaw blades for common cutting applications that professional electricians perform daily. In addition, there are carbide-tipped portfolios in both reciprocating blades and hole saws that deliver longer life than standard bi-metal for tough applications.