Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Thoughts on the Circular Saw

The circular saw is a simple yet integral part of any woodworker’s arsenal of tools. We recently reviewed two of these staple tools, but we had some additional thoughts.

Head To Head
After reading my review of my Skilsaw 5750-01 and Brit’s review of his Porter-Cable 347K you will see that we both like our respective circular saws. Brit and I have also had the opportunity to use the other guy’s circular saw on occasion, and it would be safe to say that we each like the other guy’s saw as well. We both agree that if you are going to be like Brit and use your saw for something as taxing as cutting stone than you probably should pony up the extra cash and get a saw with the biggest motor. On the other hand, if you are going to use your saw more conventionally, meaning cutting wood and composite materials, than save some money and go for the Skilsaw. You can use that extra $50 to $75 to buy a good blade or invest in another tool.

Sidewinders & Worms
Circular saws fall under two main categories, direct drive and gear drive. A direct drive saw, commonly called a sidewinder, is the standard circular saw that you see everywhere. Both my Skilsaw and Brit’s Porter-Cable are sidewinders. These saws have the motor mounted on the side of the blade, hence the sidewinder moniker. Also, the blade is mounted on shaft which is part of the motor, so every revolution of the motor equals one revolution of the blade. This is where the direct drive part of the name applies.

Gear driven circular saws are known by many names: worm drive, worm gear, and hypoid. Gear driven saws are the heavy-duty workhorse of many professional framers and carpenters. These saws feature a transmission between the motor and saw blade consisting of a series of gears. A quick way to spot a gear driven saw is by noticing that the motor is placed behind the blade rather than to the side of it. Also, a worm gear saw requires regular lubrication of its gears, while a hypoid saw has a sealed transmission that is permanently lubricated.

So what is the real difference? Sidewinders are generally lighter and less expensive than gear driven saws. That being said, they are more prone to kickback as well. Gear driven saws are heavier (not always a bad thing), have more torque, and have a longer lifespan. Although they are less likely to kickback, gear driven saws are prone to a sharp twisting motion when the saw is started. Pros call this saw buck, the powerful torque of the motor causes it. Which saw should you get? If you are going to be using your saw frequently and on a daily basis then get a gear drive, otherwise a sidewinder should suit you fine.

Circular Saw Safety
I have read estimates that circular saws are responsible for the vast majority of serious home improvement accidents. I have no idea how true this is, but it is logical considering how common these tools are. Besides my mantra of always using common sense and good judgment, here are some solid safety tips. Always wear safety glasses as circular saw can kick up quite a bit of dust. Using hearing protection and a dust mask is also a pretty good idea. Always be aware of where the power cord is so that you do not cut it with the saw of trip over it while cutting. Never remove or disable the safety guard on your saw. Just like a table saw, a circular saw can kickback. Kickback will cause the saw to jump backwards rather violently. Hold the saw tightly and keep both hands on the saw as frequently as possible. If both hands are on the saw and kickback occurs neither hand can be cut. Always support large sheets of material, such as plywood, to prevent the material from bending or sagging as you make a cut. This will reduce the possibility of kickback.

Cutting Tips
Before making a cut set the depth of the cut so that the bottom teeth on the blade just barely stick out past the face of your material. This exposes less of the blade for safety and it will help to reduce tear out.

When ripping longer boards or sheets an aluminum cutting guide is a great way to get a perfectly straight cut. Some cutting guides have integrated clamps while are just a flat piece of metal that you can clamp to your stock with spring clamps or c-clamps.

When cross cutting, a rafter square or Chopshot makes a quick guide for a perfect cut.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Skilsaw 5750-01 Circular Saw Review

A good circular saw is a loyal companion to every carpenter, woodworker, and handyman. They are found on thousands of jobsites and thousands of shops, cutting every type of material imaginable from a myriad of sheet goods to boards of all sizes and species. They are the poor man’s table saw. They are a somewhat iconic image that is closely associated with carpenter, much like the chainsaw is associated with the lumberjack. Parallel to this relationship is the association between the circular saw and the brand Skil. Skil has been making the famous Skilsaw since the 1920’s. Like Kleenex or Q-Tip, Skilsaw has become a synonym for the circular saw itself.

The Skilsaw 5750-01 is a 7-1/4” circular saw with a street price around $75. It comes with a carry case, 18-tooth carbide tipped blade, blade wrench, and manual. The Skil 5750-01 is a large saw with a powerful 13-amp motor, which has a maximum output of 2.5 horsepower. The saw weighs just over 12lbs. however its comfortable handles offset much of that heft. The rear handle is rubberized while the top handle is plastic. Both are textured to improve grip and they are sized well. This circular saw features a laser guide, which is easily activated when depressing the safety switch. The saw body is a combination of metal and plastic. The base plate is sufficiently thick unlike cheaper stamped base plates. Blade changing is easy with the spindle lock feature. On the negative side, the blade guard lift lever is plastic, which raises concerns that such a frequently touched part may break off. Also, the power cord is only 6’ long, so grab your extension cord, especially when ripping a sheet of plywood.

Circular saws are made for one thing: cutting wood, the Skilsaw 5750-01 does just that. Powering the saw up for the first time and pushing it into a sheet of plywood, I found that the saw cut smoothly and with plenty of power. Like most circular it was easy to control and follow my pencil line. The blade guard functions well and quickly slides into place after completing a cut. The laser guide is about as useful as any other out there. After a slight adjustment, following the laser got me fairly close to my pencil line, however greater accuracy was achieved by sighting the saw manually. Of course, this is true of most laser-guided tools. Bevel angle adjusts easily, although I would prefer the thumbscrew to be metal instead of plastic. The depth of cut can be adjusted to a maximum of 2-7/16” by lifting a plastic lever. Releasing this lever requires a bit too much force and that fact that it is plastic causes a concern of breakage. There is an easy to read scale on the back of the saw to measure the depth of cut. A nice little touch is that the blade wrench stores inside of the base plate so that it cannot be lost. Conversely, while the carry case is a solid and comfortable way to tote the saw around, it takes a little trial and error to learn the very exact way the saw must sit inside the case. You should be able to simply throw the saw in the case when done, not fiddle with it for a minute or two.

To some degree a circular saw is a circular saw as long as it has enough power, and the Skilsaw 5750-01 has plenty of power. The real question is whether this $75 saw can compete with those grey, yellow, and other guys whose brands have a bit more clout. While some of these other brands have 15 amp motors and heftier price tags ($100 to $140), the Skilsaw can go cut for cut with them. While there is a little too much plastic on the Skil's adjustment knobs and levers, many of these other brands suffer from the same thing. Save your money and buy the Skil, then spend that cash on another tool. Because it is a strong performing tool, but does not do anything revolutionary the Skilsaw 5750-01 gets an average 3 hammer rating, however it also wins a Shallow Pocket award for its great value and The Beast award for its ample power.

Lots of power
Great price
Comfortable handles

Some plastic parts
Depth of cut level hard to release
Short power cord
Confusing carry case


Porter Cable 347K Circular Saw Review

Recently I had several small projects that needed to get done. Ideally, a large part of the cutting required for these would have been done with my table saw. Unfortunately, my table saw is still in the box it came in, hibernating in the garage. Matt really gets a kick out of that since I went on and on about buying the darn thing. I can't say I blame him - it's pretty pathetic. Anyhow...

Out comes my Porter Cable 347K Circular Saw. I've had this saw for a few years and until now never realized how versatile it is (or for that matter, any circular saw is). It's primary duty had been cutting blue stone and concrete blocks for the 750+ sf of patio I built in the yard. Seriously, I cut a lot of stone with it, and it worked really well. I also used it for a couple of demo projects and some rough cutting of wood for various other exterior projects.

What's in the box? The saw comes packed in a handy plastic carry case with handle and includes a general purpose 7 1/4" 18T carbide tipped wood blade, dust exhaust nozzle (chute) and a blade wrench conveniently tucked up in the handle for ready access. This circular saw is very solidly built, I own a number of Porter Cable power tools and haven't had much bad to say about any of them. It weighs about 11lbs. Only the motor housing and the handle are plastic, the rest of the saw is solid metal. This saw features a magnesium base, the manufacturer claims this accounts for it's light weight(for a heavy-duty circular saw). The base edges are 1-1/2"(1 7/8" from outside blade edge) and 5" from the the blade. A great feature is the 9' long power cord which is flexible and easy to roll back up when storing the saw in its case.

Using the 347K Circular Saw. When I first plugged this puppy in I was a little intimidated because I had never used a circular saw as hefty as this one. Since I used it to cut a difficult material like stone initially, I got very comfortable with it quickly. This saw has plenty of power and never had trouble cutting stone up to 2" thick. When I finally used this saw for some 'finer' work, actually cutting wood, it didn't disappoint there either. When teamed up with an inexpensive aluminum cutting edge this circular saw proved the perfect tool for building my bookshelf. It buzzed through sheets of 3/4" MDF and 1/2" plywood with ease. My cuts were nice and square, no tear-out to speak of. I should note that I did switch the blade out for this project. I used a cheap-o $7 plywood/composite material blade to ensure the cuts were cleaner.

Swapping out blades is not a problem on the 347K. There's a spindle lock that when depressed prevents the blade from spinning so the switch is quick and painless. The saw also features a depth adjustment so the blades can be lowered to 2-1/4" below the base. One complaint here, the blade adjustment lever is difficult to unlock when in it's extreme position. Lastly, there is a bevel cutting adjustment (up to 45 degrees) which I don't use - I use my mitre saw for those cuts.

Final Cuts. There's no way I wouldn't recommend this saw. It's not the cheapest choice (retailed around $120) but, I have absolutely no complaints. It's well built, problem free after some pretty serious use and believe it or not, made here in the USA. If shopping for a circular saw I encourage you to check out Matt's review of his Skilsaw Circular Saw which he loves. It retails around $75 - so some cash could be saved. I'm giving this saw 4 hammers - It cuts stone!

Tank-like construction
No unnecessary or gimmicky features
Plenty of power
Easy to adjust


manufacturer: SPECS
* Power: 120 VAC, 25-60 HZ/120 VDC
* Motor Amps: 15
* Speed: 5,800 RPM
* Blade Size: 7 1/4"
* Arbor Hole: 5/8"
* Capacity: 45°: 1 13/16" 90°: 2 5/16"
* Length: 13"
* Height: 7 3/4"
* Net Weight: 10 3/4 lbs.


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Bosch Jigsaw 1590EVSK Review

From the small corner of a garage or basement to a full-size production facility, no workshop is complete without a handheld jigsaw. Most of us have used a jigsaw or two before as they are so common, and it is safe to say that most of us have had mixed experiences with this tool depending upon the model that was used. Some jigsaws vibrate violently, cut poorly, and even blow dust in your face. In the past I had a real beauty that did all three of these simultaneously and to top it off it frequently dropped the blade from its holder too. This jigsaw and other like it are almost completely useless. On the other end of the scale you have jigsaws like the Bosch Jigsaw 1590EVSK.

The Bosch 1590EVSK Jig Saw lists for $312 but you can pick it up for around $160 at most retailers. The box contains the jigsaw, carry case, no-mar base plate, anti-splinter inset, three blades, and manual. Upon opening the carry case I found a large and hefty jigsaw (about 6lbs.). The saw body is a combination of metal and plastic and it features a rubber to grip, which is comfortable and does not attract too much sawdust. The various buttons, levers, and switches are located logically, operate smoothly, and are sized equally well for big or small hands.

Making the first cut revealed and extremely smooth cutting and easy handling tool. Perhaps the extra size and weight dampens the vibration inherent in all jigsaws. Both straight and curved cuts had relatively smooth edges and the variable speed feature made it easy to dial in the correct setting. Splintering was kept to a minimum, which means less sanding time. The 6.4 amp motor has plenty of power and never seemed to bog down when hitting knots or cutting through thick material. The only real disappointment was the integrated dust blower. While it did blow some of the sawdust off of my pencil line, there was still enough dust to necessitate the old-fashioned bend down and blow.

Bosch included several features on this saw that add to its versatility and ease of use. While many of these features are common on other jigsaws, rarely are they executed so well. The foremost example is the toolless blade change. Pulling a large lever on the front of the saw ejects the blade from its holder. Gently press a new blade into the holder and after a positive click you are ready to go. I would liken the Bosch’s toolless blade change to the best keyless drill chucks; it is simple, easy, and fast. Bosch also included a precision control feature that is engaged by pressing a button on the side of the saw. Two metal guides press against the blade to help keep it straight when cutting through thick or extra hard material. In addition you can select from three orbital cutting strokes as well as the standard vertical cutting motion. The bevel angle is adjusted with the flick of a lever and at 90° the base plate can be shifted back to allow for flush cuts in tight spaces.

When the sawdust has settled, the Bosch Jigsaw 1590EVSK is a clear winner when compared to the majority of its competitors. While it is a large and hefty saw it cuts smoothly and handles extremely well. It has comfortable ergonomics and a well-rounded feature set. The Bosch Jigsaw 1590EVSK receives an very strong 4 hammer rating.

Powerful motor
Smooth cutting on
straight and curved cuts
Less vibration t
han most jigsaws
Good ergonomic
Toolless blade chan
ge is quick and easy

Dust blower is not adequate
Dust collection with a shop-vac requires the purchase of optional parts


Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Wood shop safety…

Wood shop safety is often a boring, but extremely important topic when discussing power tools and hand tools. Safe practices in the shop or on the job site not only preserve both life and limb, but taking the time to be safe frequently means less mistakes which leads to less wasted materials.

I learned what I consider to be the most important safety rule from my high school wood shop teacher. His simple rule was “to always use common sense and good judgment”. While this rule seems quite obvious, it is amazing how many people fail to integrate it into their mentality. My father-in-law is doctor and relayed the following story to me. It illustrates my point. He had a case where a maintenance man who worked at a factory was trying to repair something with super glue. The man took the proper precaution of wearing gloves as many of us know firsthand how these glues bond skin instantly. The problem began when he tried to start using the glue and found the tip of the bottle to be clogged. The man pointed the bottle of super glue towards himself and used the tip of his utility knife to try and clear the clog. While working the knife, he also squeezed the bottle to help clear the dried glue faster. The clog came loose and it, along with some super glue, shot out of the bottle and hit the man in the eyes. By the time the man got to the hospital it was too late. The glue had completely destroyed his eyes. Obviously this tragic incident is extreme, but it also shows how the failure to use common sense and good judgment can result in dire consequences from even a seemingly harmless action.

Someone that exhibits common sense and good judgment ALWAYS does the following:

-Wears safety devices to protect their eyes, ears, and lungs
-Uses push sticks and safety blocks to keep their hands away from moving blades and cutter-heads
-Never wears loose clothing, jewelry, or sandals in the shop and ties back long hair
-Unplugs tools before changing bits or blades
-Reads and understands all instruction manuals
-Never works under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or while fatigued
-Uses the right tool for the right job
-Never modifies their tools by removing safety guards
-Never rushes or takes dangerous short cuts
-Does not allow distractions in the shop

This is only a short list of common sense and good judgment specifics. Each tool and each scenario has its own unique set of rules that will keep both you and your shop-mates safe. Be sure to integrate the common sense, good judgment mentality into your work practices. Remember if a little super glue can do so much damage to one life, what can a high powered table saw or compound mitre saw do in the blink of a careless eye?

One last thing, many of us average guys have a work shop in our garage or basement and many of us have children as well. Be sure to keep these tools and the various chemicals we use (glue, stain, varnish, etc) out of their hands. Locked doors or locking cabinets are a necessity as these tools are dangerous or deadly in little hands.

Friday, February 16, 2007

How this blog came to be

I love power tools. I always have. As far back as I can remember I would hang around my grandfather's workshop nailing every piece of scrap wood he had together. I knew then one day I would have my own wood shop. Sound familiar?

But, how do you do it? What tools do you need to buy? What are the basics? Where do you buy them and most importantly, how do you choose the right power tools? There are so many choices; turquoise ones, red ones and orange ones, and don't forget the gray ones, they are the best, or was that the yellow ones...anyhow, you get it!

So that is why Matt and I decided to create this blog. We both found in our quests for the golden tool that it's really difficult to find objective information about tools. Our plan is to review, as fairly and accurately as possible, the tools we own. Tools we bought either because they were priced right or we heard good things about them. We'll tell you what we found out when we actually plugged them in.

We hope you find this tool review blog to be a valuable resource - we welcome your feedback too Thanks for reading.