Warranty Wars

To me, the stronger the warranty, the farther a toolmaker is willing to stick its neck out for the tools it makes. Bosch, Craftsman, Makita, and Skil offer standard one-year limited warranties followed by a mile-and-a-half of fine print that basically says the toolmaker will (at their option) repair or replace any saw that has defective materials or workmanship within the one-year warranty period. Typically, you return the saw to the maker at your expense and they don't provide loaners.

Milwaukee will repair or replace tools with "defective materials or workmanship" for five years.

But what if I buy a saw and after a few weeks realize I just don't like it? DeWalt and Ridgid have addressed this issue with a 90-day satisfaction guarantee. If you don't like the saw, return it for your money back. DeWalt and Ridgid also include three-year warranties. DeWalt adds a free one-year service contract that covers all parts showing wear due to normal use. (I tried to convince them that dropping the saw off the roof constituted "normal" use, but they wouldn't buy it.) Ridgid tacks on a lifetime service agreement that provides free parts and service–impressive.

Winners

Image

A time-tested design improved with lighter magnesium parts, the Skil HD77M muscled through everything we threw at it.

Credit: Photo: David Sharpe

When you're asked to find the best tool in a high-quality group like this, you're left looking for nuances that set one tool apart from the others. For me, this race has three distinct front-runners that are the best of the best in the wormdrive/hypoid universe: the Bosch 1677MD, DeWalt DW378GK, and Ridgid R3210. But the first for me among these three is the DeWalt. In my humble opinion, you just can't beat this saw. It's powerful and solidly built–and is the lightest tool in the bunch. It comes with a carbide-tipped blade, skyhook, carrying case, and great warranty, all at a great price.

Tied for second are the Bosch 1677MD and Ridgid R3210. These are both well-designed, powerful, and comfortable-to-use saws–with skyhooks–that represent great advancements in this category.

Next, I like the Skil HD77M for its easy-to-use weight and its bulletproof design. The Makita also is a fine saw that worked hard all day long, right alongside the Skil HD77 and Craftsman 2761, followed by the Milwaukee 6377-6 and the top-handle Bosch 1678.

–Michael Davis owns Framing Square, Inc. in Albuquerque, N.M., and is a contributing editor for Tools of the Trade.

Gear UP

The "worm" in wormdrive refers to the gear that turns the blade–a worm gear. The DeWalt and Makita derive their driving force from a hypoid, a similar, but different, gear. According to DeWalt and Makita, it's an improvement. While worm gears have two flat interlocking surfaces, hypoid gears are tapered, providing a larger surface area. They say the hypoid is designed to closer machine tolerances and, in combination with this greater surface area, creates a more effective power transfer. They also say hypoids are made of hardened steel, whereas some worm gears are bronze, a feature they claim makes the hypoid motor last longer.

The convincing part of their argument is that hypoid saws use a sealed motor, which means no gear oil to change. With a wormdrive you need to change the gear oil. The reason? Same as your truck. The worm gear wears, and tiny metal fragments are released into the oil. Dump the oil, out go microscopic chunks of your gear system. Add some new oil and you're good to go. The hypoid, with its all-steel guts, doesn't have this problem. One tank of oil and it's good for life.

A professional framer checks his oil pretty regularly, changing it every few months, so not having to change oil saves a step, though someone who doesn't frame day in and day out may go a long time without even knowing there's oil in the saw. A framer also will be watching through the breather fins on the back of the tool for sparks. If he starts seeing a lot of light, its time to change the brushes, too.

On the other hand, worm-gear manufacturers say the hypoid is overrated and cite just as many reasons why the worm gear is superior to the hypoid. They claim that there is no better transfer of power than a worm gear and that the sealed motor design on a hypoid doesn't last as long, because the grease inside the motor eventually breaks down. On the wormdrive, of course, you can change the oil. Further, wormdrive manufacturers cite a decades-long record of bombproof performance.

Me ... I don't know. I've never had a wormdrive wear out. In 30 years of framing I've killed them by dropping them from rooftops, but I've yet to burn one out. All the saws in our test group are solid, well-made tools that I could destroy long before metal fatigue became an issue.

–M.D.