Dr. Bill Bell is a saw blade's worst nightmare. As the lead product-testing engineer for Irwin Industrial Tools, Bell is a self-described "torture tester." And there's no brand loyalty involved in these search-and-destroy operations; the testing goes way beyond Irwin's own products. "I'm an equal-opportunity tool destroyer," he says. "I don't care who made them."

Bell's high-tech laboratory is a virtual torture chamber where he and his fellow scientists dream up excruciating tests for saw blades, drill bits, chisels, work gloves, and other kinds of power tool accessories. They crush, tug, punch, and even freeze the products to find their limits -- and then go beyond them -- to see how products perform and how to manufacture them so they can perform better.

Dr. Bill Bell
Courtesy IRWIN Industrial Tool Co. Dr. Bill Bell

As malicious (and fun) as wrecking stuff might sound, it's Bell's energy for gathering information that's most impressive. "Our software is constantly collecting data," he says, "measuring how polymers, plastics, and steel react to massive stresses, so we can understand how materials perform when we max them out on site." To gather this information, Bell turns to advanced testing equipment like sophisticated microscopes, materials analyzers, and his "top-secret"saw blade-testing machine (under lock and key behind the "caution" sign above).

It took 12 weeks to build the machine from concept to completion, and it takes up as much floor space as two pick-up trucks. It cuts wood literally by the mile: "We've pushed saw blades through 8 miles of material, tracking their performance all the way," Bell says.

Hmmmm. I wonder if we could borrow that one for our next circ saw test?

-- Mark Clement