Every once in a while the steady flow of innovation we see almost daily in our coverage of power tools goes into overdrive with a truly unique technology we've never seen before. When we caught a glimpse of the new Arbortech AS160 saw for brick and mortar, with its patented orbital blade system, we knew it was one of those tools, and we had to try it. Born and bred in Australia and enjoying success in Europe, the tool is coming to U.S. markets through independent pro tool distribution centers.
This is a specialty tool targeting masons for repair, re-pointing, and renovations; electricians and plumbers for cut-in remodeling applications; and even historic restoration contractors working within extreme guidelines dictating acceptable techniques for replacing and repairing masonry, brick, and mortar.
At first glance, the AS160 looks like some kind of cross between an angle grinder and a jigsaw. And that's close to how it operates. The belt-driven dual-blade system swings each blade through crossing arcs to chew fairly quickly through masonry and mortar, leaving clean lines and square-cut corners without the kind of over-cutting a round grinder blade might leave.
The tool weighs in at 9.5 pounds (with blades), runs at 6,500 (no-load) rpm, and comes with four types of blades: general purpose, plunge-cut, tuckpointing, and switchbox. Wood-cutting blades are available as an option.
Starting different cuts takes practice, so don't jump right in on a critical cut until you know how to handle the tool with each type of blade; once you do, you'll develop a feel for easing into the materials and finding the way to guide the saw for accurate results. Basically, you'll need to learn how to keep the tool from jumping when you start your cut, which I found to be easier by introducing the heel end of the blades into the material; once the blades bite, the tool is easy and steady to handle.
The twin carbide-tipped blades swing back and forth along their orbit, and because they are cutting rather than grinding into the material, the dust is coarser and falls away more than the cloud of dust created by a grinder would. The tool comes with a vacuum port with a rubber shroud around the blades. The blade-change system, while straightforward enough, relies on four small bolts and lock washers that could be easily dropped and lost. An ingenious torque wrench that comes with the kit ensures proper tightening of these bolts without breaking them.
Once the tool is in the groove, it works through the material very efficiently, and we're told that Arbortech is now testing diamond-coated blades. But any tool used to cut into masonry is going to vibrate, and the AS160 is no exception and could benefit from improved vibration-dampening features. Another improvement would be adding a side-mounted handle to the body to help stabilize the tool, especially in horizontal cuts.
Arbortech claims its tool will save you significant time over using an angle grinder, primarily because it will cut squarely into the corners to complete your cuts without chiseling, and in dust clean-up. That's an important piece of information to have when you consider the $1,065 price tag attached to the AS160.
Arbortech AS160: $1,065. 608-592-2737. www.arbortech.com.au.