By Michael Davis
Getting framers to tool-test wormdrive saws is like convincing kids to eat ice cream. After telling my lead guys we'd be testing the classic saws alongside the newest introductions in the category, I realized that I could have charged them money and they still would've showed up early for testing.
We tested nine saws in our shop and out on the jobsite: the Bosch 1677MD (in-line), Bosch 1678 (top-handle), Craftsman 2761, DeWalt DW378GK, Makita 5277NB, Milwaukee 6377-6, Ridgid R3210, Skil HD77, and Skil HD77M. The DeWalt and Makita saws are actually classified as "hypoid" saws, which are similar to wormdrives but with a few differences in gearing (see "Gear Up" below).
In the shop, we looked for blade guards that curled effortlessly out of the way while power-cutting in tough stock like fir and LVL, bevel capacity that enabled us to cut rafters more easily, and adjustments that were easy and smooth. In the field, we checked overall feel and performance in the chaos of the jobsite, and we scoped out useful features like skyhooks. We also reviewed the tools' warranties.
For framers, the wormdrive saw is much more than just another tool. It's as much a part of our lives as pickup trucks and cold beer after work. One of the toughest cuts we make with it isn't hogging through material; rather, it's getting the blade guard to roll up and over the work in a compound bevel cut.
Bevel Capacity. Both Bosch units, the DeWalt, and the Makita bevel 0–50 degrees. Ridgid tips to 51.5 degrees, a feature that makes cutting bevel and seat cuts on hip and valley rafters much easier. Both Skils, the Craftsman, and the Milwaukee bevel 0–45 degrees.
Bevel Adjustment. Both Bosch models and the Ridgid have an auto-stop feature that halts the bevel at 45 degrees. The stop is useful since 90 and 45 degrees are the most common cuts, and when you're framing walls you don't want to have to sweat a finicky adjustment. The DeWalt and Makita have no stop, so you have to be a little more careful setting it at 45 degrees. The rest have a basic 45-degree bevel and work fine.
The adjustment levers on the Ridgid are oversized and work well, which makes adjustments easier, especially when wearing gloves. In addition, Ridgid's adjustment markings are painted for contrast, which makes them easier to read. The adjustment levers on the rest of the saws are no frills, no thrills, but they get the job done.
Compound Cuts. To keep everybody in the game, we tipped all the saws to 45 degrees, then shaved slivers off 2x6 with each saw to see which guards rolled up and which got hung up. Letting go of the upper handle and giving the guard lever a little tweak with your left hand is so natural that you never even think about it, but when you use a saw that doesn't require the help, it's really noticeable.
The DeWalt and Ridgid guards did the best. There was almost nothing we could do to hang them up. Next, the Bosch 1677MD, Skil HD77, Skil HD77M, and Craftsman all breezed through. The Bosch 1678 top-handle hung up a couple times; though it shares the same guard as the 1677MD, the 1678's overall balance is different. We had to apply a little extra pressure to push Makita's lower guard through a few cuts. We consistently had to nudge the Milwaukee's narrow blade guard over the hump.
I'd been meaning to use that old slab of 4x14 Douglas fir that had been petrifying in the sun in my lumberyard for three years, and this test was a good reason. We chalked rip lines down its length then made full-depth rips with each saw to see which ones bogged down or shook us up. All the saws ripped through the tough old Doug fir without much difficulty. The smoothness and power of the Milwaukee showed that it's all business. We noticed some vibration in the Makita handle.
Since all the saws came through the full-on Doug fir test, we nailed two pieces of 11-3/4-by-11-7/8 LVL together and did full-depth rips with each saw. LVL is some seriously tough material, and it was more of a challenge than the fir. Nevertheless, all the saws made full-depth rips in fine
Blades. A comment about blades: If we had conducted this test with the steel blades that ship with both Skils and the Craftsman, these otherwise powerful tools would have wound up out of the running because the blades that come with them would have been dull by this point in the test. Instead, we loaded each tool with new carbide-tipped blades for testing.
In the Field
Feel. Weight, and how it is distributed in relation to the handle, has everything to do with how these saws feel in your hand and how your hand feels at quittin' time. All the saws in our test group are built on the standard in-line model pioneered by Skil, with the handle located directly behind the motor, except for the DeWalt hypoid saw and the Bosch 1678 top-handle.
DeWalt's designers applied some world-class engineering and, in my opinion, improved on the standard in-line design. The tool's raised handle puts the cutting table at the perfect angle to the saw and the user, making this tool a real joy to work with. This wasn't the case with the Bosch 1678, whose handle location high over that tool's motor made it feel like we were dragging the saw through the cut. Indeed, Bosch's product manager points out that this style of saw is more popular with concrete contractors making relief cuts in slabs than it is with wood cutters.
Weight. When you look at the numbers–and at how your arm feels at the end of the day–one thing is clear: Wormdrives are big, heavy tools. While there's not a saw in the bunch I'd call light, some are lighter than others, and when you frame fast for a living, every ounce counts. The Milwaukee (16.8 pounds) and the Skil HD77 and Craftsman (both 16 pounds) are the heavyweights. The middleweights, the Bosch 1678, Makita, and Ridgid, were a little easier to work with at 15 pounds each; however, the magnesium-bodied, well-balanced Ridgid felt lighter than its weight makes it sound.
But lighter is almost always better than heavier, and the Bosch 1677MD is a nice weight at 13.66 pounds. The two lightest saws in the test are the Skil HD77M at 13.75 pounds and the feather-light (by comparison) DeWalt at just 13 pounds.