Finding a new tool that fits the work is a real pleasure for the pro. A full-size portable band saw used to be the tool of choice for cutting angle iron, Unistrut, and threaded rod on the job – even though its nearly 5-inch capacity is overkill for most chores – but now our plumber's crew grabs one of Milwaukee's compact models instead. These sleek new band saws come in both corded and 18-volt cordless versions. The corded model, 6242, has a seven-amp motor and a variable-speed range of 200 to 360 sfpm, and weighs 9.7 pounds. The cordless saw, 2629, runs on the brand's M18 XC batteries with a single speed of 480 sfpm (which drops into the 300s when under load). It weighs 10.5 pounds.
According to our testers, the 3-1/4-inch-square cutting capacity of the new design is big enough to handle 99.9 percent of the cuts they make. The question for them wasn't "Why should I switch to a smaller saw?" but "Why make do with a bigger tool than you need for the job?" Lifting and maneuvering a larger-than-needed saw was an inefficiency they quickly decided they could do without.
In a pinch, the saws can cut around the circumference of a 5-inch-diameter pipe to a depth of 5/8 inch, the same way full-size saws can cut up to 9-inch pipe. Also, thanks to their smaller size, lighter weight, and handle-forward design, these saws can be used one-handed. That means you can use your other hand to hold the work instead of having to rely on a stand vise – though this might not be as true for left-handed users.
The testers particularly appreciated the saws' compact size when they were doing chores where the material was not located at waist level – demo-cutting pipes in place, say, or cutting overhead. The lighter, corded model had slightly better balance when a stand vise was used and cutting was done at ideal height, but one-handed cuts were a little easier to line up with the cordless tool. Overall, comfort was a wash, and using either model certainly beat handling 14- to 20-pound full-size saws.
Both saws have some features that really stand out – like LED headlights. Having a light focused on the cut line is a necessity in low-light situations, and we wouldn't want to use a saw without one. On the corded model, the light has a simple on/off thumb switch. On the cordless tool it's activated as long as the trigger is held; to turn the light on independently of the motor, you use a "flashlight" switch, which shuts off after 30 seconds. These LED lamps should never need replacing.
Another great feature is the two-position shoe plate, which – as far as we know – is unique to these two Milwaukee models. In the open position, the plate provides 1 inch of material support in front of the blade. When snapped into the closed position with a simple push, the plate allows near-flush cutting within 1/4 inch of a wall or obstruction. You don't have to stop cutting to make the adjustment.
These saws take special 35-3/8-inch blades made in 10-, 14-, 18-, and 24-tpi pitch configurations. Because the blades are short and the wheels are small, getting one installed can involve a bit of a wrestling match. Luckily, removing a blade – even a hot one – is no problem with the saws' blade-release button, which ejects the blade from the wheel, making it easy to grab.
Other nice design elements are the tough, glass-filled nylon shroud that can be replaced in one piece if cracked or broken, and the always-welcome fuel gauge on the M18 batteries.
Milwaukee really filled a need with these saws – a need our testers didn't even know they had until they used the tools. "The smaller size and weight makes them a pleasure to use compared to our full-size saws," one tester said, summarizing the general consensus.
Which of the two models is preferable depends on the work you do. If you typically cut at a centralized workstation, the never-ending power of the corded saw may be the best way to go. But if you move around a lot on the job, or already have M18 XC batteries, the freedom of the cordless tool is hard to beat.
John Myrtle contributed to this article. He owns JM Plumbing and Heating in Hotchkiss, Colo.
Compact Band saws
Price: 6242-6 corded, $199; 2629-20 cordless, $219;
2629-22 cordless kit, $399