Operation

Bit Change. The corded RotoZip, Craftsman, and DeWalt have a tool-free bit change. The RotoZip and Craftsman use a shaft lock button with a collar that opens and closes the chuck, which is quick and works very easily. The DeWalt has a shaft lock button, but then also has a release button for the collar. I found this system to be a little awkward; it takes both hands to position the chuck and buttons, while you need another hand to position the bit. It was doable, but tricky.

The Ryobi, Makita, and cordless RotoZip employ a shaft lock button and a wrench that worked fine.

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DeWalt has a sturdy base plate, tool-free depth adjustment, and a tricky bit-changing system.

Credit: Photo: David Sharpe

Bits. It's important to select the right type of bit for the work you're doing, choosing from multipurpose, tile cutting, wood cutting, metal cutting, etc. All the companies provide at least basic bits with their tools and sell them as accessories. RotoZip has introduced a new XBit, which is beefier than the company's original ZipBits and can take a heavier beating on site.

Depth Adjustment and Base Plate. On all the saws, you adjust cut depth by raising and lowering the base plate, somewhat like a laminate trimmer. The Makita uses a wing nut and the DeWalt has a knurled knob that releases tension on the base plate; both systems worked. The base plates themselves on the Makita and DeWalt also were very sturdy.

The Ryobi uses a knob for depth adjustment that worked well. The base plate, while not as sturdy as the DeWalt and Makita, is pretty good.

The RotoZip, the RotoZip 18-volt, and the Craftsman all require a screwdriver to release tension on the depth stops. And while each tool's plastic base plate worked well in this test, I wondered how long they'd last.

Ergonomics. The slim and light Makita simply fit my hand the best of any of tool in the group. I also liked the DeWalt for the same reasons; add the optional side handle and it felt great. The Ryobi also felt terrific, plus there's no cord. The RotoZip 18-volt is the heaviest of the saws I tested, and it felt top-heavy when cutting anything except directly over the work. The corded RotoZip and Craftsman were a little bigger and little bulkier to hold.

On/Off Switches. The Makita and DeWalt switches are both nice. When picking up the tools, I never had to fumble looking for the switch. The DeWalt also has an "extra" off button that pops out of the top of the tool after you turn it on. You can bump it to turn the tool off without feeling for the switch–a nice safety feature.

The RotoZip 18-volt has a wide, curved on/off switch that wraps around the body of the saw. To turn it on, you have to grasp it with two fingers then pull it out. This was cumbersome while starting the saw–but it was definitely the easiest to turn off. Because I don't use the tool a hundred times a day, a little bit of a tough turn-on is no big deal, but being able to turn it off quickly is a very nice safety feature. Ryobi's button-style switch was easy to engage and worked just fine.

Extra Features. The corded RotoZip and Craftsman are loaded with extra features, making them the Swiss army knives of cut-out saws. My favorite was the two LED work lights that illuminate the cutting surface quite well, even in low-light conditions (and ever since I hit 50, everything is a low-light condition).

Both RotoZips and the Craftsman use a quick-lock cam-type lever for changing attachments that's very good. A flip of a lever is all that's necessary to remove the base plate and replace it with the angle cutter or flex shaft. The Craftsman and the corded RotoZip also have a variable-speed dial. While I don't use this feature much, I can see where others might like it. The dial adjusts easily and you can customize how aggressively you want to cut.