Switches and Cords. I couldn't find fault with any of the orbital action and blower switches, or the triggers; all are nicely positioned and easy to use. But the functionality of the variable-speed dials varies. Hitachi's top-of-the-handle dial is in the best position and is very easy to reach and turn. The Milwaukee's dial on the side of the handle is also well-placed and accessible. Both of these placements allow the speed to be adjusted one-handed and without changing your grip. The Craftsman and DeWalt have small dials on their triggers, which also can be adjusted one-handed and work nicely. The other saws have dials near the backs of their bodies, which require shutting the saws off and using two hands to adjust.
As with all tools, long cords are better. The Bosch, Milwaukee, and Metabo have cords around 13 feet long, the Ridgid's is 11 feet, and the rest of the group have 8-footers. The thick Ridgid cord deserves special mention for its lighted plug, which is handy for finding your tool in the usual tangle of cords running into the multi, and as a quick indicator of a live outlet. It also has a Velcro strap to secure the coiled cord in storage, which I like.
Bosch's tool-free blade change is a snap.
Overshoes and Anti-Splinter Inserts. The metal base of every jigsaw I've owned mars the surface of softer wood. So I, like many woodworkers, cover the bottoms of my jigsaws with masking tape. A better solution is to use a plastic overshoe that snaps onto the base. Bosch, DeWalt, Makita, and Milwaukee include snap-on plastic overshoes that work great and really provide a slick surface that protects your work. Craftsman includes a plastic insert for the base that's secured by four screws, but it doesn't cover the edges of the base.
All of the saws, except the DeWalt and the Hitachi, include an anti-splinter insert, which I like. These small plastic inserts fit in the base to narrow the blade opening and reduce splintering of brittle woods. The Bosch insert is notable because it's adjustable to accommodate different blade widths. Using the inserts on the Metabo and Ridgid requires first sliding the base back, which isn't as seamless as the other tools. All the inserts install easily and function as intended.
The real winners of this test are those of us who use these saws. This is the first tool test I've done where I had the urge to run out and buy one of the tools right away. But which one? Three of the saws, the Bosch, Makita, and Milwaukee, rise above the pack. I'd get the Bosch because of its great blade guide and sweet blade-change mechanism. But the Makita also is a super choice; it exhibits little swayout and feels great. Milwaukee is a close third, with a superior base-tilt mechanism and a smooth feel. I'd rate the rest of the group in this order: Ridgid, Hitachi, Metabo, DeWalt, and Craftsman.
SOURCES OF SUPPLY
Hitachi Power Tools
Milwaukee Electric Tool Corp.
STEB105 Plus: $179
Ridge Tool Co.
DeWalt Industrial Tool
Hitachi Power Tools
Bosch Power Tools
-- Chris Kulczycki is boat designer/builder and writer in West River, Md., and is a frequent contributor to Tools of the Trade.