Milwaukee invented the 360-degree adjustable handle, and it remains a great feature.
Credit: Photo: David Sharpe
The shop tests provided a good baseline look at each tool and its individual features, but in the field no two cuts are alike and demo-ing a variety of materials really pushes the tools, calling on everything in their designs to work in unison to meet the challenges of bringing down the house.
Balance and Orbital Action. All the tools in the group run at about 2,800 strokes per minute (SPM), according to the manufacturers, so blade speed wasn't a distinguishing factor in site performance. What did make the difference for the work I did was a combination of the tools' weight distribution, orbital cutting action, and balance. The better-balanced tools–Makita, Milwaukee, Hilti, Hitachi, and Bosch–felt smoother and more powerful under stress, muscling through more cuts with less effort; again, the Makita was the smoothest. Each snagged less or launched itself off the work less frequently than the others if the blade bound up or caught.
The saws whose blades best powered through the toughest cuts–Makita, Milwaukee, and Hitachi–all have orbital cutting action as part of their feature set. While tearing through gnarly old framing, the orbital action really enabled these three saws in particular to rip. What was also nice about these three saws was that I could shut the orbital action off when necessary for work in iron or galvanized pipe and plaster where a straight reciprocating action cuts best.
Variable Speed. While all the tools tested enable you to control shaft speed with a variable-speed trigger, I liked the units that allow for both a dial control and trigger pressure to control blade speed like on the Bosch, Hitachi, Makita, and Milwaukee. Of these four, Bosch is limited to a high and low adjustment while the other three have a dial adjustment that allows much greater control of the tools' SPM. I like this feature for strategic cuts, such as for crown molding or other trim where I'm removing part of the trim for tie-in work.
The ability to control the cut speed can mean a big difference between a nice clean cut and getting the trim all marred up because the blade bounced around. The Craftsman, DeWalt, Hilti, Porter-Cable, Ridgid, and Worx have a variable-speed trigger only, which relies on touch to keep the blade cutting at the desired speed.
Work Lights. The Bosch and Worx have a new feature for this category: LED lights. They're bright enough to illuminate the work area, and I found them great for task lighting, especially tucked up in a crawl space or rafter bay where the work lights on site just don't shine.
Bosch's RS20 recip saw is the only tool with a handy integrated rafter hook.
Credit: Photo: David Sharpe
In addition to helpful features like tool-free blade changing, a number of the saws also have unique design details. None of them makes the tool cut any better, but they do add to their overall ease of use.
Trigger Lock. I liked Makita's trigger lock, which allows you to keep the tool operating while repositioning your hand for better control in odd cutting positions.
Handles. Milwaukee and Worx have adjustable handles. Milwaukee's handle is adjustable to numerous positions on a 360-degree pivot, perpendicular to the tool body. I found this useful depending on the position I needed during a cut. The Worx handle adjusts in an arc from 12 o'clock to 6 o'clock, which enables you to dial-in a position best suited for your hand.
Cord. The Bosch tool has the company's new Direct Connect cord management system that lets you plug an extension cord directly into the body of the saw. I liked this feature on their circular saw, and I liked it equally on this tool.
Safety Trigger. Hilti has the only safety trigger in the group. To start the tool, you have to lift upward with your trigger finger slightly then pull back. This was awkward at first but quickly became a natural motion and helped eliminate accidentally starting-up the tool when grabbing it off the floor or elsewhere. I wish they all had this feature.
Rafter Hook. Unique to the Bosch tool is a rafter hook. I love any tool that I can hang–on a sawhorse, ladder, scaffolding, or lumber. Anything beats laying a tool on the ground.
Cases. The best carrying case was Makita's. The large steel case has plenty of room for the tool, its cord, and loads of blades–the perfect design. Ridgid provides a tool bag, much like a rigger's bag, that has plenty of room for the tool and extra slots to carry other demo tools, blades, etc. I liked both options better than the standard plastic box the remaining tools ship in where I find myself fighting with the cord to get the plastic tabs to lock.