House Works: Cordless recip saw rivals Jaws of Life for auto rescue
House Works: Cordless recip saw rivals Jaws of Life for auto rescue
June 13, 2017
The Ottawa Citizen
Article by: Steve Maxwell
These reciprocating saws were used as part of a fire team training session on vehicle extrication at a rural junkyard. DAVE HILLYARD / -
Power tools are getting better all the time and that’s good news for every homeowner who builds or renovates. What’s surprising is the extent of the improvement. The experiences of a small town volunteer fire team using a pair of Milwaukee 18-volt reciprocating saws is a striking case in point.
The Gore Bay Fire Department is in charge of saving people trapped during auto accidents in one area of rural Ontario, but limited funds prevent them from investing in the traditional hydraulic Jaws of Life rescue equipment. Could professional-grade cordless reciprocating saws handle the challenge of quickly cutting open vehicles to save people trapped inside? Firefighters on the team asked themselves this question, and a training exercise last fall proved these tools are up to rescue work. In fact, when fitted with the right kind of blades, the speed and maneuverability of these saws even beat the heavy hydraulic rescue gear during some parts of the training session.
Reciprocating saws are hand-held power tools with an unguarded blade extending out one end. They’re rough-cutting tools meant for the demolition phase of home renovation tasks, but there’s a big difference in how well different recip saws work these days. For years even the best models were slow and heavy. Some older designs leave a lot to be desired, but there’s also been a huge improvement in new recip saw models. That’s what got some fire team members thinking.
The effectiveness of the new breed of reciprocating saws comes from three advances. First, today’s lithium-ion batteries are much better than the older nickel cadmium batteries of yesteryear. Not only does lithium-ion hold more power, but it also holds that power for longer periods of time on the shelf. You can pick up a lithium-ion cordless power tool that hasn’t been charged for months and it will work with nearly full power. Nicad batteries would be dead.
A second reason modern cordless tools work so well is brushless motor design. These last longer than traditional electric motors used in cordless tools, and brushless motors extract more work from a given size of battery pack. Brushless is simply more efficient.
The third reason reciprocating saws work so well these days is blade technology. Recip saw blades are much better than they used to be, especially when it comes to cutting metal. Home renovation and demolition work usually involves cutting wood, but wood that’s often bristling with nails and screws. Metal pipes are never far away, either. Ten years ago recip saws didn’t fare well against any kind of metal, even the odd deck screw. These days things are much different. I’m not sure what new metallurgy manufacturers have discovered, but today’s best recip blades are amazing. I even use them regularly to cut 1/4-inch plate steel when I’m building things from metal in my own shop.
The members of the Gore Bay fire department know that high speed auto accidents are something they need to deal with. Their area of the province has the highest concentration of deer in Ontario, and that’s the cause of many serious auto accidents. A local autobody shop estimates that 25 per cent of its work has something to do with deer collisions. When the fire team used the Milwaukee saws to cut open junked vehicles for practice at a scrap yard, they found the best metal-cutting blades quickly chewed through roofs, support columns and around doors. The small size and light weight of these tools made them especially nimble to use, too.
While today’s best cordless recip saws are the kind of thing that make sense for any small fire department to use for auto rescue, that’s not the main story. What really
matters is the way today’s best cordless tools make it easier than ever to make good things happen in your own home.