Hilti Reciprocating Saws
Safer, Stiffer Pump Jacks
As a full-time remodeler in Northern California, I'm constantly
reaching for recip saws. I use them for demo and for opening
walls to get at plumbing and electrical wiring. Recently I had
the opportunity to try two totally new recip saws from Hilti
(800/879-8000, www.us.hilti.com): the corded WSR 900-PE
and the cordless WSR 650-A.
A Unique Configuration
Hilti's saws are tall and bulky looking because the motors are
mounted vertically, perpendicular to the blade. In rare cases,
the body design of these tools might make it harder to cut in
tight spaces, but I never experienced that.
The height of the saws made me wonder if they would be any good
for the kind of low-angle cutting it takes to remove drywall by
going down the center of the stud or across the bay without
penetrating far enough to hit pipes and wires. With the blade
in the standard position, neither saw could cut at as low an
angle as saws with in-line motors. But if I put the blade in
upside down, Hilti's saws cut at a flatter angle than I could
get with other models. The top of the saw is slightly arched,
which allows you to hold the blade parallel to the work and
plunge it in by rocking the tool forward. This feature was
useful to me because I do a lot of selective drywall
I like the way these tools are balanced. They're easy to
support because most of the weight is at the rear, close to
your body. The front grip is smaller than average and covered
with soft rubber, so it's comfortable to hold.
The handle and trigger are two of the best features on these
saws. The trigger can be operated just as easily from the top
of the handle gullet as from the rear. This means it's as
comfortable to cut overhead as it is to cut down low. A safety
lever in the center of the trigger prevents you from
accidentally turning the tool on, and the large opening through
the rear grip saved me some bending because I could hang the
tool by hooking the handle over the scaffold leg.
With the blade reversed,
HIlti's WSR 900-PE and WSR 650-A cut at a flatter
angle than other models the author has used. The
cordless saw is shown here.
The blade clamp and shoe operate without tools. The shoe
release is a recessed button on the forward grip. The
twist-action blade clamp is a knurled steel knob on the end of
the shaft. The knob is equipped with a lever to make it easier
Power and Mechanics
The muscle of both these tools was very good, and they both
had smooth power transfer with minimal vibration at the back
end. The corded WSR 900-PE pulls about 8.5 amps and felt as
powerful as the 11-amp model I'm used to. At 7.2 pounds, I
consider this saw light for a tool of its power.
Both models have a large 1 1/4-inch stroke length and an
orbital cutting mode. The corded model tops out at 2,700
strokes per minute (spm), the cordless version at 2,200 spm.
The orbital selector is recessed into the top, just forward of
the speed control dial. The corded model is less likely to bog
down because the smart power feature maintains consistent
cutting speed by automatically varying the power input. Both
models have very sensitive speed controls within easy reach of
The WSR 650-A has excellent power and cutting speed for a
battery-powered tool. It operated like a corded tool, without
the jerkiness and jittery starts of some other cordless recip
saws I've used. The initial charge on the battery lasted a
couple of days under moderate cutting loads of metal strap
ties, green Douglas fir, and 1/2-inch drywall. I didn't use a
timer, but I got approximately 2 1/2 to 3 hours of run time.
The WSR 650-A weighs 9.5 pounds, 2.2 pounds of which is
battery. It's noticeably heavier than the corded model, but the
added weight seems like a reasonable tradeoff for not having to
deal with a cord.
The saw comes with a high-tech fan-cooled charger. According
to the manufacturer, the charger is designed to maximize the
performance and life of the batteries. The saw has a 24-volt
battery with 3.0 amp-hour cells. A 2.0 amp-hour battery is
available at a lower cost.
Cases are important, if for no other reason than you need a
place to store spare blades. Hilti's cases leave plenty of room
for improvement. The corded saw is hard to fit into the case
because there's no obvious place to store the cord. The case
will close, but it's awkward to get the cord inside. With both
saws, blades have to be removed every time you pack the tool.
Additionally, Hilti uses an odd kind of catch. The catches on
most cases latch from the bottom; Hilti's latch from the top. I
try to keep this in mind when I open the case, because if I
open the latches the "normal" way, the case is upside down and
everything spills out.
The Bottom Line
The Hilti tools have everything you could look for in a
professional-grade recip saw. They have power, speed, and
responsive controls. They're shaped kind of funny, but they
work very well. The corded version sells for $239,
significantly more than you'd pay for a recip saw from a
mainline tool company. Even so, I really liked it and would
consider paying the extra cost to get one. I also liked the
cordless saw, but at $492, it's just too expensive for me. For
that kind of money I could get a kit that includes a charger,
two batteries, and three cordless tools.
Victor Rasillais a lead carpenter for Sattler's
Construction in Walnut Creek, Calif.
Safer, Stiffer Pump
Jacksby Robert A. Augart
As a restoration carpenter in Boston, I do a lot of exterior
work repairing soffits, siding, and trim. Many of the historic
homes I work on have steep roofs and three-story elevations, so
I'm regularly up more than 20 feet in the air. Working safely
and efficiently at that height requires a scaffold.
When I started out on my own, money was tight, so I resorted to
a pair of conventional pump jacks and wood poles. It's tough
trusting your life to a couple of poles made from 2x4s spiked
together — once you get up more than a couple of stories,
they can get pretty wobbly. Diagonal bracing helps stiffen
them, but you have to remove the bracing if you want to ride
the staging plank back down.
After a few years, I got the chance to pick up a used set of
Alum-A-Poles (800/421-2586; www.alumapole.com), and it's become one of
the best investments I've made for my business. If you're
unable or unwilling to spend the $2,000 it takes to buy a new
pair of 24-foot Alum-A-Poles, along with matching pump jacks,
roof brackets, and a couple of 24-foot stages, I encourage you
to look around for a used set. The set I bought saw almost
daily use for ten years, but the components are well made, and
it still has years of life left. Alum-A-Poles are OSHA approved
to a shoulder height of 50 feet, and setup is much quicker and
easier than with wooden pump jacks — I've even done it by
myself on more than one occasion.
Alum-A-Pole pump jacks grip a rubber pad
attached to the aluminum pole. The poles' uniform dimensions
and the rubber pad provide a smoother descent without the
annoying hangups common with wooden poles. The manufacturer
includes safety chains that can be padlocked to prevent
Whenever you're more than 10 feet in the air, OSHA requires a
guardrail or fall-arrest system, so shortly after my initial
purchase I invested in another Alum-A-Pole accessory, the
Pro-Bench. It bolts to the top of the pump jack and provides a
second set of brackets, so you can use another staging plank as
a work surface and protective rail. They cost about $60 apiece
and are well worth the cost. Even aluminum pump jacks have a
tendency to sway a bit, and it's nice to have a guardrail to
grab as you move around.
Working safely and efficiently two
stories up requires plenty of room for workers, tools, and
material. Alum-A-Pole's Pro-Bench provides a comfortable work
table that doubles as a safety rail. The author added a small
storage area below to hold a box or two of cedar
But the real beauty of the Pro-Bench is that it provides you
with a really handy work surface. I've brought my chop saw,
table saw, and even a metal brake onto the staging. It's even a
great way to get a large window in place without dragging it
through the customer's house. You just ride up the jacks with
the window tied off to the guardrail. I recently added a couple
of hanging brackets that hold a few bundles of cedar clapboard
or shingles. By having the material on the stage, you can
eliminate most trips up and down the ladder. But beware: If you
have two guys on the stage, you need to pay attention to how
much weight in materials and tools you're adding, so you don't
exceed the system's 500-pound limit.
Robert Augartis the owner of Augart Construction in
Turbo Sanderby Jeremy Hess
One of the dirtiest phases of a remodeling job comes when it's
time to sand drywall. I thought we had tried everything to
reduce the amount of dust, but while I was at the Remodelers'
Show in Baltimore this past fall, I came across a drywall
sander and vacuum that looked pretty promising. The
manufacturer claims that the system captures most of the
drywall dust created by sanding. After watching a demonstration
at the show booth for a few minutes, I thought the tool showed
enough merit to give it a try.
The Turbo Sander, by the Love-Less Ash Company (Price, Utah;
800/568-3949, www.lovelessash.com) has a sanding action
similar to that of a conventional orbital sander, but the
similarity ends there. Instead of an electric motor, the Turbo
Sander uses the air flow created by a shop vacuum to power the
sanding head. A turbo-shaped impeller mounted in ball bearings
provides the sanding action, as well as the tool's name. With
only one moving part, the tool is quiet and light (about 3 1/2
The sander kit includes a 12-foot hose and a fiberglass pole
that extends to 7 feet, so you can reach a 12-foot ceiling from
the floor. You can also connect the sander directly to the hose
for hand sanding. Hook-and-loop sandpaper is available in a
variety of grits, and the 4x8-inch sanding head flexes to sand
both flat walls and sloped ceilings.
The Turbo Sander uses hook-and-loop
sandpaper from 80 to 220 grit. The paper provided by the
manufacturer is of good quality but costs almost $1 per sheet.
Dust is collected along the edge of the sanding pad in a
The Turbo Sander sucks dust into a 3/16-inch groove surrounding
the sandpaper — the dust travels through the hollow pole
and ultimately into the vacuum. While the sander will work with
just about any shop vacuum, the company recommends its own
16-gallon wet-dry vacuum.
The vacuum's 12-foot hose and the
sander's 7-foot extension pole allow you to sand 12-foot
ceilings without a ladder.
To prevent the cloth filter from becoming clogged, the vacuum
includes a small agitator that knocks dust off the filter and
into the tank. You don't have to open the housing to get to the
filter; you gain access by unscrewing a brass cap. The vacuum
picks up liquids without requiring you to swap or remove the
filter, and it includes a drain with adjustable flow, so it's
easier to hit a floor drain.
I liked the extra reach provided by the extension pole and the
swiveling sanding head. Unfortunately, I found the sander to be
much slower than sanding by hand — in fact, I think it
took at least twice as long as hand sanding. On the other hand,
I estimate that the vacuum collected over 98% of the dust
generated and never released even a puff in operation. The only
times I saw any dust escape was when I ran over a window
opening or pulled the sander away from the wall before the
vacuum had a chance to inhale all the particles.
My only gripe besides the slower sanding is the connection
between the sander and the hose. It's a friction fit, and after
the tools were in use for a while, the hose would separate from
the handle. This was easily fixed with a piece of duct tape,
however. Overall, I found this sander easy to use, and it
collected dust as claimed. The Turbo Sander is $170, and the
vacuum runs about $200. At less than $400 — about half of
what Porter-Cable's system costs — this set is a great
deal for contractors in need of a cleaner way to sand
Jeremy Hessis a carpenter with D.E.R Construction
Inc. in Bainbridge, Pa.
Black-Light Bar Code.
numbers and tracking badges are often the only means of proving
that a power tool is hot, but removing or obliterating them is
easy. The new I.D.ology System from ToolWatch uses
identification fluid made from special ink. Even if the
identifying badges are scraped or sanded off, the I.D.ology
System's label will be visible under a black light. According
to the manufacturer, the system is court-admissible as proof of
ownership. Book 'em Danno! A starter kit with 500 labels,
detection light, warning signs, and 60 ml of security fluid
sells for $2,000.
Come Out With Your Hands Up!
Vehicle and heavy-equipment theft is epidemic in this country,
but the LoJack Theft Prevention System should help level the
playing field. When a vehicle equipped with this system is
reported stolen, the internal RF transmitter is remotely
activated, providing police with a signal they can track to the
vehicle's exact location. According to the manufacturer, the
system has led police to sophisticated chop shops and shipping
containers filled with stolen equipment. The tracking unit for
vehicles sells for about $700; the unit for construction
equipment costs $100 more. There are no monthly monitoring
charges, and the manufacturer provides computer and tracking
equipment (shown) to law enforcement free of charge. The system
is available in most urban areas.
Wireless Security System.
hard-wired security system installed on every job and inside
your construction trailer might be a great way to reduce
vandalism and theft, but installation is expensive and you need
access to a phone line. The Tattletale alarm uses "cellemetry,"
a cellular signal that the maker claims is 20 times faster than
regular cellular. When the alarm is activated, the device calls
a monitoring station that alerts police and others of your
choosing. The system includes some pretty cool wireless
accessories that work with the alarm. One that's particularly
useful for construction applications is The Loop ($125), a
device similar to a cable bike lock, except that it activates
the alarm when somebody tries to remove it. It seems perfect
for securing ladders, building materials, and lock boxes. The
alarm unit sells for $800, and monthly monitoring runs $30 per
Tattletale Alarms, 888/835-5668,
Computer-Assisted Tool Tracking.
Once you have more than a couple of employees, locating tools
and preventing theft and loss becomes a constant struggle, but
ToolWatch Express is meant to help. Designed for construction
companies with 20 to 50 employees, the system uses PC-based
software and bar-coded stickers on your tools. Tools are
scanned whenever they go in or out, so you have a constantly
updated list of who has what. The manufacturer claims that
company tools thought to be long gone often magically reappear
when the system is introduced. Prices start at $1,000.
You might think it
would be tough stealing a 30- or 40-foot extension ladder in
the middle of night or from an occupied construction site, but
it happens every day. To prevent the loss of your expensive
aerial equipment, you could try Reliable Ladder Locks. The
easy-to-use shackles can be mounted on your ladder rack, in
your shop, or on the job site. They're also good for keeping
your ladders from coming off your truck or trailer during
transport. They sell for $50 per pair.Reliable Ladder Locks,