Cutting Fiber-Cement Siding, continued
Makita 721263-A Fiber-Cement
When the Makita saw broke, I installed the four-tooth
fiber-cement blade on my Skil wormdrive and went back to work.
This blade is fantastic. Even when gang-cutting up to six
pieces, it produced smooth, fast cuts (Figure 3). And while the
work was dusty, the speed with which the saw cut made it
bearable. Although Makita would probably discourage it, cutting
an occasional piece of lumber wasn't a problem. The blade has a
street price of about $75.
Figure 3.Makita's 71/4-inch fiber-cement blade
works like a dream. The diamond tips and thicker kerf produce
clean, efficient cuts, making it a favorite of the
Kett KB-392 Cordless Fiber-Cement
This was my favorite set of shears overall. Although they cut
slower than the corded shears, the convenience of cordless made
up for the pace (Figure 4). When I first used them, the battery
pack got in my way on longer cuts. Frustrated, I loosened the
screws securing the cutting head and rotated it slightly, which
produced a more effective and comfortable cutting angle.
Figure 4.These Kett shears cut more slowly than
the corded variety, but the convenience of cordless made up for
the slower cutting speed.
The 14.4-volt drill body ran for a long time, frequently going
the whole day without swapping packs. I was grateful for the
run-time, because the battery release was difficult. Kett's
cordless shears come with two batteries and have a list price
Kett KD-292 Electric Fiber-Cement
The Kett KD-292 was my favorite set of corded shears. At 41/2
pounds, they were 1/2 pound lighter than the others. Although
initially concerned that there was no variable-speed trigger, I
soon discovered that didn't matter (Figure 5).
Figure 5.Even though these Kett shears lack a
variable-speed trigger and a belt hook, their 1/2 pound less of
weight than the others made them the author's favorite electric
Controlling cuts depends more on how quickly the operator
feeds the material and less on motor speed. But I did find one
serious shortcoming with the KD-292: no belt hook. And because
electric shears won't fit in a standard drill holster, I often
found myself looking for a convenient spot to set them down.
It's not a big problem while working on the ground, but it's a
major pain when you're up on a scaffold. The tool has a list
price of $230.
Kett KC-193 Electric Fiber-Cement
The variable-speed KC-193 is an ounce shy of 5 pounds, making
it among the heaviest of the shears, but I found that the motor
was smooth and didn't bog down, even with aggressive cutting.
This Kett model includes a top-mounted belt hook and 2
additional feet of cord, but the additional weight, compared
with Kett's model KD-292, makes it more tiring to use. Because
it lacks a rubber grip on the handle, holding the shears with
sweaty hands proved more difficult than with other models
(Figure 6). The tool lists for $260.
Figure 6.Kett's more powerful electric shears have
a belt hook, which their cheaper model lacks. But without a
rubber handle or grip insert, they're tough to hold on
Porter-Cable 6605 Cement-Siding
Based on a new 1/2-inch drill body, Porter-Cable's model 6605
is more comfortable to use than the other shears I tested. The
belt hook can be mounted on either side of the drill for right-
or left-handed use. The side-mounted belt hook keeps the drill
oriented for quick and easy retrievals, compared with
top-mounted hooks that allow the drill body to flop around
(Figure 7). The belt hook also provides a convenient thumb
rest, and rubber inserts in the handle add to its ergonomic
advantage. Although this tool weighs as much as the heaviest
shears, the additional ergonomic features and better balance
make it easier to use. The Porter-Cable shears have a street
price of $229.
Figure 7.Porter-Cable's shears have better
ergonomics than any of the other shears tested. The
side-mounted belt hook is reversible for lefties and holds the
tool in a more convenient position than top-mounted
Snapper Shears Steelhead
Because it came with the longest cord and had the most
powerful motor, I expected this tool to be a real standout.
Although I liked the 9-foot cord, the Milwaukee-built 7-amp
motor performed only slightly better than the smaller motors
found on the other drill bodies. The tool weighs almost exactly
the same as the other shears (except for the single-speed Kett
model KB-392), but the motor felt front-heavy and put extra
strain on my wrist and forearm (Figure 8). The disappointing
ergonomics were enough to make me reach for another tool.
Figure 8.Snapper's motor runs smoother and quieter
than the others, and a 9-foot rubber cord is a plus. Even with
the nice features, the front-heavy design makes the tool harder
Interestingly, Porter-Cable uses Snapper's shear head on its
fiber-cement shears, but adding P-C's side-mounted belt hook,
along with a more balanced drill, made using P-C's model less
strenuous. The street price for the Snapper is $279.
Snapper Whipper Snapper
Although it bears a strong resemblance to standard shears, the
hook-shaped cutter makes this tool unique among the
fiber-cement tools I tested. Designed for curves rather than
straight cuts, the Whipper Snapper cuts tight radii for outlet
boxes and pipes (Figure 9).
Figure 9.The Whipper Snapper's unique cutter head
makes tight-radius turns around pipes, vents, and electrical
boxes. It works well, but such a specialized tool is probably
meant only for siding subs.
I also tried some 90-degree turns for notching under a window;
while the shears managed it, I'm more comfortable making that
type of cut with a circular saw. The SS-414 definitely cut a
tighter radius than the other tools, but it's a little too
specialized for me to justify the cost. My Rebel Rotozip spiral
cutter, equipped with a tile-cutting bit, proved an excellent
tool for tight-radius cuts and also has the ability to make
plunge cuts, something the Whipper Snapper can't do. Street
price for the Whipper Snapper is $299.
My first experience working with fiber-cement siding taught me
a lot. I found that the specialized shears all produce a decent
cut and don't make dust, but they cut more slowly than I'm
accustomed to. I used my wormdrive circular saw equipped with
Makita's fiber-cement blade more than the shears, in spite of
the dust. The quality of cut was better, and gang-cutting six
pieces is obviously more efficient than cutting a single piece
at a time. I'm sure my familiarity with the saw added to my
reliance on it, but speed was also a big factor.
In an effort to increase my efficiency, I tried using a set of
shears to cut two pieces of siding at the same time. I figured
that, since two pieces of siding are about the same thickness
as the 7/16-inch fiber-cement trim, which I was able to cut
easily, cutting two pieces of siding shouldn't be a problem. As
it turns out, the trim is less dense than the siding. The
result of my test was a spray of ball bearings spilling from a
broken shear head.
I also found that my Rotozip spiral cutter with a tile bit did
an excellent job of making curved cuts around vents, pipes, and
electrical boxes, and that that little tool is more versatile
than those designed exclusively for fiber cement.
For me, the best option for cutting fiber cement would be to
combine effective dust collection with a wormdrive or miter
saw. But for now, it looks like my old saw and a good dust mask
are the way I'll go.
Matt Moodyis a carpenter in Cabot, Vt.