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Use the right tools for faster, easier work and less dust

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The SS210M Manual Shear takes some effort, but it's great for rake cuts up to 21 inches long -- no electric power needed. (PHOTOS COURTESY OF BOB RUDD) I've been working with fiber-cement siding and trim for the last several years and have seen it become an increasingly popular alternative to wood siding. One of the problems builders have had to deal with, though, is that although fiber-cement is a great product, until recently there weren't a lot of choices for cutting it. The regular carbide blade in a circular saw makes a great cut, but the resulting dust is horrible, both for the workers and the customers. Fortunately, as the popularity of these materials has grown, a wide variety of specialized tools and accessories has emerged. Although I specialize in residential construction, here in Texas these products are being widely used in commercial construction as well. On the majority of my job sites I've used the 8-inch lap, but the 4x8 sheets of siding, with or without texture, have become quite popular, too. No matter the size, though, it's the materials you use and the size of the jobs you do that will influence how you think about cutting this material.

Cutting With Shears

I plugged along with a regular 7 1/4-inch circular saw with a carbide blade for years until, luckily, I discovered fiber-cement shears (or as they're called around here, "nippers"). I wouldn't recommend them as the only tool, but they are a "must have" for anyone installing fiber-cement siding on a regular basis. The SnapperShear Steelhead SS304 110V (retail price $279, from Pacific International Tool & Shear, P.O. Box 1604, Kingston, WA 98346; 800/297-7487; www.snappershear.com) is my personal favorite. This handy tool is a dust-free fiber-cement cutting whiz. It will cruise through miles of cement siding before wearing out the blades (see Figure 1).

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The SS304 Snapper Shear will cruise through miles of siding between blade changes, and it's dust free (above, left). The new Model 6604 shears from Porter-Cable are especially easy to handle, and the belt clip is handy (above, right).
(PHOTO: PORTER CABLE)

The blades can be changed out quickly and inexpensively, at about $65 for a complete kit. It's easy to use, lightweight, quiet, and gives a smooth cut. I use it primarily for 3/8-inch by 8-inch lap siding. It's not much good for 4x8 sheets, though, and doesn't have the capacity to cut 3/4-inch trim material. Another option is the recently introduced Porter-Cable 6604, 110-volt shears ($240 retail from Porter-Cable, 4825 Hwy. 45 North, Jackson, TN 38302; 800/487-8665; www.porter-cable.com). They are easy to handle and make for smooth cutting. The blades are not as durable as the Snappers, but I really like the clip on the end of this tool, which allows you to attach it to your nailbags. Another line of electric and pneumatic shears, which I haven't tried, comes from Kett Tool (Kett Tool Company, 5055 Madison Rd., Cincinnati, OH 45227; 513/271-0333; www.kett-tool.com). The price for their KC-193 electric shear retails for about $260.

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Figure 2. The pneumatic SS309 WindShear Steelhead is a real convenience when you're up on the scaffold. (PHOTO: PACIFIC INTERNATIONAL)