Big Foot Tools' Headcutter is a one-of-a-kind saw base that turns any chain saw into a precision cutting tool.
As a manufacturer of structural insulated panels (SIPs), we make panels composed of 7/16-inch thick skins of structural OSB with a core of EPS foam, all glued together under tremendous pressure. Although relatively lightweight for their size, their 8- by 24-foot dimensions mean they must be cut in place. Building materials of this size call for specialized cutting equipment, especially considering that we cut these at bevel angles as high as 70° from vertical. For vertical and low-angle cuts on thinner panels, we use 16- to 18-inch blade circular saws, but these are only useful for about half of our cuts. For the rest, we need something special.
In our shop, we used to rely on a few styles of chain saw bar attachments powered by circular saw motors. Because they were attached to standard circ saws, the bevel angles were limited to 50°. Even at that, the available bar lengths were too short to make it through our thicker panels. We substituted longer and stiffer bars for better results, but it all still felt like a bit of a compromise. Another drawback was the difficulty of oiling the bar and chain on such accessory systems. The fast-moving chain would often melt the EPS to the cutters, making the entire process less efficient.
I was first impressed with the quality of Headcutter's construction. The bevel pivoting points are sturdy, the base is true and straight, the protractor is easy to read and accurately calibrated, and the bar connection is strong enough to hold the chain saw without wiggling or slipping. This is a tool strong enough to take the punishment of daily use in our plant. Larger, custom-size bases are also available from Big Foot Tools for more stable cutting when cantilevered out over an edge or with much larger chain saws, but for our current needs, the stock model is just right.
We matched up the Big Foot base with a Stihl electric unit, based on the results of the electric chain saw test in Tools of the Trade March/April 2007. We found that the tool balanced well in the base and was easy to use for square cuts or for cutting a bevel angle. We do custom fabrication of the panels, so no two jobs are alike. This includes cutting roof peak and fascia angles, plunge-cutting holes for windows and doors, and cutting panels to the exact finished dimensions indicated on our shop drawings. After engraving the leading edge of the base with kerf-width markings to keep the operator on track, we found this saw setup to be accurate and easy to maneuver freehand. In fact, it is easier to cut a straight line with a chain saw in the Headcutter than with our very expensive, 18-inch blade, European-made circular saw.
The Headcutter is not perfect, however. I would like to see a few additions, such as a handle at the rear of the base to push against instead of holding the base plate itself. And some form of guard behind the saw's bar could better protect a user's hand if it should slip.
The Big Foot Headcutter has increased our accuracy and productivity by letting us use a longer bar for making high-angle cuts in one pass and move faster on square cuts than with circular saw-driven chain saws. We liked it so much, we bought a second one. We fitted an even larger Stihl electric chain saw with a 20-inch bar to this one for the deepest angle cuts and constant, high-demand sawing, while keeping the 16-inch bar model for most other cutting. This setup, based on the capabilities of the Headcutter, gives us the right tool for the job for our SIPs manufacturing needs.
–Ron Harrigan owns SIPS Team USA in Bainbridge, Ga., which manufactures and erects panel buildings.
Big Foot Tools Headcutter