A Cut Above

Since its invention as a sharp rock used by primitive humans for hunting and eating, the saw has proven to be a most rewarding tool for mankind. From its humble beginning, the saw has evolved to a state of such advancement that one exists for nearly every conceivable cutting need.

In many instances during a typical work day, a saw can potentially make a job easier, safer or faster for the landscape professional. Whether the job requires clearing fallen trees from a property, trimming limbs from buildings for presentation or cutting cross ties for a landscape construction job, the right saw can save valuable time, money and fatigue.

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To match the wide variety of cutting needs, manufacturers have created an equally wide variety of saws. From traditional chain saws for cutting large wood, to clearing saws that take on vegetation that a string trimmer can't, to pole saws that allow you to cut limbs in high or difficult-to-reach places, it makes good business sense to equip your crew with the right saws. The most important thing is to accurately assess your needs and then choose the right saws for the applications that you and your crew encounter most. If you know what you need, you'll have no trouble finding a saw that's a perfect fit.

CHAIN SAWS

The most common saw you're likely to find on a landscaper's truck is the chain saw. A chain saw can perform a variety of jobs, including clearing brush, cutting limbs and sawing landscape timbers. No other tool can match its ability to cut through large pieces of wood.

Just as there are features that make a mower or trimmer unique, chain saw manufacturers will incorporate certain unique features into their products. One important benefit to landscape professionals is dependability. One of the leading causes of difficult starting, poor performance and premature engine failure is a dirty air filter. While it is important to regularly clean and service the filter, some saws have dust removal systems that allow a saw to run longer and stronger between filter cleanings. In addition, consider the ease with which you can access and clean the air filter.

Another feature to look for in a commercial chain saw is the power-to-weight ratio. Simply put, you want a saw that packs more performance into a smaller package. This means more power with less size and weight. Less size means better maneuverability. Less weight means reduced operator fatigue.

Despite what Home Improvement and Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor tells us, you can have too much power in a saw. If your job only requires occasional use of a chain saw for small applications, a saw with 3 hp or less is your best bet. A saw this size will provide enough power for occasional trunk clearing, limbing and clearing but will not fatigue the operator nearly as much as a heavier, more powerful saw. For more demanding jobs, a 4- to 4.5-hp engine may be appropriate. This size engine can handle the demand of timbers and bigger tree trunks. Of course, still larger saws are available, but landscapers don't frequently encounter situations where such large units are needed.

Bottom line: Do not let yourself be tempted to buy a saw based only on price or power. Use your money wisely, and buy a saw with the features that will make the saw an asset to your fleet.

CLEARING SAWS

Another type of saw that is particularly useful for the landscape professional is the clearing saw. A clearing saw is defined as a trimmer power head and shaft with “bicycle” handlebars and a circular blade in the place of a traditional trimmer head and line. If your job application requires frequent brush clearing, then a clearing saw may be a good choice for your fleet.

Clearing saw engines generally range up to about 65cc. They are built more powerfully to handle the extra punishment doled out by heavy brush and trees. Clearing saws may come with fewer power options than chain saws, but their versatility comes from the variety of cutting blades available. A “maxi” blade looks like a smaller version of a circular saw blade. With this blade on a clearing saw, you can clear saplings and fell small trees. Maxi blades are also easy to sharpen. A “multi” blade is suited more for use on heavy grass, vines and other heavy brush that a regular trimmer cannot handle. It comes in many distinct shapes and sizes.

Clearing saws offer two distinct advantages compared with chain saws. First, the operator doesn't need to be in the thick of the brush he or she is cutting. The operator is in an upright position with less strain to the back and arms. Further, clearing saws come equipped with shoulder harnesses to balance the unit's weight. This is an important safety, comfort and productivity issue. Second, even though chain saws have numerous safety features to prevent injuries, clearing saws provide even more safety by further removing the operator from the potential harm of a blade in motion.

The biggest disadvantage to using a clearing saw is that it is not as versatile as a chain saw. While a chain saw can perform nearly all the tasks that a clearing saw can (admittedly, with more effort), the reverse is not true.

When considering whether a clearing saw is suitable for your fleet, think of the applications. The best productivity can be gained from using the right product for the right job. If you perform brush clearance services, a clearing saw is the right saw for you.

POLE SAWS

The latest innovation to come from saw manufacturers is the “pole saw.” This tool combines extra reach similar to what you'd attain with a traditional manual pole saw with the blade of a chain saw powered by an engine. This type of saw can be used in several ways. For example, pole saws may allow your crew members to cut limbs without climbing trees or ladders. Also, like the clearing saw, it creates more distance between the blade and the operator for an added measure of safety.

A feature to look for in a pole saw is a design that helps the saw blade “dig” into the wood. This not only enhances performance, but also helps prevent kick back. It's important to take a pole saw for a “test drive” to find out just how well it cuts. Another important factor is how the weight is balanced. You should look for a pole saw that is lightweight and well-balanced without sacrificing power.

MATCH THE SAW TO THE TASK

While neither the clearing saw nor the pole saw have the functionality of a chain saw, both are valuable tools for professionals with specific needs. The most important thing is to truly understand your needs. Then your local power equipment dealer can help you with your selection based on your needs, and in most cases, even provide a loaner saw to test before you buy. When you use and maintain your saw correctly, it can be a valuable long-term investment for your company, contributing to your long-term productivity and success.

Mark Michaels is a business unit manager for Husqvarna Forest & Garden. www.husqvarna.com.

HUNGRY FOR POWER?

One cubic centimeter, or cc, equals 0.061 cubic inches, while 1 cubic inch equals about 16.4 cubic centimeters. Typically, the cc is the unit used to define engine size, or displacement (the volume of the combustion chamber), but you'll see cubic inches used as well.

Obviously, larger engines generally are able to create more power than smaller ones, but there isn't an absolute, direct correlation between size and horsepower. Further, horsepower isn't the only determinant of how effectively the tool will perform work. Overall equipment design and engineering significantly affects how well the horsepower is put to use (i.e. how well it cuts).

The moral of the horsepower story is: Don't get too hung up on power or cc's. Bigger jobs require bigger engines, but the effective difference between a 3.5-hp saw and a 3.7-hp saw may not even be noticeable. Conversely, two saws with identical engine size or power might cut very differently due to other design factors.

BLADES…TAKE YOUR PICK

When it comes to brush-cutting blades, the innovation appears to be boundless. Some have a familiar look, resembling a circular saw, but a wide variety of other designs is available.

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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