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Hemmings Motor News Blog

Hemmings Motor News has been around since 1954. We're proud of our heritage, but we're also more than the Hemmings full of classifieds that your father subscribed to. Aside from new editorial content every month in Hemmings, we have three monthly magazines: Hemmings Muscle Machines, Hemmings Classic Car and Hemmings Sports and Exotic Car.

While our editors traverse the country to find the best content for those magazines, we find other oddities related to the old-car hobby that we really had no place for - until now. With this blog, we're giving you a behind-the-scenes look at what we see and what we do during the course of putting out some of the finest automotive magazines you'll ever read.

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Tool Test: Chicago Electric Reciprocating Saw

Posted March 11, 2021 12:00 AM by dstrohl
Pathfinder Tags: power tools

The roll cage in my 1961 Impala was slated for retirement, because our rally racing days are behind us. Usually, for surgery like this, I'd grab my 4.5-inch angle grinder and a pack of cutoff wheels, or the torch. But, because the work was inside the car, parked inside the garage, I was a little leery of setting something— or everything—on fire. The Impala's interior is mostly stripped, but open flames, plumes of sparks, and hot shrapnel flying around in the cockpit of a vehicle freak me out a little. Actually, a lot. So, I did what comes most naturally in these situations: I sat around thinking of a new tool to buy. I've made it through the last 50 years without owning a reciprocating saw—though I've borrowed one from a friend a few times. I suspected some of the welds weren't going to surrender without a fight, so abusing a buddy's saw seemed like a jerk move—even by my low standards. I'd have to spring for my own saw, but I wasn't looking to spend my life savings, either.

A recent issue of Hemmings Motor News (HMN) included a coupon for Harbor Freight's Chicago Electric 6-amp reciprocating saw, priced at a startlingly low $19.99. I headed over to harborfreight.com and the reviews (more than 5,000) were positive. But would that thing have enough umph to plow through 15/8-inch (mild steel) roll-cage tubing and the welds gluing it to the floor? I opted instead for the 7.5-amp "Heavy Duty" Chicago Electric priced at $49.99 [Editor's note: Now $44.99 at the time of online publication], and then added two four-packs of Bauer 6-inch bi-metal blades, at $8.99 each, to my shopping cart. The grand total, with a 20-percent-off coupon from the ad in HMN, came to a reasonable $65.84 (which included tax and shipping).

The blades arrived first and then the saw followed about a week later. Everything looked okay and I was eager to see if it could do the job. The twist-style chuck made inserting the blade simple—it was actually harder to get the blades out of the plastic packaging. Armed and ready, I pulled the trigger—the saw and the Bauer blades blew through the tubing without any drama. Cutting out the cage's eight legs—a job I'd been dreading for weeks—took all of an hour. I thought I'd overbought purchasing eight blades, but I wound up using every one of them. I won't toss them out, because they appear to have some life in them. But the difference between a fresh blade and a blade with any use on it, was striking: The saw labored less, cut quicker, and was easier to control. (I'm impatient bordering on wasteful with consumables anyway—sandpaper, grinding discs, etc.—so your results may vary.) The saw's twist chuck gripped the blades tightly—I had only one pull free during a pretty nasty bind. One small gripe: I wasn't crazy about the location of the trigger lock on the handle, as I kept switching the thing on inadvertently.

I can't comment about the saw's longevity because this was its first and only outing, but it paid for itself already, by not being a fire hazard and stressing me out like cutoffs or the torch would've. I hope this thing holds up, because it cuts steel more quickly, neatly, and accurately than I'd imagined. It also has me sitting around thinking of another tool to buy: a cordless reciprocating saw.


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Re: Tool Test: Chicago Electric Reciprocating Saw

03/12/2021 8:30 AM

I have learned that to cut very straight lines it is important to choose the widest blade available for the material.

A wide blade nearly guides itself in a straight line.

Scroll cuts,of course, do better with a narrow blade,of course.

To increase blade life,reduce the cutting speed and pressure,and spread the work over the entire blade by varying the cutting area on the blade.

I have cut many linear feet of hard steel using this method,but I was not in a hurry...I had more time than money.

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Re: Tool Test: Chicago Electric Reciprocating Saw

03/12/2021 9:28 AM

Since reciprocating saws became common place don't use torch for cutting very often. Almost caught garage on fire cutting up 1979 chevy camper special when gas came out of fuel line after cut a section of frame. Broke an awful lot of blades cutting up 1975 Buick Electra - there is metal in those cars like I have never seen in anything else. Funny thing about fire department vehicle extraction training - recip saw is faster than hydraulic shear!

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Re: Tool Test: Chicago Electric Reciprocating Saw

03/14/2021 9:43 PM

And if you don't need pretty cuts, the carbide blades are awesome. I've seen them used to cut through 19-strand 1-inch diameter stainless wire rope.


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Re: Tool Test: Chicago Electric Reciprocating Saw

03/12/2021 10:46 AM

It has been my experience with Harbor Freight tools that they are good light use homeowner tools. Will not usually satisfy the serious hobbyist and not up to the rigors of employment use. It is the price versus longevity versus how often you might use it that makes their stuff attractive.

I go there for a new 'pickle fork' $4.00, every time I do the lower control arms on my Caliber which is about every 24 months. Tool deforms to the point it becomes hard to use after the second separation.

The Caliber front suspensiion was a really bad design, They down graded all of the components from the Jeep Cherokee/compass platform. Thus the ball joints are not anywhere near robust enough and come welded into the lower control arm which itself is lightweight stamped steel with no reinforcing. For a part that carries 70% of the weight, 100% of the drive and cornering forces, 80% of the braking forces, not the place to look to cut corners.

Knowing is the end result of learning, not believing.
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