If You Could Only Have One Brick Saw - 10/29/2006

Which would it be?

If you're new into hardscaping, or maybe you just struck out on your own with a new business, you're probably in the process of accumulating tools. This can be both fun and nerve-racking; fun because, hey - what tool buying isn't fun? It's also nerve-racking because you have a limited budget, so every purchase has to count. Buying the wrong tool could mean having to buy a different model of the same kind of tool soon after the first purchase, cutting into the margins you need to feed your family. Or it could mean having to work inefficiently with the wrong tool for the job.

So I thought I'd look back at all of the kinds of hardscape work we've done and rank brick saws based on if I could only have that single saw. I'm not going to rank brand against brand, mainly because different brands perform differently under different circumstances, and a brand that doesn't work well with what we do might be perfect for what you do.

First I should describe the type of work we most often do. We run a landscape company that specializes in hardscape installations, so brick paver patios and retaining walls are our normal fare for a given day. Cutting pavers and SRW's are a daily occurrence for us.

So one of the things that is important to us is a saw's ability to cut to a specific depth. Having to flip retaining wall block over, making a second cut to get all the way through is a drawback.

Another important consideration is the weight of the saw. Heavier saws aren't bad when you only have a few cuts to make, but if you're cutting for an hour or more non-stop, a few extra pounds makes a big difference. So I'd want the brick saw I chose to be light.

For now I'll set aside issues of reliability, vibration dampening and other things like that, as they are issues associated with brands more than saw types or sizes.

With those two main considerations being the basis for my decision, depth of cut and weight of saw, my choice for a first (and/or only) saw is going to be a 14" saw, every time. Many times the difference between a 14" brick saw and a 12" brick saw for a given manufacturer is just the size of the blade guard. Engine size and output are often identical between the saws (check the specs on the Partner K700 and the K650 for reference). And you can always put a 12" diamond blade into a 14" or 16" saw, so you'll maintain the maneuverability around curved patio cutting that you have with a 12" saw, but with just a bit more weight.

Because it's a 14", it'll have a depth of cut of about 5", which can cut some smaller retaining wall blocks all the way through. But it still can't cut the more standard block completely through, as those tend to be 6" thick or thicker. My rationale for a 14" saw in this situation goes like this: When building a retaining wall, you're not cutting anywhere near as much as you'd cut when finishing a brick paver patio. Because the frequency of cutting these block is much less, and because a 16" saw tends to be so much heavier than a 14", the negative of the added weight outweighs the positive of the additional depth of cut. If we were installing more segmental retaining walls than anything else, my opinion would probably be different.

If I were buying a new 14" saw, I'd probably choose from among these:

Partner K750
Stihl TS460
Wacker BTS 1035 (identical to the Dolmar, Speedi Cut, Makita)
Husqvarna 375K

Diamond Bits - Current Gem
5/17/2005 Pants vs Concrete Saw
10/23/2005 Cutting Channels in The Weir Stones
12/8/2005 Weir Stone Vindication