Buying a Cutoff Saw from an Online Dealer

Over the last seven years or so buying online has gotten less risky and a lot more convenient. I should qualify that. If you know what to check for, it has become less risky. When you’re buying from an online dealer, all you’re really trying to do is make sure the dealer you select is capable of delivering on their promise of offering goods in exchange for your money in a secure way. I’ll try not to get too deep into the geek world of how everything works – I just want to give you a few tools so that you can have a reasonable expectation of a safe, successful transaction when buying your cutoff saw.

So the first thing I like to do is check whether they have an SSL certificate. SSL stands for Secure Socket Layer, and is a protocol for transferring encrypted information back and forth from the seller’s server to your PC. The encryption of data is what helps keep your transaction secure – like sending a message in code between the only two people that know the code. An SSL certificate is given by one of a few trusted authorities (Verisign and Thawte are two of the bigger names) and is in effect an ID to prove that the site trying to sell you products is who they say they really are. Kind of like a passport or driver’s license.

If you’re using Internet Explorer there are two places to check to make sure this dealer has an SSL certificate. The first is the address bar. If they are using a secure server, the website address should begin with https://, which is different from the usual http://. You’ll also notice at the bottom right of your browser window (if you have your browser status bar enabled) there’s a little padlock icon. If you hover over that padlock it’ll tell you the level of encryption being used by that server and site (128 bit seems to be standard). You can also double-click that icon and a new window will open with the certificate information. It will tell you who granted the certificate, who the certificate was issued for (this should be the site you’re buying from), how long the certificate is good for along with other information. If the site you’re about to buy from does not have an SSL certificate or use a secure server, you could be putting your credit card information at risk. Your best bet is to move on to the next dealer who does use a secure payment system.

On top of being able to process secure transactions, I like to know that a company is reputable, and there are a few ways you can check that. Websites like, and were created to provide a place for people to find a good deal from reputable companies. Run a search for the product you’re interested in and you’ll find a list of sites offering that product, their price, and a rating for their company. If the website you want to buy from has had many positive reviews, that’s one more indicator that they’ll be safe to shop with. Having only a few reviews may indicate they’ve been around for a short time or have possibly not had many happy customers.

I also like to check the internet archive, This site periodically scans all of the internet looking for new sites or sites that have seen changes since the last visit. I’ll check to see if the saw dealer site has at least appeared in the archive for more than a year (two is better), and that it hasn’t changed hands in that time (going from a cartoon site to a tool selling site, for example).

The final check I like to make is on a search engine like Google, Yahoo! or MSN. I simply type in the name of the company trying to sell me the cutoff saw and search. Often if people have been burned by a site they’ve purchased goods from, they’ll tell someone about it somewhere on the web. Sometimes I’ll search for “don’t buy from (site name).com”, or “(sitename).com sucks”. It’s not uncommon to find at least one disgruntled customer – I’m sure you have at least one, right? But if there seems to be a large number of them, you might consider trying a different dealer.

If all these things check out, I’m feeling pretty comfortable that this is a legitimate operation and the likelihood is pretty high that the transaction will go off without a hitch. Now let’s see about buying a cutoff saw through an auction site like eBay.


Buying a Cutoff Saw Online

When you’re considering buying a cutoff saw online, you’ve pretty much got 4 options when it comes time to lay your money down (see below). The first two shouldn’t present any problems for anyone; it’s the last two I want to talk about.

  • Buy the saw from a construction supply store. The saw will either be new, or it’ll be a used rental unit (and if they are selling a rental unit, despite all the tools available to them to repair the thing, then you should probably pass).
  • Buy a used saw from someone else in the construction business. Follow my guide to buying a used brick saw when looking the saw over before you buy and you’ll be fine.
  • Buy the cutoff saw new from an online dealer. You should know what to look for in online dealers to keep your credit information as secure as possible, and to be sure you’re dealing with a reputable company.
  • Buy a new or used saw through an auction site like eBay. I’ve been watching eBay like a hawk the past few weeks and am frustrated with the mistakes people are making in their bidding. I’ll walk you through what to look for in a seller, and how to successfully bid for a saw. I’ll also give you some examples of the ending prices of auctions for several saw brands and models, so you know the price ballpark you should be playing in.

Happy cutoff saw hunting!


Brick Saw Winterizing | Step 5 – Fuel System

Last but not least I go through the fuel system. I’ll admit that I’m not always good about changing the fuel filter, and have only done so every few years on our saws. Another part of the fuel tank is the breather that allows for pressure changes in the tank (that usually come from fuel being consumed). This can also get clogged with brick dust, so I’ll clean this out during the winterizing process by soaking it in a solvent or gasoline to allow air to find it’s way into the fuel tank.

Then I’ll fill the fuel tank and add fuel stabilizer. I like to run the saw for a few minutes after adding the stabilizer to make sure the stabilized fuel has made it through the fuel system, all the way to the carburetor. I’ve heard that in parts of the country where gasoline has been “oxygenated”, there are problems with letting fuel sit in the tank for more than a few weeks, and completely gummed carbs are sometimes the result. We don’t have that type of fuel in my market, so unfortunately I can’t speak to that problem at all.

Lastly I’ll reassemble anything that has not been put back together on the saw, wipe the saw down with a WD40-covered shop rag to give it that new saw look, then put it on it’s shelf and grab the next saw.


Brick Saw Winterizing | Step 4 – Inspecting the Pull Cord Assembly

After several years of having to waste time on a jobsite repairing a broken pull cord, I’ve made changing them at year-end standard practice. Sure, we’ll still have one break now and again during the season, but fixing them before they’re broken seems to take one small headache out of a day that can be filled with them. When I have time (which is almost never) I’ll take a few moments and check the cords for each of the saws, and replace them if worn. We also keep spare cords with each crew for job site repairs.

One thing to note – I love the elasto-start system for our Stihl brick saw. The way the cord is configured to give a little at the end of a pull seems to extend the life of the cord. It’s so good that I like to use the Stihl cords for all of our saws, whether they are Stihl or not.


When attaching the starter cord assembly to the saw, you may need to pull the cord just a few inches to get the assembly to seat properly into the saw. If when tightening the bolts to the assembly you notice there is a bulge in the assembly or that it isn’t possible to tighten all the bolts, not having it seated properly is likely the cause.


Brick Saw Winterizing | Step 3 – Inspecting the Clutch, Belt and Pulleys

Unless a belt breaks during the middle of the season, this is the time I’ll inspect and replace a brick saw’s belt. Just like with a car or truck, look for glazing of the belt (it’ll be shiny), or cracking that most likely comes from age and use. Also look for dust from the belt – there may be a fine coating of black dust inside the belt guard indicating the belt is getting rubbed the wrong way, possibly indicating some other problem.

A misaligned pulley or a burr on a pulley, given a little slippage, could gouge the belt and shorten it’s life. In the case of our Partner K950, we were burning through belts every 5-10 hours of use. Turned out the needle bearings in the clutch pulley were shot, making that pulley wobble. At 4,000+ RPM, the belt didn’t stand a chance.

I’ve tried a few things to address a slipping pulley – sometimes just tensioning the belt is enough. Other times I tried belt dressing, but that didn’t ever seem to work. The only thing that has been reliable to address slippage has been grinding the pulley groove with a rotary tool like a Dremel.

Depending on the amount of gunk on the pulley I’d use the wire brush wheel, the cutoff tool or one of the grinding wheels to clean them off – the trick is to put the Dremel at an angle where you can get a consistent cleaning around the entire pulley. Set the tool so that as it spins to clean the pulley, the pulley naturally wants to spin, too. You can provide some light resistance to the pulley with your finger to slow the rotation of the pulley, ensuring a good cleaning. Do this to both sides of the belt groove in the pulley. You might also consider removing each pulley and repacking the needle bearings with grease.


Lastly, check the clutch. Check to see that the springs still have a tight hold of the clutch pads. You might also start up the saw with the blade, blade guard, belt cover and belt off, so that just the clutch and pulley spin. The clutch should engage the pulley when throttled up and release it when throttled down.

I like to hit the clutch with compressed air. Sometimes I’ll use gas to clean caked brick dust out of the clutch. Don’t use a lubricant like WD-40 – you don’t want the clutch slipping any more than it was designed to. You might try a brake cleaner or carb and choke cleaner – whatever you choose make sure it doesn’t leave a residue behind that could cause slippage. In the picture you see I’ve removed the clutch using an impact wrench but this isn’t necessary to test it or clean it – the picture was taken during the repair of our K950 Partner brick saw.


Brick Saw Winterizing | Step 2 – Carburetor, Piston, Cylinder and Engine Exterior

My cleaning of the carburetor is usually not very involved, typically including making sure the choke plate and throttle are free to rotate (and cleaning the shaft and springs if they doesn’t freely rotate), and inspecting the venturi and jet and anything I can see without disassembling it, cleaning wherever I find dirt. I’ll typically use compressed air and/or gasoline to clean the carburetor, wiping it clean with a shop rag then stuffing the venturi with a piece of rag or paper towel to prevent contamination while I work on the rest of the saw.

By the way – I like to plug up every orifice that leads to the combustion chamber whenever one is exposed; accidentally drop a screw or a small clod of dirt through the exhaust port, air intake or spark plug hole and you’ll always remember the time that plugging those holes can save.


Next I’ll look over and clean the engine exterior, more specifically the cooling fins. I take a toothbrush and compressed air to the fins and even remove the muffler to get at the brick dust deposits around the exhaust port. Pistons and cylinders tend to go bad near the exhaust. The heat from the exhaust itself will tend to build up and harm the piston rings and cylinder, but when brick dust accumulates (and remember that clay brick is an excellent insulator) on those fins near the exhaust port, it keeps the area that much hotter, increasing the chance the engine will overheat and the rings will melt to the piston. At that point you either have a $900 paperweight, or a $300-$500 repair.


Another area where there tend to accumulate a lot of carbon, oil and gunk is the decompression valve. The function of it is pretty straightforward – when you depress it, it opens up a small pathway for air to escape during the compression stroke of the engine, greatly reducing compression, making it easier to start. Once the engine starts, the frequency of compression strokes blasting air at the valve head are enough to push it back out, closing that escape pathway, giving the saw full compression to start turning the blade. In time the buildup of carbon can affect the seal, allowing air to leak during compression, reducing saw power. To clean it I’ll just remove it from the engine and soak it in gasoline. But before you remove it, clean as much dust and deposits as you can from the area – otherwise they may end up falling into the cylinder. Once you have the valve out, stuff a rag into the hole where it was, then clean the valve. Pictured is before and after cleaning of the valve on this saw.

For the cylinder and piston themselves, I just look through the exhaust port to check the condition of the piston, rings and the cylinder walls. You can see a little bit of brown on the piston pictured below, but that’s our Stihl TS 400; it’s 9 years old, so I’d expect to see a little wear and tear on that brick saw. Buildup of brick dust around the exhaust port is part of the reason for the burning of the piston.


I’ll then check the spark plug (cleaning the area in advance like I did for the decompression valve), and replace it if it appears that the electrode or side terminal (where the current arcs, causing combustion) is getting misshapen, or is fouled for one reason or another.


Brick Saw Winterizing | Step 1 – Air Filters and Covers

When I change the air filter covers and filters, I like to inspect both the filter and the housing/covers. Sometimes you’ll find the filter is overly dirty in one area or suspiciously clean in another, suggesting dirty air might be getting around the filter.

You might also find a trail of brick dust on the housing where it doesn’t belong, suggesting the filters are poorly sealed, or that there’s a crack in the filter covers/housing. In these pictures you’ll notice that though the multi-stage, oil-impregnated filter has collected a lot of dust, there is still a lot of dust along the path that leads to the paper filter below. We had a bad seal somewhere, either between covers or with the first filter itself.

Brick dust trail left as unfiltered air passes through system.

If any of the housings/covers are cracked, replace them. Brick dust getting directly into the combustion chamber will shorten the life of your brick saw from 10 years to about 10 days. Most construction supply stores have parts in stock or can order them. Replace all the filters, paper and otherwise. It’ll run about $15-20 per saw, but will help your saw last for years. Our newest saw is 3 years old (which replaced one that either got stolen or was dumped along with broken concrete and other spoils from a project – darn employees!), and our oldest is 9.

But before you install the new filters, thoroughly clean the housings and covers for the air filters. I’ll often use a toothbrush (sometimes with a little gas to loosen caked on dust) and/or air compressor.


Winterizing Your Brick Saw

If you run your business anything like I run mine, you try to get your equipment in top shape before the construction season starts. When the construction season does start, you work like crazy trying to get as much work done as you can before the ground freezes again in winter, making MacGyver-like fixes on your saws until you have a chance to properly repair them at the end of the year. That’s how I’ve done it. Probably not the best way to go about it, but I just don’t have time to do it any other way. So winter provides me with the opportunity to go over our brick saws and our other tools carefully to spot anything that needs repair.

In the hopes that I can help you to keep your brick saws running for years, I’ll walk through the steps I follow in winterizing our saws. Follow the links below for each step. The saw being used in these steps is a Partner K700, but the steps are similar with the other saws we maintain.

Step 1 – Remove the air filter covers and filters, inspect and clean

Step 2 – Inspect and clean carburetor, cylinder, piston and engine exterior

Step 3 – Clutch, belt and pulleys

Step 4 – Pull cord assembly

Step 5 – Fuel system


Buying a Used Brick Saw

In general I’m not a big fan of buying a used brick saw; the saws are inexpensive compared to their tub saw counterparts, and are usually run until they can cut no more. A used saw is often on the verge of collapse when it’s offered for sale.

But if you just don’t have the money to buy new, here are a few things I picked up from a small engine repair instructor when evaluating a used brick saw.

1) Inspect the inside of the cylinder. This isn’t as hard as it may seem, and usually only requires an allen wrench or flat head screwdriver. Simply remove the 2-4 bolts holding on the muffler, then remove the muffler. Open the compression release valve, and spin the blade or arbor slowly until the head of the piston isn’t blocking your view of the inside of the cylinder. Using a flashlight or good daylight, look at the cylinder wall; if you see scratches and gouges, dirty air or contaminated fuel has been inside that cylinder and damaged it. You may notice some blow-by in the exhaust when you run the saw. It’s possible that this could be fixed by boring out the cylinder and putting in some slightly larger piston rings. But unless you have a set of tools that would make a mechanic jealous, you’ll have a hard time doing this. Piston ring and head replacement can cost around $300 for parts and labor. Add that to the cost of the used saw, and you’re almost better off buying new. Plus with a new saw you get a warranty, and usually a few coupons for discounts on oil or blades.

2) Check the general appearance of the saw. Does it look like it’s been tossed from the top of a building a few times, or given the passenger seat for the ride home? I found that too much jostling can cause some big problems. We had a Partner K700 brick saw that the guys must not have been treating with the respect it deserved. There is a single bolt that holds the entire air filtration unit to the body of the saw. This bolt somehow was nearly broken from being tossed around, and the vibration while in use finished it off – snapped clean off. The entire air filtration system was now just vibrating around the saw, gravity was the only thing holding it down. In the meantime, outside air filled with brick dust and dirt was going directly into the cylinder for combustion. This was caught pretty quickly and duct tape held the filtration unit on for the rest of the day, but the bolt had to be replaced. This alone was about $150 in repairs. So a well cared-for saw should bring a premium over one that looks like is was dragged to the job with a chain.

3) Look at the air filters. This one is pretty simple and straightforward. If the air filters are past their prime, it’s a good bet the brick saw is, too. Who would try to sell a saw without cleaning it up and replacing the filters?

4) Start and run the saw. This is probably the most obvious. See how long it takes to fire it up, how it idles, and whether the saw bogs down during a cut (you might want to bring your own brick blade for testing purposes). Is there a lot of smoke when it’s running? (If so, you probably found a problem in #1.)

If you’ve gone through this checklist and the saw still looks like a good buy, than it probably is. Make sure it’s a brand you can find parts for locally, and you should be able to get several good years from buying a used brick saw.


Cutoff Saw Maintenance – Measuring Blade RPM

Do you know how fast your cutoff saw blade turns? I don’t mean the specs the manufacturer gave you for how fast it could turn, or how fast it should turn at factory settings with factory conditions, I mean how fast it turns right now. No?

Having that information about your saw will do several things for you. First and foremost it’ll tell you if you have a healthy cutoff saw. A saw that runs within a few hundred RPM of the specified rate in your owner’s manual means you probably have good a smooth running engine, with the right carburetor settings, full combustion, a clutch that grabs the belt with little or no slip at full throttle, and a well lubed pulley that the belt pulls well. All of that together gives you a fast-turning diamond blade on your cutoff saw, and gives you the most amount of torque you can have to cut through brick, block, concrete or metal.

If the saw is off the pace by a lot, you can begin to investigate the different reasons your saw might be running slow and adjust them. But you can’t make adjustments if you don’t first know there’s a problem. You find that out by testing your cutoff saw’s RPM. This is accomplished with a laser tachometer, and is a pretty simple operation.


Using an old, worn-out blade, place a reflective sticker toward the perimeter of the blade. Start the saw and get it to full throttle and keep it there (either have someone help you, or use a string to tie the throttle wide open). Aim the laser at where you think you placed the sticker (the blade will be moving so fast you won’t be able to see the sticker), and begin measuring. Within a second or two your laser tach will give you a reading for your saw. Now compare that figure to the specs for your saw to see it it’s running at peak performance, or if it needs a little tweaking.


As I mentioned earlier, check the parts of the saw that might affect blade RPM, including the condition of the belt, the condition and lubrication of the pulley, the condition of the clutch, and the carb settings. You should also check the spark plug, and look for excessive carbon buildup (you might see some leaking out of the compression release valve, if there is any). Make adjustments to these different parts of the saw as they are needed, and you should be able to get your saw back to spinning like a top…a mach 1 top, that is.