Worm-drives vs. sidewinders? A conversation with Larry Haun.comments (21) June 4th, 2009 in Blogs
Sometimes a real battle can rage as to what type of saw a person should favor. I have met people with fixed ideas on this topic who were ready to go “saw to saw” and may the best carpenter win.
It is my experience that we prefer to use the saw we first picked up be it a worm-drive or a sidewinder (direct drive saw). In 1951, I laid down my handsaw and bought a second hand Skil 77 for $85. After having spent many a day on a lumber pile cutting studs to length by hand, I thought that this power saw was sent to me directly from heaven.
So which saw do you use? It seems to be an east-west thing. My understanding is that sidewinders were early on marketed east of the Mississippi and worm-drives to the west. The first models of sidewinders that I saw many years ago were pretty flimsy, hard to hold when they kicked back, were not the worm-drive workhorse, had an armature that burned out under stress, and would soon be battered out of shape on a production framing job. The worm-drive saw can and does take a beating!
I have some trouble using a sidewinder because I am right handed and don’t like to look to the right over the saw frame to see the cutline. For me, when using a worm-drive, the cutline is easy to see by looking straight down. Sidewinders would seem to be the better choice for left handed people.
Yes, the worm-drive is heavier, but you don’t have to be a gorilla to use one. Look at me---long, lean, and hungry looking, skinny as a rail, with arms that look like sticks. Carpentry of any kind has little to do with brute strength. It does have a lot to do with co-ordination, something many people call athleticism. For many years when we were framing in So. Calif., we were one of the few outfits to hire women framers. The women we hired learned to use the worm-drive just like the rest of us.
I have used a sidewinder enough to know that I can rip and make any other kind of cut just as accurately with a worm-drive. On the other hand, I do often use a sidewinder when working with material lighter than sheets of ply or 2x stock.
In my travels back east, I did notice that the type of saw one was using actually determined the way one worked with wood. The worm-drive saw has the handle to the rear while a sidewinder has the handle nearer to the topside. Because of this, we learned to do our cutting in a downward position thus eliminating the need to set up sawhorses or cutting stations. About the only time we use sawhorses on a jobsite is when we are cutting rafters and even then these are temporary horses that can hold a hundred or more common rafters.
When you cut downward, bent over with wood in hand, the weight of the saw and gravity does most of the work. For me, this is what makes the worm-drive saw a real production tool.
On the other hand, folks using a sidewinder most often do their work on saw horses or a saw table when cutting wood. I don’t think, it is necessary for me to comment on which way is best. I think that this is determined by the kind of work you are doing, framing or finish.
Invariably, carpenters divide the universe into two camps - worm-drive saws (West Coast, right-hand) and sidewinders (East Coast, left-hand). Despite all the various arguments for and against each type, I agree with Larry - it’s a matter of the function. I’m from the East, and have always used a sidewinder. If I had been a framer, we may not have been having this conversation, but I did lots of remodeling and trim work, so the lighter saw made more sense. I’ve heard of guys trimming with wormdrives, but I could never do it. Those heavy machines (even the magnesium models) are for guys with forearms like Popeye. (Unless, as Larry says, you know how to leverage that weight. He’s also pussy-footing around the fact that he could still outsaw most of us with a dull garden rake.) I don’t even like the big-plate sidewinders that Milwaukee and DeWalt have made; I have a Makita that’s lighter and suits me just fine. I just want to get through the day with as few complaints as possible from my shoulders, elbows and wrists.
Complicating my point of view is the fact that I’m left handed, and have found lots of ways to compensate for my “disability” in a right-handed world. I’ve grown so accustomed to holding the saw in my left hand and reading the blade from the right (and getting a face full of sawdust) that I’m completely disoriented when I try to use a wormdrive. I usually have enough to think about when building without having to get the left side of my brain’s hand-eye coordination involved.
Wormdrives have more torque, yes, but it’s typically not an issue with sidewinders if you maintain a straight line and a sharp blade. You can’t just plow through the work, it’s true, but again, that’s the role of function. Chew through 2x stock and concrete-spattered plywood all week long, go with a wormdrive. Cross-cut and rip thinner stock with closer tolerances, use a sidewinder.
So where does this discussion leave us? I guess my hope is that we could all be “suddenly free from fixed mind.” This would leave us open to being able to discuss the relative values of the type of saw we prefer, along with many other topics, without having to go “saw to saw.”
Agreed. Want to discuss the relative merits of East Coast/West Coast basketball instead?
posted in: Blogs, framing, finish carpentry, circular saw
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