The Rules of Saw Maintenance

Words: Christopher Rodermond

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” - Abraham Lincoln

Words: Christopher Rodermond
Photos: Robert Podlaski

For masonry saws and chainsaws, correct operation is possibly the most important step to a long life for your tools. The second is everyday cleaning and routine inspection with attention and understanding given to the moving parts. The third is carefully replacing items when needed. If it were your only job to take care of one particular machine, it would be easy to do well. But this is only one of many hundreds of variables in your profession, and it can be difficult to always adhere to these simple rules. 

Whether a painter or plumber, a farmer, or mason, the way a craftsman takes care of their tools can be an excellent marker for how seriously and with how much pride they instill in their work. We all have an innate understanding of the wisdom that comes from the idea that a job well-done starts before and ends after a job is completed. But practically speaking, taking great care of your tools can be the easiest arena in which to cut corners when running a business. 

From humble personal experience, the maturity to keep better maintenance routines in all aspects of life, with a mind towards excellence, has come stubbornly with age. For better or for worse, the lessons most easily learned have usually come the hard way. We’ve all broken tools through ignorance, impatience, or negligence. More insidiously, when tools are expensive I would argue that we have a bias to overcome which states that 

“This tool is very expensive and therefore I have the right to be more demanding on it” through no fault of the tool. We then run the risk of putting too much stress on it. This is ultimately an unnecessarily negative impact on the bottom line. These kinds of lessons are hard-won for the young person on a journey in any profession. Those who have survived to build a profitable business are those who took those lessons to heart, or even luckier, learned good habits by apprenticing or emulating with masters. 

However, it is one thing for business owners to quietly assemble the wisdom to properly mind their equipment, they are in fact those brave men and women writing the equipment checks, hoping for a return on their investment. But the staff can be a different story. Their constraints are time and efficiency and after a long job or a long day, it is human nature to want to put the day away and turn your attention to all the other things that keep our modern lives so busy and frantic, all at the expense of the health of your tools. Therefore one of the most important steps for the long life to a masonry saw is a documented and well adhered to maintenance checklist and schedule. If you do not have this in place for major equipment you use in your profession, you are losing money.

Concrete saws are the perfect example because it is simple. They are expensive and subjected to extreme stress! Here are some ideas to keep in mind when considering your best practices for, and formulating your short and long term maintenance strategy for your masonry saws. Also, we broadly outline these key best practices and tips but encourage you to look more deeply into the subject as there are many resources online, mostly from manufacturers and equipment leasing professionals that spell out in detail step by step instructions for caring for your individual equipment.

Okay, I hate to say it, but in researching this article, the number one takeaway I can suggest for those trying to do right by their equipment is to read the manual. A good maintenance routine will be recommended IN PRINT with the documentation you receive with your saw. Also, knowing the names, functions, and safety considerations for the way the parts work in together are essential if you want to be in tune with your machine. When you are familiar with an instrument you can tell when something is out of tune and you can deal with it before it becomes a larger issue. Take pride in knowing everything the manufacturer wants to share about the use of their product!

Beyond “knowing is half the battle”, there are some basics that make sense to always keep in mind.

Do not take your engine for granted and neglect it. Maintenance is not just about the blade. First and foremost, the machine needs to be able to start up and run.  Feed your machines the best quality mixes of gasoline and oil and do not leave the fuel line gunked up with old gasoline between jobs. Check the oil frequently. 

Likewise, if you are operating a saw which requires water, coolant, or frequent lubrication, do not skimp on the requirements for the job, and adjust adequately for the job at hand. This may require adding a source of water, for example, that can not be distributed with the built-in feeders found installed on the equipment. Materials are different and you must make accommodations for those that are more difficult to cut. You must go easy if necessary or use certain patterns when making your cuts. There are lively discussions online about these best practices. 

The fastest way to wear down your saw is through poor management of the amount of heat and stress applied during operation. Other standards to keep in mind include: 

  • Use the correct blade for the job. It makes sense that blades are designed to operate within certain parameters based on the material 
  • Make sure the blade and machine have adequate time to cool down between cuts.
  • Always inspect the blade for potential damage or defects, corrosion, cracks, wear and tear, and the like. If it is too worn it will overstress the engine or the motor. Replace or sharpen as soon as necessary. Pay special attention to the bar.
  • Keep the saws running at their best efficiency levels by maintaining good tension on belts, rollers, and tensioners. 
  • The easiest way to ruin your equipment is to put it away dirty. Spray off your equipment and scrub away any caked-on concrete or other residues. Oil chains, tensioners, rollers, rotors, etc. to prevent rust and quick wear. Flush and replace fuel and lubricants. 

Treat it with love. Make it a good habit. They pay for themselves!

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