Capitol Concrete Cutting

June 9, 2005
The right tools are vital to successful concrete cutting operations. That is especially true when undertaking large-scale or one-of-a-kind projects. What may not be evident is how much the choice of saws can affect overall business: capital investments, scheduling, operator training requirements, crew size and many performance factors.

Choosing the right saw for the application is key for successful concrete jobs.

The right tools are vital to successful concrete cutting operations. That is especially true when undertaking large-scale or one-of-a-kind projects. What may not be evident is how much the choice of saws can affect overall business: capital investments, scheduling, operator training requirements, crew size and many performance factors. Choosing the right saw for the job can provide competitive advantages and improved profitability.

The efficient and accurate cutting of apertures such as windows and doorways through concrete or stone is an excellent case in point. “Cutting contractors often unnecessarily use wall saws to cut walls, roofs and floors,” says James Mann, president of Rick’s Concrete Sawing, Topeka, Kan. “In many instances this will sacrifice profitability, require structural repair work and take far more time than is necessary.”

Rick’s Concrete Sawing has been cutting concrete, asphalt, masonry and stone for almost 30 years using core drills, flat saws, wall saws and hand-held cut-off saws. With more than 4,000 jobs a year, Mann says his firm emphasizes efficiency and safety as well as quality.

One of their current projects is large-scale and one-of-a-kind: the more than $150 million renovation of the Kansas State Capitol building in Topeka, originally completed in 1903.

Although the facility had been periodically modernized, the Capitol was in dire need of updated electrical, telecommunications, safety and mechanical systems, as well as considerable structural work. The grand-scale renovation and restoration has required that participating contractors develop innovative approaches to deal with antiquated structures and systems, and protect the historic integrity of the Statehouse.

Mann says the project gave him insight about choosing the right saws for cutting stone, masonry walls and floors on a project that demands protective measures as well as heavy-duty cutting.

"The Capitol project required cutting through heavy limestone to create many doorways and windows, as well as cutting the basement slab in order to 'lower' that space to make it larger and more useful," Mann says. "Traditional 14-inch hand-held cut-off saws cut to a maximum depth of 5 inches, which makes them inadequate for cutting through most walls and floors. While track wall saws are excellent tools, they are also very expensive and require hours of setup time, often involving two or three men."

"By using a ring saw to cut windows and doorways, we save an average of two hours setup time on every window and doorway," says Mann. "There is virtually no setup time, and over-cutting is usually avoidable."

Mann explains that by using a hand-held cutoff saw to accurately cut a 4-inch-deep "guide path" for the window or doorway, then using a ring saw to follow the path and cut all the way through the concrete or stone, the use of a wall saw is often avoidable. Because the ring saw runs on rollers at the outside edge of the blade, a 14-inch blade can make a 10-inch deep cut. That means an operator can cut all the way through 10-inch walls and avoid over-cutting of corners.

Ring saws allow operators to work much closer than standard cut-off saws to corners, pipes and I-beams without damaging expensive cutting blades.

A cleaner job
Since most wall saws are hydraulic, they require hauling much more gear than is required for gas-powered saws. They also require greater skills than gas-powered saws, so the operators are more expensive. As with most other concrete saws, wall saws must over-cut in order to complete corner cuts, resulting in repair work and possibly weakening wall structures.

Like other concrete cutting contractors, Rick’s Concrete Sawing uses a complete range of tools, including chain saws, walk-behind saws, wall saws and various hand-held saws. Among the latter, the ring saw has been the firm's secret weapon on the Capitol building as well as other projects that would normally require a track wall saw.

"Of all the products we have tried, the ring saw has had the greatest impact on our business over the past five years," Mann says. "That's because of savings on equipment purchases, savings on manpower through smaller crew size, the ability to get work done faster, plus the added flexibility we have in scheduling our crews."

"The savings goes way beyond purchase price," Mann says. "We are able to get work done faster with less crew. Since wall saw operators require more training and higher rates, we save there, too. Plus, we realize substantial savings on equipment maintenance and replacement."

Mann says the company has realized added productivity gains because the added flexibility of cutting tools has resulted in greater flexibility in scheduling crews.

"If we're cutting a 4-foot by 4-foot window using Partner hand-held saws, we can be done in an hour," Mann says. "That translates into lower costs, the ability to handle more work, and to be more competitive in the marketplace."

Versatility pays
Return on equipment investments often depends on the equipment being in continuous use. While a variety of cutting equipment, including wall saws and chainsaws, are indispensable for many concrete sawing contractors, few tools will get more usage than hand-held saws, including the ring saw.

On the Topeka Statehouse project, portions of the concrete flooring had to be cut and replaced, and numerous doorways needed to be cut through heavy stone in order to provide for additional basement rooms as well as access to walkway tunnels leading to parking and other Statehouse facilities.

"We've used a range of cutting tools on this project, including a flat saw with a 48-inch blade to cut through flooring in the subterranean tunnels," says Mann. "But, the ring saw has been a major player in cutting the stone walls for new doorways as well as other remedial demolition work. With its deep-cutting and corner-cutting capabilities, this is probably the most versatile tool we have."

Operator comfort and product features
Mann says that using the ring saw on typical projects ranging from residential basement windows to cutting windows and doorways in tilt-up industrial buildings, an operator can zip through the job at an amazing rate.

"It's important to make operators comfortable while they are on the job," Mann says. "Cutting three 6-foot windows or three doors in one day is still a lot of work for one crew. We try to make the operators more comfortable by putting them on scaffolding that will make the center of the cut about chest high. That also helps to ensure that the accuracy of the cut will not be compromised by operator fatigue."

Mann adds that much of the fatigue factor comes from the stress of controlling a hand-held saw, not just merely the weight of it.

"Another important factor that we never overlook is: easy start, and always-start. Some contractors may be tempted by price and then wind up in the field with a cheap saw that doesn’t start or does not have a long service life. Those products have no value," says Mann. "We look to Partner not only for innovation and features, but we know we can depend on them to hold up on the job."

Ed Sullivan, a technology writer based in Hermosa Beach, Calif.

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