By Rick Schwolsky
If there's a building material that's less fun to work with than rebar, I haven't found it. Maybe I never got set up right to work with it, but it always felt like I was cutting my way out of jail with a nail file. Hack saws took forever, recip saws shook the fillings out of my teeth, and I wasn't smart enough to buy the right tool for the job, a long lever-action cutter. Now, maybe I haven't gotten any smarter, but three tool companies sure have changed the landscape when it comes to cutting, bending, and tying rebar. And if I had a steady diet of rebar work day-in and day-out, these tools would definitely be on my truck.
First, there's Makita's 3/4-inch 18-volt cordless rebar cutter (model SC190DWDE). These powerful, portable shears cut 1/8- to 3/4-inch diameter rebar in about six seconds. The variable-speed trigger has a one-handed forward and reverse switch so you can hold the rebar with one hand and run the tool with the other; although at 23 pounds you're going to want to get the tool in a good position for each cut. The cutter head rotates 360 degrees to help you do that. This tool is merciless on rebar; squeeze the trigger and moves in for the kill — it breaks through with a final snap. It comes with two 2.6 amp, NiMH batteries, a charger, and a plastic case. Replacement shear blades are available. It sells for $2,570. Contact: Makita USA, 800-462-5482, www.makitatools.com.
If I were cutting and bending rebar every day, not only would I want the portability of the Makita shears, I'd also go for the power, speed, and versatility of Hitachi's new combination electric cutter/bender (model VB16Y). Take this tool and set up a cutting/bending station, and it'll make both operations go much faster.
The 530-watt, VB16Y cuts 3/8-, 1/2-, and 5/8-diameter rebar in about three seconds, then bends it to a wide range of angles in about five seconds. You do have to shift position of the tool for each operation, but if you do all your cuts, and then start on your bends it works efficiently. The variable-speed trigger with safety lock gives you great control and accuracy over the action, especially in bending angles. And you can pre-set the tool for repeat operations. The tool weighs 43 pounds, and sells for about $2,400 (street price). Contact: Hitachi Power Tools, 800-829-4752, www.hitachi.com/powertools.
And finally, here's one of the coolest tools I've ever seen – Max's 9.6-volt cordless rebar-tying wizard. This one-of-a-kind tool has been around for a while, but I'm still amazed every time I see it.
If cutting and bending rebar is tedious, tying it is sheer drudgery. But Max's two models change that: the RB392 and the RB213. Each tool ties a different range of rebar sizes or mesh from an onboard coil of wire that feeds through the tools' jaws and wraps around the steel — leaving a triple-wrap with neatly twisted ends in less than a second.
To operate the tools, all you do is place the jaws across the intersection and pull the trigger. You can also adjust the torque on the RB392 and the length of wire used on the RB213. Both tools will provide about 360 ties per battery charge, and with the two standard batteries, and a 25-minute recharge time, you should be able to keep moving all day. The tools also come with a holster and plastic case, and you can get an extension bar that let's you tie-off steel mesh for slabs without bending over. The RB392 which handles larger rebar sells for about $2,450 (retail), and the RB213 which handles smaller rebar and mesh sells for $2,090 (retail). Contact: Max USA, 800-223-4293, www.maxusacorp.com.
All of these tools come with pretty serious price tags, but it won't take long for you to recoup your investment. These tools will increase jobsite quality and production, while raising employee morale at the same time.
–published in Hanley Wood's TOOLS OF THE TRADE magazine, May/June 2002