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The Cheaper / The Better: Folding Hand Saws

This is why I can't have nice things

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Nothing gets me more stoked than finding cheap products that work just as well as the expensive stuff. But I guess it’s all relative. When we’re talking about saving, like, twenty bucks, I say splurge. If you can feel, or even just perceive a difference, surely you can justify shelling out one extra Andrew Jackson over the lifetime of your new jacket or seatpost or helmet. Oddly enough, though, I don’t really apply that logic to anything else I buy. My cookware is basic, my power drill doesn’t have a hammer function, and my wiper blades will be just fine until my next oil change, thank you very much. Maybe that’s why I do most of my light-duty trail cutting with a cheap hardware-store folding saw instead of something fancy from—who else—Silky Saws.

One reason is that I just don’t do much light-duty trail cutting. I’m usually wielding my Makita Sawzall at the very least. But for quick strike missions, or just as a sidearm on dirt-work days, a folding saw is nice to have. I’ll also usually keep a small one in my pack during the winter, when there’s always new deadfall to be found. It’s a nice way to make a problem area passable until the chainsaws arrive. I use a regular handsaw just rarely enough that I’m fine buying the $39, 10-inch Corona RazorTOOTH (yep, that’s how they write it) from down the street at Baller Hardware. But then, I started to get jealous of the Japanese-made, high-class cachet of the $60 to $80 Silky saws that some of my crewmates use. Seemed like the sort of thing I ought to write about.

Silky isn’t a gardening equipment company or a tool company. It’s a saw company. Aside from a few hatchets and machetes, all they make are saws. Which means, they make a lot of them. From the five-inch Pocketboy to the 40-goddamned-inch Katanaboy Professional. That variety alone is probably enough to justify the price. Throughout the seven different lengths they offer, there’s usually a straight or curved option. Within that, there may even be a fine- or extra-fine-tooth option. And that’s just their folding saws. There’s almost as much variety in Silky’s fixed-saw lineup. If you have specific needs, they may be the only brand with the specific solution.

My needs are pretty basic, though. I’m cutting 1- to 6-inch branches, often overhead or deep in a thick bush. So, I decided to try the 10-inch-(ish) Gomboy Curve 240, which retails for $61. The first thing I noticed was the lack of injection-molded plastic. The structure around the hinge is nothing but steel, including the release trigger. The only visible part of this saw that isn’t metal is the rubber handle. That does mean that there’s a slight audible rattle instead of the quiet turgor that I feel in my plastic mass-market Corona saw, but Silky’s system seems to be more robust. The hinge hardware is more like a frame-pivot bushing than some oversized pocket knife. But it does rely on friction to stay closed, instead of an extra notch for that release trigger like on the Corona RazorTOOTH. I had to snug it up after a week and add some thread locker, but it’s been good ever since. Or, I could have relied on the rather nice plastic case it came with to keep it closed, but it adds weight and takes up space. So, no.

As for actually using the Gomboy, the differences were a little more subtle, especially when comparing it to another brand-new saw. Even a cheap brand-new saw. Channeling my inner bushcraft YouTuber, I compared the time it took to complete various cuts on each of the saws. When cutting through soft, green wood, the Silky saw was less than 10 percent faster than my Corona saw. Both saws put the action on the pull stroke, and when gravity was on my side, neither required any significant downforce to keep the teeth biting. But the thicker and harder the wood, the better the Gomboy would perform. The blade’s a little thinner than on my Corona, so it’s not displacing as much wood. And as someone who’s seen first-hand how seriously Japan takes its metalwork, I can tell you that Silky’s saws are as refined as an XTR cassette. 

But what really impressed me was how the Gomboy performed on dry, dead wood. It wasn’t the hot-knife-through-butter feeling I got when cutting green wood, but it took more than 20-percent less time to get through a thick, dead branch with this saw than it did with my Corona RazorTOOTH. And those are the cuts that are usually the most tiring, so that let-the-blade-do-the-work thing was a real perk. I could see one of those Katanaboys being a huge asset for anyone without easy access to a chainsaw. Using one of Silky’s saws, you’re constantly reminded of just how nice they are. But that’s the problem.

As with most of my product reviews, I use these saws in a very southern-California setting. We’re surrounded by low-lying chaparral that’s taking over the tread and needs to be removed entirely. Most of what needs cutting, needs cutting close to ground level, sometimes below it. I appreciated the fine edge on the Gomboy so much that I couldn’t bear to attack roots with reckless abandon like I do with my Corona saw. It’s like trying to parallel park in someone else’s Cadillac instead of my own beat-up Tacoma. It’s a little nerve-racking. I’m often shoulder-deep in brush, groping for the base and cutting until it’s free, sometimes sawing through as much rocky earth as soft wood. After just a few full days of that, my cheap saw starts to feel like a cheap saw. But it’s ok. It’s cheap.

And really, I wouldn’t have called it “cheap” if I didn’t know about high-end saws like the Gomboy. Corona’s fit and finish is clean and robust, and the rubberized handle is easy to grip in the middle for power cutting or just on the end for those hard-to-reach spots. This one is only three months old, same with the Gomboy, but I have a smaller one that’s been in rotation for two years and nothing in its handle has failed or delaminated. And again, when it’s brand new, the Corona saw does nearly as good a job as the Gomboy at the sort of living wood I cut most often. But I don’t feel like I have to baby it, which in my environment, means that the work can go more quickly. 

And that means I’m replacing the blade more quickly. That’s right, both Silky and Corona offer replacement blades for their saws, which is probably the most important thing to know when comparing the cost of ownership between these two saws. There’s also sharpening the blades, but the Gomboy uses Silky’s hardened teeth, which are not designed to be sharpened. Thankfully, when the Gomboy’s blade eventually loses its edge, I can get a replacement for $43 instead of paying the full $61 for a whole new saw. That’s a huge chunk of the overall cost, but because most of Silky’s craftsmanship is in the blade itself, that seems fair. But a new blade for the Corona saw is just $15. For many reasons, it’s not ideal to buy the cheaper thing just because you can afford to keep throwing it away when it wears out, but in my reality, that’s exactly why I like using the Corona saw over the Gomboy. In the same way that southern California’s dirt is harder on tires than that of the Pacific Northwest, the trail-cutting here is harder on saws. So, I don’t fight it. I just hold my nose and let my cheap saw hit the dirt once in a while.

This is not to say that nice saws like Silky’s aren’t useful in these environments. Those Gomboy-weilding crewmates of mine still get a lot done while also keeping their fancy saws out of harm’s way. It’s a lot easier to hack out a mountain whitethorn root ball if all those pesky white thorns are gone. Unfortunately, though, I’ve come to the conclusion that nice saws are just too nice for me. But if you tend to take care of your stuff, maybe you’ll find them to be worth it. I mean, it’s just an extra $20.