Tool Review: BOA Versa Saw

Tool Review: BOA Versa Saw


I recently had to pull out my washing machine and remove a section of sheetrock behind it to fix a leak. I took the opportunity, while I had the pipes exposed, to install a drain connection for a laundry sink. To splice in the tee fitting, I had to make two cuts in a long piece of 1.5″ PVC already installed in the wall. This was awkward work—the washer drain is pinched into a corner of the garage, and the pipe itself is jammed up against a stud and only accessible from the side with the sheetrock removed.

Though this type of in-situ pipe cutting can be done with a wire saw (or, in the case of plastic pipe, even just a length of twine), this seemed like a good opportunity to try out the cool restricted-access hacksaw our pals at Garrett-Wade sent me back in March. They actually sell two saws that work on the same principle, both made by UK manufacturer BOA. This one is the “pro” grade unit (which is on sale right now, I should add, for $26.75).

A regular hacksaw frame, of course, is fixed to the blade at both ends. These restricted-access hacksaws, on the other hand, are fixed to the blade only at the back end, closest to the grip, and support the front end using a reciprocating, spring-loaded bar with a thin guide slot and a rubber shoe. The shoe rests up against the workpiece, during the stroke, and the blade moves back and forth through the guide slot, which keeps it from flexing away from the intended cutting path. The upshot is that, unlike a regular hacksaw frame, you can make cuts in stuff with almost zero backside clearance.

The Versa-Saw takes standard 10″ hacksaw blades; they’re mounted in the handle with a single large Phillips-head set screw that indexes with, but doesn’t pass all the way through, the blade’s back mounting pinhole. It ships with a single, pre-installed 24tpi blade that—even taking the short strokes required by the tight clearances—makes very short work of 1.5″ PVC pipe. When starting a cut, I found it helpful to brace the shoe against the workpiece by pushing on the back end of the guide bar with my nondominant hand. The bar is equipped with a rounded pommel, seemingly for this purpose. Once the cut had been started through the pipe wall, it became easier to operate the saw one-handed.

The Versa-Saw is well made; the handle and reciprocating bar are cast aluminum, and it’s all held together with machine screws. The blue rubber grip accents are substantial castings, mounted inside the frame and indexed to protrude through openings here and there, not just glued onto the outside. The reciprocating bar is graduated for depth measurements from 0-5 inches (0-13 cm), and sprung in tension, with a coil spring that rides inside its C-shaped profile. The workpiece shoe/blade guide is made from some kind of black engineering plastic thermoformed around the bar’s business end, with a small blue rubber pad at the very tip.

It’s hard for me to imagine a better tool, for this particular job, than the Versa-Saw. I take great pleasure in those moments, and thus find it generally worthwhile to keep a bunch of odd tools around to meet whatever odd job happens to crop up. On the other hand, it’s probably worth noting that the Versa-Saw sat unused on my bench for months, a solution looking for a problem, before I found a good opportunity to use it.  There are, however, plenty of other applications I can imagine (sawing through a deadbolt from one side of a locked door, for instance), and in many ways the point of keeping a tool like this around is to have it handy for exactly those situations you can’t easily imagine, in advance.

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I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I am a long-time contributor to MAKE magazine and My work has also appeared in ReadyMade, c't – Magazin für Computertechnik, and The Wall Street Journal.

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