A few weeks ago we did a quick post on the new Rockwell BladeRunner ($179, Amazon), from our limited exposure at the STAFDA tradeshow (see here). Since that time we were lucky enough to get one to test out and provide some feedback. Additionally we got to test some of the accessories available and at the end of the day this tool along with several other Bosch Power Tools would end up in the well deserving hands of TheMetroSchool.org.
The Metro School is a high school in Columbus, Ohio that accelerates learning in math, science and technology in cooperation with The Ohio State University. Basically when someone finishes high school here they are almost 2 years into an engineering degree at OSU! Ohio Power Tool has become one of the school sponsors to get them equipped with their own arsenal of tools. In a time when most schools are eliminating shop class due to budgets and liability we are happy to support schools going the other direction and putting tools back in the hands of America’s youth. Check out robotics.metroschool.org to learn more about their robot building & competitions.
When we were discussing what tools might be best suited for a group of high schoolers, the BladeRunner seemed like a good fit. The unit is smaller, safer and easier to control than a table saw but still able rip plywood straight as well as miter cuts in wood or metal. For precision cuts it handles much like a scroll saw and the easy blade change makes it pretty simple to go from plywood to cutting aluminum tube, perfect for building robots and doing other projects. Additionally with the vacuum attachment it almost cleans up after itself, very important when your workshop is also a classroom you will be learning college level calculus in next period.
Right off the bat we did find a few drawbacks with the BladeRunner, first the cord is very short, it doesn’t even touch the ground on a high work table, second the work surface area is pretty small and limiting. We understand the unit is designed specifically to be portable and Rockwell very much succeeded there but at the same time we wanted more support on the left side for larger material. Simple solution here was to build something ourselves. See the full Facebook photo album.
What better testing ground for the BladeRunner than to build its own tool storage unit that would give it more work surface as well as giving the school a place to store its new stash of tools. The design was simple and since we were trying to use the BladeRunner as much as possible we went with a predominantly plywood design. There are some drawbacks vs. using a traditional jig saw, namely when it was realized the tool cabinet was custom built for the perfect work height for me (6’6”) and not high school kids. The cabinet had to be chopped 10” from both the door and base just as it was about to be finished. No sweat for our trusty jigsaw, but could never have been done on the BladeRunner.
We also got 2 BladeRunner accessories to test out, the Picture Frame Cutter & Circle Cutter (Both $29). The picture frame cutter obviously has a very specific purpose, which we have never cut our own picture frame so unfortunately we can’t give a truly insightful view on that task. However for the purposes of the Metro School this jig is idea for measuring and cutting 45 angles into aluminum tubing which it does very well. The accessory is a little cumbersome to get out and put away as it has the tinniest screw which seems like it would get lost very quickly. Other than that this could be a very useful add-on for specific applications. The circle jig was a little more of a question in our heads, the BladeRunner does such a great job of giving the user very good cutting control (better than a regular jig saw), we were able to make very nice circles with a compass and freehand cut. The circle jig also requires you to use 4 screws to attach the piece to the jig so you may have to go back in and fill the holes afterwards. Again for specific applications, maybe robot wheels, this could be just what the doctor ordered but not necessarily for the BladeRunner to be an excellent tool.
We mentioned is our previous post, but will mention it again, we are really happy to see this tool works with standard T-shank jig saw blades. We would be willing to bet there was a meeting or two in production of the BladeRunner where it was discussed to make accessories exclusively for this unit (to sell more Rockwell accessories) and someone vetoed the idea. Thank you. We already have a ton of jig saw blades for cutting every kind of wood, metal and ceramic and this tool is now 10 times more useful instantly. Also it is very reassuring to know if for some reason we didn’t have the right blade a trip to any hardware store in America would have us back up and running in minutes.
Overall we were very impressed with the Rockwell BladeRunner for the price and its intended audience of home owners. Thinking back a few years ago living in a condo with limited space this would have been an ideal tool. On the otherhand for serious craftsman who already have a good jig saw, scroll saw & table saw this would probably serve little use, I’m sure you know where you fit. We think this tool will definitely grow in popularity similar to the Rockwell JawHorse ($169, Amazon) has and find its way into many homes in 2011. We think there would also be room in the market for a more heavy duty model with beefier motor and extension rails on the left side to support larger material. Just a thought to ponder Rockwell guys.