Aimed at: – Professional and amateur puzzle and model makers.
Pros: – well-priced, very competent machine with all that is needed to get to work straight out of the box.
Fretsawing is most commonly a niche pursuit with many expert amateur and professional practitioners operating out of large and small workshops all over the UK. Most of those intricate 3D jigsaws seen at craft shows that are cut out of a single block, are produced by skilled hands and a quality fretsaw such as this one from Draper.
And because a quality fretsaw is absolutely vital for these users, they tend to be very picky about what they look for. The table size needs to be big enough to support larger pieces of work, and it needs to be adjustable for angle too. The power of the motor needs to be more than adequate for near silent operation and for cutting hardwoods up to the specified depth. Blade changing needs to be simple and quick, with the options of using different blades for different materials. Setting blade tension needs to be quick and simple, and a dust blower is a “nice to have” while vacuum assisted dust extraction is the preferred option.
The above makes for a comprehensive list of requirements and fortunately this Draper Fretsaw performs to a professional standard at a typical internet price of around £110 – so it won’t break the bank.
It takes very little to get the saw ready for work. The packaging is comprehensive and provides good transit protection, but is easy to unpack and find the small pieces that need to be added before it can be used.
Three rubber feet are screwed in for grip and anti-vibration, the adjustable transparent plastic blade guard needs to be mounted and the flexible blower spout needs to be screwed in. All of these can be done without tools – and with a good read of the instructions, it shouldn’t take more than half an hour from opening the box to cutting some material.
This Draper fretsaw is certainly of robust build quality – cast aluminium for the main body with pressed steel covers for the rocker arm and on the base. The base provides ample stability for the tool and the three rubber feet gripped well on the MDF surface of my workbench.
The fretsaw weighs 22Kgs and is able to soak up the inherent vibration of the oscillating cutting action without moving on the worktop.
The 400mm measurement on the specs is, of course, the depth of the throat of the fretsaw. This depth is needed to accommodate the longer workpieces typically made in fretsaws, like custom-made jigsaw puzzles and intricate moulding patterns.
The table too is made of a one-piece iron casting with a groove on one side to hold a sliding mitre guide that is provided as standard. Underneath the table a quadrant is used to set the table angle. The quadrant has simple angle markings but users are advised to use an angle setter if absolute accuracy is required. The mitre guide channel is a loose fit – sometimes easier to use when dust is involved – but for accuracy, users have to ensure that they run the guide down one side of the channel by exerting a little side pressure on it.
Changing blades on old fretsaws used to be a nightmare because it involved clamping the ends of the blade into grips, often under tension too, because it was not possible to undo the tension on the rocker arm.
Blade changing on this Draper is easy and quick. The rocker arm can be “untensioned” by flipping over the rocker switch on the top of the arm. This switch also serves as a blade tension adjuster, needed when changing to thicker or thinner blades. By using pin-ended blades that simply slide into the grooves on the rocker arm and underneath the table, they can be secured very easily and the tension is restored by flipping the rocker switch back again.
Bearing in mind that fretsaw blades, by their nature and use, do not last very long (but they are relatively cheap to buy) it is very important that they can be changed easily.
The dust blower is very gentle and very adjustable – it is as jointed as a crab’s leg, so can be moved in so many ways to be aimed at the point of the cut. It would not do for the dust blower to be too powerful – it merely needs to clear the cut line – not raise the airborne dust levels.
Underneath the table there is a standard-sized dust extractor nozzle. The flexible end on most vac extractors should fit it and I found my extractor worked pretty efficiently in removing most dust from the machine. Ironically, it is most likely that the vacuum extractor will make much more noise than the motor of the fretsaw itself
The fretsaw motor is almost silent in operation and certainly had enough power for anything that I used the saw for – mostly cutting blocks of 50mm thick softwood and 25mm thick handles for hardwood chopping boards. The saw kerf is very thin so that sawn pieces fit together very accurately – important when making jigsaw puzzles.
Perhaps the only addition I could suggest for this fretsaw is a worklight. This is me being demanding because it is actually easy to aim a separate anglepoise lamp at the work. My desire for a worklight maybe reflects my aging eyes’ inability to follow a cut line unless it is well lit.
I got to like this saw very much in the few weeks that I used it. It just goes about its work in a very competent, relatively silent and easy to control way, with relaxed effort on the part of the human too. I reckon it could fit easily into the budget for model makers and craftspeople of all skill levels and is safe enough to be used in schools too. Although the fretsaw market has many players in it, this Draper Fretsaw does not disgrace itself and definitely should be in the running for a purchase decision.