Review By Dean Bielanowski  GMC Website - http://www.gmcompany.com


GMC LS236LS
235mm (9 1/4") Circular Saw
Review
By Dean Bielanowski

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Please note: Since this review was published, Global Machinery Company (GMC) has gone into receivership and is no longer operating. As such, spare parts or technical support cannot be obtained directly through them. Their website at www.gmcompany.com appears to still be available online and offers some product information and manuals but contacting them will receive no reply. Note that OnlineToolReviews.com does not work for GMC, nor do we offer any support or spare parts for their products.

Perhaps one of the most recognized power tools for the woodworker or carpenter, the circular saw offers portability and versatility to the user. It is the "go anywhere" power tool of choice when it comes to cutting wood for a wide variety of tasks or projects. Builders and carpenters usually own several!

For finer cabinetry work in a well-equipped workshop, the circular saw may not see as much use, particularly if a table saw or cabinet saw is available, however, the circular saw is still the best option for tasks like breaking down large sheet goods in the absence of a large sliding table for the stationary saw, or a panel saw.

I once owned the Triton 235mm circular saw, but sold it along with my Triton workstation when I bought a new cabinet saw. To this day I still regret letting it go. It was a solid saw with great cutting capacity. I have been using a 7 1/4" circular saw ever since and there have been numerous times when I need that extra cut depth the 9 1/4" (235mm) circular saw offers.

I managed to get my hands on the GMC LS236LS 235mm circular saw recently and gave it a good look over and workout. What follows is my review of the tool.

GMC LS236LS Circular Saw
First and foremost, the saw comes packed in a box with good styrofoam casing protection. There is no plastic case for the saw (very few circular saws come with them) and even fewer people actually keep their saws in them! Apart from the saw in the box, included is a full color user manual, which, as is the case with all GMC product manuals lately, very well put together with easy to follow instructions and sharp full-color photographs. There is also a guide fence and arbor nut wrench, but let's examine the saw itself in detail now...

LS236LS Specifications & Discussion
In terms of construction, the saw body is a mix of hard plastic (incorporating the main handle, motor casing and front handle) and rigid aluminum (saw base, blade guard, bevel and depth adjustments etc). As with most 235mm saws, this one is quite heavy. It weighs in at around 7.5 kgs (16.5 lbs). It seems to be built quite well and feels solid in the hand. As a rigid base plate is necessary for accurate and repeatable cuts, it is good to see GMC have implemented a fairly thick aluminum base on the LS236LS that resists unintentional warping or twisting in use.

The LS236LS saw features a powerful 2300W motor and everything is double insulated for safety. This is over 3HP, so there is plenty of power to cut through even dense lumber at full cutting depth. I don't think you will have much trouble at all in the power stakes when using this saw. I rarely noticed the motor being strained during the test period when making cuts in most timber species. You will notice it working that little extra when cutting very dense timbers at full depth cut capacity, but we experienced no motor stalling or any other noticeable motor issues as a result of cutting full depth in dense hardwoods. Naturally, you should cut a little slower and ensure your cutting blade is sharp when tackling the harder wood species. In softwoods like pine, the 2300W motor seemed to power through them without taking a backward step.

As with most larger circular saws, they can and do emit a fair amount of noise when you fire them up and as you are making cuts. The user manual doesn't actually list the decibel emission spec for the saw, but it would have to be over 80dB for sure I would think, and hence, ear protection is required for safe use. The saw didn't seem to be any degree louder than other similar spec universal motors in other tools I own.

The main and front handles are comfortable to hold and use. While the main handle features small raised grip cones in the design, I would have liked to have seen a rubber overmold on the grip surfaces for that little extra added comfort. Chance of hand slippage is minimal however with the current design.

The no-load speed of the saw is listed at 4500 RPM. Not an overly important figure except when it comes to buying new blades for the tool. You just need to make sure the blade you buy is rated to spin at 4500 RPM for safety. Most TCT circular saw blades these days are, so it's not really an issue.

And speaking of blades, the LS236LS spins a 235mm blade (9 1/4"). The saw comes supplied with a stock 20 tooth TCT blade. The included blade is surprisingly sharp out of the box, and I have used it successfully throughout the test period making many cuts and it has held its sharpness quite well. I was expecting worse as stock blades included with many tools (and many other brands of tools) are often less than average in the quality stakes. Despite this, the blade still only has 20 teeth, which makes it most suitable for ripping tasks. If you want to do a lot of crosscutting with your circular saw and wish to get reasonably clean cuts, you will need a blade with a few more teeth. A 30, 36 or 40 tooth TCT blade will work quite well for both crosscutting and rip cutting tasks, although rip cutting might take a little longer. Replacement blades to suit can be readily found at any good hardware store. You don't need to use GMC blades either, as long as the blade is 235mm (9 1/4") and has a 25mm arbor, it will fit. The manual makes mention not to use blades thinner than 1.2mm or thicker than 2.5mm however. Considering that the blade is actually the part of the tool that is doing the cutting work, fitting a good quality, sharp blade will greatly increase the quality of cut the saw makes, and your overall experience with the tool. In fact, one of my favorite tools is a small and very light, el cheapo 7 1/4" circular saw that was my first one ever bought many years ago. The stock blade that came with it was questionable, but I replaced it with a high quality Irwin trade blade and the difference was remarkable!

As mentioned above, the saw base is of aluminum construction which adds to the weight and solid feeling of the saw. The retractable blade guard is constructed of the same material, although of a slightly thinner gauge. A retractable guard handle with rubber overmold grip provides a little extra insurance against slippage when retracting the guard to make particular cuts.

You will notice attached at the rear of the blade guard is a plastic dust collection port. It measures roughly 1 1/2 inches (outside diameter) so is suitable for hookup to a smaller vacuum system (high speed, low volume). Dust is hard to collect from a circular saw at the best of times, but any addition to help catch excessive dust from this type of tool is a welcome addition for me. In use the dust port seemed to reduce expelled dust by about 25% (as close as I could guess), however, I couldn't help wonder if that figure would have been increased if the dust port was moved several inches forward (more higher in the guard arc) than its current position? I say this because a lot of dust seemed to be expelled just forward of the dust port on many occasions. Admittedly, however, raising the port up the arc would mean your dust collection hose sits higher and would most likely get in the way of operating the retractable blade guard and lever, so it may well have been placed where it is for this very fact. Regardless, if you can't use the circular saw outside and allow the wind to dispose of your debris (and hopefully not straight into the neighbor's bedroom window!), a dust port is a handy addition to reduce exposure in an enclosed environment.

I usually stock several blades for my circular saw, although I mostly leave the combo 40 tooth blade on for most cutting tasks, only switching to a 16 tooth or 24 tooth blade when I am going to do a lot of rip cuts. Switching blades on the LS236LS is not really any different from other circular saws. You simply engage the spindle lock button on the inside edge of the blade guard forward of the handle to lock the saw's spindle/arbor. Then use the supplied wrench to remove the arbor nut, remove the blade, add the new blade of choice (ensuring it goes on in the correct orientation) and add and tighten the arbor nut once more. Nothing to it really.

In terms of cut depth, the LS236LS can cut up to 87mm deep (3.43 inches) at 90 degrees setting and 56mm (2.2 inches) at a 45 degree bevel setting. The metal depth locking lever on the left side of the handle near the base allows you to set the depth of cut required. A good saw will have a solid depth guide rod to hold the saw "square" to the base plate at all times, despite what height the body of the saw is raised to in order to make shallow cuts. The LS236LS passes this test, the depth guide rod maintaining blade alignment quite well no matter what height the saw is set at, and retains alignment equally well when set for a bevel cut too. The saw can indeed cut bevels from 0 to 45 degrees with major scale indicators at 15, 22.5, 30 and 45 degree settings. The bevel adjustment arm is impressively solid, strong and rigid, allowing accurate bevel settings to be maintained right throughout a cut. I have seen weaker bevel adjustment features on saws that cost 50% more! A metal bevel locking arm with rubber overmold handle locks the desired bevel setting in place. Additionally an adjustable screw allows the saw to return to the zero degree setting accurately and repeatedly each time.

Redeye Laser Guide
GMC can be attributed to adding a laser line guide to almost any tool, and many of their tools in their product line now feature their "Redeye" laser guides. There is always great debate as to the usefulness of a laser guide implemented on a circular saw. Some like the feature, others think it is pointless. On the LS236LS saw the laser guide is mounted at the top of the arc on the metal blade guard. Mounted is perhaps not the best word though. Rather, the laser is encased in the blade guard in its own molded housing which forms part of the blade guard assembly itself. This affords it great protection. The Class 2 laser beam projects out in front of the saw to show the projected cut line of the blade. The on/off switch for the laser is located on the top forward face of the main handle and is a simple push button switch. The laser is powered by the mains power, so the saw's power cord must be connected to a power source to turn the laser on. Note that the saw itself does not need to be spinning for the laser to work. It can be operated independently.

The laser itself is reaosnably bright and there is no trouble seeing it in indoor or workshop environments. Outdoors, the laser can be a little harder to see, particularly in the middle of the day during very bright, sunny conditions where it can be quite difficult to see. This is a common issue with all laser line generators, so its not just an issue with the GMC Redeye lasers. You can purchase laser line enhancing glasses from some hardware stores (and I believe GMC also sells their own glasses) which help you to spot the line a little easier outdoors. These glasses are quite inexpensive too and might be a worthy purchase if your work is done outdoors. In use I found the laser to be very accurately aligned to the actual blade's cutting line. This is good because there doesn't seem to be any way to adjust the laser line easily.

As mentioned above, there is great debate as to the usefulness of a laser on a circular saw. Personally, while I don't think it will turn you into a professional saw cutter by using the laser alone, I feel there is worth in including it. While you can generally line your cut up with the cut line notch at the front of the saw's base, the notch is often too short to make more precise adjustments as you cut. The laser line projects further out from the saw and gives you a much longer line to match against your marked cutting line, so minor angle variations in cut can be judged much more accurately. Of course, if you want to make a long, parallel cut, the included fence attachment is the accessory of choice, but sometimes the fence just doesn't have the capacity, and out in the field if you need to make a straight cut down the middle of a full sheet and want some form of straight accuracy without using a clamped fence or straight edge as a guide, the laser can be a useful tool. Personally, I like having that feature available if it is needed, but I didn't find I needed it for the majority of cuts I was making. It does help you manage and get a feel for your new saw however and develop the technique to cut straight freehand.

Of course, as with all laser products, caution must be taken. Never look directly into the laser, point it at anyone else, or use it on reflective surfaces. Check the included manual for all safety precautions.

Use and Conclusion
It might be worth mentioning the retail price for this saw now, as most of you know, I try to review all tools based on their purchase price, rather than comparing one tool to another tool who's price is different. The GMC LS236LS circular saw retails for AUD$199.00. This, in my opinion, puts it in a price range a little above the weekend warrior or budget tool purchaser. As a result, I was looking for features that set it apart from those lower-end models and whether these features offer good value for money given the retail price.

Firstly, overall construction seems excellent. The saw is strong and rigid with very little side to side play in the motor housing with reference to the saw base. This is a good sign of basic quality and often determines how accurately a saw will cut. And given the many test cuts we performed, the results did reflect this accuracy. Strong metal construction is found pretty much everywhere it needs to be, with only hard plastic covering the less important areas that won't really affect cutting precision (motor casing and handles). Again however, I think the inclusion of rubber overmolds on the handles would have been the icing on the cake!

The saw is very user friendly in regard to changing saw depth and bevel angle, all of which require no further tools, however, you might need to adjust the "stiffness" of the locking levers to suit your tastes. Mine were a touch stiff out of the box, but this is a 2-second adjustment.

The weight of the saw itself goes a long way to reducing vibration during cuts. I wouldn't like to make any overhead or too many vertical cuts with it. Wrist fatigue kicks in fast, but for general horizontal cutting work, I feel the weight of the saw is more beneficial to cutting results than it is a hindrance.

I think for the retail price, this saw offers pretty good value for money. Of course, I can't comment on durability of the motor or the motor's quality of build at this stage, as I have only had the saw for a little under 2 months, but so far it hasn't missed a beat.

The LS236LS is backed up by a full 2 year replacement warranty however, so there is a little extra added piece of mind there.

For the price, the saw is definitely worth a look if you are considering a tool a step above the budget models and one that will allow a little more beating around. I am pretty happy with the results this saw delivers. When you add a blade with more teeth, the results on crosscuts are even better.

As always, check what's available in the same price range with similar features in the local hardware store before you make a decision.

The GMC website can be found at www.gmcompany.com and you can contact them to find out whether these saws are available to you in your local area.
 

GMC LS236LS Photos
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The LS236LS Circular Saw


Rear of tool showing main handle and dust extraction port.


Solid depth support bracket ensures accuracy.


Front of saw. Note the yellow button on handle (with the arrows/chevrons) - this is the laser on/off switch.


A reasonable quality 20 tooth TCT blade is fitted as standard.


The Redeye laser line being projected across a hardwood board.


Using the supplied guide fence to make a parallel cut in MDF.

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