My first new tool – rather than hand-me-downs – was a gift from my paternal grandfather, a CK Tools branded Fret Saw kit. It was a slightly odd choice given my age, but more than 40 years later I still have it, and there are occasional jobs where nothing else will do.
Dremel has become not only the ubiquitous name for small rotary tools, but a verb as well. Fanboys would like you to believe it’s a tool that can – and should - be used for absolutely anything, but in my experience, there are many times when a power drill, pillar drill, angle grinder, die grinder or jigsaw, hand files (and so on, you get the idea) is/are a far better fit. However, they are times when it’s exactly the right tool, and it makes it so much better, easier, quicker, and neater that nothing else will do.
My recent need to saw heavy gauge styrene forms into many discrete parts for a current scale project made me think I really could be doing it with much less effort than required with a razor saw – so I looked at suitable power tools.
There are several Scroll Saws on the market, the usual form is a fixed, boxy machine moving a fine blade up and down (rather than around and around like a bandsaw), and you move the workpiece through it. The Proxxon DS230E (c. 140 GBP) was perhaps first among my candidates, but the nature of that type of machine means it really needs its own dedicated, permanent bench space, or at least shelf space. Both are very much at a premium for me, so the Dremel MS-20 Moto Saw - which packs away into a small case – looked a much better option.
The Dremel MS-20 Moto Saw is a marketed as a 2-in 1 tool, it’s a mains powered fret (or coping) saw which mounts into a moulded plastic base / cutting table. This in turn can be clamped to the edge of a workbench, turning it into a scroll saw. It’s not a new product, in fact it’s been around since at least 2013.
Typical retail price is around the 99 GBP mark, I paid 89.99 GBP + shipping for mine.
Rated at 70W, the claim is that it will cut metal up to 3mm (1/8”) thick and wood up to 18mm (3/4”). What sort of metal isn’t specified though, aluminium and brass being a lot easier than steel, for example, especially stainless.
Throat depth (saw blade to frame, which dictates how far away you can cut from the edge of a board or sheet) is a less than average 272mm (just over 10.5”).
My Moto-Saw arrived in a satin white card box with colour images on all sides. In common with other Dremel outer boxes, you are going to have to do some permanent damage to open it.
Inside, there’s a robust, pale grey, blow moulded plastic storage box, with dimensions of 454mm x 362mm x 120mm (17 & 3/4" x 14 & 1/4" x 4 & 3/4"). Within that, there’s the powered fret saw unit, the plastic base, two metal clamps, an angle guide, and 5 blades. Two of these are 6T per cm (15 tpi), two are 7T per cm (18tpi), and one with 10T/cm (25tpi). If I interpret the illustrations correctly, these are meant for straight or wide arc cuts in wood and plastic (6T), tighter arc cuts in wood and plastic (7t), and metal (10T).
The blades were in a thin grip seal bag and were not marked, differentiated or colour coded in any way. I chose a middle (7T/cm) blade initially.
Fitting is a little fiddly, though not quite as bad as I’d been led to believe. That said, I did do it under a magnifying lamp in fretsaw mode for the first time. It’s a different proposition with the unit set up as a scroll saw, but I soon learned.
Just handling the Moto-Saw in fret saw mode showed the ergonomics to be very poor. All the weight is above and behind your hand, pulling it backwards and downwards at an angle. A counterweight forward of the base of the grip would add weight but make it much more useable.
Right where you’d expect a trigger control to be, is a slightly awkward on off sliding switch. It’s also up the wrong way to my way of thinking – down is off.
The mains lead is a generous 2.8 metres long but was terminated with a rather cheap 3 UK pin plug. In my case, the base had warped meaning the ends of the Line and Neutral pins were too close together to fit in a socket without bending them to a better position.
Vibration is not excessive at the lowest speed (1) and feels ok up to about 4, but higher and at maximum (6) it would soon become wearing.
The dust extraction connector didn’t match with any of the four vacuum cleaners I tried, so I had to use duct tape to bodge a joint together.
As I’d bought the Moto-Saw specifically to cut a number of home-made 14x9mm styrene forms, it was natural to try it on those first. Unfortunately, I have to say it was entirely useless for that, with much blade bending and wandering, remelt of the plastic, regardless of blade and speed setting used, and whether or not extraction was used.
The Moto-Saw also performed poorly on small styrene forms, and on small brass tubes, tending to kick about despite using the cutting shoe guide.
It also did an indifferent job on 3.5mm (1/8”) softwood.
By now I was beginning to wonder if it could do anything at all, or whether I was going to have to try to return it.
However, I found the Moto-Saw did an excellent job on 1.5mm Aluminium, 1.5mm GRP and on ABS (/Styrene) sheet, the thickest I had to try being 3mm. I had only comparatively thin brass shim stock to hand, but I’m confident it would handle thicker brass too.
I didn’t have any thin steel to try, and my feeling here is that it would not be the correct tool for the job.
+ Packs away into a small case.
+ Lower cost than the average scroll saw.
+ Excellent performance on thin sheet materials.
= Extraction (vacuum cleaner connection) point, but no adaptors included.
- "2 in 1", and separate power fretsaw a bit of fantasy given how poor the ergonomics are.
- Questions about robustness (plastic cutting table).
- Poor angle guide, can’t be locked in all positions.
- Cutting table can’t be angled, blade can’t be rotated.
- Limited throat depth.
- Poor performance on thicker materials, even those well within manufacturer limits.
- Won’t cut forms/tubes.
A Dremel Moto-Saw is not quite as good a scroll saw as the big, heavy, more costly, bench space hogging traditional designs, but for an occasional use machine where you can’t have it sitting out all the time, it’s an ok choice.
It’s not a great choice though. The plastic table/base is the biggest problem for me, and to be honest I wouldn’t have minded paying a premium for a heavier, cast metal unit - it still would have fitted in the same box, after all.
Innovative, space saving, flexible designs are always going to be a bit of a compromise, but this is just a bit too compromised to rate a higher score for more general DIY and hobby use. If what you need to do is cut very thin sheet materials, then it’s difficult to say you need anything more. Like the ubiquitous rotary tool then, it’s superb at what it’s good at, but is no good at all for what it can’t do.
Overall, 4 out of 6 - but only on what it’s good at.
Written by TB member Jonny Retro