Few dispute the superior performance of fiber-cement siding. But if the crew doesn't have the right tools, you'll not only hear some grumbling but you will also be paying slightly higher labor costs. Here's a rundown on the essentials needed to efficiently cut and install this material.
Shears. The best way to cut panels is with electric shears. Those made by Kett Tools, Pacific International, and Porter-Cable cut fiber cement the same way double-action metal shears cut sheet metal: A narrow strip of waste curls up between the knives as the shears make their way across a panel. Shears are distinctly slower than a circular saw but eliminate the dust, which is no small thing.
Cutting fiber cement with a circular saw produces a lot of abrasive dust. It's hard on tools and unhealthy for workers' lungs because it contains silica. Smart carpenters will wear a dust mask, but they won't be especially happy about it in hot weather. For sidewinder fans, one alternative is the Makita 5057KB, which has built-in dust collection.
Blades. Regular carbide blades will cut fiber cement, but they dull quickly, and if you attempt a gang cut, the blades quickly overheat and warp. Much better are the 4- to 6-tooth polycrystalline-diamond (PCD) blades designed for the task. Hitachi, DeWalt, Bosch, Makita, and Magna all offer them for upwards of about $56 apiece for 7¼-inch blades, and $100 on up for 10- and 12-inch miter saw blades. They are by far the best option for fast, smooth cuts, even gang cuts.
Notcher. The Malco Notcher offers an alternative to a jig saw for curved cuts. The Notcher will score and snap out dryer vents and outlets. And for the occasional trim cut on scaffolding, it sure beats passing a heavy plank back to the cut man.
Jigs. Given its weight, fiber cement requires some kind of jig for one-man nailing. Several ready-made tools, such as the Labor Saver from Indian Valley Innovation (below left), or Malco's Overlap Gauge (below right), clip over the top edge of the course below and support the next piece while you nail it off. These jigs automatically give you the required 1¼-inch lap, as well.
Nail cutter. By now, fiber cement's been out there long enough that we're not just re-siding with it but finding it on remodel jobs, as well. For stripping it off the wall, Malco's Siding Nail Cutter (center) has long cutter jaws designed to slip under planks and compound leverage handles similar to a bolt cutter, which make quick work of clipping the nails.