When it comes down to it, the chain saw is one of the most crude, dangerous, and effective weapons in our war on trees. (An estimated 36,000 people are treated in emergency rooms every year for chain-saw-related injuries.) And since 1929, when Andreas Stihl patented the first gasoline-powered “tree-felling machine,” the basic design hasn’t changed. But most of us don’t need an Ax Men-level chain saw for pruning trees or cleaning up storm debris; and we don’t want to end up looking foolish.
The Worx JawSaw, released earlier this year in time for Christmas tree cleanup, claims to have reinvented the chain saw. It’s not the first mass market product to cover the chain with an actual blade cover–that would be Black & Decker’s Alligator–but the JawSaw’s real innovation is, ahem, a “plunging motion” that requires the user to push the handle forward in the direction of the jaws to activate the downward motion of the blade. Retract, and then push again. Repeat. Get it? That “masculine” act of ramming was a conscious, clever part of the design meant to appeal to those who’d otherwise be turned off by a rejiggering of the chainsaw, which is, after all, a quintessential symbol of masculinity.
The design team, led by Paolo Andriolo, is based out of Vicenza, Italy, 40 miles west of Venice. They spent a little more than a year on the product’s development, beginning in February 2009, before finalizing the concept the following April. “Our intention was to design a chain saw that offered two levels of advantage,” Andriolo tells Co.Design. “One is safety, because the blade is enclosed in the jaws. The other was to fit more with the homeowner’s everyday uses like pruning or storm cleanup.”
One compromise, however, was power: Plug the tiny five-amp motor into a normal 120 volt socket and it’s only about one-fifth as powerful as a normal four horsepower electric chain saw on the market. So, to alleviate some skepticism from the company’s marketing department–apparently the Alligator wasn’t the game changer that Black & Decker thought it would be–Andriolo came up with the plunging mechanism, a more masculine motion to activate the blade.
The vaguely piranha-shaped fascia wasn’t part of the process to make the device look tougher than it is, either. “It wasn’t intentional to look more zoomorphic,” Andriolo says. “We wanted to balance the perceived safety of the tool but also convey a feeling of power, some aggressiveness.” He says one reason the Alligator came up short is because the device activates the blade by squeezing the two ends together like pruning shears. “The scissor action was a little female,” Andriolo says. “So we made a mechanism that is a more macho action.” It’s hard to argue that working a giant pair of scissors, versus the JawSaw’s ramming action, somehow seems much more … male.
This macho attitude is emphasized in nearly every product demonstration. The late-night infomercial opens in slow-motion with two burly musclebound guys carrying their JawSaws like automatic rifles, next to a tough-looking gal in safety glasses. And even the name, JawSaw, dispenses with any clever cuteness. Andriolo says sales are brisk.