Power at hand — Renting handheld breakers

Although hand-held breakers come in four basic types – electric, pneumatic, gasoline and hydraulic – it’s the first two types that see the most action on the rental front. Contractors are familiar with electric and pneumatic units and they are readily available.

For example, NationsRent reports an evenly distributed breaker inventory across all its stores “with the exception of the hydraulic units,” says Charles Snyder, executive vice president of fleet and asset management. “Due to the specialized nature of hydraulic breakers and the higher level of investment required, we stock them wherever customer demand justifies the investment.”

Beyond personal preference, however, “the breaker you choose is primarily defined by your work area and the available power sources on site,” says Keith Peterson, Ingersoll-Rand’s worldwide marketing manager for industrial tools.

For example, if your demolition job involves rehabbing rooms in an existing building, the available power source and tight space confines would generally dictate an electric breaker. “Electric breakers are great for remote indoor applications,” says Stephen Denette, technical product specialist, Atlas Copco. “Let’s say you were chipping out old dormitory restroom floors 10 stories up. That’s a perfect application for an electric hammer.”

On the other hand, the open air nature of a bridge deck demo and the probable availability of either an air compressor or a hydraulic machine would lead you to consider a pneumatic or hydraulic breaker.

In general, electric breakers are used for lighter jobs and pneumatic for heavier ones. “Heavier air breakers can be used in demolition when you don’t care how much concrete or what surrounding surfaces break,” says Anthony Gonnella, division vice presdient, sales, for Hertz Equipment.

In addition, “electric and pneumatic versions also come in small chipping hammers or breakers, which can be held horizontally,” says Rick White, Rental Service Corporation rental store general manager, Greenwood, South Carolina.

“Really, pneumatic and electric breakers are sometimes complementary,” says Tom Vasis of Bosch Power Tools. “While there is an area where they meet in the middle where you could go either way, a lot depends on the user and the application. If they’re a demo crew, they’re very familiar with pneumatics for large removal jobs, yet they will still use electrics for medium to small demolition jobs. Many small contractors may prefer electrics for renovation due to ease of use.” Keep in mind some of the smaller hand helds are both breakers and drills, says Becky Gallert, demolition product manager, Wacker. “By the flip of a switch they can change between the two.”

Application, Application, Application
“We know the more questions we ask the customer about their application, the less problems that renter is going to have,” White says. “We don’t want them to have to come back because they have the wrong breaker for their job.”

Part of the application consideration is whether or not you should use a hand-held breaker at all. “If the job’s big enough, you’ll probably want a machine-mounted breaker,” Peterson says.
Here are some questions you should expect to answer before renting a hand-held breaker:
What is the thickness of the material you will be breaking up? As noted, certain breakers work better in different thicknesses of material.

Does the material contain any steel? If so, this would point you in the direction of a pneumatic or hydraulic breaker.

Will you be using it vertically or horizontally? “If you’re working on a wall, creating an area to run pipe through, you’re going to want a demo hammer that works horizontally,” says Jason Felder of Bosch Power Tools. Some breakers can be positioned both ways.

What is the available power source? If electricity is readily available, that might tip the hand toward an electric breaker. If you’re going the pneumatic route, make sure the compressor’s cfm and psi are matched to the breaker you’re renting. “If you don’t have enough psi available for the tool, it will underperform no matter what brand breaker it is,” Peterson says. And if there’s no power source, you might want to consider a gas breaker.

How big is the job? “I’ve run into instances where a guy was trying to do a complete factory floor using a hand-held electric breaker,” Denette says. “He just kept burning up the breaker.”

How big are your operators? What size hammer you can expect them to lift and reposition will depend on their strength, which in turn relates directly to productivity. “Bigger is not necessarily better when you’re creating wear and tear on the operator,” Denette says. Weight factors more into horizontal applications, such as breaking up walls, since the operator is bearing the total weight of the tool.

Are you dealing with any noise issues? “There may be special noise abatement requirements due to local codes,” Snyder says.

A bit about bits
Your application also will direct the type of accessory (also called steel tools and bits) you use. “For example, on cured concrete, you’ll want a narrower chisel to get all of the force hitting in a certain area,” Gallert says. Basic bits include:

Moil points: Sharp points for hard concrete.

Flat chisels: These come in different widths and configurations. “Moil points or flat chisels make up the majority of the tools used.” says Steve Holley, national account executive, Bosch Power Tools.

Spades: The wider ones are used to break up softer materials such as asphalt. There are shovel blades for frozen or extremely hard soil.

Although the accessories are rented separately, good rental customers usually get one included in the price of the rental, White says. Sometimes the accessories come as part of the package. Bosch’s Brute electric hammer, for example, comes with two moil points and two chisels.

And if you’ve got bits on hand, make sure they match the shank of the breaker you’re renting.

There are three basic types of shanks: SDS-max (industry standard), hex collar or a spline. “If you have spline bits and rent a hex breaker you won’t be able to use the bits with the tool,” Gallert says.

Pneumatic breakers excel at heavy-duty jobs, such as bridge decks.

One contractor’s experience
George Pomerleau, owner/superintendent of Appallofus Construction, Edmonton, Alberta, rents a hand-held breaker on the average of at least once a month from his local Rental Service store. “We do a lot of concrete work with our industrial and commercial jobs,” Pomerleau says. “Right now we’re renovating the upper floor of a high rise where the job is half ripping out, half repair work.”

He chooses to rent breakers because he never knows what he’s going to get into. “If we’re doing a heavy-duty job, we’ll rent a pneumatic breaker,” Pomerleau says. “Or if we’re doing small areas such as a 6-foot-by-6-foot, 4-inch thick slab, we’ll either get a 60-pound electric Bosch or a Kango.”

Even though he usually rents with a specific breaker in mind, some jobs require extra expertise. “You’ve got to talk to your rental guy to really know what’s out there,” Pomerleau says. “If you’re not aware of what kind of equipment’s available, a job can sometimes be more costly.”

Two years ago, for example, Appallofus crews had to take out a heavy epoxy on concrete and then build it up, which required the concrete surface to be rough. “The rental guys helped me out quite a bit,” Pomerleau says, “and gave me a Wacker. It really did the job, breaking up a larger area than the breakers I’d been renting before. I had done a job similar to this a year before, and I wish I’d had this breaker on that job. The right type of equipment really saves you money.”

Pomerleau advises renting contractors to ask a lot of questions. “It doesn’t cost you anything and you definitely gain in the process.”

The hazards of the job
“Anyone who’s ever had any eye or ear damage at the end of their career has always wished they took the 10 seconds or less it takes to put protective gear on,” Feldner says.
Hand-held breakers require you to pay attention to safety. The units create noise and vibration, and generate airborne dust.

Noise: “All hand-held breakers are loud,” Gonnella says. “This includes the sound generated by the steel hitting the surface. Ear plugs should be worn while operating all breakers.”

Vibration: Most manufacturers build vibration-reduced handles to combat white-hand syndrome.

“There are always efforts to reduce vibrations through the use of better handles,” Gallert says. “In some cases, we’ve added handles so you can reposition them for different operators.” Wacker has changed its shock system so the handle gets the vibration instead of the operator’s arm.

One simple way to counter tool vibration is using gel-filled, anti-vibration gloves. “They’re actually very comfortable,” Denette says, “and they offer another level of protection.”

Dust: Airborne silica particles are also a health concern, especially in indoor spaces. “The dust can be tremendous,” Denette says. “Manufacturers are looking at ways they can reduce the amount produced, but nothing’s been effective to date.”

White also suggests using a face shield instead of just eye goggles. “You’re going to be busting up concrete and goggles leave a lot of areas of the face open,” he says.

Operator fatigue: All of this adds up to wear and tear on the operator. “Anytime you’re talking about a 60- to 90-pound tool, it’s going to hit hard,” Peterson says, “so the amount of time the operator should stay on the tool should be monitored. A guy’s just not going to be able to operate it an entire eight-hour shift.”

Finally, avoid these pitfalls
Inadequate or dull bits: “You probably shouldn’t rent a hammer without coming away with three bits,” Denette says. Ask your rental dealer to inspect the bits they give you for sharpness. “The energy required using a dull bit is so much greater and puts so much fatigue on the operator and so much more stress on the hammers, it just causes a great deal of grief,” he says. And remember to make sure you have the right bit for the type of material being removed, Snyder adds.

Incorrect use: In addition, the longest you should hammer on a single spot is 15 seconds. “If you put a bit on a piece of concrete, load the hammer, put your feed pressure on it and pull the trigger, if that material doesn’t move in 15 seconds, stop and take another bite someplace else,” Denette says. “I do a demonstration with a chipping hammer with a blunt bit and two-by-four and in about 15 seconds I’ll get smoke coming out of the bit. I get bits back from customers where the ends are melted over, which means they created enough heat to take the temper out of the steel.”

According to Synder, other hammer abuses include:

· Using the breaker as a pry bar to heave material out of the way instead of breaking it up as the tool is intended.

· Beginning the job at the center of the slab instead of at the edge of the material being removed.

· Allowing the breaker to “face hit” against the work surface by powering up the unit without having the bit touching the material being removed.

Improperly lodging stuck bits: And if a moil point gets stuck, don’t rock the hammer back and forth or back hammer. Instead, simply disconnect the bit from the hammer, get a second bit and go back in and break out your first bit.

Not paying attention to your power sources: If running an electric breaker, make sure your power source is located fairly close to the breaker. “The longer the extension cord, the more power you lose,” Gallert says. “We should know where their power source is, because if they’re going to be 50 feet away, they definitely need a 10-gauge cord.”

“A lot of time people neglect the air hoses on pneumatic breakers,” White says. “They need to be checked every day they use it to make sure the connections are good.”