Extreme Cutting

Severing steel

By Gretchen Salois

Above: Lee “Hackman” Breton has cut a cargo plane, oil tanker, railroad car and an entire house, to name a few.

A bodybuilder makes the shift from bar bells to saw blades, hacking anything and everything in sight

November 2015 - A love story often begins with chance steering the events of time. In 1962 a boy met a girl and they began dating. In this case, Lee Breton’s girlfriend introduced him to her neighbor, whose entire family worked at American Saw Mfg. in East Longmeadow, Massachusetts. From there he went in for an interview and was hired, first to weld band saw blades and then to hacksaw blades, later becoming department supervisor. 

Breton’s ingenuity went beyond his leadership ability. He could also think on his feet. A plumbing problem in 1972 would change Breton’s life. Jim Davis, then president of American Saw, asked Breton to help when his plumber couldn’t cut through a piece of pipe on the floor. The high-speed steel blade the plumber used to cut the difficult angles snapped because the blade bent as soon as it attempted to cut into the metal. After repeatedly snapping blades, Davis asked Breton if he could make him a stronger, more flexible blade from metal band saw stock. 

“I found band saw stock of similar thickness and teeth and traced the reciprocating blade out and ground it by hand and brought it over to Davis’ plumber,” Breton recalls. The blade worked and Lee found a solution to a weak blade problem shared by many tradesmen of the day. 

“That blade is what put Lenox Tools on the map,” Breton says. 

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Breton didn’t immediately segue into demonstration cutting for Lenox, a Newell Rubbermaid brand. On his own time, he worked out as a bodybuilder at a local health club and appeared in a commercial for the gym. He soon found his combination of cutting knowledge and comfort in front of a crowd would lead Breton to embark on his path to becoming “Hackman.”

By 1981, outfitted with a bi-metal hacksaw blade for Lenox Tools promotional events, Breton found himself cutting random objects. “After they asked me if I would cut things in half, I said, ‘Sure.’ But when I got off the phone I thought, ‘What have I gotten myself into?’” Breton recalls. That first car, cut in 26 minutes and 6 seconds, began a stream of events exhibiting strength and strategy. 

Breton cut an eclectic variety of items in half: an oil tanker truck, a cargo plane in Arizona, a railroad boxcar, an armored car, a house, and a large bus for Super Bowl XXXIII in Miami in 1999. Unlike previous projects which involved cutting them down the middle, instead of cutting across, Breton cut the bus lengthwise, a challenge he felt raised the stakes for the durabilty of the equipment he uses. Resting on the sands of South Beach, Florida, Breton sliced away while Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jerome “The Bus” Bettis cheered him on.

Planned path

Equipped with his Lenox blades, each success cemented Breton’s Hackman persona. Possible solutions to each challenge consumed his daytime thoughts and even crept into his nights. “Before each cut challenge, I would cut through any one of those things 100 times over in my dreams,” he says. “I’d think about how to approach the challenge, which blades to use and when to use them and where.” Breton’s endurance and energetic disposition fueled his successes. He figured out which blades and thicknesses were best to use after lots of practice and blade testing. 

Not every challenge proved to be a slam dunk, but Breton thrived in the face of unforeseen challenges. When cutting the boxcar, he discovered firsthand that a well-supported foundation on which to cut can make all the difference. “Any time I had a major cut to do, [engineers were consulted so] I made sure the item was well supported, eliminating any pinching on the blade,” he says. “I never forgot the conditions that day—a brutal 98 degrees and 89 percent humidity.”

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Over the years, Breton found the right mix and match of Lenox blades and saws to cut each difficult object one by one. Across 30-plus years, technology changed and machines became more powerful. As the machines became more capable, the blades had to be upgraded as well. Lenox focused on making blade teeth stronger. 

“The problem tradesmen run into is their blades either chip or break teeth,” he says. In addition to the standard reciprocating blades, Lenox developed Lenox Gold, a line of titanium nitrate-coated teeth to further dissipate heat. The reciprocating machine and table makes for a faster cut when the machine is rocked back and forth. Lenox developed the Power Arc blade that simulates that rocking motion.

One blade goes a long way as Breton used one blade to cut eight cars in half. “I could have done 20 cars judging by how pristine the blade looked after only eight,” he quips. He cut a Boeing 727 jet in half but found some of his all-time favorite cuts included a Zamboni, a Jeepney in the Philippines, and a double-decker bus in England. The Zamboni project lent itself to a worthy cause as Breton ventured up to Canada to raise funds for Roger’s House, a Canadian charity for terminally ill children. “We had 10,000 signatures on the Zamboni before I sawed it in half. When I finished the entire arena cheered. It was an awesome cut.”

A family affair

The draw of the saw has extended a generation to Breton’s daughter, Kelly. An employee at Lenox she joined her father to demonstrate the strength and versatility of Lenox saw blades. Father and daughter started off as adversaries, going up against one another at a trade show held in the infield of the Daytona Speedway in Florida.

“Don’t hold back,” she taunted before they began. “So I didn’t,” Breton says, unable to hide the pride at her resolve. “She definitely didn’t hold back but in the end I won—I had a reputation to keep.”

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Following their standoff, the father and daughter decided to combine forces in Bangor, Maine, against two area fire departments. “I was already retired at this time,” Breton says, having retired in 2010. “They invited Kelly and me to cut a school bus in half. About two weeks later, that changed into competing against two fire departments to see who could cut the bus in half first.”

Before the race, five of the competing firefighters came over to Lee Breton to check out the competition. “Now I just want to let you know that I am 68 years old,” Breton told them. With Breton’s daughter, being “a girl,” the firefighters reassured Breton they’d “take it easy on us,” and walked away in a cloud of laughter, Breton muses. That upped the ante. 

Determined more than ever to shut them down, Breton and his daughter spent the rest of that evening strategizing the quickest way to slice through the bus while one-upping the boasted brute of two fire departments. Lee Breton cut the outside and handed the machine over to Kelly, who cut inside and then passed it back to Lee to cut through the remaining floor and beams.

“We finished it well before the firefighters,” recalls Breton. “Their guys were still inside the bus with one guy holding the machine [from the outside] while the other pushed up [from the inside]. Not a chance.” 

Why the need for such demonstrations? Breton believes it’s important for “tradesmen making a living with their hands to have blades that last.” These events proved a useful tool for Lenox, so the company expanded the demo process by creating and training Team Hackman, devoted to cutting demonstrations.

“This experience is unlike anything I could have imagined. I’ve traveled the world and met so many wonderful people in the process. It has been a great opportunity.” FFJ


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