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$10 Shredder Cuts the Competition Down to Size

July 05, 2001|KAREN KAPLAN |

So much for the paperless society. Even as my e-mail in-box swells to 250 new messages each day, I still seem to end up with more unwanted paper than ever before.

Phone bills, bank statements, pre-approved credit card solicitations--in the wrong hands, these could precipitate my financial ruin. Not that I'm paranoid. But investing in a paper shredder seemed safer than building a bonfire in my backyard.

Apparently, I'm not alone in my thinking. Office supply stores are stocked to the rafters with paper shredders designed for homes and small offices. They indulge folks who are as worried about their paper trails as top-secret government operatives or renegade military officers. Royal Consumer Business Products of Bridgewater, N.J., even makes a $99.99 shredder dubbed FBI Double Agent 312.

I harbor no such delusions of grandeur. My needs are much simpler. Ever since a crook used an errant check to tap into a friend's bank account, I've tried to be a little more careful.

Besides, it's strangely satisfying to watch junk mail get chomped into so much confetti.

Shredding enthusiasts could spend several hundred dollars on a top-of-the-line shredder. They would be able to destroy more documents in less time and make less noise doing it. My goal was to see what I could get for $50 or less.

I tested five models with street prices ranging from $9.99 to $49.99. All of them could shred paper, envelopes with plastic windows and even metal staples. The cheaper ones turned papers into long, thin strips. The pricier models cut documents into much smaller pieces of confetti.

But it turns out that price isn't necessarily an indicator of quality. The best shredder I tested, a Royal Orca 3500, cost a penny under $50. So did the Fellowes P400C, the worst of the bunch. The second-best shredder was a $9.99 Tech Solutions 1600, which missed first place only because its shreds are easier to piece together than those produced by the Orca 3500.

Other models offered trade-offs between size, style and convenience. All of them were far too noisy. Here's how they stacked up:

Fellowes FS5+

This little number ($24.99 at Office Depot) is completely generic and exactly what I had in mind. Until I turned it on.

For such a small device, it sure is loud. The shredder, which sits atop an accompanying standard-issue plastic wastebasket, sounds just like a leaf blower at close range.

Feeding paper into the shredder isn't as easy as it should be. I had to really shove it in before the cutting mechanism would kick in. But once it got going, it was the fastest shredder of the lot. Single sheets were demolished in two seconds, and five pages at a time (the recommended maximum) were digested in six seconds.

But one of my attempts with five sheets jammed up the machine. Toggling between the forward and reverse modes wasn't enough to clear the jam, and I ended up clearing out shreds of paper by hand. After that it worked just fine.

The shreds it produced reminded me of fettuccine--long and flat and slightly more than a quarter-inch wide. They also filled the wastebasket rather quickly, requiring frequent stops to either compress the shreds or dump them out.

GBC Shredmaster Guardian

This is definitely the cutest shredder I found. It's about half the size of the FS5+ and has pleasing curves and angles. It's so petite it can even be mounted on a wall.

What you gain in cuteness you give up in speed and capacity. It took three seconds to shred a single page and jammed up every time I attempted to shred four pages at once (its stated capacity). It also shut itself down after every 25 pages or so when the removable waste tray got too full.

Unfortunately, the small size didn't translate into smaller noise. Though it was slightly quieter than the FS5+, it sounded like a close cousin to a vacuum cleaner. To make matters worse, it continued its roar for a good two seconds after finishing off a sheet of paper.

The Shredmaster's throat is only 8 3/4 inches wide, so letter-size papers had to be fed in carefully to avoid paper jams in the corners. On the plus side, it ate right through a report cover that was as thick as a picture postcard. Shreds were "cross cut" into pieces a mere three-eighths-inch wide and 1 1/2 inches long. At $29.98--the price at Staples--it's a decent deal for low-volume work.

Fellowes P400C

If the Shredmaster is cute, the P400C looks sophisticated. Its slate-gray plastic exterior is accented with gold lettering and a large red on-off-reverse switch.

Alas, looks can be deceiving. Despite its relatively hefty price tag, $49.99 at Office Depot, this shredder choked up the first time I fed it four pages at once (even though the manual promised it could handle the load). After much flipping between forward and reverse modes, the papers finally went down. The next batch of four sheets shredded more smoothly, albeit slowly. Shreds were three-eighths-inch wide and 1 5/8 inches long.

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