Pros: Stylish, clean lines, heavy duty, 12+ sheets, CD, credit card and staple shredder
Cons: Noisy, bin size, 9'/min speed, 8" throat size
UPDATED JUMP BELOW FOR THE CONCLUSION.
An ideal shredder, for me, is like a trash can: you throw as much into it as you please and the shredder takes care of it, all unattended. I'd prefer that the machine never really require a 'rest' period and could shred as often I as please. Shredders that approximate this capacity exhibit certain qualities that I describe here, and in part is taken from my experience with heavier duty shredders used at work.
Why Another Shredder?
My new need stems from storage space that is near full, and its time to discard boxes of old tax records. However, it costs about $100 to dispose of 'secure trash' on a one time basis from special haulers. I can't be sure it was really disposed off securely, but take it on faith and our contract that it was. I could sue if it was not done properly, but my data is already stolen and even more expenses needed for just trash disposal!
I could use a few hours in someone's backyard to light a bonfire in metal drum just to dispose of boxes of records, but this is messy, time consuming and potentially a hazard.
I receive over an inch of junk mail a week. Over the years, its been time consuming to open, review, and judge which mail [ such as 'pre-approved' credit card applications] require shredding. I have been feeding entire envelopes of unwanted mail into a shredder to save time, but my current shredders were not made to take all the sizes of paper I feed it, so I sometimes have to reduce the paper load per feed.
A good quality shredder for consumer use runs over $100, so finding one for less that survives my tax records should do very well for all junk mail and future use.
Power rating: > 600 Watts
Strength of the shredder determines its capacity to take continuous use and simultaneous sheets. Typically, good shredders will shred CDs, DVDs, credit cards, staples and better, paper clips. That is all in order of increasing power capacity.
A shredder doesn't distinguish folded from single sheets: a single 8x11' sheet folded as a letter is 3 sheets with its envelope appearing as 2 sheets. 'Junk' mail varies but typically contain 2 full sheets with smaller inserts, so they are anywhere from 6-9 sheets thick, plus two for the envelope.
A minimum shredding size is thus, at least 10 sheets simultaneously. Shredders rated for this many pages commonly are powered with motors rated at 5A at 120V.
Simultaneous Sheets : > 10 sheets
There is a great variety of mail types with inserts. A shredders capacity to deal with full envelopes depends heavily on the type of paper used. Luckily, counting the sheets after 1 week of junk mail, I maxed at about 10-12 sheets per envelope.
AC or DC?: AC
Power is calculated roughly by Volts x Amperes [its a tad different from AC than DC], so the majority of heavy duty shredders are AC. If you get a DC powered shredder, insure the power rating is adequate.
Throat Size: > 8 inches
Is the size of the opening to insert papers. This is the smaller dimension of typical computer paper. The larger the throat, the less effort needed to feed papers properly. Better shredders have a paper guide to assist aligning papers into the throat, if not have very large throats to begin with. Industrial shredders sometimes have a feeder or a horn, so you basically throw everything into it and it slowly eats its way through your papers.
Shred Speed: > 10' per minute or 2"/sec
Inserted by its shorter dimension of 2-3", a single letter envelope will be chomped in under 2 seconds. In a steady pace, this is roughly the time it takes to reach for another envelope and insert it so you can shred continuously.
Capacity: > 5 Gallons
This is the typical trash can size. I wouldn't get it any smaller for 2 reasons: it makes the shredder shorter so you have to 'bend' down more, and it will need to be changed more. Further, larger containers increase security by allowing the many pieces to be mixed together. See 'Cross Cut' for an analysis.
Is substantially more secure than strip feeders. The more shredded mail is mixed, the more difficult the assembly process will be, if anyone pilfers your trash. This is also an incentive to get the larger capacity containers for shredders you can get, the larger mix is more secure. When emptied into a slightly larger bag, the extra space allows pieces to mix, further complicating reassembly.
There are minor differences in the sizes of the cut, high security cutters mince the paper to smallest dimensions.
For the number folks, this Staples superstore shredder minces paper into 3/16 x 1.5" dimensions. An 8 x 11" paper is reduced to about 300 pieces. Multiply that by the number of sheets shredded, then mixed, the chances of assembling the right pieces decreases geometrically. For example, after one sheet, the chances of assembling 2 pieces together is 1/299, however after 2 sheets its 1/599, after 3 sheets its 1/999 etc.
By comparison, a strip shredder of the same type will strip paper into 3/16" x 11". It results in about 40 strips per page, and each strip represents one entire page. If you shred 3 sheets, your chance of assembling one strip is 1/129.
With cross cut now easily available, strip shredders of any type should not be considered.
Preferable, is a rubric vendors of home shredders use to suggest their machines will shred at 'up to' 100 pages/day.
Often ignored, examine the paper path carefully.
The ideal head has teeth mounted deep inside the paper path both above and below the shredder head to keep fingers away from cutters.
The teeth 'float' in a spindle like a stack of coins with a shaft driven through them or a barbeque stick with medallions of meat on it. The "coins" should not have a frame of plastic: like having coins wrapped and then cutting off one side of the wrap to expose a side half of all the coins. Papers shreds often jam in these frames.
The paper path is completely smooth without joints of the case of the shredder head making any openings or snags in the paper path to enhance jams. Too little clearance between the teeth and the case further jams, better shredders have enough space to put a fingertip between blades and the sides of the case. Some models of a very popular shredder are made entire as described above, and I wouldn't recommend it to "Fellows", if you get my meaning.
Nearly impossible to find, more power and speed means more noise. It is however, a quality manufacturers need to consider in home shredders.
Maintenance: Oiling Cutters without Mess
Most models recommend oiling cutters with a vegetable type oil every 30 minutes of continuous use, which maybe once a month if not less. A simple way is to paint a paper to be shredded with such oil, and shred it along its longest axis. Reverse the shredder for 10-30 sec as the manufacturer recommends.
Emptying bins should be as easy as a garbage can, and returning the bin to the shredder should fit quickly and without aligning "anything".
Bagless versus Bag: Bagless
Although bagged paper is convenient, the act of dumping contents will allow some mixture of the pieces, enhancing security. Dumping contents also allows you to purposefully mix the pieces together.
Most shredders with safety cutoff switches may not operate with a bag in place, and the bag may interfere with the bin fittings.
A shredder is simply a motor with a lot of torque, and it doesn't just cut paper, it rips them apart... so there are no blades to sharpen. By buying a shredder with more capacity than used in a typical day, a shredder should last an owner a life time, but how long shredders really last is difficult to say. However, I have had 3 shredders since 1990, and the two alive today have AC motors. Prior to concern with "Identity Theft", under $100 shredders were not made as heavy duty or as fast as they are today, and this is the only reason I upgraded.
Conclusion: The Staples InfoGuard Shredder
So how did this InfoGuard model fair? From the ideal qualities, the InfoGuard has been near ideal except in these features:
8" throat size
Shreds at 9'/min
? Long term durability
5 Gallon Bin
It ships with little wheels so the shredder can be carted around and is very helpful [ you can tuck the shredder in a nook, and pull it out for use]. Its relatively stylish in white and should look fine in any home. It has a 'child' safety on-off switch, but I don't really know how well such a switch prevents accidents. While the cutter are sufficiently recessed into the shredder head, a child's small hands can easily reach for the blades. In toto, all shredders should be kept away from children.
I've fed complete full envelopes of old telephone bills, bank statements, etc., one after another, and a rare jam hasn't been difficult to undo: reversing the direction cured the jam quickly. Since then, I've learned how 'thick' an envelope should be to be jam free: what has caused problems are canceled checks from within an envelope, otherwise 99% of all my feeds shred to bits.
I've passed several boxes of tax returns and it chomps through it noisily, vigorously and completely. The noise is so 'brutal' that you can tell something is being destroyed. I've oiled it after each box, and so far, so good. The 8" throat size is a bit of a bother, since it fits a bond paper almost to a T .. you're better off inserting single papers somewhat folded or at an angle, and then is sucks it right in to trigger the on-switch. Groups of papers have enough 'mass' to make jamming it into the throat with less fuss.
The shredder destroys CDs completely but not shredded to the size bits as paper. Credit cards are shredded like paper.
I've had it for over 11 month and its a durable shredder. It has survived 8 boxes of old tax returns with grace. Had it died, the $100 purchase price is about what it would cost me to pay someone to dispose of such papers confidentially, then take it on faith that it was done. I still wouldn't have a high capacity shredder for my junk mail, so the InfoGuard is a good buy.
By comparison, I shredded one box of records using a Fellowes PS80C-2. This is a shredder that exemplifies what's wrong in expensive shredders so I won't bother to link to reviews here. It jams in under half the rated pages or less. I spent half the time undoing jams. These jams cannot be permanently fixed because paper shreds stick all over the inner housing and are difficult to clean out, so it blocks the shred path. Because of jams, undoing it makes a paper mess. Its taller than the Infoguard, making bending less an issue. Fellowes uses a nicer infra-red LED sensor so its auto-ON mechanism is more sensitive that Infoguards. The Fellowes is quieter and luckily the motor hasn't burned out.
By comparison, the Infoguard noise is much welcomed now, since the sound makes great feedback for how much effort the shredder is doing so you can leave it unattended, using the sound as feedback.