Keeping Your Edge: Top-Rated Shredders

More of today’s shredders than ever before have sensors that allow them to avoid the paper jams and overheated motors that were typical just a few years ago. You also will find shredders that have quieter motors and can run longer without having to cool down.

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Incidents of identity theft dropped to 8.1 million in 2010 from 11 million in 2009, according to identity-theft research firm Javelin Strategy & Research. The bad news is that those incidents still cost U.S. consumers $37 billion in 2010, Javelin says. It’s clear that identity theft isn’t going away.

Fortunately, the shredders that are one tool in protecting your identity are more capable than ever before. Five years ago, about two-thirds of the models that were on the consumer market used crosscut or similar technology. These models shred documents vertically and horizontally into tiny pieces that are virtually impossible to reconstruct; strip-cut models slice documents into paper strips that a thief theoretically could piece back together. Today, at least 90 percent of models have crosscut or microcut technology. Mircocut models produce even smaller pieces.

You also will find that a wider selection of models use sensor technology to detect overheated motors and paper jams than 5 years ago, and you even will find a handful of models that prevent jams.

Manufacturers also tout the fact that shredders are quieter now, too, although you should be aware that pinning down measurable claims about noise reduction is elusive. And when it comes to performance, shredders can run without stopping for longer periods than ever before, which means that you can tackle big shredding jobs more efficiently.

SENSING IT. The use of sensors that are designed to reduce jams and overheating now is widespread in shredders that are in all price ranges, says Denis Kelly, who is the author of “The Official Identity Theft Prevention Handbook.” Unfortunately, no hard and fast rule of what “anti-jam” means exists, he says.

For instance, we found that some models that claim to have anti-jam “protection” have just a beep or a flashing light that signals a jam. If the shredder states that it has “manual resolution,” that means that it’s up to you to clear the mess. We believe that “anti-jam” should signify that the device resolves jams on its own (typically by automatically backing out the excess paper). Models that have this feature start at about $40.

At least eight models that we found, which start at about $50, take that detection to the next level: These models anticipate—and thus avert—jams. An optical sensor detects when too much paper is in the feeding slit and prevents the shredder from starting. Four models that start at $60 from Fellowes and Black & Decker go even further. If a sensor on one of these models detects a jam, the shredder will attempt to power through it or reverse the paper out, so you can remove it. In essence, models that have this technology—Black & Decker calls it Power Boost, and Fellowes calls it 100 Percent Jam Proof—increase the motor speed for a short time to clear the jam. “Think of it as overdrive,” says Elyse Kaye of Black & Decker. A Fellowes model that we tried worked as advertised.

PERFORMANCE PUSH. Less vague are claims of increased run time. Five years ago, only premium models that cost more than $100 were capable of more than 5 minutes of run time before the shredder had to be shut off to allow the motor to cool. (Manufacturers’ recommendations vary widely on the shut-off period—typically 20–90 minutes.)

Now models that start at as little as $80 can operate continuously for at least 6 minutes, and six models that start at $180 reach 20 minutes of run time. Royal’s HG2020MX ($250) is said to chew through documents for a whopping 40 minutes before it needs a break.

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