$10 Shredder Cuts the Competition Down to Size

karen.kaplan@latimes.com

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.

Emboldened, I tried five sheets--and brought the machine to a grinding halt. Even the reverse function couldn't save me. I spent 10 minutes pulling paper fragments from the metal teeth, all the while longing for a pair of tweezers.

Even when I followed directions, the P400C's performance wasn't up to par. It took three seconds to shred a single page and eight seconds or longer to go through four at a time. It also took longer to get the shredder to grab on to a piece of paper and start cutting. Like the other Fellowes shredder, this one screamed like a leaf blower. Even worse, it continued making noise for two seconds after finishing a shredding task.

Royal Orca 3500

This was the quietest of the bunch, though a blindfolded person would still mistake it for a hair dryer. It also had some clever design elements, including a fin to guide papers into the shredder at the proper angle. This allowed the shredding teeth to grab on to papers and suck them down.

The Orca disposed of a single piece of paper in three seconds and went through five sheets (the recommended maximum) in seven seconds. They went down so smoothly I pressed my luck and didn't cause a paper jam until I reached seven simultaneous pages. All it took was some toggling of the forward-reverse switch to clear it up.

Of the five shredders I tested, the Orca was the easiest to use. It didn't demand that I feed it papers at just the right angle, and I didn't have to wait for it to finish one set before starting another.

I got through more than 80 pieces of paper before I had to empty the wastebasket. The shreds weren't of uniform size, but they were mostly one-eighth-inch wide and 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 inches long.

The Orca's only drawback was its propensity to run its noisy motor for two seconds after finishing a job.

Although it came with a $49.99 price tag at OfficeMax, it was one of the best values in the group.

Tech Solutions TS1600

Finally, it dawned on me: If I'm going to end up with a noisy and somewhat pokey shredder, why should I spend more than ten bucks?

That's what led me to the simple--dare I say elegant?--TS1600, which cost $9.99 at OfficeMax. It's just a shredder top, and users must supply their own wastebasket. It comes with an adjustable arm, so it can fit atop a variety of small trash cans.

Once it locked onto a wastebasket, it was extremely sturdy. The motor didn't sound like it struggled at all, and I couldn't get it to jam up. Though it claims it can shred only five pages at a time, I found it could handle eight. At nine, it still managed to cut some of the outer pages, and it perforated the rest.

It took three seconds for the TS1600 to slice through a single page and seven seconds to cut up five. The shreds were fettuccine-style, exactly one-quarter-inch wide and more crisply cut than with the FS5+.

On the noise scale, the TS1600 was middle of the road and sounded like the kind of electric razor you hear in an old-style barber shop. But its value was unbeatable.

*

Time staff writer Karen Kaplan covers the Internet.

The Skinny

Fellowes FS5+

Price: $24.99

Size: 14 1/4 inches high, 13 inches wide, 8 1/4 inches deep

Official shredding capacity: As many as 5 pages at a time

Shredding speed: 2 seconds for 1 sheet; 6 seconds for 5 sheets

Sounds like: Leaf blower

The good: Looks just like a paper shredder should

The bad: Sometimes jammed up on 5 pages at a time

Bottom line: Too much trouble for the price

*

GBC Shredmaster Guardian

Price: $29.98

Size: 9 1/2 inches high, 12 inches long, 5 3/4 inches deep

Official shredding capacity: As many as 4 pages at a time

Shredding speed: 3 seconds for 1 sheet

Sounds like: Vacuum cleaner

The good: Sleek, petite design

The bad: Small capacity; always jammed up on 4 sheets

Bottom line: Good alternative if strapped for space

*

Fellowes P400C

Price: $49.99

Size: 14 1/2 inches high, 13 1/2 inches wide, 6 3/4 inches deep

Official shredding capacity: As many as 4 pages at once

Shredding speed: 3 seconds for 1 sheet; 8-plus seconds for 4 sheets

Sounds like: Leaf blower

The good: Sophisticated slate-gray color

The bad: High price and low shredding capacity

Bottom line: Scissors would be less hassle

*

Royal Orca 3500

Price: $49.99

Size: 19 inches high, 14 inches wide, 9 inches deep

Official shredding capacity: As many as 5 pages at once

Shredding speed: 3 seconds for 1 sheet; 7 seconds for 5 sheets

Sounds like: Hair dryer

The good: Grabs sheets quickly and easily

The bad: Noisy motor keeps running even after shredding stops

Bottom line: Best bet for those with lots to shred

*

Tech Solutions TS1600

Price: $9.99

Size: 2 1/2 inches high, 12 1/2 inches wide, 4 1/4 inches deep

Official shredding capacity: As many as 5 pages at once

Shredding speed: 3 seconds for 1 sheet; 7 seconds for 5 sheets

Sounds like: Electric razor

The good: Portable, sturdy shredder could do 8 pages at a time

The bad: Doesn't fit above all wastebaskets

Bottom line: Great performance and best overall value

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