What is a reciprocating saw and what do I use it for?
A reciprocating saw cuts using a push-pull motion. It uses a blade affixed on one end. It’s portable and maneuverable. This makes it ideal for demolition work, cutting small tree limbs and other jobs that are hard to reach.
Reciprocating saws are typically variable speed; this is controlled through a variable trigger or through a dial on the saw. We prefer those with a variable trigger, since it provides a more seamless experience.
Some reciprocating saws also include an orbital action. This moves the blade in a slightly circular motion during the push-pull stroke. Orbital reciprocating saws make quicker work of demolition jobs and cutting softer materials where accuracy isn’t of primary concern.
If you’re going to be doing a lot of demo work, orbital action is a great feature. That said, you don’t want to use orbital action when a precise cut is required; orbital reciprocating saws feature a dial or other selector that lets you choose when to use the orbital action.
What features are important?
Corded vs. battery-powered
Battery-powered saws are more maneuverable, since, well, they’re cordless. But that maneuverability comes with a cost. Battery-powered reciprocating saws are heavier and generally less powerful than their corded counterparts.
This is a decision you’ll have to make for yourself, since there’s no one-size-fits-all answer.
A corded reciprocating saw requires a cord, which makes it less than ideal for heavily trafficked areas or remote outdoor locations. Of course, if you’re using a battery-powered recip saw, you’ll have to make sure it’s fully charged, and you’ll probably want to keep a spare battery or two handy. This can greatly increase the cost associated with your saw.
Ultimately, we prefer battery-powered reciprocating saws for their convenience, but it’s not something we’d use in an all-day demo job.
The power of reciprocating saws is denoted in one of two ways: amperage for corded saws and voltage for battery-powered saws. Generally speaking, the higher the number, the more powerful the saw.
More power means the saw is less likely to get bogged down or overheat when cutting tough materials.
Strokes per minute
The speed at which a reciprocating saw moves back and forth is measured in strokes per minute (SPM).
It’s important to remember that speed does not equate to power. But, all things equal, a higher SPM will allow you to cut more quickly.
The average speed of reciprocating saws is around 3,000 SPM. The speed varies ±10% from this number; in our experience, it’s pretty difficult to tell the difference between 2,800 SPM and 3,200 SPM.
Size and weight
A standard reciprocating saw is around 18 inches long and weighs 6 to 8 lbs. It’s a relatively compact tool, considering how versatile and powerful it is.
But if you’re going to be working in tighter, or hard to reach, spaces, you should consider a compact model. These are typically battery-powered and come in around 14 inches. That extra four inches can make big difference if you’re trying to fit your saw between studs that are 16 inches on center.
Reciprocating saws can be used to cut wood, metal, tile and more. Because reciprocating saws are such a versatile tool, you can select from a wide array of blades for different jobs.
Gone are the days of carrying around a screwdriver or specialized tool to change the blade. Most saws now feature quick-change blade clamps, which allow you to change the blade without the need for any tools. Some saws even feature four-way blade clamps. These allow you to insert the blade in any of four orientations, which can come in handy in tight spaces.
Reciprocating saws can vibrate a lot. If this is going to bother you, consider purchasing a reciprocating saw with vibration dampening.
Vibration dampening is accomplished using an internal counterweight and other components. The counterweight moves in the opposite direction of the blade in order to reduce vibrations.
Saws with significant vibration reduction are heavier than their rattling counterparts, but this tradeoff is probably worth it for most users.