How to Select the Best Reciprocating Saw?
The success of your project depends on using the right tool. Since we know it is time consuming to find the best reciprocating saw, we put together a buying guide that will help you get a good comparison of each tool and buy the best sawzall for your budget and project need. A reciprocating saw is also known as a recip saw, sawzall, or saber/sabre saw. We will refer to this power tool in this guide using all of these words.
Reciprocating Saw Uses
Originally a sawzall was designed for rough cuts on a wide range of materials. Most often it is used in remodeling, demolition (cutting nail-embedded wood) and for pruning. It can also be used by hunters to cut up large animals or by anyone else for cutting frozen meat in the kitchen.
What can it cut?
This type of power saw can handle almost any material. This includes softwood, plastic and most kinds of metal including stainless and hardened steel, cast iron. Also, it can cut through abrasives like tile, masonry and concrete.
The most important thing is to choose an appropriate blade for your job and workpiece material. Read our detailed reciprocating saw blade guide to know how.
The reciprocating saw isn’t as versatile and sophisticated as the jigsaw. You shouldn’t use it for a job that requires too much precision, like cutting an acrylic sheet or curves. However, it lets you make simple straight cuts, especially if you use a cutting guide.
Non-Cutting Types of Work
Various sawzall accessories, like chisel, scraper, brush, rasp and many others, allow you to extend the functionality of a saber saw. The power tool reduces the amount of effort you have to put into your job that requires a lot of repetitive hand movements, like brushing and scraping. The attachments can save you from muscle strains, as well as wrist and elbow inflammation.
Accessories are usually installed into a sawzall’s blade holder, just like a regular blade. But some manufacturers make them with a different mount. These styles will require an adapter that usually comes in the same kit. You can read more in detail about every kind of attachment in our recip saw accessories guide.
Efficiency of a Saber Saw
When you are deciding which type of saw to buy, you should consider the voltage or amperage to estimate the power. The manufacturer will specify the volts for a battery powered saw. For specifying the power of corded tools, manufacturers use amperes, which are units for measuring the current of a motor.
18-20V cordless and 12-15 Amp corded models are the most popular among buyers. Saws with less power than these are best for light use. More powerful models are used mostly by professionals to perform heavy duty jobs on a regular basis.
Strokes per minute (SPM) is the number of strokes a saw makes for the given time. More strokes mean a higher cutting speed. On average electric sawzalls have around 2700-3000 maximum SPM, and pneumatic – around 10,000 SPM.
Stroke length is the distance a blade covers for one stroke. This influences how much of the material will be removed with a single blade movement. This also means faster cutting speed. Also, a longer stroke means more even wear of blade teeth; which makes for a longer lasting blade. If you are limited in space, buying a smaller stroke length may be more convenient for you so you do not hit the wall. Usually, the stroke length varies from ¾ to 1 ¼ inch.
Finally, the way a power tool is designed also influences the efficiency. Imagine you have two saws of the same power, SPM and with same features. They are made by different manufacturers: a tool of a well-established company and a cheap no name brand model. The cheap product will cut the same material at a lower speed and with more effort because of higher rate of power loss occurring while transferring the power from the motor to the blade, as well as within the motor.
This happens because lower end models are designed badly and are made of cheap materials. A good tool is always not the cheapest on the market, but it works better and lasts longer. We recommend to consider first of all products of top rated brands on the power tool market.
Reciprocating saw models vary by features. They may be crucial for you, depending on your project. Some of the features are common for all modern models, while being absent in older generation tools.
Orbital vs Non-Orbital
Orbital action is a cutting mode in which a blade moves not only back and forth, but also slightly up and down. As a result the tip of the blade is drawing an oval “orbit” in the air. This feature helps cut through wood and other soft materials much quicker, making the cut more aggressive.
However, it is not recommended if you need to make a precise cut. It also should be turned off while sawing metal, including the occasional nails you run across in wood during demolition. Most of the modern sawzalls have orbital action. We don’t recommend you to consider one without it.
Brushless vs Brushed
“Brushless” and “brushed” are terms to characterize types of electric motors. Brushes are parts of a motor that wear out over time. If you are going to use a sawzall quite often on a regular basis, you may come to a point when they wear out and will need to be replaced. Apart from that, necessary friction between the brushes and the commutator slows down the rotation, reducing the motor’s efficiency.
Brushless motors are not a new invention, but they became more popular in the last decade. They are more efficient and reliable than brushed. However, they are also more expensive. It is not important to choose a model with a brushless motor, but if a sawzall features one, it’s usually a higher end product.
A shoe is used as a fulcrum, or support for certain cuts. You can pin down the materials that are more flexible while you make the cut. Sheet metal is a good example of the type of material the needs additional pressure.
The benefit of an adjustable shoe is that it lets you use different parts of the blade, which can extend the life of the blade. Another reason that an adjustable shoe is helpful is that it allows you to limit the depth of the blade. If you are cutting on a wall that has wires behind it, you will want to keep the tip from going too far. Otherwise, you’ll end up damaging wires or pipes in the process.
For more accurate cuts you may need to go slower than the maximum speed. Variable speed mechanism lets you control the number of strokes per minute. Most reciprocating saws come with this option these days, but it’s better to make sure that it’s featured.
There are two types of controllers that can adjust the speed of your blade – dial or trigger. A dial controller requires you to turn the dial on the tool to increase or decrease the speed. A trigger control is located on the handle. The further you push down the trigger, the faster it will go.
The advantage of a trigger controller is that you can adjust the speed in the process. If you have a dial controller, you will need to stop cutting in order to change the speed.
The vibration from a fast moving blade can wear out your arm quickly. This is especially true if you are cutting through thick materials. Anti-vibration technology absorbs the vibrations from the tool to keep the user from feeling it as much. This feature is best for those who use a recip saw on a regular basis.
No Tool Blade Change
Newer reciprocating saws have a no tool blade changing system unlike older models. Older saws require a Phillips head screwdriver or a flathead depending on the type of screw used to hold the blade in place.
The no tool blade changing system allows you to easily replace a blade. Some models require you to remove the shoe before blade installation. It’s best to check how convenient it is before purchasing.
Multi Position Blade Clamp
The multi-position blade clamp allows you to install a blade in different angles. This feature allows you to change the blade to cut up, down, left or right without rotating the saw itself.
Electronic Speed Compensation
The electronic speed compensation allows the blade to maintain its speed no matter what type of material it is cutting. Generally this feature is found on higher end models.
A rotating handle allows you to turn the top of the saw so that the blade is facing a different direction. There is a rotation lock on the handle that must be pushed in order to turn the top of the saw around. If you are working in a tight space, you can adjust the handle rather than twist your entire arm. You reduce the risk of injury when you can hold the saw comfortably.
Before using a sawzall, you should know what safety measures to put in place.
Here are the things you need to know to stay safe:
- Make sure kids, pets, and co-workers stay clear while you work.
- Wear gloves, a dust mask and eye protection to avoid chips from your workpiece. Abrasives like masonry and cement produce much dust you don’t want to breath in.
- Wear comfortable clothing. In particular avoid loose wear that may be accidentally hooked by a blade.
- Keep long hair tied back for the same reason.
- Keep grips clean so the saw doesn’t slip out of your hands.
- Don’t use electric saws when it is raining or in conditions of high humidity in order to avoid a shortcut or an electric shock.
- Make sure the switch is off before plugging in your saw or inserting the battery pack. An unexpectedly started blade can traumatize you.
- If you use an extension cord, only use a GFCI protected cord.
- Watch your cord to avoid accidentally cutting it.
- Never operate the tool under the influence or after taking medications that make you drowsy.
- Don’t use the saw near materials that are combustible (sawdust, oils etc). Red-hot particles from your workpiece can start a fire.
- Keep your hands away from the blade while you are cutting.
- Use both hands to operate the saw, unless it is a one-handed model.
- Press the shoe tightly against your workpiece to keep the blade from breaking.
- Don’t touch the blade after use, because it can be very hot.
- Never change the blade while the saw is plugged in. Remove the battery of a cordless model before replacing the blade.
After 2 to 6 months, you will want to have your tool serviced by a professional. They will lubricate it and do general maintenance on the tool.
Make sure you clean your tool after projects. The trigger switch should be free and clear of debris so that it doesn’t become stuck while you are working.
Clean out the head of the reciprocating saw to remove saw dust and other dirt. This will keep your blade moving freely.
Locate the motor ventilation slots and keep them clean. If the ventilation gets clogged, it will cause the tool to overheat.
Available Reciprocating Saw Types on the Market
There are a variety of reciprocating saws on the market that offer different parameters such as power source and size. Models come with different sets of features, considering which you can choose a tool that offers the best value for you.
Electric sawzalls are either powered by battery or have a power cord that plugs into an outlet. Each type of saw has its own benefits.
Electric Cordless Sawzalls
Cordless reciprocating saws are convenient if you need to work away from an easily accessible outlet, in particular for pruning. Battery powered tools are easily transported and don’t require a long extension cord to work.
However, they tend to cost more than their corded competitors, because of the price for a battery and a charger. Though many are sold without them, as a bare tool. It may be convenient if you already have a compatible battery from another power tool of the same brand, like a drill.
If you are interested in a cordless model – read our buying guide on how to choose the best corded sawzall for the money with top 10 models reviewed.
Electric Corded Sawzalls
Corded recip saws usually weigh less than cordless, because they don’t have batteries. You also won’t have to worry about watching the charge. Also, corded tools tend to be a bit more powerful than their rechargeable competitors. If you are looking for a corded saber saw – read our buying guide with reviews of 10 top rated corded models.
Air Reciprocating Saws
An air or pneumatic reciprocating saw is powered by an air compressor rather than electricity.
The absence of an electric motor makes them lighter. It’s great for jobs that require you to hold the saw in place for long periods of time. Also, they are much faster than electric sawzalls: even inexpensive models can reach 10000 maximum SPM while electric models make only around 3000.
There are a few disadvantages to an air powered tool. You will need a dedicated compressor to power it. Air compressors take up space, which means you need an area for it to sit. An electric compressor still has to stay hooked to the power source in order to run, and gas models are noisy.
Pneumatic recip saws are also limited to cutting metals, wood and plastic. They are not meant for masonry and concrete. If you are interested in this type of sawzall read our air saw buying guide with top 8 reviews of the best models available on the market.
Gas powered sawzalls are not popular and they are hard to find for sale. The sawzall has been an electric tool from the beginning and only a few manufacturers have created gas powered versions over the years.
A portable recip saw is one that you can use with one hand. These models are lightweight and easy to hold. They are best used in confined areas because of their compact size. This type of saw can either be battery operated or corded. If you need to choose the best compact recip saw – read our buying guide with reviews of top rated models.
Where to Buy Reciprocating Saw?
Most hardware stores will carry several brands of sawzalls that vary in cost, but buying online usually results in the best deals. Online retailers like Amazon, Ebay, and Walmart are among the top websites that offer exclusive sales and a wide selection.
Leading Reciprocating Saw Brands and Manufacturers
- Milwaukee Tool
- Black & Decker
Price Ranges of Reciprocating Saws
The quality of a sawzall isn’t always determined by how much you pay for it. For most projects, you can find an affordable tool if you look at these aspects:
Reciprocating Saw Under $100
Some brands start under $50 that are half decent tools from high quality brands. Most of the time these models do not come with the additional accessories like cases and extra blades. Cordless recip saws usually come as bare tool: without battery and charger.
If you want to get high quality tools for cheap, you can look into buying certified refurbished or reconditioned recip saws. Look for ones that offer a full warranty.
Sawzalls Within $100 – $200
Even if you have a tight budget, you can find a heavy duty power sawzall from a reputable brand that costs no more than $200. Sometimes a good cordless tool may come in a kit with battery and charger.
$200-$300 And Over
Saws priced in the $200-$300 range are usually professional tools that are superior to others on the market. Many of these come with a case and additional blades. Some kits even come with additional tools like screwdriver sets.
What is a reciprocating saw?
A reciprocating saw is a handheld power tool that is used mostly for demolition, tree trimming, remodeling, and jobs that require a rough straight cut. It is also called a “sawzall”, “recip saw”, “saber”, or “saber saw”. Some mistakenly call it a “saw saw” or “receptacle saw”, but those names are incorrect.
Is a reciprocating saw the same as a sawzall?
Sawzall is typically used as a synonym for reciprocating saw. However, the name Sawzall is a trademark of the Milwaukee Electric Tool Company. They invented and released the very first model of this power tool in 1951. Now it is common to hear people say Dewalt Sawzall or Hitachi Sawzall, but only Milwaukee Tools company uses the name officially.
How does a sawzall work?
A sawzall is a power saw that has a motor that pushes the blade back and forth. The most common saws are electric and run off of battery or have a cord. Pneumatic saber saws are powered by an air compressor. There are a few gas powered models, but these have never been widely popular.
Most of these saws have two handles. One handle has a trigger that you pull to make the saw work. The other handle is at the top and allows you to hold it for additional support. Also, there are compact models that are one handed.
Are Reciprocating Saw Blades Universal?
Generally, the shank on a reciprocating saw is standard, so therefore the blades are also standard. However, the air (pneumatic) reciprocating saw has a different shank, so it needs a special blade.