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You’ve decided to get a reciprocating saw – congratulations! You’re about to add one of the most versatile power tools in the world to your shop. Reciprocating saws routinely make the list of most used tools at any job site and they’re equally popular with DIYers. Just about every tool company makes them, meaning you’ve got a lot to choose from. Whether you’re planning to tear down entire buildings, process a newly shot deer (yep, there’s a blade for that), or only have some heavy pruning to tackle, our reviews and buyer’s guide will help you find the right model. And maybe we’ll even inspire you with unexpected ideas about how to use your new saw.
|DEWALT DCS380B||3 Years||4.8/5|
|RYOBI RJ186V||5 Years||4.2/5|
This is the brand name synonymous with reciprocating saws – the Milwaukee Sawzall – and for good reason. Its 11amp motor gives you up to 3,000 SPM with a variable speed trigger and a stroke length of 1 1/8”. Professionals and DIYers alike rave about its versatility, durability, and ability to cut through any and everything with minimal user effort. It feels good in your hands, has a 5-year warranty (longer than any other on this list), and is made in the USA. Fans talk about owning them for decades and brag about the crazy, unexpected things they have chopped up with their Milwaukee Sawzall. Brand loyalty runs very high. The only consistent complaint is that the included case does not contain a designated compartment for extra blades.
Like the Milwaukee Sawzall, the DeWalt DCS380B gives you a variable speed 3,000SPM with 1 1/8” stroke length but the DeWalt runs on a 20V battery (one that interchanges with other DeWalt tool batteries). Unique on our list, the DeWalt allows you to install blades in four compass directions for increased versatility. For straightforward cutting, users are almost universally happy with its performance, but complaints about weak blade lock and lack of oomph surface when cutting in hard-to-reach areas or awkward positions. This comes as a bare tool – no blades, no battery, no charger – but if you’re already invested in other rechargeable DeWalt tools you’ll only need to add blades to your purchase. Battery life may seem inconsistent, with some users raving about how long they last, and some complaining about the opposite.
We give the Porter-Cable PCC670B high praise for packing surprising power into a small, lightweight, battery-operated saw at roughly half the price of our favorites. It doesn’t seem to be preferred amongst pros, but homeowners are very happy with its performance cutting everything from trees to lumber to antlers to siding. Like our Top Pick, it also has a 3,000 SPM variable speed trigger. This is sold as a bare tool, so factor in the battery, charger, and blade purchases, but that’s the same as it is for the more expensive models so you still come out ahead. You won’t be handing this machine down to your kids – it definitely lacks long-term durability – but at this price point, the Porter-Cable PCC670B is a real bargain for the weekend pruner or demolisher.
The VonHaus 15/138US has a 9amp motor that tops out at 2,500 SPM, so it’s not quite the workhouse that our earlier choices are. It does have the variable speed trigger, with lock, and unlike many reciprocating saws, it comes with eight blades (two for metal, six for wood). But it’s heavy, the included blades wear out very quickly, and it vibrates more than it reasonably should, all of which make it suitable only for quick and simple jobs. It does come at a bargain price, especially considering the blades are included, but it also comes with reports of the trigger lock getting stuck while it’s running, which is a serious hazard. The VonHaus might be for you if cost is a big factor and you’ve only got short and sweet projects to tackle.
No one looks to Ryobi for high-end, professional tools, even though it has the same parent company as Milwaukee, and this saw is no reason for that to change. (And truth be told, few of us have professional-grade tool needs). In the hands of an occasional DIYer, it holds up just fine and makes a good stand-in for anyone reluctant to get a chainsaw. Its 10amp motor produces 3,000 SPM and it comes with a variable speed trigger and anti-vibration technology, just like our more favored saws. It’s moderately priced and comes packaged with one blade. But it’s not a tool anyone will be using to tear down a building – it doesn’t have the quality feel to tackle anything that ambitious. If you’re only in occasional need of a reciprocating saw, this isn’t a bad choice, but if you have grander visions for your saw, look elsewhere.
If you’re asking yourself what you can do with a reciprocating saw, you’re asking the wrong question. The better question is – what CAN’T you do with one?
A reciprocating saw’s jobs are only limited by what you can imagine doing with it. THIS is the power tool where you can let (just a little bit of) your crazy out. Reciprocating saws are used by emergency rescue personnel to cut people out of cars and other tight spots. They’re used by window fitters, whose job of cutting windows into walls is so much easier with a reciprocating saw. Construction workers, plumbers, irrigation installers, and backyard gardeners all use them. Whether you want a small hole in the wall for a new electrical outlet, or big hole for an air conditioning unit, or a giant hole for a bay window, a reciprocating saw is indispensable. And even if you have no projects on the go, you can cut up just about anything into little pieces to put into your trash, including an entire building. Just like a toothbrush, everyone should have one of these.
Recip saws were invented in 1951 by Milwaukee, who introduced a brand name saw that would become synonymous with the tool – Sawzall. (And they continue to churn out high-quality machines – a Milwaukee Sawzall is our Top Pick.) Begun as a simple device, they now host a slew of assets, guaranteeing its ranking as one of the most important tools to have at any job site or in any workshop.
Let’s talk about the standard features you can expect and some bells and whistles you might want to be on the lookout for.
You can cut through wood, whether it’s lumber or trees.
You can go through metal, whether it’s steel, aluminum, copper, or even cast iron. You can get through nails in a stair riser, plumbing pipes, rebar, and even a car.
In addition to wood and metal, you can cut through just about anything used to build a house: shingles, PVC pipe and other plastic, stucco, drywall, tile, fiberglass, brick, and cement board. (Just don’t try to cut through window glass!)
You can get a saw that plugs in, or you can get one with a battery. The motor power of a corded saw will be measured in Amps, and as an example, the ones reviewed here vary from nine to 11 Amps. You can get more Amps, but you’ll pay more. Or you can get a battery-powered one, whose power will be measured in volts (V), with many models coming in at 20V.
Any tool with a cord is going to feel like it’s got more fire in the engine, and in a reciprocating saw, you really can’t have too much power. Short of a power outage or a blown fuse, you’re never going to run out of juice if you’re plugged in. But the corded model comes with the obvious hassle factor of the cord. Does it reach where you need to saw? Are you twisting yourself into a pretzel to keep from sawing through your own cord? Do your co-workers keep tripping over it? How many extension cords can you string together, really? A battery-powered model avoids all that, but you’ll likely want to have a backup battery (or two) charged and waiting in the wings to enable quick change-outs so you can keep sawing all day long.
Reviews will undoubtedly include mention of battery life, both applauding the longevity and complaining about its brevity. Keep in mind battery life results from a variety of factors – how hard you’re working the tool, how fully charged it was, age of the battery, weather, etc. – so it can be hard to determine objectively if a tool sucks battery life excessively.
In an ideal world, of course, you’d have one of each, ensuring you had the perfect saw for every occasion.
Another gauge of a saw’s abilities is its maximum strokes per minute (SPM). The blade of a reciprocating saw moves back and forth rapidly, and the faster it does, the faster you’ll saw through that tree branch or pipe. More SPM doesn’t necessarily mean more power, exactly, but a higher SPM can allow you to cut through faster.
Most saws offer a variable speed trigger, allowing you to adjust SPM as you are cutting, and some even offer a temporary locking mechanism. Once you are rolling and have found the perfect speed, you can flip a switch to hold steady at your desired SPM. This can be especially handy if you are cutting metal.
Related to SPM, stroke length also clues you into the speed at which you can get the cutting done. This is a measurement, in inches, of how far the blade extends and retracts as it goes back and forth. Most saws run between ¾” and 1 1/8” stroke lengths, which doesn’t seem like a very big difference. But you want to buy the most saw length you can because, like a high SPM, greater stroke length contributes to faster cutting.
Greater stroke length will also spread the cutting action out over more of the blade, giving your blade a longer lifespan.
When you combine a longer stroke length with a higher SPM you get the fastest cutting times.
The standard-sized reciprocating saws are usually around 18” long and weigh between 6 and 8 lbs., giving you a decent amount of power in a modest-sized package. If you’re doing basic demolition work, this is perfect.
But sometimes you and/or your saw are going to be crammed into smaller, hard-to-reach spaces, and sometimes you and your saw are going to be up at the top of a ladder. If this is how you expect to spend most of your time with you recip saw, you might want to look at the smaller-sized models. Coming in around 14”, a smaller, lighter (and likely battery-powered) saw will allow you and it to work more easily in cramped conditions. If you’re routinely on a ladder or reaching over your head, you’ll also appreciate a saw that’s just a little more maneuverable. You might even be able to get some of these to do the job with only one hand driving the tool. Look hard enough and you’ll even find some models with rotating handles or blades to really increase your flexibility in the faraway corners.
The ergonomics of your saw are going to be important, too. You’ll be holding it in your hands for hours, and even with the vibration-reducing technology many of them employ, you still won’t want to be weighed down by a machine that doesn’t really fit you. Pick up and handle a few at the local hardware store so you can get a feel for the one that works for you.
Your choice of blade is almost as important as your choice of saw. They vary in length, teeth per inch (TPI), width, thickness, shape, and material.
Blades will be 3-12” long, with the most common falling between 6” and 9” and longer blades producing deeper cuts.
TPI ranges from 3-24. Low TPI cuts faster but with rougher edges and is best suited for cutting wood. High TPI results in slower cutting but gives you a smoother edge, making it great for cutting metal.
In terms of width, blades will max out at about 1” wide, for maximum sturdiness, but go down in width to as small as 1/16”, used for precision metal cutting.
Thickness will hover around .05”, with increased thickness providing extra stability.
Blades can be tapered or untapered. You’ll want to have a tapered blade for what’s called “plunge work,” or using the tip of the blade to poke the initial hole in the surface to allow the blade to enter and get started.
Your blade might be made of carbon-steel, hi-speed steel, a combination of those two (called bi-metal), or carbide grit. Carbon-steel is flexible and resists breakage and works well with wood and plastic. Hi-speed steel gives you stronger, more durable teeth, but the blade itself is more likely to break. Bi-metal combines the positive attributes of both – flexibility, break-resistance, and long-lasting teeth. Carbide and diamond grit blades are the powerhouses reserved for the most resistant materials, such as ceramic tile, fiberglass, and cement board. Most manufacturers make it clear what a blade is designed to cut. They are labeled as “wood-cutting” or “metal-cutting,” so you don’t need to carry around a cheat-sheet to determine every blade for every job.
The blade of a reciprocating saw can and should be changed out, depending on what you’re doing. Don’t waste your fancy carbide grit trying to cut wood, and don’t expect your hi-speed steel to cut through a shower enclosure.
Watch your saw descriptions carefully – some saws are sold as “bare tool,” meaning there are no blades included. You’ll want to factor in the additional blade purchase price, but you’ll also get to choose the exact blades you need.
With all this talk of changing out blades, you’ll be happy to hear that switching out blades is super-easy. If you can change a drill bit, you can switch out your saw blades. Gone are the days of needing a designated tool to change blades.
To add even further to the versatility of a recip saw, you can often install the blades either right side up or upside down – whichever way is going to help you get the job done. We have even reviewed a saw that lets you install in four directions, not just two.
The shoe is the device at the end of the saw through which the blade runs. Used properly, the shoe can make your sawing go faster, extend the life of the blade, pin down materials that want to move around, and even act as a fulcrum for plunge cuts. Like technique, knowing how to work the shoe to your advantage comes through experience.
Traditionally, reciprocating saws only sawed back and forth in a straight line. Now there are some on the market that offer a slightly orbital path for the blade. Testing shows that the orbital saws do reduce cutting time, although they aren’t recommended for metalwork or detail work, and they can noticeably enhance an otherwise moderate cutting speed. If you have serious demolition ahead of you, be sure to look at an orbital version of the recip saw, but be prepared to pay extra for it.
You’ve got a jigsaw and you’re wondering if you need a recip saw. The short answer is yes.
A jigsaw is a great tool for cutting along specific lines, probably ones you’ve drawn onto a piece of wood. Used correctly, a jigsaw can give you a high level of precision and control with your cutting. It’s also best at its job if you can lean into it a bit while cutting, keeping the shoe flush with the surface. With a jigsaw, you can create beauty. If you had to pick a dance most akin to the jigsaw, it would be a waltz.
A recip saw doesn’t care about specific lines, precision, or even much about control. A recip saw is primarily for destruction and demolition, not creation. You can wave it above your head, or stick it in a cramped space, or reach it away from your body. If you had to pick a corresponding dance, it would be more like what you’d see in a mosh pit.
In a pinch, are they interchangeable? Possibly, and it certain settings, yes. But successful tool operation starts with choosing the right tool for the job, so don’t expect either of these to cover for the absence of the other.
Have you ever asked someone to Xerox something to make you a photocopy? Or wanted someone to pass you a box of Kleenex? Xerox-brand photocopiers and Kleenex-brand tissues have so permeated the marketplace that they have become synonymous with their products. Hackzall and Sawzall have done the same. Both are styles of reciprocating saws manufactured by the Milwaukee Tool Corporation. Hackzall is the smaller, battery-powered cousin of the Sawzall, Milwaukee’s famous recip saw, and their blades are interchangeable. Not all reciprocating saws are Sawzalls or Hackzalls and you can be sure other manufacturers aren’t using Milwaukee’s names to describe their saws.
You might be tempted to take your recip saw out of the box and start testing it on anything nearby. Before you find yourself struck with the inspiration to install new windows, think a moment to think about some common-sense precautions.
Don’t cut through things if you don’t know what’s inside. Is there water in the pipe? Wiring in the walls? Electricity still coursing through those wires? Just because you CAN saw through any and everything doesn’t mean you should, at least not without appropriate precautions.
You’ve heard it before but it’s worth repeating – wear protective gear. At a bare minimum, this means eye goggles/glasses and sturdy gloves, plus a helmet and boots wouldn’t hurt either. Your saw will send shards of who knows what flying and you can’t have fun with your saw if you’re in the ER getting stitches.
You probably shouldn’t use the saw while standing on a ladder, but we know you’ll be tempted to. That means you’ll either have two hands on the saw, meaning no hands-free to steady or catch yourself, or you’ll be one-handing the saw, meaning you won’t have it under as much control, particularly as you complete the cut and the saw suddenly swings more freely. Try to find something else to brace yourself against when sawing from a ladder.
It may sound obvious, but exercise caution when sawing above your head. Whatever you’re cutting will eventually be loose enough to fall on you, possibly even bringing the saw with it.
Kickback happens, just like with a chainsaw. Don’t pull the blade out while the machine is still on, and keep the shoe pressed against the surface if possible. Be especially on the lookout for kickback if you’re still up in that ladder.
Those blades are working hard – they generate heat and lots of it! Give it a moment to cool down before you try to change it out.
A reciprocating saw is a fantastic, easily-justified, versatile addition to any tool arsenal. Our Top Pick is no surprise – the Milwaukee 6519-31 Sawzall. There’s a reason its name is synonymous with the tool itself. With the Sawzall, you are limited only by your imagination, plus it’s likely to outlive you, making it worth every penny.
Your best bet on a tight budget is the Porter-Cable PCC670B. At roughly half the price of our leading saws and nearly all the same features, it’s a terrific choice for the first-time buyer. You’ll be able to tackle all but the biggest jobs but spend noticeably less money.
Between our reviews and buyer’s guide, you should be ready to go. All that’s left to decide is – what AREN’T you going to tackle with your reciprocating saw?
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