Reciprocating Saw vs Jigsaw – Which is Right for Your Needs?

Reciprocating Saw vs Jigsaw - Which is Right for Your Needs

This is a tough choice – reciprocating saw or jigsaw? They both are chart-toppers for versatility and are excellent choices for both the average homeowner and the professional handyman. Although there is definitely some overlap in what they can do, they each shine in different situations. Let’s do a quick run-through on their design and then look at a few common scenarios to see how they stack up.

Reciprocating Saw

A reciprocating saw looks a bit like a tiny chainsaw – the handle is at the back and the blade sticks out the front. But unlike a chainsaw, the blade is only a few inches long, is anchored only on one end, and it saws by moving rapidly back and forth (hence the name “reciprocating”). Blades can be easily swapped in and out depending on what you’re cutting. The saw is usually held out in front of you while you’re working.

reciprocating saw

A reciprocating saw. Credit: Junglecat, Wikimedia

Jigsaw

Although a jigsaw is a type of reciprocating saw with the blade anchored only at one end, it sticks out of the bottom of the tool. Jigsaw blades are smaller, narrower, and more fragile than those used in a recip saw but also come in a wide array of styles to match the material you’re working with. You can use a jigsaw out in front of you, but it is more often used while you’re leaning over the work surface.

jigsaw

A jigsaw. Image credit: Daniel M. Hendricks, Flickr

Common uses for each saw

Demolition

A reciprocating saw is better for demo than a jigsaw. With more power and bigger blades at its disposal, the recip can cut through walls much more easily than a jigsaw. Although both saws can use blades that allow them to cut nearly any material, the recip is like the weight-lifting older brother to the 98-lb weakling jigsaw. The weakling can get the job done, eventually, but it will take longer and he might wind up injured.

Pruning

The recip wins on this front, too. There’s a reason you’ve probably never seen anyone using a jigsaw on a low hanging branch in their yard. Although, theoretically, it could probably handle it, you’d feel a little ridiculous doing it and you’d worry about overwhelming the jigsaw. A reciprocating saw is an obvious choice for outdoor work and can handle most anything short of firewood and tree-felling.

Carving a sign out of plywood

The jigsaw is your better choice on this job. Once you trace the letters or design onto the wood, you can easily drive the jigsaw along those lines and achieve a moderately clean and precise cut. Given that the recip saw is best operated with two hands, it would not only be awkward to try to cut out a specific design, but you’d also wind up with a bit of a ragged mess. For any cutting that warrants precision, especially along a non-linear path, the jigsaw is the clear winner.

man using reciprocating saw

Image credit: Mark Hunter, Flickr

Remodeling

This is a tough call. Both will handle tasks like cutting PVC pipe, plywood, or even a 2×4. The recip saw is going to be better at the hefty jobs – remember, it’s the weightlifting older brother – and the jigsaw will outperform on any task that requires finesse or attention to detail. Both could be a tool you reach for frequently during a remodel job – the recip earlier on in the process, when everything is in rougher shape, and the jigsaw later on, when you start to think about things looking nice.

Portability

Another tie here. Both tools are electric and come in both corded and battery-powered. They’re relatively small and lightweight and you can throw them both in the back of the truck with an extension cord or an extra battery pack.

What about safety?

If you are at all worried about your ability to operate a power tool safely, don’t buy a reciprocating saw. Whereas you can set your pre-teen up with a project using a jigsaw and still be considered a prudent parent, few responsible adults would think it reasonable to hand that same child a reciprocating saw. The opportunity for injury – especially to the user – is much lower with a jigsaw. Naturally clutzy? No recip saw for you, please.

Conclusion

As much as it might seem like a jigsaw is just a smaller reciprocating saw, it’s not. A recip saw is better suited for destruction and demolition since it offers power in exchange for precision. And although a jigsaw can help you take things down or apart, it really proves its worth when you ask it to help you make things. The internet abounds with cute and crafty projects you can make with a jigsaw – drawer inserts, wall art, and cutting boards – but the corresponding lists for a reciprocating saw are all about what you can cut up – game (yep, dead animals), cars, and homes.

As we are fond of saying, be sure in your own mind what you’re going to do with the tool, first, and then that will lead you to the right tool for the job.