A reciprocating saw is a powered tool that lets you cut through a wide range of different things in a practical and very versatile manner. These are saws that give you a lot of control over how you want to work and that can be carried around easily and often don’t even need a wire. This is a relatively useful thing to keep around the home and can also find use on construction sites. Let’s take a more in-depth look at this particular tool, what it is for and how you should go about picking one if you decide it has a place in your toolkit.
What is a Reciprocating Saw?
Many powered saws are all about offering more precision than you would get from a handheld saw. Take a miter saw for example, which allows a woodworker to make precise angled cuts in a straight line. Or what about a miter saw, that can be used to cut perfect curves or even to make complex angles and patterns in a piece of wood?
A reciprocating saw – also sometimes referred to as a ‘recip saw’ – is a little different however. This is a saw that is purposefully less accurate than those other examples and that is mainly using for making rough cuts where precision doesn’t matter.
This is immediately apparent when looking at the reciprocating saw. This is a handheld power tool that could look a little like someone had put the wrong attachment on the end of an electric drill.
The difference between this and a regular saw is that the blade is powered and will move backward and forward at a very high speed, giving it the ability to cut through particularly tough materials using a fraction of the effort that would be necessary with a handsaw. What’s also different, is that you hold the saw much like you would hold a nail gun or a drill, which in turn gives it a lot of versatility, allowing you to reach awkward angles and even to get inside small spaces where you wouldn’t get the versatility from a handsaw.
This all means that the reciprocating saw is not usually going to find itself being used in woodwork, where precise and clean cuts are valued above all else (though it could be useful for preparing materials or opening packaging). More often, the reciprocating saw will find itself in the toolkit of plumbers, builders, HVAC engineers and electrical engineers.
And it can also be very useful around the house!
Top Uses for a Reciprocating Saw
Why would a non-professional be interested in a reciprocating saw then? The answer is for a vast range of different DIY jobs. For instance…
If you are placing wiring on your walls, then you might need to make indentations. A reciprocating saw will often be particularly useful for this because it allows you to reach odd angles.
Cutting nails and pins
If you have a nail or pin that needs cutting through, then a reciprocating saw can help a great deal. If you find that you can’t pull a nail out of the wall for instance, then you can use a reciprocating pin just to saw the head off and be done with it.
Or let’s say that you have bought some window handles but found that the pin at the back is too long and they don’t quite fit into the frame as they should. In that case, you can simply saw off the end in order to make them small enough to fit. The pin isn’t going to be seen by people on the outside, so it hardly matters that it won’t be the neatest cut!
Changing PVC piping
PVC pipes are often placed in hard-to-reach areas that just won’t allow you to get the necessary movement to use a regular saw. In that case then, using a reciprocating saw will be a lot easier and you’ll also find that the recip glides through PVC like a hot knife through butter!
A reciprocating saw is ideal for cutting back branches. Once again, you won’t likely find that you need any particular accuracy or neatness when doing this, but a handsaw can make the tree branches wobble and require a lot of effort – especially if you are up the top at the time! In that case, using a reciprocating saw will be much more suitable. Note that you certainly wouldn’t want to use a reciprocating saw for cutting down a tree though!
Choosing Your Reciprocating Saw
This is a relatively small and simple tool to understand and so your buying options are fairly limited and straightforward as compared with some other benchtop tools.
However, there are still of course going to be a number of considerations to take into account. The first of these is the power and the speed of the reciprocating saw. Look at the amps and make sure that your tool is going to be up to the tasks that you have in mind for it.
The range here is anything from under five amps up to 15 amps and above. A 15 amp device will be more than powerful enough for handling the majority of jobs but of course this will be reflected in the price and in the weight. More importantly, a 15 amp recip saw is highly likely to be corded, which in turn is going to reduce the number of different ways you can use it and which will mean you need to find a power outlet before you can get to work with it.
If you are planning on cutting through thick branches though, then you might want to look for something a little more powerful and corded.
Of course the counter argument is that the cordless and less powerful units tend to be much cheaper and are certainly going to be more portable and more versatile for reaching into unusual angles and for cutting unusual shapes. This is something quite important to consider, as one of the key reasons people use these types of saws in the first place is so that they can benefit from this extra manoeuvrability.
Cordless will allow you to easily cut horizontally and at a range of different angles and may offer better stroke depth. Of course it also means that you can sling it into a bag and take it with you on the road, which is something that will be very useful for anyone using it in a professional capacity to help clients.
Another consideration is the ergonomics of your saw. A padded handle for instance is a great feature and one that you shouldn’t underestimate! Some jobs can take several hours and require an intense grip. Over this time, the difference between a padded handle and an uncomfortable one can be brought into stark contrast!
Also pertinent in this respect is the weight, which will determine just how much strength you need to use it for long periods of time. Another thing to think about is how long the battery lasts. Sometimes, you might find you need to carry multiple batteries with you in order to swap them out. This does not only affect the total weight you’re then bringing with you but also the practicality, as you’ll find yourself interrupted between long jobs.
Features and Extras
To help you make a decision, you should also consider some of the extra features that you can look for when buying your saw. These include…
An adjustable shoe will give you more control and stability while working. This provides different positions to support a more versatile set of jobs and will mean you don’t need a specialized tool when you want to change the position.
Orbital action essentially means that the saw can also move horizontally and that in turn will make it better able to cut quickly. This also means that the cutting speed will be consistent, regardless of the position of the tool. This is very useful when cutting through tougher materials such as metal and will let you do so at slower speeds.
While a fast saw is useful for cutting easily through tough materials, other jobs will require more precision instead. Having the option to alter the speed on the fly can be very useful then and let you choose whether you want your tool to rip and tear or craft a little more carefully and precisely…
Auto Stop Brushes
These ensure that the saw will auto stop when the brush wears out. This prevents damage to the saw’s motor.
Tool-Less Blade Replacement
The blade that you use in your recip saw will of course also alter the way it performs and in this regard you will need to consider the number of teeth, the space between said teeth and the material of the blade. Of course sometimes a job will require a different blade to the one that you are currently using and in that case, you’ll want to switch it out.
Many tools will require you to use additional tools in order to do this. However, if you have ‘tool-less reciprocating saws’ then you’ll be able to do this by flicking a switch or squeezing a release of some sort.
Consider as well the blades themselves. You should think both about the blade that has come with the saw and about any extras you want to buy in order to swap out. A demolition blade for example is a blade that is wider and thicker and that isn’t so likely to bend. If you are looking for something that can cut through a wide range of metals, then look for a demolition blade. Likewise, you should look for something with lots of teeth – perhaps around 10TPI (teeth per inch). This will give you slightly more control.
Longer blades can also be useful for situations where you want to cut flush to a surface. They allow you to flex the blade into a slightly curved shape, thereby sawing away wood and metal as you run the blade against the surface.
In some cases, you might need to carry specific blades for particular types of metal. For example, a diamond grit blade is very useful for cutting through cast iron. Carbon tipped blades will allow you to cut through cast aluminum.
Some Safety Tips and Advice
When you buy your reciprocating saw, there are a few other items you should look into too before you get going. A reciprocating saw can chop through just about anything but this makes it all too tempting to use it without thinking and that’s how accidents happen…
For starters, you should never use reciprocating saws without eye protection. For that reason, if you are going to be purchasing one of these and you don’t already have goggles, then you should look into one. Look for something comfortable and that won’t restrict your vision. Also important are heavy duty gloves. These will help you to avoid cutting your fingers, or hurting your hands on other things.
Look too for dust collection ports and if this is something that your tool provides, make sure you use it to prevent getting too much sawdust in your eyes.
Always take your time and care with the tool, charge it fully before using and invest in a nice carry case to ensure you get a lot of use out of it before it stops working.
A reciprocating saw is a highly useful item with a wide range of different uses. Once you have one in your collection, you’ll wonder how you ever got by without it. Just make sure that you get the right one, that you are careful with how you go about it and that you know what its limitations are. Reviews are your friends, so do your research, read around and pick a model that is going to give you the best power, control and versatility all in one package!