Buying a Reciprocating Saw? Here’s What to Look For!
A reciprocating saw is just a reciprocating saw, right? Or is it a Sawzall? Buying a reciprocating saw doesn’t have to be terribly complicated, but there are a lot of things to consider when you’re shopping for an upgrade.
Corded or Cordless?
The first thing to do when you’re buying a reciprocating saw is to decide what power source you’d like. Modern advancements in battery technology mean the best cordless reciprocating saws can keep up with the top corded models, so it’s not as much an issue of power as it was just a few years ago.
Corded models have the benefits of nearly infinite runtime and lower cost. They can also be lighter weight than some of the top cordless models with their massive batteries.
Cordless reciprocating saws don’t have any cords to manage and they tend to have more features than corded models. They’re more expensive and you may need 2, 3, 4 or more batteries to work uninterrupted.
Our Pros prefer cordless saws when their budgets allow for them.
One-Hand, Heavy-Duty, or Something in Between?
It’s great having the biggest, baddest, most powerful reciprocating saw available. If you’re an electrician or plumber mainly cutting EMT, copper pipe, or PVC, it’s overkill.
One-hand saws do a great job on thin-wall and softer materials. They’re also much more convenient and easy to use than larger models.
When you start getting into wood cutting beyond 1x, it’s time to start moving up the performance charts. Compact reciprocating saws can get you into tighter spaces with reasonable performance and smaller full-size saws are usually good choices for occasional and overhead use.
But when the going gets tough and you have roofing, cast iron, large diameter pipe or other monsters to slay, heavy-duty models are your best friend.
We have a handy guide that goes into more detail about the different reciprocating saw types you can choose from. Check it out here.
Bells and Whistles
Features can do everything from improving your cutting performance to making the saw easier or more convenient to use. Check out this list to see what kinds of things to look for.
While there are corded brushless tools out there, none of the major tool manufacturers are putting brushless motors in their corded reciprocating saws just yet. That’s a feature you only find on cordless models.
Brushless motors require no carbon brush changes, they tend to run cooler, have longer lifespans, and can increase runtime and power. You can read more about the specific differences here.
Orbital action makes a huge difference in woodcutting speeds. Instead of pushing the blade straight out and pulling it back in, orbital mode adds a more aggressive elliptical motion that’s significantly faster. Some of the premium reciprocating saws offer multiple orbital settings so you can select the level of aggressiveness. Check out the specifics in this article.
Nearly every reciprocating saw you can buy has a variable speed trigger that you can feather when you want slower or more controlled cutting. It’s a lot easier to pull the trigger all the way down, though. Variable speed settings can help you do that.
Some are as simple as a high and low setting or 3-stage electronic controls. The more versatile use variable speed dials or even smart controls to let you dial in a wider range of speeds.
Currently, Milwaukee has the only smart controlled reciprocating saw and they did a phenomenal job with the design. The M18 Fuel Sawzall with One-Key lets you customize the speed setting for each mode on the control panel.
More impressively, you can input the material you’re cutting and the blade you’re using to let the app dial in the exact speed and other settings that are optimal. When it comes to getting the best cutting speed and the longest life from your blades, it’s well worth the premium price.
Several Pro-level brands have advanced vibration controls built-in to their reciprocating saw. Systems like Skilsaw’s Buzzkill, Makita’s AVT (anti-vibration technology), and Hilti’s AVR (active vibration reduction) help dampen the vibration that comes with such a violent sawing motion to reduce fatigue in your hands and arms. When you’re buying a reciprocating saw, this is definitely something our Pros recommend you put high on your priority list.
Pivoting, Tool-Free Adjustable Shoe
Even if your reciprocating saw doesn’t have advanced vibration controls, a well-design shoe is a big help. By keeping it engaged against the material, you’ll greatly reduce the amount of vibration that makes it to your arms.
Look for a shoe that pivots easily. It will help you keep the saw stable on longer cuts in wood and as you work around pipe or conduit.
You can also look for an adjustable length shoe. If you’re cutting a lot of thinner materials like 3/4″ EMT, rebar, or even 2x wood, you can extend the shoe out to use more of the blade once the initial length starts to dull.
The best models have a tool-free option. It often uses a button or lever to unlock and is very easy to adjust quickly.
Others use bolts to hold the shoe in place and require a hex wrench to loosen them. Typically, the wrench stores on the tool where it’s convenient to access when you need it.
There are two main types of blade releases on reciprocating saws. The most common are twist locks on the shaft that you reach in to manipulate.
We prefer lever on the outside of the housing, though. Sometimes, the saw’s stroke stops toward the inside of the tool and it can be more challenging to get to the twist lock. Sure, you can pull the blade to bring it back out, but an outside lever works no matter what part of the stroke the shaft is on.
One style worth pointing out is the one Makita uses on several of their Recipro Saws. When you turn the twist lock to release the blade, a spring ejects it and the lock catches in the open position. When you insert a new blade, it automatically closes back to secure it.
Rafter Hook/Belt Hook
Belt hooks are pretty uncommon on reciprocating saws, but a Hilti’s 12V and DeWalt’s Atomic models include them.
With some of the full-size saws, you get a rafter hook. When you’re working at height or just don’t want to set the saw on the floor, a rafter hook is incredibly helpful.
DeWalt’s Atomic model also has a unique clawed shoe that is an effective replacement for a rafter hook. Since it’s a much lighter one-hand model, it works well. I’m not sure it would be as stable on a full-size saw.
LED lights on power tools are a relatively recent development that is mainly on cordless tools. Nearly every cordless reciprocating saw has one. Despite the seemingly small size, they’re effective at helping you line up your cut in darker areas, especially when it’s tough to bring in a separate work light or an object is blocking the beam from your headlamp.
Are you in the process of buying a reciprocating saw? Tell us what’s highest on your list or which one you decided to go with in the comments below!