News & Opinion

What is Orbital Action and Does it Matter?


What is orbital action and does it matter on a reciprocating saw? That’s the question we’re looking at today and it’s a common one. Up until the last year or so, most manufacturers weren’t putting it as a feature on their cordless reciprocating saws, leading to a little confusion as to whether or not it is actually meaningful.

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What is Orbital Action?

Orbital action is a setting on some reciprocating saws that introduces an elliptical motion to the standard back and forth sawing. This more aggressive action claims to remove more material when cutting through wood. Being more aggressive, it also introduces additional vibration and you shouldn’t use orbital action when cutting metal.

Bosch 18V Reciprocating Saw GSA18V-125

Does Orbital Action Really Matter?

We have some evidence to work aside from manufacturer claims about orbital action. First up is our cordless reciprocating saw shootout. In our testing, the only saw (Ridgid’s Gen 5x) to have orbital action cut the fastest in wood. However, a couple of other saws weren’t too far behind. So what about a more apples to apples approach?

Best Cordless Reciprocating Saw Shootout

We took Bosch’s new 18V model and ran it through the same test several times with and without orbital action engaged. Trying to do what I can with just technique, the closest I can get is still roughly 2.5 seconds slower than orbital action.

What is Orbital Action and Does it Matter?

The results of more scientific testing are even more telling. Using the same weight to provide downforce on the saw, Bosch cut through our 2 x 12 PT embedded with five 16D nails in 31.83 seconds. Switching over to orbital action, the time was 18.28 seconds – a drop of just over 13.5 seconds, making non-orbital action nearly 75% slower than orbital action!

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The Bottom Line

Letting the saw and blade do the work is always the way to go when cutting, even in demo work. When you do that, orbital action has a massive advantage in wood cutting. Even if you try to beat it with technique, you’ll still fall short and you’ll work a lot harder trying.

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