Best Sawzall | Choosing the Right Type of Reciprocating Saw

Choosing the Best Sawzall: Types of Reciprocating Saws

Choosing the best Sawzall is all about matching the size and performance of the saw to what you’re cutting and where you’re cutting it. Selecting the right reciprocating saw gives you the best balance of cutting speed and design to match the job at hand.

Sure, you can make the cut with any of these saws, assuming you can get it fits in the space you’re cutting. But you might be holding down the trigger for minutes per cut or cutting through with all the grace of a bull in a china shop. Just like Pop always said, grab the right tool for the job for the best results.

Choosing the Best Sawzall by Design

Compact Sawzalls

One-Handed Sawzalls (Hackzalls)

Compact reciprocating saws come in two varieties. The most popular is a one-handed style. Its design actually lets you use two hands to stabilize the cut, but it’s light and balanced enough to easily use with one hand.

These saws are great when you need to cut pipe or similar material that isn’t very stable. You can stabilize the material with your free hand and work the saw with the other.

Choosing the Best Sawzall: Types of Reciprocating Saws

One-hand models have the slowest cutting speeds thanks to shorter stroke lengths (around 7/8″) and often slower stroke rates (less than 3000 SPM). Paired with a high tooth count blade in the 14 – 18 TPI range, they’re excellent for cutting EMT, PVC, copper pipe, and other thin materials.

Because of their small size and lighter weight, compact Sawzalls (or Hackzalls) are great for electricians and plumbers who often have to cut in awkward spaces. The one-hand design lets them work around the other materials or confined spaces more conveniently.

While they’re not great for wood cutting on the construction/demolition side, we really like one-handed saws paired with a low TPI carbide pruning blade for landscaping. It can cut a much thicker branch than standard shears and can save you from having to get out a chainsaw in many cases.


If you’re looking for the most compact models possible and don’t mind trading off some cutting speed, there are several 12V models to choose from. The best Sawzall models in the one-hand class use 18V/20V max batteries (or close to it, such as 22V and 24V max) and there are a few corded ones running around.

Choosing the Best Sawzall: Types of Reciprocating Saws - Milwaukee M12 Fuel Hackzall

Two-Handed Sawzalls

Another type of compact reciprocating saw is a two-handed model. It looks similar to a traditional Sawzall but gets squashed so it’s shorter from tip to tail and taller from top to bottom. Some of these saws can be shorter than one-hand models, but they tend to be heavier.

best sawzall

They’re not as common as one-hand models, but you can still find them as cordless or corded designs. It’s a good type of reciprocating saw to have on hand when you’re trying to reach between studs or other tight spaces where your standard Sawzall won’t fit.

The performance of a two-hand model is usually better than a one-hand model. They often move closer to 3000 SPM and have longer stroke lengths in the 1″ range. They’re still slower than standard Sawzall designs, though.

These models are good for cutting PVC, EMT, copper pipe, and other thin materials, similar to the one-hand saws. In addition to cutting them faster, you can also do a reasonable job of cutting wood in places your full-size reciprocating saw won’t fit.

Two-hand compact models do their best work as a supplement to full-size saws. They’re not as useful as one-hand saws for plumbers and electricians, but they can get remodelers out of a jam.


Medium-Duty Sawzalls

The best Sawzall models in the medium-duty class include 10 – 12-amp corded units and standard, non-advanced cordless options, usually on 18V/20V max batteries (including 22V and 24V max). These saws take on a traditional Sawzall look—much longer from tip to tail and pretty short from top to bottom with a D-handle at the back.

Choosing the Best Sawzall: Types of Reciprocating Saws - M18 Fuel Sawzall with One-Key

They cut faster than compact saws with stroke rates around 3000 SPM or a little higher and stroke lengths that are usually 1-1/8″ or 1-1/4″. They can handle cutting the same thin materials as the compact models with faster cutting speeds. They’re also much more reasonable as a primary option to cut wood.

Longer and heavier than compact models, but shorter and lighter than their heavy-duty and super-duty brothers, these are great all-around reciprocating saws in a variety of situations.

For DIYers that only need a Sawzall occasionally, one of these can be the only model you need to own. On the professional side, these are a go-to option for light to medium-duty demo and a primary option for overhead work.

Heavy-Duty Sawzalls

Sitting in between the medium-duty class and super-duty class is a very small group of heavy-duty Sawzalls. They’re mainly 13-amp corded models and some of the advanced cordless models fit better here than in the super-duty class.

Choosing the Best Sawzall: Types of Reciprocating Saws - 13-amp Super Sawzall

These are basically a middle ground between the other two traditional groups. They give you more power and cutting speed than the medium-duty class with a lighter weight than the super-duty saws.

You see faster cutting speeds in all materials, but it’s not the best Sawzall for every job. On the high end, there are some really tough cuts such as a roofing sandwich that are better left to stronger saws.

On the light end, all that power can be overkill for some of the thinner materials if you’re trying to maintain any kind of control. Of course, you can feather the trigger since it’s variable speed, but we don’t meet a lot of Pros that cut any other way than at full speed.

Most of the reciprocating saws in this class are designed with professionals in mind. They’re good all-around saws if you need to use one occasionally and only want to buy one saw instead of having both a medium-duty and super-duty.

Super-Duty Sawzalls

As you consider different types of reciprocating saws, super-duty Sawzall models are the muscular beasts at the top of the food chain. These are usually 15-amp models or the newest advanced cordless saws. There are also a smaller number of 14-amp saws that fit in this class.

Choosing the Best Sawzall: Types of Reciprocating Saws - M18 Fuel Super Sawzall

Even though we typically see the same stroke length and rate as the medium and heavy-duty groups, the more powerful motors help keep cutting speeds even higher, especially as the materials get tougher and thicker.

As the cream of the crop, this class has the best features, including variable speed dials, orbital action modes, and advanced vibration control. You might find some of those here and there with the smaller saws, but they’re much more prevalent at this level.

As you may have guessed, the trade-off is that they’re the biggest and heaviest models as well.

Like the heavy-duty class, these are not the Sawzalls you normally use to make a few cuts in thin materials. They’ll give you the greatest benefits in the toughest, thickest materials you need to cut. Paired with carbide-tipped blades for thick metal, you can use these to cut rebar, cast iron, and even vehicle frames easier than with other purpose-built tools for the same jobs.

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