How to Use a Reciprocating Saw Like a Pro News & Opinion

How to Use a Reciprocating Saw Like a Pro

There’s probably no more useful saw for remodelers, plumbers, electricians, and homeowners than the reciprocating saw. It’s hard to imagine a jobsite without one. But that was the reality before the introduction of the Milwaukee SawZall—the trademarked name that became synonymous with recip saws—in 1951. The reciprocating saw is basically a motorized hacksaw and today many manufacturers make them. You might have read our heavy duty reciprocating saw shootout right here on our site. We use recip saws to cut drywall, wood with nails, studs, pipes, and more because it can do jobs other tools can’t do. Like any other power tool you need to take safety precautions, but there’s also a bit of crude art to using a recip saw. So here’s how to use a reciprocating saw like a Pro.


Blade in Full

1. Choose the right blade. The reciprocating saw is usually the right tool for the cutting job but if you don’t have the right blade, it’s the wrong tool. Select the blade for the material you’ll be cutting. Sure you’ll see all-purpose or multi-purpose blades just as you’ll see them for circular saws. We recommend using the material-specific blade. Anyone who has ever ridden a hybrid bike will probably understand. There are lots of choices, from the Diablo carbide-tipped recip blade to the Milwaukee Ax and Torch blades and Milwaukee Double Duty Upgrade blades for cutting thicker steel.

2. Insert the blade into the chuck. With the saw unplugged or the battery removed, insert the blade into the chuck. Nearly all of today’s reciprocating saws have a tool-free chuck that simply quarter- or half-turns to release the blade. Allowing the chuck to return to its position secures the blade. Always carefully give the blade a tug to be sure it’s secure in the chuck. Use gloves if you’ve just finished cutting—the blade is probably hot. Check out our review of the Milwaukee Demolition work gloves which we reviewed and found to be exceptional.

How to Use a Reciprocating Saw Like a Pro

Knowing how to use a reciprocating saw like a pro will make your cuts cleaner and faster.

3. Know your cut – and what’s behind it! Your attention will be on the intersection of the blade with the material once you start the cut, but the blade extends far beyond that. Be sure the blade won’t hit anything when it quickly moves back and forth from it’s furthest limit. This is especially important when plunge-cutting into drywall where you can’t see what’s behind the wall. Be sure you won’t be cutting electrical wires or plumbing.

How to Use a Reciprocating Saw Like a Pro – Know Your Speed!

4. Use the variable speed. The correct speed to use will quickly become intuitive. Often you’ll want to create a cut slowly before opening up the saw to do the bulk of the work. This will give you more control. Slow down as the blade approaches its exit of the cut.

Reciprocating Saw Shootout

5. The shoe is your friend. The shoe is really the nose of the reciprocating saw. Its flat surface serves several purposes and is really the basis for the craft of using this kind of saw. Some shoes can be adjusted forward and back to extend blade life, but the shoe is important even if its stationary. Secondly, it stabilizes the saw and often the material. Push the shoe all the way against the material you’re cutting and you’ll find that the vibration drops significantly. If you’re too shallow in the cut – that is, if the shoe is pressed against the material – you’ll find that the material and/or the saw can vibrate violently. That’s the force of the reciprocation that’s not transferred into the material. Finally, it acts as a fulcrum for plunge cuts. By raising the back end of the saw and using the shoe as a pivot point, you can plunge into material with control.


6. Slowly see-saw the blade in thicker material. If the blade is making slow progress through the material and you feel like you can skip the gym since the cut is so hard, it can mean a couple of things. It might indicate that the blade is dull and ready for replacement. Or it might just mean that you’re not letting the saw do the heavy lifting. In thicker or denser material, gently see-saw the blade and you’ll find the saw makes faster progress as the load is reduced and the blade’s teeth can focus on a smaller section of the cut.

We hope you’ve benefited from our tips on how to use a reciprocating saw like a Pro. Rarely will you find such a tough and handy tool.  If you’re a Pro and you have a recip saw tips, add them in the comments below—or contact us with your own Pro tips.

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Samuel Thomas

Thanks for your informative post. Can you tell me which blade I should use to cut anything round shape?


This unlikely applies to professionals but many homeowners may have older reciprocating saws battery powered but with Ni-Cad batteries. Switching to lithium batteries makes a huge difference in this saw. I have an older Craftsman C3 reciprocating saw tat was manufactured before lithium batteries were being sold for it. One use I that I had was trimming small tree branches. My saw with Ni-Cad batteries was almost not worth the hassle of using it because the battery wouldn’t last but for a few minutes and this was with multiple batteries. When I later bought a drill/driver that had lithium batteries… Read more »