What is Orbital Action?
The term Orbital Action is used to describe the movement of the blade in either a jig saw or a reciprocating saw. Most basic saws use just a straight stroke which means that the blade just moves straight in and out of the saw. A straight stroke is good for certain types of cuts like scrolling in wood or for cutting hard materials like steel. With the orbital action, the blade moves in a slight circular motion as it moves in and out of the tool. What this does is allow for faster cuts in softer materials which also facilitates faster chip removal from the blade path.
In our reciprocating saw shootout we evaluated the saws for cutting speed—a factor that was greatly affected by both the saws’ orbital action as well as their vibration reduction.
Orbital action is not recommended for cutting metal, or when making highly precise cuts where the blade has to be kept perfectly perpendicular to the work surface. The orbital action is especially helpful in a reciprocating saw when doing demolition type work. You just cut a lot faster, and with less effort—particularly with a saw like the Milwaukee 6519-31 Sawzall reciprocating saw. Better quality saws will give you the option to adjust the saw with a lever, knob or switch to change from straight to orbital or to some degree in between.