When to Use Orbital Action on a Reciprocating Saw

when to use orbital action Milwaukee Super SawZall

Last Updated on July 11, 2023

Everyone seems to want the best reciprocating saw, but even the top models cut more slowly than others if you don’t use them properly. Pros find reciprocating saws remarkably useful as a demolition tool. At its core, the recip functions as a motorized hacksaw that can cut wood, metal, nails, pipes, and just about anything else you can throw at it. You just need to use the right blade. These saws cut most quickly through wood when using an aggressive orbital cutting action. But how do you know when to use orbital action on a reciprocating saw? We have a few basic guidelines you can follow.

What is Orbital Action?

We have a more in-depth article that details exactly what is orbital action, so check that out if you want more depth. You probably won’t find a jobsite without at least one reciprocating saw. The blades on these tools move back and forth across the cutting surface—quickly. You may think that the size or cost of the tool determines how quickly it cuts.

Perhaps… but there’s more to it than that.

You may have noticed another setting on some reciprocating saws: orbital action or orbital mode. Although it might sound spacey, it’s actually a useful, down-to-earth feature that aids the cut in certain circumstances.

Orbital action describes the movement of the blade in the reciprocating saw. Most basic saws use 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. Orbital action, however, moves the blade in a slightly circular motion as it moves in and out of the tool. This allows faster cuts in softer materials and facilitates faster chip removal from the blade path.

what is orbital action reciprocating saw
We “removed” the shoe in the above illustration to give you a better view of the orbital action on a reciprocating saw.

When to Use Orbital Action on a Reciprocating Saw

Orbital action is suitable for aggressive cuts in wood when a rough cut to remove material quickly is called for. However, it’s not recommended for cutting metal, or when making highly precise cuts where the blade has to be kept perfectly perpendicular to the work surface.

Ridgid Gen5X 5 Tool Kit
If you’ve got orbital action, rough cutting through wood is when you should use it!

Using orbital action is especially helpful in a reciprocating saw when doing demolition work. You cut a lot faster and with less effort. Better quality saws 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. While you can pick your level of orbital action on these reciprocating saws, most Pros typically slam it either on or off. To sum it all up:

When to Use Orbital Action

  • Making imprecise cuts in clean wood
  • Demoing nail-embedded wood
  • Cutting multi-layered materials for demolition and renovation

When NOT to Use Orbital Action

  • Cutting PVC
  • Cutting through EMT or other metal
  • Making more precise or accurate cuts in wood
This is NOT where to use orbital action!
This is NOT where to use orbital action!

Wrapping It All Up

Understanding when to use orbital action on a reciprocating saw really doesn’t take a lot of thought. It can really speed up the job. We remain surprised at just how many cordless recip saws lack this feature. It does, however, seem to show up in many flagship models.

If you’re a Pro and have a reciprocating saw tip, add them in the comments below or leave them on our Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram pages.

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