Photos by Manufacturers; Illustration by Len Churchill
Unlike its cousin the jigsaw (see Know Your Tools: Jigsaws, Jun/July 2020), the reciprocating (a.k.a. recip) saw is the preferred choice for making aggressive cuts in wood, metal (steel, aluminum, copper and cast iron) and plastic. Both corded and cordless models are available in medium- and heavy-duty designs. Smaller, less powerful, light-duty models are also available for one-handed use. Recip saws are primarily used for crosscutting, and can also make both flush and plunge cuts. Features to look for include tool-less blade change and nosepiece adjustment, orbital action, soft-start electronics, variable speed, comfortable front handgrips, low vibration, LED work lights, and brushless motors for cordless models. Saws with a greater stroke length and more strokes per minute (SPM) tend to cut faster. Variable speed enables you to adjust the SPM to suit the type of blade you’re using and the material you’re cutting. The blade defines the cutting capabilities of the saw and should be matched to the type of material being cut, otherwise the blade is likely to dull quickly or break.
Price: $80 to $700
Stroke length: 1/2″ to 1-1/4″
Strokes per minute: 2,000 to 3,500
Weight: 3-1/2 to 11-1/2 pounds
Warranty: 1 to 5 years
When cutting thick material, tilt the saw to change the angle of the blade as it cuts. This reduces friction on the blade and makes for a faster cut.
If your recip saw has an orbital feature, use it for faster cutting in wood. The blade will cut in a vaguely elliptical path instead of back and forth in a straight line.
Especially when cutting hard materials, start slow, feather the trigger to increase speed as you cut through the bulk of the material and slow down at the end of the cut.
Pushing the shoe up against the work surface reduces vibration and helps avoid kickback. As the teeth near the shoe wear out, adjust the shoe upwards adjacent to sharper teeth.
Blades do the cutting, and they’re easily swapped out of the saw. Make sure you use a blade specifically designed for the material you’re cutting. Using shorter blades for narrower stock will reduce blade vibration.
Rob is a studio furniture maker and the editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement.