What is a Reciprocating Saw? Design Features and Uses

Updated on December 20, 2022 by

A reciprocating saw is a powered saw that cuts through various materials by creating a reciprocating back-and-forth blade motion at high speeds.

A reciprocating saw can help you complete a wide range of demolition tasks. The saw can be used to cut through common building materials easily. You can swap the blade to cut through different materials, such as wood or metal.

Choosing a reciprocating saw depends on where and how you intend to use it. You must consider the power source, amperage, blades, and more. There are also many brands of reciprocating saws, including the original Sawzall. 


Reciprocating saws are typically used for home remodelling and demolition work. The saw can cut through most materials used to construct homes and buildings. You can easily switch the blade to cut through a specific material.

Some of the materials that you cut through using a reciprocating saw include:

  • Wood
  • Metal (including nails and metal lath)
  • Drywall and plaster walls
  • Cinder blocks and thin cement slabs
  • Fiberglass
  • Plastic

You may also hear people call a reciprocating saw a “Sawzall.” Sawzall is the brand name of the original reciprocating saw released by the Milwaukee Electric Tool Company in 1951. Due to the popularity of the saw, Sawzall became synonymous with reciprocating saws.

what is a reciprocating saw

Features and Design

A reciprocating saw is a type of saw that cuts with a back-and-forth motion. Reciprocating occurs when a part of a machine moves backward and forward in a straight line. It is comparable to the action produced with a hand saw but powered by a strong motor. 

Some of the main features to review when comparing reciprocating saws include:

  • Adjustable shoe
  • Stroke length
  • Blade type and length
  • Amperage

I prefer to use a reciprocating saw with an adjustable shoe. The shoe sits at the base of the blade, and with an adjustable shoe, you can move it further from the base to protect a longer section of the blade. This helps you extend the life of the blades by distributing the wear and tear to different areas. 

The stroke length impacts the cutting ability of the reciprocating saw. A short stroke length of 3/4-inch provides greater control but slower cutting action. A longer stroke length can make rough cuts more efficiently but also requires a firmer grip to maintain control. 

The length of reciprocating saw blades ranges from three inches to twelve inches. However, I mostly used six-inch and nine-inch blades for most tasks.

The coarseness of the blade typically depends on the material. If I’m cutting through wood, I use a coarse blade. If I’m cutting through metal, I use a fine-toothed blade. 

Pay close attention to amperage when picking any power tool, including a reciprocating saw. A saw with more amps can typically cut faster and longer. You also need to ensure that your power cord can deliver sufficient power. 

reciprocating saw in action, source: handyman tips

Types of Reciprocating Saw

The two main types of reciprocating saws include corded and cordless models. Corded reciprocating saws are often more affordable and reliable compared to cordless options. However, they are not as portable as you need to run a power cord to your work area. 

Along with standard corded and cordless reciprocating saws, you may consider using one of these specialty options:

  • Pneumatic reciprocating saws
  • Plumbing reciprocating saws
  • Mini/one-handed reciprocating saws

Pneumatic reciprocating saws use an air compressor for power and feature a motorless design. The self-cooling ability and quiet operation are useful features in certain environments. However, it’s the least portable option.

Plumbing reciprocating saws feature a more compact design. They are made for cutting in tight areas and typically come with blades made for cutting through metal and PVC. 

A mini reciprocating saw is recommended for the typical DIY home renovator. You can get blades for cutting through any material. However, you should stick with a standard reciprocating saw for major demolition work.

Modern Brands of Reciprocating Saws

If you’re like me, buying from a respected brand may give you greater peace of mind when choosing a new power tool. Here are some of the best brands for reciprocating saws:

  • Milwaukee 
  • Porter-Cable
  • Bosch
  • DeWalt
  • Kobalt
  • Skil

Milwaukee stands out as the most recognizable option, as it’s the company behind the original Sawzall. The remaining brands offer slightly more budget-friendly options in both corded and cordless designs.

What Is the Difference Between a Jigsaw and a Reciprocating Saw?

A jigsaw also produces reciprocating action. However, the blade sits at a 90-degree angle from the handle instead of sticking straight out. Having the teeth of the blade facing away from the operator also allows for slightly safer operation.

The main difference is that reciprocating saws produce horizontal blade action designed for rough cutting. A jigsaw has a long, slim blade designed for more delicate cuts. 


A reciprocating saw is your best bet when you need to cut through a wall or deal with tough old nails. It is also an efficient option for breaking wood into smaller sizes and making quick rough cuts. 

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Michael Culligan

I am a lumber worker who performed logging services for Oregan's forestry industry for over a decade. I have spent years honing my skills and experience to become a well-rounded axeman. I enjoy timbersports and have ranked in my local lumberjack competitions. I'm exited to share my knowledge of axes and lumber tools with everyone to help. I also have a large collection of restored vintage axes that I carefully maintain.