Reciprocating saws have an underdog reputation in the world of DIY. Like any good underdog story, our protagonist here comes out on top. Thanks largely to their versatility and ease of use, these fantastic saws have seen a significant growth in popularity over the past few years.
A great reciprocating saw, or sawzall as they’re known in the US, can be a phenomenal addition to any tool kit. Depending on the type of blade you’re using and the power of your motor, a reciprocating saw can tackle a staggering number of materials. The number of reciprocating saws uses is quite surprising.
This page outlines some of the most common uses for reciprocating saws and the type of cuts they’re able to make.
What is a Reciprocating Saw?
The three names you’ll see written for this type of saw are reciprocating saws, sawzalls and sabre saws. These names all refer to the same tool. But what are they?
Reciprocating saws are handheld devices most commonly used where a sledgehammer or crowbar might not quite be good enough. If you need to rip out the materials surrounding fittings in a building like doors and windows, then a good reciprocating saw is what you need. Any demolition worker worth their salt uses a reciprocating saw.
These machines are also great for cutting through wood that contains nails or metal piping.
Sawzalls are not unlike jigsaws in that the strokes of the blade move backwards and forwards repeatedly. The speed of the blade on a reciprocating saw is defined as the number of strokes per minute, or SPM. A great bonus if you already own a jigsaw, is that some blades might be compatible with your new reciprocating saw.
Uses for Reciprocating Saws
Sabre saws can tackle a wide variety of challenging materials. The type of cuts you’ll be able to make is determined by the kind of blade you’re using and the power of your machine.
1. Cutting Through Anything
Reciprocating saws are designed from the ground up to tackle a wide variety of cutting materials. It all depends on the power of your machine and the type of blade you’re using. What your blade is made from and the number of teeth per inch (TPI) determines the type of cutting you’ll be able to do. In this section, we outline the most common blades used for reciprocating saws and the tasks they’re able to achieve.
Bost soft and hardwoods are easily tackled by a reciprocating saw. Wood is one of the most common materials in DIY and demolition projects, so it’s important to have the right tool for the job. You’ll want to use woodcutting blades for most tasks involving wood. Look for a TPI of 5 to 10.
Metal can be tough to cut through if you don’t have the right equipment. Luckily, reciprocating saws are very capable of cutting through things like bolts, rebar, rods and piping. Make sure you’re using an appropriate metal-cutting blade. Generally speaking, these blades have a considerably higher TPI of between 10 and 18. They can go as high as 24 TPI. As well as tackling metal materials, these blades are also used to make smooth finishing cuts in wood.
Projects With Both Wood and Metal
For this type of project, you’ll want a combination blade. These are designed to be versatile, and tackle both wooden and metal materials. The TPI here often uses a variable configuration such as 8/11 or 10/14.
Materials on a Demolition Site
If it’s on the demolition site, a reciprocating saw can probably help you destroy it. To quickly cut through plastics, metal sheeting, sheet profiles, all types of wood, metals and sandwich materials you’ll want to use a demolition blade. These are a heavy-duty type of blade perfect for tackling tougher materials. Their wider body provides more stability when cutting. The average TPI for these blades is between 6 and 11.
Masonry and Tiling
Cutting through tiles can be fiddly, and the wrong tool will simply crack what you’re working on. With a good quality carbide grit blade, a reciprocating saw is brilliant for masonry tasks. These blades don’t have teeth at all, but use a grit surface instead.
Very Dense and Tough Materials
If you need to cut material that is very compact, thick and tough, a carbide tipped blade is what you need. These unique blades come with a comparatively low average TPI of 8. The carbide tip is very durable, and is therefore capable of handling materials that would ruin other blades
2. Easy Through Cuts
Through cuts are made when the saw passes completely through the cutting material. Examples of through cuts include cross cuts, angled cuts and mitre cuts.
This type of cutting comes with the risk of kickback, so make sure you read the user manual and use your tool responsibly. Decide what material you want to cut through and then make sure you’ve got the appropriate blade for the job. The variety of blades available for reciprocating saws means it’s easy to tweak your setup to tackle through cuts for loads of different materials.
A top tip when making cuts is to mark the line you plan on cutting. You could use a tape measure and a permanent marker for this. This can make a huge difference to your accuracy. Keep your saw inline with your stomach and in front of you while cutting.
3. Cutting in Tight Spaces
If you need to work in hard-to-reach, cramped spaces with poor visibility, then a reciprocating saw could help a great deal. More portable varieties can be held overhead and with either one or two hands. Look for handles that are designed to be help in multiple positions. Many saws come with premium features like LED torches. These can dramatically improve your visibility in darker work environments. If portability is important to you, look for a saw that weighs between 6 and 10 lbs.
4. Plunge Cuts
Plunge cuts are perfect for when you’re starting a cut at the centre of your material. If necessary, you can drill a small hole into the centre of your material which a blade can then enter. Alternatively, you can lean the front edge of your saw against the surface of your material and gently push down, then across.
It’s very important that you’re using blades that are sharp enough for your chosen material. If your blade is too blunt, you’re just going to make a mess and could even hurt yourself. You should also wear the right eye protection because there’s going to be plenty of dust and debris. If you’re new to making plunge cuts, you might want to practice on some scrap material first.
5. Making Frames
Making frames for home decoration or other creative projects is one of the joys of learning home DIY. A sawzall can make cutting your wood down to size easy. Do some thinking about the type of wood you’d like for your project. Now, determine how thick and tough this wood is. Next, choose a reciprocating saw and blade that is appropriate for your chosen material. Saws with added features that help accuracy can improve the build quality of your project significantly.
6. Cutting Pipes
Removing pipes from a demolition site can be a headache without the right tool. Prying away for hours with a crowbar and hammer does work, but it’s time consuming and exhausting. A reciprocating saw can make this kind of work much easier. For metal or plastic pipes, you’ll want to use either a metal-cutting blade , a combination blade or a demolition blade.
7. Sanding Holes
If you need to sand the edges of a hole you’ve made, a reciprocating saw with an appropriate accessory or modification can do the trick. Sanding pads can be bought from many suppliers, both in-store and online. These are designed to help you quickly and easily sand down tight spaces. Some users make their own modifications for sanding tasks. This is most commonly achieved by attaching tough grit sandpaper very tightly to their longer blades. If you’re thinking of doing this, then definitely proceed with caution and make sure you’re capable of doing this safely
Yard work becomes remarkably quick and easy if you’ve got the right tool for the job. Reciprocating saws are more than capable of helping you with your everyday outdoor tasks. Pruning and trimming tree branches is a very common use case. Make sure you’re using appropriate woodcutting blades.
Sawzalls are also great for salvaging wood scrap from older projects. If you’re handy, you’ll end up spending much less on new materials for builds. Trimming down scrap for other projects can be very rewarding. If you’re a skilled woodworker, joining pieces together for beautifully crafted builds should be a breeze!
We hope it’s now clearer why reciprocating saws have grown so much in popularity over the past few years. In the right context, their versatility is undeniable. If you’re ever involved in demolition projects, then it’s definitely worth considering picking up a reciprocating saw. Once you’ve bought one, you might be surprised how much else you can achieve.
Check out our reciprocating saws buying guide to find our top tips for the best reciprocating saws on the market.