The Best Reciprocating Saws for the Workshop

For tearing out plywood sheathing, drywall panels, or even roof decks, it’s tough to beat the sheer cutting ability of a reciprocating saw.

BobVila.com and its partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links.

The Best Reciprocating Saw Options

Photo: depositphotos.com

Also known as a “recip saw,” a “saber saw,” and a “Sawzall,” the hand-held reciprocating saw is the tool of choice for demolition work. Reciprocating saws cut through a variety of materials, including wood and metal, making them useful for slicing through plumbing pipes during a remodel and cutting away nail-ridden plywood without first having to pull the nails out.

The best reciprocating saw for you will depend on the type of material you need to cut, whether you’ll be using the saw on a limited basis for a DIY project or operating it daily on a construction site, and, most importantly, the quality of the product you choose. Read on to find out what to look for when shopping for a reciprocating saw and to find out why the following models are top choices for a variety of demolition purposes.

  1. BEST OVERALL:  Milwaukee 2720-20 M18 SAWZALL Reciprocating Saw
  2. BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: GALAX PRO Reciprocating Saw
  3. BEST CORDLESS: Makita 18V LXT Reciprocating Saw
  4. BEST COMPACT: DEWALT DCS369B 20V MAX One-Handed Reciprocating Saw
  5. BEST FOR YARD WORK: Milwaukee 2520-20 M12 Hackzall Bare Tool
  6. BEST FOR CONSTRUCTION: DEWALT Reciprocating Saw, 13-Amp (DW311K)
The Best Reciprocating Saw Options

Photo: depositphotos.com

Before You Buy a Reciprocating Saw

If you don’t have construction materials to tear out or cut away, a reciprocating saw might not be a great option for you. Like chainsaws, recip saws can be heavy (up to 10 pounds), and if the tip of a moving blade makes contact with wood or other material, the saw can kick back forcefully, putting the operator at risk of injury. Plus, reciprocating saws are not designed for making precision cuts, so if you need to cut out a hole in a counter to install a sink, you’ll get a more precise cut by using a router or a jigsaw. Likewise, recip saws cannot make plunge cuts (cuts through the middle of the material). Instead, their blade must make contact with the side of the material in order to start cutting, so to use a recip saw in this situation, you’ll first need to create a pilot hole to insert the recip saw blade or use a different type of saw, such as a jab saw.

Types of Reciprocating Saws

Reciprocating saws work on the same principle—the user grasps the handle and neck of the saw firmly with both hands (two-handed models) and the protruding blade cuts through plywood and other construction materials. When it comes to reciprocating saws, the most notable differences are in size, weight, and the type of energy used to run them.

Corded

Corded reciprocating saws offer the most power because they’re plugged into an electrical outlet and can be used for hours at a time without stopping. The downside to corded models is that the user must attach a heavy-duty extension cord (12- or 14-gauge) in order to use the saw at a distance from the outlet, which is necessary on job sites. This increases the risk of tripping over a cord while operating the saw.

Cordless

Recent improvements in battery technology give larger tools—such as full-size reciprocating saws—enough power to cut through wood and metal, but they can’t sustain that power over long periods. When choosing between a corded saw and a cordless saw, consider your work environment. A corded model offers the most power, but a cordless model provides the ability to use the saw in areas where there’s no electrical outlet available, such as might be necessary if you want to prune trees in a remote location. Be aware that many cordless reciprocating saws are sold without a battery (tool only), so you’ll need to purchase the battery separately.

Compact/One-Handed

Compact reciprocating saws operate in a similar manner to their larger, two-handed cousins, but they’re smaller in size and lighter in weight. A standard reciprocating saw can weigh as much as 10 pounds and measure up to 2 feet in length (not counting the blade), while a compact saw averages 12 inches in length and weighs about 4 pounds. Compact reciprocating saws are handy when you need to cut in restricted areas or when you need to cut overhead because their lighter weight will reduce arm and hand fatigue, but they’re typically not quite as powerful as full-sized models. Many compact recip saws are battery-operated, but there are also a few corded models.

What to Consider When Buying a Reciprocating Saw

In addition to considering the type of material you’ll be cutting, a comfortable grip, blade movement, and maximum speed are some of the more important features to consider when buying a reciprocating saw.

Intended Use

Demolition is the main use for a reciprocating saw, which just means it’s used in the process of removing material rather than installing it. A recip saw is the saw of choice for cutting away sheathing in order to install windows and doors, and for cutting through old pipes and metal conduit. This type of saw isn’t designed to make precision cuts, which are better left to circular saws, table saws, and chop saws.

Variable Speed

Reciprocating saws are rated by their maximum number of strokes per minute (SPM), and the average saw tops out around 2,700 to 3,000 SPM. A handful of recip saws come with a speed adjustment dial that allows the user to operate the saw at different set speeds, but most of the time saw speeds are controlled by trigger pressure. This means the harder you pull the saw’s trigger, the faster the blade moves. A variable speed trigger is usually preferable to other types of speed adjustment because there’s no need to stop and start cutting just to change speeds. Seasoned construction workers often use very light pressure on the trigger when they start cutting (the slower the blade is moving, the less risk of kickback) and then increase pressure when the saw has already cut through a portion of the material.

Orbital Action

Some reciprocating saws feature orbital action, meaning the blade, in addition to moving in a push-pull motion, also moves in a slight elliptical pattern. Orbital action increases the cutting speed of the saw but it reduces accuracy. A recip saw without orbital action will cut a straighter, cleaner line but it will take longer to cut. Orbital action can be turned on when speed is desired, such as when the user is cutting through subflooring, and then turned off when a cleaner cut is desired, such as when trimming away small branches from a tree.

Blade Type

While reciprocating saws are mainly used for demolition purposes, construction materials vary, so you’ll find a variety of saw blades available. Most recip blades feature a universal shank, meaning no matter what type of blade you choose, it will fit your saw, no matter the brand. In addition, blades come in a variety of lengths, from 4 inches to 12 inches, with 6 inches being the most common length. Match the following types of blades to the material you’ll be cutting.

  • Wood: This blade is designed for sawing through both plywood and dimensional lumber, in addition to cutting through small tree branches (up to 2 inches in diameter). A wood blade features between 5 and 10 teeth per inch (TPI). Higher TPIs create a smoother cut, while lower TPIs are designed for speed but will leave jagged edges on the wood.
  • Metal: A metal-cutting blade features more teeth per inch, ranging from 10 to 24 TPI. The added teeth make it easier to cut through nails, pipes, and metal conduit.
  • Demolition: A demo blade is often slightly thicker than other blades and is designed to saw through heavy-duty construction materials quickly. The TPI ranges from 6 to 11, and two different TPIs may be available on the same blade—one on the outer half and the other on the inner half—so the user can move the saw closer or farther from the material for the quickest cuts.
  • Combo: Like some demolition blades, a combo blade features two different TPIs and will be labeled as 5/10 or 6/10, etc. For example, if a combo blade is labeled as 6/10, the base half will feature 6 TPI for cutting quickly through plywood, while the outer half of the blade will feature 10 TPI for cutting through heavy nails. The user can adjust to the material being cut by simply using the appropriate part of the blade rather than needing to switch blades.
  • Specialty: While the above four types of blades are the most common, specialty blades for specific purposes, such as pruning limbs, cutting through plaster, or even cutting through stone or ceramic tile are available. These specialty blades come in a variety of TPI and are intended only for their labeled purpose.

Vibration Control

Using a saw for long durations can lead to hand, wrist, and arm fatigue, which can be lessened if the saw features vibration control. If you’ll be using a reciprocating saw for extended periods, such as may be necessary when performing auto-body work, vibration control may come in handy, but this feature also reduces speed, so it’s not designed for use on large demolition projects where speed is desired.

Battery Life

Battery-operated reciprocating saws feature rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that will power the saw for 20 to 60 minutes, depending on the size of the battery and the density of the material being cut. Rechargeable batteries range from 18-volt to 24-volt, with a few running as high as 60-volt. The general rule is that the more powerful the battery, the longer the saw will run and the faster the blade speed will be, but battery life and power depend on more than just a voltage number. They also depend on the quality of the saw’s motor and how old the battery is—lithium-ion batteries tend to lose power after a few years and may need to be replaced. Purchasing an extra battery or two will extend runtime if you choose a cordless recip saw.

Our Top Picks

The following reciprocating saws feature a variety of the above key considerations, and each is a standout in its class for power, speed, and durability. The best reciprocating saw for you may well be on this list.

Best Overall

The Best Reciprocating Saw Options: Milwaukee 2720-20 M18 SAWZALL Reciprocating Saw
Photo: amazon.com

While many a reciprocating saw is dubbed a “Sawzall,” this one is the real deal. The Milwaukee M18 SAWZALL Reciprocating Saw features a combination of convenience and power. This full-size reciprocating saw operates on a powerful, REDLITHIUM XC 4.0 Battery (battery pack and charger sold separately), and provides up to 3,000 SPM for tearing through construction materials at top speeds. The saw features a variable-speed trigger and an on-board LED light that illuminates the cutting surface so the spot where you’re cutting is visible even in low-light situations. This two-handed model weighs in at 8.55 pounds, measures 17 inches long, and is designed for serious demolition projects. It comes with a hook for hanging when not in use. No blades are included.

Best Bang For The Buck

The Best Reciprocating Saw Options: GALAX PRO Reciprocating Saw
Photo: amazon.com

You don’t have to spend a lot of money to get a good reciprocating saw. The cordless GALAX PRO Reciprocating Saw operates on a 20-volt, lithium-ion battery (battery and charger included) and it comes with three 6-inch wood blades and two 6-inch metal blades, all at a very attractive price point. The saw features a variable speed trigger that allows the user to select the correct speed (up to 3,000 SPM) using only finger pressure, and it also has a speed lock that locks in a specific speed, if desired. The GALAX PRO’s handle is ergonomically designed, and it comes with a soft rubber cover to reduce vibration and to prevent hand and wrist fatigue. Weighing in at just 5.14 pounds and measuring 15.2 inches in length, the GALAX PRO is a two-handed, mid-size model, designed for occasional and DIY use.

Best Cordless

The Best Reciprocating Saw Options: Makita XRJ04Z 18V LXT Reciprocating Saw
Photo: amazon.com

With a combination of power, ergonomic design, and dependability, the Makita 18V LXT Reciprocating Saw takes the top pick for a cordless recip saw. From a manufacturer known for making quality tools for the construction industry, the two-handed Makita recip saw is designed with a variable speed trigger and an ergonomic grip for reducing hand fatigue. The saw runs on an 18-volt lithium-ion battery (battery and charger sold separately) and provides up to 2,800 SPM when cutting. The saw weighs in at 8.3 pounds and is 19-1/8 inches long. The battery used to power the saw is interchangeable with other 18-volt Makita cordless tools. No blades are included with purchase.

Best Compact

The Best Reciprocating Saw Options: DEWALT DCS369B 20V MAX One-Handed Reciprocating Saw
Photo: amazon.com

Demolition sawing in tight places is a snap with the DEWALT 20V MAX One-Handed Reciprocating Saw, which measures just 12.5 inches long and weighs in at a diminutive 3.74 pounds. Designed for working in restricted areas where a full-size saw is just too large and bulky, this one-handed model comes with a blade “shoe” that helps stabilize the saw against the surface of the material while cutting. It features a variable speed trigger and a bright LED light for accurate cutting even in low-light situations. The compact DEWALT saw comes with two wood blades and an optional belt hook for hanging on a tool belt. The 20-volt rechargeable battery required for operation, and the battery charger, are sold separately.

Best For Yard Work

The Best Reciprocating Saw Options: Milwaukee 2520-20 M12 Hackzall Bare Tool
Photo: amazon.com

Trimming and pruning small branches (up to 2 inches in diameter) requires a small, lightweight saw that can be used overhead, and the Milwaukee M12 Hackzall Reciprocating Saw is just the ticket. Weighing in at 3.2 pounds and measuring 10.65 inches long, this little powerhouse makes quick work of trimming small branches. It features a variable speed trigger and a maximum SPM of 2,800. When paired with a pruning blade, the saw will leave a clean cut on branches—a necessity for helping the tree resist diseases. It features an ergonomic grip that makes it easier to use overhead, and it comes with two wood blades included. You will, however, need to purchase the 12-volt REDLITHIUM battery and charger separately.

Best For Construction

The Best Reciprocating Saw Options: DEWALT Reciprocating Saw, 13-Amp (DW311K
Photo: amazon.com

With its powerful motor, the corded DEWALT DW311K 13-Amp Reciprocating Saw provides ample power for the construction job site. It comes with orbital action for increased cutting speed and features a maximum 2,700 SPM. This two-handed recip saw is designed for heavy-duty use, and because it plugs into an outlet, you won’t need to stop to charge your battery. You will need to use a heavy-duty 12- or 14-gauge extension cord, however. It features a variable-speed trigger as well as a speed control dial for pre-selecting an optimum speed. The DEWALT saw weighs in at a hefty 9 pounds and measures 18 inches in length. It also comes with a non-slip grip to make controlling the saw easier, even with sweaty hands. Blades are not included.

How to Use a Reciprocating Saw

All power saws can be dangerous, and reciprocating saws are no exception. The following safe user techniques will reduce the risk of injuries and make cutting quicker and more efficient.

  • Match the blade in the saw to the material you’re cutting. A metal blade will not cut wood effectively, and vice-versa.
  • Wear protective eyewear when operating a reciprocating saw.
  • Use two hands when operating a full-size recip saw. Only a compact saw is designed for use with one hand.
  • Grip the saw firmly and balance yourself before beginning to cut.
  • When you’re done cutting, give the saw blade a chance to come to a complete stop before setting the saw down.

FAQs About Your New Best Reciprocating Saw

Considered a demolition saw, a reciprocating saw can be a valued addition to the tool collections of professional builders as well as DIYers who work on their own remodeling projects.

Q. What is a reciprocating saw used for?

Reciprocating saws are most often used for tear-out work, such as cutting away excess sheathing when rough-framing doors and windows or cutting through pipes and conduit.

Q. Are reciprocating saw blades universal?

Yes. Reciprocating saw blades feature a universal shank that fits most reciprocating saws.

Q. Can I use a reciprocating saw to cut tree branches?

Reciprocating saws can cut through relatively small branches, up to 2 inches in diameter, but the branch should be firm, or the saw will shake it rather than cut through it.

Q. Which is better, a reciprocating saw or jigsaw?

For cutting quickly through walls, plywood, and pipes, a reciprocating saw is better. Use a jigsaw when you need to make smoother precision cuts.

Q. What is the difference between a Sawzall and a reciprocating saw?

The term “Sawzall” is a proprietary brand name of the first reciprocating saw manufactured by Milwaukee Tools. That first saw was so popular that its name has become synonymous with “reciprocating saw” in the construction industry.