We’ve often said that a cordless drill is a tool everyone should have at their disposal. Some would argue that the reciprocating saw belongs on that same tier. We’re not going to debate that this time around in a tool shootout, but we will tell you how to use a reciprocating saw the right way.
Reciprocating saws are a bit fearsome if you are unfamiliar with the tool, and they are something that should definitely be handled with care. While not razor sharp, there’s no flesh detector on Sawzall so you’ll want to use caution at all times.
We’ll get to the safety tips soon enough, but first, we’re going to tell you just how useful these tools are and how to go about setting one up.
What can you use a reciprocating saw for
If you have never held a reciprocating saw in your hands, you’re going to be in for a surprise at some reciprocating saw uses. It is a very handy tool…
This style of saw isn’t particularly heavy, and as you can clearly see, there is no blade guard. The teeth on the blade face downward, and the “open” design allows you to get a bite on almost anything. That includes regular old pieces of wood along with some interesting materials.
Need to slice through some nails? Don’t kill your skill saw blade; just use your reciprocating saw. It can handle various types of pipe with ease as well and will make short work of tree branches big and small. You can also slice right through metal with proper blade, something you can’t do with other types of saws.
A reciprocating saw is also ideal for new construction or remodeling. Especially when you get to those dreadful doors and tricky windows which are difficult to do with other tools.
Whereas a skill saw is used for finer cuts and table saws are great for ripping, a reciprocating saw will be your new best friend if you need to tear something apart quickly. These tools are used on construction sites around the globe for demolition due to their versatility.
How to use a reciprocating saw
As we mentioned, these saws can be a little rough for beginners. In this section, we’re going to tell you how to use a reciprocating saw and get things set up properly for any material.
Set the orbital action
This refers to a particular type of motion made by a blade. It’s true, most reciprocating saws go “in and out” of their housing in a normal stroke pattern which allows them to slice through tough materials. Orbital action is different however as it adds a bit of wiggle to things.
By allowing the blade to move in a circular motion, which in turn gets chips out of the quickly as you cut. This means you can cut faster with less effort, but only with specific types of materials.
Do you want your saw to wiggle as you try to slice through metal? We thought not, and it’s not a good idea to use orbital model if you need to make any precise cuts.
It all depends on the saw as well. Some models allow you to fine tune the orbital action while it’s basically one speed on others.
Install the blade
Once you know what you plan to cut, it’s time to pick out a good blade and go to work. Thankfully, changing blades in a reciprocating saw is extremely simple. There are no nuts to deal with, and no special tools are required on most modern saws.
Before you can install a blade, you have to pick one out. We won’t go into all the details, but there are blades for wood, metal and general purpose blades as well. All are self-explanatory, and if you need more help, we go in-depth in our guide to the best reciprocating saw blades.
When in doubt, use wood for wood, metal for metal and a “general” blade for anything else. The wrong blade won’t tear up your saw, but it could damage the blade or destroy the material you are trying to cut through.
To install the blade, you simply need to insert it into the slot behind the shoe. The shoe is the little piece of metal that sits between the blade and the opening at the end of the saw.
Again, how you go about this could vary but most reciprocating saws worth their salt has a keyless system in place. If that’s the case, you just need to lift the “key” and insert the blade, then push it back again to lock it in place.
You will know when it’s locked in properly; just make sure the blade is inserted the right way.
Adjust the settings
This is where things like speed and that circular action come into play, and again, it’s going to vary depending on what you’re working with and the tool in question.
Some reciprocating saws just have one speed and are workhorses that spring to life when you pull that trigger. They may have a trigger lock to help keep your finger fresh, but you may not have to deal with other settings at all.
In other cases, you may be able to set the speed beforehand if it doesn’t have a variable speed trigger. More often than not, that’s what you’ll find in mid-range models as well as the top of the line saws.
How to cut metal
Remember what we said about using the right blade? Well, that is especially true when working with metal.
Once you have the blade picked out and you’re ready to rock, you need to put that shoe on the metal and snug things up. You want the blade to start while it’s gently resting on the metal, not away from it.
You’ll also want to start slow. By doing this, you can start the cut without worrying about the saw jumping around and scoring the metal outside of your cut line. Once you’ve got a good start, you can go full blast. Just keep in mind that these saws vibrate so keep that saw snug against your stock.
Reciprocating saw safety tips
When it comes to reciprocating saw safety, we have a few simple tips to keep in mind.
Keep your fingers out of the way. That is common sense, but the first thing we feel the need to mention. Just because a reciprocating saw blade isn’t razor sharp, doesn’t mean it can’t cut you. You’ll also want to ensure the battery is removed or the saw is unplugged if you need to do any maintenance.
When possible, use the shortest blade you can get by with.
Longer blades are more flexible, and that’s not a good thing in reciprocating saws. A shorter blade will give you a straighter cut, and you won’t have to deal with wiggle or flex.
You also want to ensure that your blade is sharp enough. It does not have to be fresh out of the pack, but it should still have an edge. Due to the high speeds, these blades can heat up, and some can become uncomfortably hot when dull. That also brings us to our next point… gloves.
Even if you keep your digits out of the way, you still need to protect your hands from debris. Splinters hurt and metal shavings can embed themselves in your hands without you even noticing. Until later that is, but that won’t be an issue if you wear gloves.
You’ll also want to wear safety glasses for the same reasons. Wood chips and other debris tend to fly when you’re using a reciprocating saw, so keep your peepers covered at all times.
When doing demolition on the job or around your home, you also need to keep wiring and pipes in mind. You may think cutting a hole in your drywall a good idea, but you have to know what’s behind that wall first. Always make sure you can see what you’re cutting or at least know what’s behind it.
Now that you know how to use a reciprocating saw, you can see they aren’t nearly as nasty as they seem. They can make quick work out of a variety of materials and handle tasks you wouldn’t dare attempt with other saws.
If you’re on the fence about choosing a model, be sure to give our list of the best reciprocating saws a look as it features a nice mix of both cordless and corded models at a variety of price points. If you already own a saw, just keep reciprocating saw safety in mind.
You also can check our reviews for Milwaukee and DeWalt reciprocating saws.