Imagine, if you will, trade working in pre-1951 America. If you need to make a cut, elbow grease makes it happen. It's hard and slow work. Before Milwaukee Tool introduced the electric hacksaw in 1951, this was every trader's reality. Building, demolishing and remodeling changed forever. Sawzall, as Milwaukee puts it, quickly became a "household name." Now you won't find a place of work or a trader. While some tools may work just fine, we consider a reciprocating saw to be a must-have . We want to help professionals choose the best reciprocating saw by providing a guide to the main features you need to have.
Not so long ago, battery-powered tools were merely a supplement to more powerful corded tools. But technology quickly changed that. Now, many battery-operated tools can work just as hard or harder. This allows the tradesman to move freely while working without having to hunt for a plug. You can still pick up a corded reciprocating saw with a 7.5, 10, 12, 13 or even 15 amp motor, with 15 amps for the toughest jobs.
If you're going cordless, we recommend that you consider a cordless reciprocating saw with a brushless motor. Brushless motors are electronically commutated, meaning there are no brushes in contact with the motor's commutator like brushed motors do. Although brushless motors are more expensive, they offer several advantages For the user: longer life, higher efficiency and "smart" tool circuitry through which the motor and battery communicate to optimize performance and prevent thermal overload. The circuit also supports impressive innovations such as the Milwaukee One-Key.
Choosing a Reciprocating Saw Battery Platform
Just as you can find corded tool motors in many different amperages, you can find reciprocating saw batteries in many different voltages: 12V, 18V/20V, 24V, 36V, and 60V. Some of these voltage differences are just marketing (for example, 20V Max equals 18V), but some represent physical power differences.
Nominal voltage tells only part of how much a battery can do. Even amp-hours (a measure of charge) aren't the whole story. Watt hours only is the common denominator of power between cells. To find the watt-hours (if it's not printed on the battery), multiply the nominal voltage by the amp-hours. This way, you can have a fair comparison of how much the batteries can get done.
stroke length and stroke speed
All else being equal, the cutting speed of a reciprocating saw is a function of stroke length and stroke speed. Stroke length averages about 1-1/8 inches, with a fairly narrow range of 1 to 1-1/4. Cutting speeds vary from 2,600 to 3,300 cuts per minute. To compare cutting speeds between saws, multiply the stroke length by the stroke speed to get linear inches per minute. Ideally, use a stroke length of at least 1-1/8 inches and 3000 SPM.
There are also compact cordless reciprocating saws in designs like the Makita Sub-Compact and Milwaukee Hackzall models. They will have a lower stroke length and speed, but will help you get into tighter places. Plumbers and gardeners who do irrigation work love them.
Find Orbital Actions for Demo Work
Even though linear inches per minute measures the cutting speed of a reciprocating saw, the orbital action throws a monkey wrench into the equation. A saw that features orbital action can outperform another saw that is taller in linear inches per minute. We saw this in our best cordless reciprocating saw shootout, where the Ridgid Gen5X cut in the middle of the pack, but orbited a few seconds faster than the Makita XRJ06M. It has the highest cutting speed but lacks orbital action. If you want the fastest cutting speeds, definitely consider a track saw. Note, do not use orbital actions in metal cutting applications.
Hands-free blade change
We can't imagine that reciprocating saws made in recent years need tools to change the blades. If you find one, run away — don't walk. Today, reciprocating saw manufacturers have reliable, tool-less blade changing mechanisms. Now, we're looking for a hands-free solution to keep your hands away from the hot blades.
Some blade changing systems allow the blade lock to stay open when you twist it and close automatically when you insert the blade. You can also buy one with a spring that pops out the blade when you twist the lock. This is especially handy at the end of a cut when the blade is hot. We also prefer levers to anything that makes us reach out and twist the blade clamps.
Recip saw with adjustable base plate
Shoes were important when it came to our best reciprocating saw list. In fact, the reciprocating saw blade—the metal device that surrounds the saw blade—is often overlooked. It certainly remains underused, if not ignored. First, it stabilizes the saw relative to the workpiece and reduces vibrations caused by reciprocating motion. The flat surface of the shoe should be turned back and forth slightly to accommodate the change in blade angle throughout the cut. It also acts as a fulcrum for plunge cuts.
We recommend looking for stretchable, adjustable shoes. It can help you extend the life of your blades. By extending the shoe, you can use more teeth on the blade. Some shoes still require a hex wrench, while others require no tool.
variable speed trigger
We mentioned strokes per minute above, but that number refers to maximum speed. Sometimes you don't want your reciprocating saw to go full swing. This is why variable speed triggers are important. You should be able to adjust the speed of the tool using the trigger to select a stroke per minute rate between 0 and maximum speed. Choose from slower metal cutting speeds and faster wood cutting speeds. Almost every professional-grade reciprocating saw has a variable speed trigger, and some include a variable speed dial.
Anti-vibration and ergonomics
We care a lot about vibration when choosing the best reciprocating saw. Given the nature of the reciprocating saw motion, some vibration or "chatter" is just a fact of life. Steady control of the hand and shoes pressing directly on the material go a long way toward eliminating it. Even so, some manufacturers have built in features to further moderate this debate.
The most basic vibration control separates the handle from the main body. More complex systems provide counterweight within the tool body. In either case, for the most comfortable experience, consider a reciprocating saw with effective anti-vibration features. Skilsaw's Buzzkill technology is one of the best for vibration control.
Relatedly, you should be comfortable with the tools in your hands. This is fairly subjective, but after using a few different ones, you'll get an idea of what's right and what's not. The rubber overmold on the grip makes the saw feel comfortable in your hand.
Choosing the Best Reciprocating Saw – Final Thoughts
That's what our professionals look for when choosing the best reciprocating saw. Not every feature needs to be tested, but many seem to be mandatory. What features can't you live without? Add them in the comments below!