What Is Orbital Action in a Reciprocating Saw and Do You Need It? That’s the question we’re exploring today, and it’s a common one. With a few notable exceptions, most manufacturers do not include this feature in their cordless reciprocating saws. This leads to confusion about whether it’s really necessary for quick cuts.
Table of Contents
- What is Orbital Operations?
- When Did Reciprocating Saws Start Using Orbital Action?
- Does Orbital Action Really Matter?
- The Bottom Line
Understanding Orbital Operations
The orbital action setting on a reciprocating saw introduces an elliptical motion to the standard back and forth sawing. This more aggressive operation removes more material when cutting wood. However, it’s important to note that more aggressive cuts also bring extra vibration. Therefore, it’s advisable to never use this mode when cutting metal or PVC.
Counterweights for Vibration Control
Some saws utilize counterweights to offset the additional vibration caused by the reciprocating motion. There are various types of systems that achieve this. The Skilsaw Buzzkill technique, for example, effectively reduces vibration in reciprocating saws.
The Milwaukee Sawzall employs a dampened flywheel to achieve vibration control.
When Did Reciprocating Saws Start Using Orbital Action?
We can trace the concept of orbital action back to a 1982 patent for a puzzle filed by Black & Decker Inc. Although not definitive, this suggests that the technology has been around for about 40 years. A few years later, orbital action was applied to reciprocating saws through another patent.
When Milwaukee Tool invented the Sawzall in 1951, the tool lacked any kind of orbiting functionality. At that time, simply moving the blade back and forth was sufficient for most needs.
Does Orbital Action Really Matter?
In addition to the claims made by manufacturers about orbital action, we have concrete evidence to support its effectiveness. During our tests of the best reciprocating saws, we compared models with and without orbital action. Saws with orbital action consistently demonstrated faster wood cutting performance. This is particularly important to consider if you primarily work with wood embedded with nails.
However, some well-designed saws without orbital action still performed admirably. So, it’s worth considering a more holistic approach. After all, we want to know when exactly to utilize orbital actions.
We conducted multiple tests using a Bosch 18V reciprocating saw, running them with and without orbital action. Even with various techniques and the kerf sawing tool, the closest we got was still about 2.5 seconds slower than the fastest track speed.
Scientific testing provided more revealing results. By applying the same downward force on the saw using the same weight, we cut through a 2 x 12 pressure-treated lumber with five 16D nails embedded in it. The Bosch saw took 31.83 seconds without orbital action. However, when switched to orbit, the time dropped to just 18.28 seconds—a reduction of over 13.5 seconds. This means that the non-orbital motion was nearly 75% slower!
The Bottom Line
When it comes to cutting, it’s always best to let the saw and blade do the work. Orbital action offers a significant advantage in wood cutting when employed correctly. Even if you attempt to surpass it with technology, you will still fall short. So, if you want to achieve efficient and effective cuts in wood, orbital action is definitely worth considering.