How to use a reciprocating saw
If you currently don’t know how to use a reciprocating saw, you should know reciprocating saws have more uses than a Swiss Army Knife: It’s a demo saw, a fine-finishing saw, the tool you need in constricted places for remodeling work, a pipe cutter, a drywall saw, and a conduit cutter. You can even use a reciprocating saw as a tree pruner.
The fact is the reciprocating saw is a must-have. It’s just a matter of deciding which saw configuration – or configurations, it’s okay to have more than one – is going to work for you. That includes choosing from an array of sizes and models, amp draw for a corded reciprocating saw or voltage for a cordless one, stroke, and tool weight. Other considerations for reciprocating saws:
- Does the reciprocating saw blade reverse to cut upwards, as well as down?
- Does the handle extend out, as well as down as a pistol grip?
- Does the body of the saw swivel?
- Is the tool short enough to fit between 16-inch stud centers and roof beams?
Working to provide just the right tool for the job, manufacturers of reciprocating saws have made significant advances in the last couple of years. Faster cuts, more power, oscillating drive, smaller size, even models designed to be used one-handed make today’s reciprocating saw even more valuable.[tip id=”6427″]
Power and stroke
With a corded reciprocating saw, a high amp rating covers most jobs. The top is 15 amps, but likely anything over 10 or 12 will do the work. Recent introductions cut up to twice as fast and last twice as long as reciprocating saws of only a few years ago and they draw 12 amps. For awkward or really tight areas, it doesn’t hurt to have a second 5 to 6 amp short-stroke saw on hand.
If you prefer a cordless reciprocating saw, you’ll be impressed by the increased power and run time today’s Lithium-Ion batteries provide. For example, RIDGID’s Hyper Lithium-Ion battery, which powers RIDGID reciprocating saws, delivers as much as 50 percent more work output and up to 50 percent more recharges. It also operates efficiently even at extreme hot and cold temperatures.
Stroke length is the distance the blade travels in one forward cutting stroke (strokes typically range from ½ to 1½ inches). The longer the stroke the more teeth cut per stroke. Running at the same stroke per minute speed, a long-stroke saw will cut faster. But it will need more clearance at the backside of the job and more amps (or volts) to drive the blade. A rule of thumb: Use a long-stroke model for demolition and fast work, and a lighter short-stroke saw for delicate work that requires more precise control.
An orbital reciprocating saw adds oscillation to the regular reciprocation, for a slight up and down motion perpendicular to the direction of the cut. The result is that the blade tip moves in an oval, up and down as well as back and forth. This produces faster cuts, and is particularly useful for wood.
A short-stroke reciprocating saw allows you to get into places where no conventional rotary power or hand saw can be used. For example, RIDGID’s model 3030 Fuego reciprocating saw delivers a short ½-inch stroke and weighs only 4 pounds to work in really tight spaces. Light and easy to handle, the 3030 allows you to handle the saw with one hand.
Weight and vibration
While there is some counterbalancing built into reciprocating saws, you’ll still feel the vibration in your hands. A heavier reciprocating saw dampens vibration a little more than lighter weight models. However, set against that is the fact that you have to work with the saw, and if that’s all day, every day, you’ll want to select a saw with the weight that works best for you. One tip: When shopping, lift the saw above your head to see if you would be comfortable working like that.
If vibration is an issue, take a look at the Makita reciprocating saws with AVT – anti-vibration technology. A real bad-boy in this range is the JR3070CT. Rated at 15 amps, this anti-vibe-cordless-reciprocating-saw has a 1- 1/4-inch stroke and electronic speed control to maintain constant speed under load. According to Makita, it delivers only half the vibration of competitive saws. It also features a clutched drive and a four-position selectable orbital/straight cutting action.[tip id=”6423″]
Using a reciprocating saw
If you want to know how to use a reciprocating saw, keep first in mind that blades determine what the reciprocating saw is going to cut effectively: wood, wood with embedded nails, copper pipe, galvanized iron pipe, composite fiberglass, PVC pipe, sheet metal, rebar, frozen studs, etc. Probably tile won’t respond well. For demolition, put a long wood/steel blade on it and it’ll make short work of a teardown.
A flush cut blade allows the blade to cut parallel to and right down to a floor or up to a ceiling. It’s ideal for cutting through an outside wall bottom plate, for example when fitting a door where a window opening was previously.
- Tool-free blade changes – Many reciprocating saws feature a tool-less clamp to retain the blade, making tool changes fast and easy.
- Light – If you’re doing a plunge cut into drywall for a switch box or following a cutoff line, it’s really handy to have a reciprocating saw with LED illumination to make it easier to see the cutting lines.
- Variable speed and speed control – Most saws are variable speed, and the trigger is the speed control. However, you may find a saw with a two-speed gearbox, which is an added sophistication, or one with distinct speeds.
- Electric brake – Many newer reciprocating saw models also include an electric brake that stops the blade immediately when the trigger is released.
- Adjustable shoes – Adjustable shoes allow you to set the cutting depth but they have their limits. And setting the shoe way out increases the space you’ll need to get the saw to the cut.
—By Steve Sturgess