Reciprocating saws have been common, often indispensable electricians’ tools for almost half a century. The name derives from the action the tool produces—a continuous back-and-forth cutting motion. The long, straight, exposed blade cuts into many types of materials. While all recip saws do the same thing—cut with a reciprocating motion—how efficiently they do so can vary among models. They are available from many manufacturers, usually in corded and cordless versions, which provide greater mobility, but only for the length of battery life.

Key considerations in buying a recip saw are the power the tool offers; the length of stroke; the type of action, either straight or orbital reciprocating, which effectively pushes the blade into the medium, facilitating more aggressive cutting and cleaning the teeth in the process; whether or not the shoe is adjustable; and whether the inevitable vibration that comes with cutting is addressed.

Other factors include method of blade release (i.e., with or without tools, using a quick-release mechanism that pops out the blade), and whether the tool offers single- or dual-range variable speeds. While a variable-speed trigger controls speed itself, a dual-range variable-speed model adds a setting switch that offers a lower maximum speed, which limits the upper speed to some medium level for better control when a task requires a slower speed (such as cutting into metal and other extremely hard material).

A pivoting shoe, or tilt-back foot, is a common feature that provides more surface contact, offering added control in a variety of cutting applications. For example, when doing an angle cut, a pivoting shoe can help stabilize the tool against the work piece.

Another popular feature is an electric brake, which adds a measure of safety, prevents blades from breaking when exiting plunge cuts, and is handy when doing repetitive cuts because it is not necessary to wait for the blade to stop moving before making the next cut.

Other features that help increase safety or productivity include a rubber boot around the front end of the tool to help absorb vibration and reduce hand fatigue, and the ability to invert blades to cut into hard-to-reach areas more easily.

Recip saws accept a variety of blade types to expedite cutting into drywall, plastic, plaster, aluminum, fiberglass, dimensional lumber, hardwood flooring, conduit, threaded rod, nails embedded in wood, walls of panel boxes, angle iron, and stainless steel. Generally, fine-tooth blades are used for metal, while coarse-tooth blades are most efficient when cutting wood.

Toothless blades, coated with various grits or grit-like materials, are effective in cutting into such extremely hard materials as ceramic tile, cast iron, and stone. Most blades are interchangeable among recip saws from various manufacturers.

Attention to ergonomic design is increasingly common. Such refinements as cushion handles and vibration-absorbing rubber boots around the heft of the tool serve to reduce hand fatigue during operation.

Whether or not to go cordless

While corded recip saws are well suited to repetitive cutting throughout a work day, especially if the tasks are within easy reach of an electrical outlet, battery-operated recip saws are convenient when working on a ladder or if “civilians” are in the work area and you cannot safely string out the electric cord. They are also convenient when you are constantly making cuts on the move, over a wide geographic area. And when no power is readily available at a job site or it is not yet in place at all, a battery recip saw is the only way to go.

Typically, the higher the volts of the battery, the heavier the battery-and-tool combination, which is a consideration during extended use. But higher voltages give the tool the ability to handle higher torque applications and generally provide longer run times, to boot. Eighteen-volt and 24-volt batteries are common sizes for recip saws.

Some saws ship with the traditional nickel cadmium (NiCad) batteries, some with nickel metal hydride (NiMH), which could yield 20 to 30 percent more run time after break-in conditioning (typically about six or eight charges). To keep production going with a battery-operated tool, you might want to keep an extra, charged battery on hand.

The models below are representative of what manufacturers are currently offering.

Corded models

Makita USA JR3000VT Tool-less Reciprocating Saw offers a long blade stroke of 13/16 inches. The saw, which has a D-shaped handle, features tool-less blade change and tool-less shoe adjustment, which enables use of a longer portion of the blade. A variable- speed trigger allows the operator to match the cutting speed, which ranges from zero to 2,300, to the material being cut.

The trigger sports a lock-on feature that holds the speed until deactivated, minimizing fatiguing effects resulting from applying constant pressure to activate the trigger. The rubber boot helps protect the gear housing and provides a secure grip while cutting, according to Makita.

This year, Milwaukee Electric Tool Corporation (the company that introduced the first portable recip saw, calling it the Sawzall, in 1951) is offering a 50th anniversary serialized collector’s edition, the Orbital Action Super Sawzall, model 6521-50, embellished with an anniversary emblem and brass nameplate and accompanied by a heavy-duty, water-resistant commemorative contractor bag.

The 11-amp, zero -to-3,200 SPM, anti-vibration saw features a 11/4-inch blade stroke and an orbital action selector to match settings to work piece applications, a gear-protecting clutch that absorbs impact to protect the gear train, bearings, and other internal mechanisms during extreme applications, and a pivot shoe release lever for tool-less adjustment of the pivot shoe. The tool also features an anti-vibration system and a heavy-duty Quik-Lok blade clamp for instant, tool-less blade changes.

Metabo Corporation RS901 Variable-Speed Orbital Reciprocating Saw features a seven degree rake angle for optimum cutting performance and a choice of orbital or straight reciprocating action through a side-mounted orbital switch selector switch. With a stroke of 11/8 inches, and a trigger-controlled no-load speed of zero to 2,600 SPM (affording infinite speed variation from the lowest to maximum speed value), the 9.6 amp tool has a cutting capacity of 12 inches in wood and 3/4 inch in metal.

Grizzly Industrial H0799 double-insulated heavy-duty reciprocating saw features dial- controlled variable 300 to 2,000 strokes per minute and a 13/16-inch stroke. The 5.5 amp powered tool, weighing in at 71/4 pounds, sports a lock-on trigger switch and easy Allen wrench blade changes. The company sells the tools directly.

Cordless recip saws

Makita USA 18V Cordless Recipro Saw Model JR180DWB features variable-speed zero to 2,700 SPM, a 7/8-inch stroke, a lock-off button for preventing accidental starts, tool-less blade change and tool-less shoe adjustment. The saw, which has externally accessible brushes for easy maintenance, comes with a 2.2 Amp hour Ni-MH battery, a universal charger, battery cover, blade set, and tool case.

Bosch Power Tools 1645 24V cordless Reciprocating Saw sports an innovative dual stroke feature that allows users to switch between a long 11/4 inch, stroke and a short 3/4-inch, stroke. The aggressive, longer stroke, well suited to woodcuts, contributes to fast cutting speed, removing debris faster than shorter strokes. The shorter stroke cuts with reduced vibration, making it suitable for precision cuts, plunge cuts, and cuts in thinner materials, such as sheet metal, the company pointed out.

The tool features a button operated three-position tilt back foot assembly which, noted Bosch, adds to the saw’s depth-of-cut control, a magnesium front end with a rubber boot, a tool-less blade change system, an electronic brake, and a soft-grip handle. To eliminate potential down-time, the kit comes with two Platinum series 24-volt NiCad batteries, which, according to the company, provide up to 30 percent longer run time than 18-volt batteries, and a one-hour Smart Charge that will charge all Bosch cordless batteries, regardless of voltage.

DeWalt Industrial Tool Co. DW938K cordless variable-speed 18-volt reciprocating saw features zero to 2,800 strokes per minute and a 7/8-inch stroke, making the tool well-suited for notching or cutting 2 x 4s, plywood, and all sizes of PVC pipe. The tool weighs in at a relatively trim 6.5 pounds and sports a rubber grip handle, a rubber trigger, and a rubber boot on the gear case, for comfort.

A trigger lock-off button prevents the user from inadvertently pulling the trigger while toting the tool. The saw features a pivoting shoe with an open top for maximum visibility, a fan-cooled motor with replaceable brushes, and an electric brake. The kit includes an 18-volt, 2-Amp-hour battery, charger, blade, and case.

Hitachi Power Tools cordless 24V Reciprocating Saw model CR24DV, using a 2-Amp-hour NiCad high-capacity battery, features a variable speed, fan-cooled motor that turns at zero to 2,600 SPM, and a vibration dampening, soft grip switch handle. To extend the service life of the motor, the saw, which has a stroke length of 11/8 inches, is equipped with auto-stop carbon brushes that can be accessed externally for easy replacement, noted the company. A tool-less blade retainer allows quick blade replacement and the mounting of a blade upside down for flash cuts.

The new Milwaukee Tool Corporation cordless 18-volt SawZall the Hatchet, model 6514-21, features an innovative six-position pivoting soft-grip handle that allows the user to more easily manipulate the tool in tight spaces, such as between studs during notch cutting. Using a 3/4-inch stroke, the tool has a range from zero to 2,700 SPM.

The tool, with all-metal Quik-Lok blade clamp and orbital action on/off switch, incorporates a counter-balanced mechanism that reduces vibration, and a reversible battery pack for additional clearance and easier plunge cutting. The 6514-21 comes with a 2.4-Amp-hour battery, a universal charger, and a case.

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