When it comes to portable tools, the reciprocating saw is a winning workhorse. Nothing beats it for versatility and speed for fast demolition on modernizations and alterations. Available corded and cordless, reciprocating saws (commonly called recip saws) can cut conduit, threaded rod, drywall, the back or sides of panel boxes for trough connections, stubbed pipe in a deck, 2x4s, and other dimensional lumber. With the appropriate blade, a user can also cut plaster, plastic, composition materials, hardwood flooring, cast iron, stainless steel, angle iron, aluminum, brass, fiberglass, ceramic tile, stone, slate, clay, brick and marble, and through nails embedded in wood.

Today's recip saw is not your father's recip saw. Refinements and improvements abound. Current units feature, in various combinations, larger motors for more cutting power, variable-speed settings through both adjustable triggers and speed-setting knobs, quick lock (or keyless) blade installation and removal, quick lock power cord change, soft grip handles, and counter balance mechanisms that rotate in the opposite direction of the blade to nullify vibration at the handle.

Some saws offer longer strokes (up to one and one quarter inches) and/or adjustable strokes. Many units provide both orbital and straight reciprocating motions with the flip of a switch. Longer strokes, more strokes per minute (SPM) and orbital action allow for faster cutting into wood. For metal, generally, you would use a shorter, reciprocating stroke and lower speed. When cutting conduit, a shorter blade is less likely to hit the inside wall and bend the blade.

Some saws sport a pivotal shoe for better support against the work surface and adjustable in-and-out shoe control for control of depth of blade.

If you are looking for cordless convenience, you will find it is easier than ever to get a battery-operated reciprocating saw with reasonably long run time and high performance. Rechargeable battery units are now rated up to 24 volts, hold the charge much longer than previously, and are better able to transfer power from the amp draw due to improvements in internal resistance. Batteries are rated by the voltage and amp hours, which is a conversion into run time. The more amp hours, the longer it will run in a given application. Though all manufacturers post unit amperage, this is not an accurate measurement of a recip's performance. The overall engineering of a unit that converts the amperage draw into performance is what an end-user notices. There is no industry standard rating that converts amps into a measurement that compares performance among units. The aim for cordless units is to match the performance of corded units. Manufacturers are getting closer all the time.

When evaluating corded and cordless reciprocating saws, consider factors such as stroke length, variable speeds, variable speed triggers (which give more control over the saw), and ease of switching blades. The more options available, the easier it could be to start and proceed with a variety of cuts. Just about every manufacturer offers flexible blades, which are desirable for several applications, including making flush cuts. Also, look for ease of shoe adjustment, which is handy if you need to adjust the shoe when working in a tight area or if something is behind the material on which you are working.

Milwaukee Electric Tool Corporation offers corded and cordless units. The Milwaukee 6521-21 11 AMP Orbital Super Sawzall is the most feature-rich of the four corded models. Sporting an 11-amp motor, it can cut from zero to 3200 STM with a 1 1/4-inch stroke. Other features include: a pivoting shoe, a Gear Protection System that absorbs high impact forces caused by sudden blade lock-ups and prevents the teeth on the internal gears from shearing off, and a counter balance mechanism that reduces vibration are other key features. The unit also has an orbital selector; the degree of orbital action is adjustable. Other features include an in/out adjustable shoe, a Quick-Lok blade clamp system that doesn't require a wrench to change blades, a Quick-Lok power cord for replacing frayed cords, and dual speed controls--a trigger and a speed selector dial.

The Milwaukee 6515-20 18 Volt Cordless Sawzall is the recip saw, alone; 6515-21, 22 and 23 are packaged with various accessories. The saw is rated at 18 volts and comes with either 2.20 amp hour or 2.40 amp hour batteries. The compact 18.25-inch, 6.54-pound tool has a soft-grip, non-slip handle pad. The unit features a keyless Quick-Lok blade clamp, trigger speed control with a lock off switch that prevents inadvertent tool turn on, zero to 2000 SPM with a one-inch stroke, and a steel wobble plate mechanism to reduce vibration. The unit, which has a pivoting shoe, accepts standard half-inch shank Sawzall blades, which are reversible for flush cuts. The motor brushes are serviceable and replaceable from the outside. The battery and charger are compatible with all other Milwaukee 18-volt cordless tools.

DeWALT Industrial Tool Co. offers four corded units and three cordless units. The company's highest amperage unit, the DW309K Heavy-Duty Reciprocating Saw Kit, draws 10 amps and is equipped with a keyless blade clamp lever rather than the more common rotating knob. The 8.4-pound, 17.5-inch saw, with 1 1/4 inch stroke length, comes with a counterbalance mechanism that reduces vibration, a rubber-grip handle, and a dust-protected sealed switch. The blade is held by a double retention design intended, notes the manufacturer, to minimize blade pull out. The push button adjustable shoe features a push button lock. Speed is controlled both by trigger action and by a two-speed switch.

DeWALT DW008K Heavy-duty 24V Reciprocating Saw Kit is a 24-volt cordless unit offering two speeds, zero to 2,400 and zero to 2,900 SPM. The 8.1-pound unit has a 1 1/8-inch stroke length, lever action keyless blade clamp, an electric brake for quick stopping, and a three-position adjustable shoe. For compatibility with line voltage, DeWALT offers a clamp-on battery converter and a 9-foot cord. The company also offers 18-volt and 14.4-volt units.

BOSCH Power Tools manufactures corded and battery-powered units.

The corded 1634 VSK Reciprocating Saw Kit, is a 10.5-amp unit that provides control of speed by a lever for selecting between two speed ranges or with a variable-speed trigger switch. The 9.8-pound 19.75-inch unit, which has a pivotal shoe, includes a linear counterbalance to reduce the vibration at the handle and both quick blade changes and shoe extension without a wrench. The stroke is 1 1/4-inch with two SPM ratings: zero to 1,900, and zero to 2,700. A switch controls the blade action between orbital and straight cuts and the blade can be inverted to cut in hard-to-reach areas.

BOSCH 1645K 24 Volt Cordless Reciprocating Saw Kit offers 3/4-inch stroke length (good for tight quarters and plunge or precise cuts) as well as a more 1 1/4-inch stroke length for fast cuts, with a switch for changing between the two. A wrenchless blade clamp allows blades to be changed without use of a hex key, while the wrenchless adjustable shoe extends blade life, notes the manufacturer, by allowing the use of an unused portion of the blade. The saw sports a pivotal shoe, with the shoe position controlled with thumb pressure against a spring-loaded rubber boot. The battery pack and charger are interchangeable with other 24-volt BOSCH portable tools. According to the manufacturer, the unit outperforms many corded units in speed of cut and versatility of use.

Porter Cable has two 10-amp corded offerings: the variable speed 9737 Quick-change Tiger Saw kit and the variable speed 9738 Tiger Saw kit. Both 9-pound, 17-inch-long saws feature 1 1/8-inch strokes and zero to 2,600 SPM, and pivotal front shoes settable with an Allen wrench. The 9737 includes a Quick-Change blade clamp for keyless blade changes, an electronic variable speed switch on the handle and recip and orbital switch-controlled blade actions. The unit's stainless rust resistant blade clamp accepts the blade both in the upside down position for limited clearance applications where an upward cut is necessary and in the standard position for downward cuts. For on-the-job protection, the unit sports a dust sealed shaft to prevent contaminants from penetrating the internal components.

RIDGID offers the corded 5228 Variable Speed Reciprocating/Orbital Saw Kit, operating at 9.6 amps and providing variable speed from 0 to 2,600 SPM. The 5228 is equipped with a large adjustable front shoe for plunge cutting, a universal blade clamp which locks the blade at a 7-degree angle, both orbital and reciprocating switch controlled action, and a nylon handle which, notes the company, remains cool during operation.

Makita USA has four corded and two cordless recip saws. The corded 7.7 pound, 18 1/8- inch JR3030T unit offers spring loaded, tool-less blade change, an 8-amp motor that powers the unit between 0 and 2,600 SPM, a tool-less shoe adjustment, and external brush replacement. The variable speed trigger in the handle includes a lock-on button. The stroke is 1 1/8-inches long and the blade can be inverted for near flush cutting.

The Makita USA cordless JR180DWB variable speed 18 volt 2.2 amp hour recip saw features tooth-less blade change and shoe adjustment and external brush replacement. It has a variable speed of zero to 2,700 SPM and a stroke length of seven-eighths of an inch. Weighing in at 7.7 pounds, it is 17 5/8 inches long. For safety, an electric brake stops the blade fast, and a lock off button helps prevent accidental starts.

Companies mentioned in this article:

BOSCH Power Tools, www.boschtools.com, 877-267-2499

DeWALT Industrial Tool Co., www.dewalt.com, 800-433-9258

Makita USA, www.makitatools.com, 800-462-5482

Milwaukee Electric Tool Corporation, www.mil-electric-tool.com, 877-279-7819

Porter-Cable, www.portercable.com, 800-487-8665

RIDGID, www.ridgid.com, 800-519-3456

William and Patti Feldman are writers, editors, and authors who provide web content and write for magazines, trade associations, building product manufacturers, and other companies on a broad range of topics. They can be reached at wfeldman@worldnet.att.net or 914-238-6272.