Chainsaw Vs. Reciprocating Saw (With a Comparison Table)

Last Updated on October 9, 2022 by Barry Gray

Ever had a huge tree fall over in your garden, and you have to get rid of it? Perhaps a condemned old wooden shed on your property needs demolishing? You could tackle the task of clearing the troublesome timber using old-fashioned hand tools, or you could use a power tool, like a chainsaw or a reciprocating saw. Both saws are versatile cutting machines, but which one gets the most jobs done the best?

A chainsaw is a power tool designed to fell and log trees. A reciprocating saw is a multipurpose power tool equipped to cut through many types of construction materials. Chainsaws are gas-powered or electric, while reciprocating saws are strictly electric. Both saws can be battery-powered.

Good quality power tools don’t come cheap but they save us a lot of struggle in the DIY department. If we can get one power tool to do the job of two, even better, right? At face value, a reciprocating saw and a chainsaw aren’t too dissimilar – both are powerful cutting machines, and neither is to be trifled with. That being said, can you DIY successfully with just one of these sawing monsters, or do you need both?

chainsaw vs reciprocating saw

Chainsaw And Reciprocating Saw Design Differences

The most obvious difference in design between a chainsaw and a reciprocating saw is the length of the cutting part of the tool. A chainsaw has a longer cutting implement attached to its motor than a reciprocating saw and can be gas-powered, while a reciprocating saw is strictly electric.  

And that’s just a snapshot of how different they are. Let’s look at the respective vital components of a chainsaw and a reciprocating saw.

Fundamental components of a gas chainsaw include:

gas chainsaw
  • An enclosed two-stroke gasoline engine with a sprocket driving a chain around an extended steel bar that serves as a guide rail for the chain. 
  • Sharpened edges on each chain link that cut timber as the chain rotate at high speed around the solid steel guide bar
  • A fuel tank, a chain-oil tank, a flywheel pull-start rope and grip, and an exhaust muffler.
  • A throttle trigger in the rear handle with a handguard and throttle lockout switch.
  • A front handle with a chain guard that also acts as an inertia chain brake (a safety mechanism, that when pushed forward, stops the chain from spinning).
  • A chain tensioner.
  • A chain catcher located at the rear base of the bar to prevent injury in the event of the chain snapping during operation.
  • An electric chainsaw has all the components of a gas chainsaw, except the gas engine and associated components (fuel tank, starter cord, etc.). The electric motor is either corded or battery-powered and cordless.

Key components of a reciprocating saw are:

reciprocating saw in use
  • An electric motor in a durable plastic cylindrical housing with a steel blade extending a few inches from the housing. 
  • A reciprocating mechanism moves the attached saw blade forward and backward at high speed.
  • A blade shoe at the front of the motor housing.
  • A blade clamp.
  • A front grip.
  • A rear handle with a trigger and trigger lock-off switch.
  • Motor housing vents.
  • A power cord or a battery.
  • Cutting blades ranging in length from three-inches to 12-inches can be fitted to a reciprocating saw.
  • Reciprocating saws can be fitted with blades of varying strengths and substances (high-tensile steel and carbon-tipped steel blades), and tooth designs to cut various materials. 

Differences In Chainsaw And Reciprocating Saw Applications 

A chainsaw is designed to cut raw timber of various thicknesses. A reciprocating saw is designed to cut many kinds of materials using a range of blades. The cutting capability of each saw will depend on the length of the cutting tool, be it a chain or a blade, and the power of the saw’s motor.

Chainsaw applications include:

chainsaw applications
  • Felling big trees
  • Bucking tree trunks
  • Delimbing trees
  • Splitting logs
  • Debarking logs
  • Edging logs
  • Cutting firewood
  • Milling large logs using a chainsaw mill
  • Pruning thick branches
  • Ripping timber board
  • Cutting fire breaks
  • General forestry cutting tasks

Reciprocating saw applications include:

reciprocating saw application
  • Cutting metal pipe 
  • Cutting concrete reinforcing steel bar
  • Cutting steel roof sheeting
  • Cutting automotive paneling 
  • Cutting wooden beams
  • Cutting wooden board
  • Cutting drywalling board
  • Cutting PVC pipe
  • Cutting plastic board
  • Cutting through nails in wooden structures
  • Dismantling pallets
  • Pruning trees
  • Felling saplings and thin mature trees
  • Logging thin lumber
  • Delimbing lumber
  • General demolition cutting tasks

Power Options For Chainsaws And Reciprocating Saws

Reciprocating saws and chainsaws need sufficient power to move the cutting tool (blade or chain) through the material being sawed. Power ratings for chainsaws and reciprocating saws are measured in volts and amps, and range in classification from ultra-light to extra-heavy duty.  

Gasoline chainsaws:

  • Light-duty: 30cc – 45cc engine capacity
  • Medium-duty: 40cc – 50cc
  • Heavy-duty: 50cc – 60cc
  • Extra-heavy duty: 60cc – 120cc

Electric chainsaws (120-volts AC):

  • Light-duty: 8-amps
  • Medium-duty: 12-amps
  • Heavy-duty: 15-amps

Cordless battery-powered chainsaws:

  • Ultra-light: 12-volts
  • Light-duty: 12-volts to 18-volts
  • Medium-duty: 18-volts to 40-volts
  • Heavy-duty: 40-volts to 80-volts

Electric reciprocating saws (120-volts AC)

  • Light-duty: 9-amps
  • Medium-duty: 10-amps to 12-amps
  • Heavy-duty: 12-amps to 15-amps

 Cordless battery-powered reciprocating saws:

  • Medium-duty: 18-volts to 32-volts
  • Heavy-duty: 40-volts to 60-volts  

Cordless chainsaws and reciprocating saws with brushless motors perform better than brushed electric motors, are more energy-efficient, and help prolong battery life.  

Precautions For Chainsaws and Reciprocating Saws

using chainsaw

Reciprocating saws and chainsaws are dangerous and must be handled with extreme caution and skill. Protective clothing is essential to prevent injury. Work areas must be clear of items that may hamper safe cutting, such as power cables, flammable substances, animals, and young children.

Chainsaws require a greater degree of safety when in use than reciprocating saws due to their greater power output and extended cutting edge. Protective ear-wear is necessary when using a gasoline chainsaw due to the extreme noise emitted from the engine.

  • Reciprocating saws are easier to use than chainsaws, but both require high skill levels to be used efficiently and safely, making comprehensive training necessary before use. 

Essential safety clothing items for safe chainsaw use include:

  • Steel-toe safety boots
  • Nylon or leather chaps
  • Body harnesses and rappels for tree canopy cutting
  • Safety helmets with earmuffs and face shields
  • Safety work gloves

Reciprocating saw safety wear includes:

  • Steel-toe safety boots
  • Safety work gloves
  • Protective eye-wear

Chainsaw Vs. Reciprocating Saw – Maintenance Requirements

chainsaw maintenance

Gasoline-powered chainsaws require more maintenance than electric chainsaws and reciprocating saws. The engine and chain on gas chainsaws need regular maintenance to operate efficiently. Electric chainsaws generally only need chain maintenance, while reciprocating saws require blade replacement.   

Routine maintenance for a chainsaw includes:

  • Sharpening the teeth on the chain links
  • Lubricating the gasoline with two-stroke oil
  • Lubricating the chain with food-grade oil
  • Setting the chain to the correct tension
  • Keeping the chain clean

Reciprocating saw maintenance tasks include:

  • Cleaning the vents  
  • Replacing blunt blades
  • Keeping the blade clamp free of debris

Chainsaw Vs. Reciprocating Saw Comparison Table

Saw TypeProsCons
Gasoline ChainsawPowerful
Excellent timber cutting versatility
Ideal for off-grid applications
High vibration levels
Emits noxious gasses
Strong safety precautions required
High maintenance
Corded Electric ChainsawRelatively low noise levels
Good power rating
Good timber cutting versatility
Strong safety precautions required
Regular chain maintenance
Cordless Electric ChainsawRelatively low noise levels
Variety of sizes and power outputs
Good timber cutting versatility
Limited battery power
Limited battery life
Regular chain maintenance
High battery replacement cost
Strong safety precautions required
Corded Reciprocating SawExcellent power rating
Extremely versatile
Variety of sizes and power outputs
Low maintenance
Low-cost blade options  
High vibration levels
Potentially dangerous
Large units are heavy 
Cordless Reciprocating SawCan access hard to reach spaces
Variety of sizes and power outputs
Unmatched cutting versatility
Low maintenance 
Limited battery power
Limited battery life
High battery replacement cost
Relatively noisy
Potentially dangerous


A reciprocating saw is a far more versatile tool than a chainsaw. For regular DIY jobs around the yard, the unmatched cutting versatility of a reciprocating saw is a good choice. If you want to cut down the odd tree and buck firewood, a light-duty cordless chainsaw is your answer. If you want to fell a giant tree and remove its roots without the aid of grid power, you’ll need a heavy-duty gas chainsaw and a medium-duty cordless reciprocating saw. The choices are there, and they’re yours for the taking!

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Barry Gray

Hi, I’m Barry. I’ve loved woodworking and bringing things back to life for more years than I care to remember. I hope my passion for tools comes across loud and clear in everything you read here on The Tool Square.

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