What Is A Reciprocating Saw & Why Use One?

Last Updated on August 28, 2022 by Barry Gray

A reciprocating saw is a staple in a contractor’s inventory, with its’ compact design and power to tackle projects, ranging from DIY house repairs – to major work such as construction and demolition work.

So what exactly is a reciprocating saw? Let’s look into these tools closely below.

  • Powered by electricity, in either a portable battery form or plugged into an outlet
  • Cuts using ‘strokes’, in a backwards and forwards motion against materials
  • Covers an array of uses, reducing the need for multiple tools

Reciprocating Saws: An Overview

Reciprocating saws are often called ‘recip’ saws, or by the Milwaukee branded name, Sawzall.

These type of saws are named so, due to the backwards and forth motion known as ‘strokes’.


These strokes are powered by the saws’ motor, with the average reciprocating saws able to reach speeds (known as strokes, remember) of 2,700 SPM (strokes per minute) to 3,000 SPM.

Many higher-end saws allow you to dictate the control of speeds, in a function known as a ‘Variable Speed Trigger/Dial’.

These are one of the many additional features of a reciprocating saw, in order to give you the best advantage during your work.

What Would I Be Using A Reciprocating Saw For?

Fantastic question.

Reciprocating saws can be used for almost any jobs, with the ability to cut through most materials.

Typically, a reciprocating saw would be used in the following applications:

  • Tree branch cutting
  • Framework
  • Construction
  • Demolition work
  • Piping
  • Metal cutting
  • Home repairs (drywall for electrical wire placements, etc)

As reciprocating saws are smaller than most heavy-duty power saws, you’re able to reach materials within spaces that are usually difficult to reach.

This also includes making overhead cuts, due to the relatively light designs of the tool.

As some reciprocating saws are made for one-handed use, this provides added versatility when making difficult cuts, with the safety of leverage.


What Makes A Reciprocating Saw?

Reciprocating saws are manufactured by a number of different brands, with some that you’re well aware of, and some that you would be surprised that make power tools.

Whatever the brand – all reciprocating saws follow a set of key features, and also additional features that are added.

Some are added to enhance safety or promote a line of sight, whilst some will include a bright light to illuminate a dark working space.

When you’re searching for a reciprocating saw, here are the key features you’ll come across.

Key Features


The most important part of your reciprocating saw, and the most versatile also.

A majority of reciprocating saws will include a blade, which is usually a generic blade designed to cut wood.

This blade is great for wood, however you won’t be using this to cut through metal and nails.

For that, you’ll require a separate blade designed for the specific application.

Here are some examples of applications in which you’ll need that specifically designed blade to cut with:

  • Wood
  • Metal
  • Masonry
  • Nail-embedded wood
  • Plaster

Of course, these are just a few examples. It’s important to make sure you have the correct blade for the job, as you’ll end up breaking/bending the blade and damaging the material you’re cutting, as well as potentially damaging your reciprocating saw.

Blades are made for separate jobs by the design itself – from the number of teeth on the blade, to the composition of the blade itself.


The motor is the ‘brain’ of the reciprocating saw, powering the blade and enabling you to make cuts.

Motors can be found in two forms, a traditional ‘brushed’ motor, and a ‘brushless’ motor.

Brushed motors contain small brushes inside the motor which conduct the electricity.

Due to the physical aspect of the brushes, these types of motors can become worn after years of use.

With brushless motors, there are no physical brushes within the motor, replaced by a circuit board which delegates electricity in accordance with the power willing to be used.

Brushless motors are a relatively new introduction, and allow for a longer lifespan of your reciprocating saw.

Whichever you end up choosing, constant care and maintenance will see your saw live a relatively long life.

Strokes and Stroke Length

Remember how I mentioned earlier about strokes of a reciprocating saw being the speed?

That’s exactly what we’re going to look at here.

As the motion of a reciprocating saw is a back-and-forth motion, the stroke rate is how many times within a minute the blade will run in these motions.

If you have a reciprocating saw that has an SPM of 2,800 – this means that the blade will run backwards and forwards 2,800 times within the minute.

Stroke length is another key term you’ll see when looking at reciprocating saws.

Stroke lengths range from ¾” to 1- ⅛”, with some being higher. This refers to the length the reciprocating saw can reach in one singular stroke.

To put this in perspective, a stroke length of 1-⅛” would allow the blade to travel this length in one stroke.

With both the stroke length and rate, it’s important to note that a higher number doesn’t necessarily mean a greater tool.

You’ll have to adapt to the material you’re cutting – so a 3,000 SPM would be perfect for ripping through wood, however would not be ideal for cutting through metal – where a slower rate would be more beneficial for both your blade and the material.

Additional Features

As I stated earlier, there are a number of additional features which can be found on a reciprocating saw.

I’ll be listing the main additional features you’ll find – as there are quite a few.

Variable Speed Trigger/Dial

With different blades made for different materials, the speed of the stroke is also a feature you’ll be looking at when cutting.

Variable speed options on reciprocating saws give you complete control over the speed, allowing for a faster or slower stroke, depending on the application.

This can come in the form of either a dial or trigger. A dial is usually located on top of the saw, above the handle. The dial can then be adjusted to a higher or slower speed.

A speed trigger is just that – the setting within the trigger which, based on the pressure you apply, will provide a faster or slower stroke rate.

Blade Clamp

The blade clamp is located on the front of your reciprocating saw, and is the clamp which locks the blade into place. Today, blade clamps are tool-less.

This means that you won’t need any tools, hex or allen keys to unlock the clamp.

Why would you want to unlock the clamp?

Well, you’ll need to unlock the clamp in order to change your blades, either due to the material you’re cutting, or because of the general wear and tear blades can suffer over time.

There are some models of reciprocating saws which give you the ability to lock the blade into four-separate positions.

This can add an extra dimension into your cutting game – allowing for the ability of flush cuts to be made.

Adjustable Shoe

We’re still talking about reciprocating saws here, don’t worry!

The adjustable shoe is the guard at the front of your reciprocating saw, which surrounds the blade. Its’ aim is to provide leverage when pressed against the material you’re cutting, and also protects your blades, prolonging their use.

With premier models of reciprocating saws, some shoes have a pivoting option, giving you more angles to press against a material. Some are able to extend further than their resting position as well.

Additional Features

Here is a quick rundown of some additional features you can find on reciprocating saws:

  • LED lighting for illuminating dim workspaces
  • Dust-blowing ports for increasing line of sight, and reducing mess on site
  • Anti-vibrational technology to minimise kickbacks
  • Anti-slip grips, as well as comfort designed handles to reduce fatigue
  • Electric brake triggers/dials

Final Thoughts

So there you are – a complete overview of what a reciprocating saw is, as well as the applications you’re able to use them for.

If this is the first power tool you’re looking to buy – you’ve made a great start, and will soon find a reliable sidekick to tackle whichever project you’re looking to work on.

If you don’t have a reciprocating saw as of yet, I’d definitely recommend purchasing one, whatever your experience level may be.

If you’re unsure as to what reciprocating saw to buy, check out one of our many guides on reciprocating saws and respective models – in order to find the perfect recip saw for your use.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should I buy a corded or cordless reciprocating saw?

This would depend on how often you use a reciprocating saw, and what for.

A cordless reciprocating saw provides more portability, and is useful for contractors who work in very tight spaces and at heights, due to their transit-friendly and compact design.

A corded reciprocating saw needs an outlet, and as such, doesn’t require charging.

Corded reciprocating saws are often more powerful than their cordless counterparts, yet it depends entirely for your use, and how often you would use the saw.

How long do reciprocating saws last?

With all power tools, you’ll need to maintain and care for your reciprocating saw – using the correct blades for their respective materials, and protecting the saw from dust, dirt, water, and any other substances and mess that can affect the saws’ performance.

This also revolves around your use and the type of work you perform.

Generally, a reciprocating saw can give you years of use – it’s all about your maintenance and the type of work you perform.

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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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