Is a Reciprocating Saw Necessary for Home Remodeling?

Carpenter Using a Reciprocating Saw

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Reciprocating saws have fantastic remodeling allure. Hosts of home remodeling TV shows are often seen wielding sledgehammers, cordless drills, and reciprocating saws in true action hero fashion. Naturally, a reciprocating saw is the first thing you should run out and buy. Right? Not so fast. Let's look at what it does, as well as its limitations.

Reciprocating Saws vs. Jigsaws

The blade can be inserted into tight spaces and used in much the same way as a jigsaw. The jigsaw metaphor extends only to the blade and the way it rapidly moves up and down and is capable of working the material from one side only (that is, without having access to the other side of the material).

Otherwise, the reciprocating saw bears no other resemblance to the jigsaw. It is far more powerful. It is much larger. It must be held by both hands. Its foot does not need to be resting on the material for it to work, though it does help if you can do that. And the most telling difference: a reciprocating saw's cuts are crude, while jigsaw cuts are fine and precise. 

Warning

To do their job effectively, reciprocating saws do not come equipped with any blade safety guards that are found on many other types of saws. For this reason, always use extreme caution when using a reciprocating saw and keep fingers and other body parts well clear of the blade. Always unplug a corded reciprocating saw when not in use to avoid accidental trigger engagement.

Low-Cost Saws Can Be Just as Effective

Consider how often you will use this saw before you buy it. Unless you are a professional working in the home building trades (plumbers use these saws often), you will find the saw sitting on your tool bench most of the time.

As such, you may want to purchase a less expensive reciprocating saw.

Unless you intend to switch careers and become a professional, the cost-effective Ryobi reciprocating saw may satisfy your needs.

If you wish to spend even less money, Harbor Freight's corded reciprocating saws under its house brand Chicago Electric are available for between $30 and $40.

Main Use: Ripping, Not Finishing

You might find yourself buying a reciprocating saw for one specific purpose, such as removing a troublesome plumbing pipe or taking down a wall, then find that it can be used for other things like:

  1. Cutting pipe
  2. Demolition work
  3. Lopping off studs within walls
  4. Cutting into floors
  5. Cutting into ceilings
  6. Demolishing drywall
  7. Slicing off nails when disassembling wood pallets for home projects

Reasons to Avoid Buying One

  • Limited usage: If you are not tearing out materials, you will have far less of a need for a reciprocating saw. Even many non-demo uses, like making sink cut-outs in countertops, are better suited to other tools (like routers, in the case of countertops). If your home remodel is past the demo stage, you may want to avoid purchasing a reciprocating saw entirely.
  • Difficult to control: Reciprocating saws are heavy. Once you press the power button, they can quickly run out of control, if you are not careful.
  • No plunge cuts: These saws always need to start at the edge of a board or a pilot hole. Plunge cuts are not possible. Use a jab saw or Roto-Zip for this.

Alternatives

  • Multi-tools: Multi-tools have lots of interchangeable heads for activities such as sanding, cutting, and gouging (i.e., for removing tile grout). The saw blades—usually either a blade that is meant for wood or one that is meant for metal—are capable of making plunge cuts.
  • Jigsaws: If the material is thin enough, a heavy-duty jigsaw does the trick, too. A jigsaw will not effectively cut through a 2x4, though.
  • Hand saws: The important thing about reciprocating saws—and the reason why people buy them—is that their blades have a very short stroke. So it's difficult to replace the reciprocating saw's functionality with a hand saw, because a hand saw has a long stroke. The short stroke allows you to get into tight spaces that don't allow for hand tools.

Is It a Sawzall or What?

Sawzall is an electric reciprocating saw made by Milwaukee Tools. It is capitalized and should always have the registered trademark symbol after it.

Truly a revolutionary tool, the Sawzall was invented in 1951 and was the "first portable electric hacksaw," as the Milwaukee company site puts it. 

Over the decades, Sawzall has also shifted into colloquial use to become "sawzall," lower-case "s."

Sawzall has also become ubiquitous for any kind of reciprocating saw, Milwaukee-made or not. You will hear plumbers say to each other, "Hand me the sawzall," even though you can see that the reciprocating saw was made by De Walt, Ryobi, or Bosch. 

The generic meaning is concurrent with the literal meaning and has not supplanted the literal meaning. Milwaukee's Sawzall is still produced, is still popular, and is still considered by many in the trades as superior to other reciprocating saws on the market.