How to Use a Reciprocating Saw? — Guide for Beginners (2023)

If you buy something through our posts, we may get a small commission. Read more here.

Share It

Also known as a sawzall, a reciprocating saw is an all-in-one tool that has many uses. However, if you aren’t familiar with how to use a reciprocating saw properly and the safety gear that should go with it, you could be setting yourself up for unpleasant accidents. Follow our experts’ advice below to stay safe.

How to Use a Reciprocating Saw

Before we dive into how to operate and cut using reciprocating saws like a pro, we have first to understand all there is to know about this saw. This will help you not to be confused between a jigsaw and reciprocating saw

What is a Reciprocating Saw?

As a handy cutting machine tool that’s often used for demolition, the reciprocating saw is named to the blade’s back and forth movement with variable speed. You might hear a reciprocating saw referred to as a Sawzall, but our experts are here to clear it up. 

GALAX PRO Reciprocating Saw

The term Sawzall was coined by the Milwaukee brand for their reciprocating saws, but the term has become ubiquitous and can be used interchangeably. 

A reciprocating saw has a horizontally positioned blade that usually moves backward and forwards motion. It has more variable speed and power than a jigsaw and can cut through various materials and items, including pipes, nails, metal, and even ceramic.

How Does it Work?

The reciprocating saw including the impressive MAKITA JR3050T has a horizontal cutting blade that can make a plunge cut, straight cut, and curved cuts. The saw has variable speeds and interchangeable blades for different materials. You would hold the handle with one hand and squeeze the trigger. You can steady it with your other hand and cut it at different angles – even above your head!

installing blade on DEWALT 20V Max Reciprocating Saw

Just be careful as the blade moves back and forth while cutting. There will be lots of debris and dust, so keep at a distance from the cut line.

Steps on How to Use a Reciprocating Saw

Now our team will break down the steps on how to cut using reciprocating saws, starting with the safety gear needed before cutting.

Wear Safety Gears & Equipment

Safety first! Before using a reciprocating saw with the right blade on the material and start cutting, you need to get all the safety gear ready, especially when using it for demolition[1] or complex work.  The most important piece of safety gear is goggles or glasses. Always wear safety glasses to make sure no debris or dust flies into your eyes after you cut. You will notice a large accumulation of dust on the material’s surface, so don’t work on your project in a place with the breeze or high winds when cutting.

Milwaukee 2722-20 Super Sawzall Reciprocating Saw

Our team would not recommend safety gloves, because it desensitizes your hand and fingers and can be more cumbersome when operating the reciprocating saw and pressing the trigger while cutting. Just make sure to always keep your fingers away from the path of the blade. 

Prepare Material to Cut

Know what you are using the saw for and get the right materials ready. Are you cutting through wood or preparing for metal cutting? The type of material you’re cutting is important because it impacts the type of blade you use and the variable speed adjustment. The coarse blade will perform best when cutting through the wood material.

Choose and Insert Blade

You have to choose the right blade to cut the material you’re cutting. Your saws may come with different blades to use, or you may have to purchase some extras. The blade for wood from tree branches and a blade for cutting through ceramics will be vastly different.

Once you have chosen the blade, for instance, a highly durable recip blade for metal, you can begin to cut with the guide in it. Make sure that the saw is not in use and unplugged during this process. Insert the blade into the chuck. Most recip saw in this day and age are tool-free, which means blade changes do not require tools. Once the blade is securely inserted, turn the chuck back to lock it in place.

installing blade on Milwaukee 2722-20 Super Sawzall Reciprocating Saw

To double-check and make sure to insert the blade securely, give it a slight tug. The blade should be tightly inserted and shouldn’t come out. During a blade change, this is when our team would advise keeping gloves on hand. This is because the blade will be hot from friction after cut unless you insert the first blade for the job.

Blades with tungsten carbide tips, as often seen in circular saws, are the best to cut for tougher materials. When you are using your tool for wood cutting, especially from tree branches or metal cutting, a tough reciprocating blade such as this is recommended.

Position and Press Shoe

The shoe, or the front of the saw, can be adjusted in most models. You would want the shoe to be adjustable as it can extend the life of the blade, but its role is integral even if it cannot be moved. The shoe is the key to operate as it will hold the blade in place and make the material stable. Adjust the shoe if possible, and press it against the material when cutting. You will notice the vibrations significantly decrease and the shoe also acts as a support for plunge cuts.

Saw the Material

Now comes the actual cutting part. Once the saw blades are in place, you can put them against the material, set the variable speed, pull the trigger, and get ready to cut. For thinner materials, it’s easy to get a good start. However, if you’re gutting through thick pipes, for example, the process is slow and steady. You will want to gradually push and pull the blade in a see-sawing motion to cut and make some headway. 

Galax Pro reciprocating saw blade

If you are having a hard time getting through the surface, it could indicate the blade is old and dull, requiring a replacement. If that’s not the case, it could be because you’re not letting the saw do most of the work and are relying more on the force of your arms. 

The right blade and the right motion should make the saw do all the work for you. Our experts suggest focusing on a smaller portion of the surface when you cut, and gradually expand from there.


How do you cut wood with a reciprocating saw?

You can cut wood with a reciprocating saw by choosing the right blade, securing the blade into your tool, preparing the materials and start working the saw in a backward and forward motion. This is the best way to guide the blade through the material with minimal trouble. 

Can you cut straight with a reciprocating saw?

Yes, you can cut straight with a reciprocating saw. In fact, a reciprocating saw is one of the most versatile tools for a variety of cuts. Besides a straight cut, it is also excellent for curved and plunge cuts by using the right blade.

If you’re looking for portability, check this review of the finest cordless reciprocating saws in the market today!


To make the most out of your machine tool while being safe, use a reciprocating saw properly. Since the saw is so versatile, you need to know what safety equipment and the type of blades you should have for your projects. Remember to secure the front of the saw to minimize vibrations and stabilize the material, as well. 

Robert Johnson is a woodworker who takes joy in sharing his passion for creating to the rest of the world. His brainchild, Sawinery, allowed him to do so as well as connect with other craftsmen. He has since built an enviable workshop for himself and an equally impressive online accomplishment: an extensive resource site serving old timers and novices alike.
Robert Johnson
Related Articles