How to Use a Reciprocating Saw? — Guide for Beginners (2024)

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In my many years working with tools, the reciprocating saw, or “sawzall” as we often call it, has proven to be an incredibly versatile ally in the workshop. But, from personal experience, I can’t stress enough the importance of truly understanding how to wield it correctly and adhering to safety protocols.

Having witnessed and navigated through a few close calls myself, it’s vital to prioritize safety to prevent any unwanted mishaps. So, let me share a bit of the wisdom I’ve gleaned over the years to guide you towards safe and effective use of this dynamic tool.

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 I’m 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

From my years of hands-on experience, I’ve learned that when the blade is in action, it moves back and forth quite rapidly. And trust me, you’ll see your fair share of debris and dust. So, for your safety and precision, always maintain a good distance from the cut line.

Steps on How to Use a Reciprocating Saw

Now I 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

I’ve found that safety gloves can actually be a hindrance. They tend to reduce the sensitivity in your hands and fingers, making it trickier to operate the saw and press the trigger smoothly. Based on my experience, I’d advise against them for this specific task. However, one golden rule always stands: always ensure your fingers are well clear of the blade’s path.

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

Throughout my time working with various materials, one thing’s become crystal clear: choosing the right blade for the job is crucial. Sure, your saw might come with a few different blades, and sometimes, you might need to pick up a few extras. But trust me, the blade you’d use for cutting tree branches is worlds apart from the one you’d use on ceramics. Always match your blade to the material for the best results.

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 I 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

In most models, the shoe, located at the front of the saw, can be adjusted. An adjustable shoe is beneficial as it prolongs the blade’s lifespan, but even if it’s fixed, it plays a vital role. The shoe is crucial for blade stability and material support during operation. If adjustable, make necessary adjustments and firmly press the shoe against the material while cutting. You’ll observe a noticeable reduction in vibrations, and the shoe also supports 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. I suggest focusing on a smaller portion of the surface when you cut, and gradually expand from there.

FAQ

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!

Conclusion

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 headshot

Robert Johnson is a passionate furniture maker & carpenter, sought after for his knowledge on the craft.
You’ve probably seen his down-to-earth wisdom in USA Today, Bobvila, Family Handyman, and The Spruce, where he has shared commentary and guidance on various woodworking topics.

Robert is the brain behind Sawinery, where he aims to share tips, tricks, and a passion for all things carpentry.

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