A reciprocating saw is a saw that cuts by pushing and pulling a blade across the surface that you are cutting.
Reciprocating saws have lots of features – some of which are more important than others.
So which features are important? Keep reading to find out.
What should I look for when buying a reciprocating saw?
There are four main things to look at when buying a reciprocating saw:
- Stroke length
- Strokes Per Minute (SPM)
- Power source
- Volts or Amps
A stroke is when the saw blade moves forwards and backwards one time.
The stroke length of a saw tells you how far the blade travels during a stroke.
As you may know, a reciprocating saw cuts wood (or anything) by moving a blade back and forth.
And the more the blade moves, the more it cuts. So the longer the stroke of saw, the more it can cut in one cycle.
So usually, a longer stroke is better because you can cut more within one cycle.
The average stroke of a reciprocating saw is 1 1/8 inches. So as long as your saw has a 1 1/8 inches stroke, you aren’t losing anything compared to other saws.
Now some saws, like the Makita JR3070CT, have a longer stroke length of 1 1/4 inches. So if cutting as quickly as possible is super important to you, keep an eye out of saws with the longest possible stroke length.
Strokes Per Minutes (SPM)
SPM tells you how many strokes the saw can perform in one minute.
This is important because the more strokes a saw can perform in a minute, the more it can cut in that time. So if you want to cut something as quickly as possible, you want a saw with a high SPM.
Now you may not want to cut something as quickly as humanly possible. For example, cutting something fast creates more vibration and heat than cutting something slowly.
Usually that’s OK, but what if you want to cut something without producing a lot of vibration or heat?
That’s when you need a variable SPM. Saws with a variable SPM let you vary many strokes per minute the saw is using based on your needs. Usually variable SPM saws let you adjust the SPM by using the trigger or they have a dial that you can use to set the SPM.
Variable SPM used to be a feature that was reserved for more expensive saws. But nowadays, you can find the feature even on lower priced saws. But it’s still worth checking that the saw you are buying has a variable SPM because even if you can’t think of a reason to use it now, you’ll probably need the feature at some point.
The motor in a reciprocating saw is powered by electricity. And until they invent a solar powered saw, that leaves you with two options for power – batteries and AC power.
Battery powered saws use a battery pack that snaps into the tool and can be removed when you need to recharge them. (So you’ll also need a battery charger as well as a battery).
Something to consider when looking at batteries is how long they last between charges. This is measured in Amp Hours (Ah). And as with volts, the higher the number – the better. So a 5.0Ah battery will last longer between charges than a 4.0Ah battery.
Battery technology has been changing rapidly over the last few years and the current leader if Lithium Ion (or Li-on) batteries. These recharge rapidly and can hold a charge for months (or even years).
The big benefit of battery powered saws us that you can use it anywhere because you’re taking the power source with you. That’s great if you need to prune trees out on a large property or cut
timber on a worksite that doesn’t have power.
Another advantage of battery powered saws is that they tend to be lighter than AC powered saws. For example, the DEWALT DCS387B is a 20V saw and weighs 5.0 pounds. Whereas the Makita JR3070CT is an AC powered saw and weighs 9.7 pounds.
The downside of battery powered saws is that eventually the battery will need charging. So what do you do then. Well you can recharge the battery and take a break until it’s fully powered. Or you can buy extra batteries so you can swap out a fresh battery for a dead one. That way you can keep sawing using the fresh pack while the dead one recharges.
The other disadvantage of battery powered saws is that battery packs aren’t cheap. In many cases, two batteries with a charger will cost more than the saw itself.
To get over this, power tool companies have started making batteries that work in a range of tools. For example, DEWALT Flex Volt batteries will work in their reciprocating saws, circular saws, drills, angle grinders and a bunch of other tools.
This means that you won’t have to buy a battery for every battery powered tool you own. Instead, you can buy two or three batteries and use them with all your tools (assuming that they can all use the same batteries).
An AC powered saw gets it’s power from a regular mains socket (most of them work just fine using a 10 amp circuit, which is the most common circuit in US homes).
The benefit of using an AC powered saw is that it doesn’t run out of power, unlike a battery powered saw. I recently spent four hours cutting down a tree in my yard using an AC powered saw. If I was using a battery powered saw I would have had to take frequent breaks to recharge batteries, even if I had three or four packs. Instead with the AC powered saw, I only took breaks to grab a drink or to spend a few minutes out of the sun.
The disadvantage of AC powered saws is that you need a live AC circuit to power them. This can be a problem if you need to cut something that’s far away from an AC socket. You can get power when you’re far from a mains socket by running an extension cable. Or you can use a power inverter to get AC power from your truck or car. So the problem is solvable, buts it’s still an issue for you to think about.
Volts or Amps
The power of a reciprocating saw is measured in Volts if battery powered and Volts if AC powered.
The power of a battery pack is measured in volts (V), with the most common being 18V and 20V.
Now a lot of people will tell you that 20V tools are more powerful than 18V. Which seems like the correct answer because 20 is more than 18 and more is better, right?
Surprisingly though, 18V and 20V saws can both have the same amount of power. This is because volts tells you how much electricity can flow out of a battery not how much power the battery has. Kind of like how horsepower tells you how powerful a car engine has, not how fast the car can go.
So why do people talk about how many volts a saw has? Well it sounds logical that 20V is more powerful than 18V. And the people who make power tools know that so talking about volts helps them to sell more tools.
So why do I recommend that you pay attention to volts? Well what volts can tell you is whether you existing batteries will work with the saw you are wanting to buy. For example, an 18V battery will not work with a 20V saw. But even if the battery has the same voltage as the saw, you still need to make sure that the battery pack and the saw are compatible. (On the plus side, if you don’t own any batteries, you don’t have to worry about this).
So which is better? 18V or 20V.
Well 20V saws will weigh more than an 18v saw. That’s because it takes more battery cells to make up 20V, than it does to make 18V.
So if you want the lightest battery powered saw, you should look for an 18V powered one.
However, if you already have battery powered tools you should buy a tool that can use the batteries it uses, unless you want to buy more batteries and a new charger.
Like volts, amps is used by power tool manufacturers to indicate how much power a reciprocating saw has,
And as with volts, this is a little bit misleading.
The amp rating of a saw tells you how much power it can draw from it’s power source. So a 15 amp saw can pull 50% more power than a 10 amp saw.
Now that should be a good indicator of how much power a saw has, right? Because a 15 amp saw is pulling 50% more power than a 10 amp saw.
However, it’s up to the manufacturer to make sure that the motor in the saw uses all the power available to it as efficiently as possible to ensure that the saw is as powerful as possible. And in general, power tool manufacturers do just that because they want their tools to be as powerful as possible.
So generally speaking, the more amps a saw has – the power it has.
So more amps is better, right? Well yes and no.
Higher amps saws usually have more power, which is good. But they also tend to weigh more than lower amps saws. For example, the Makita JR3070CT is a 15 amp saw an weighs 9.7 pounds. Whereas the Porter-Cable PC75TRS is a 7.5 amp saw and weighs 7.2 pounds.
So if you want an AC powered saw, there’s a trade-off between power and weight.
Ready to look for a saw?
Now that you’ve learned what to look for in a saw, which are the best reciprocating saws to look at?
Well don’t worry – we’ve got you covered 🙂
The best reciprocating saw is a guide that I wrote that reviews the five best reciprocating saws on the market in 2017.
In the guide, I review everything you would want to know about the saws. And you can easily compare all the tools side-by-side to find the perfect saw for you.