What Is a Reciprocating Saw? The Uses and Benefits Explained

Reciprocating saw cutting through wood
(Image credit: Getty Images)

What is a reciprocating saw? You might have heard the name, but at the same time you'll be thinking what is it and what is it used for? In a nutshell it's a powered handheld saw that uses a back and forth motion like a manual wood saw to cut through a host of different materials. 

The best reciprocating saws are multi-use tools that can tackle a whole range of tasks. They are not fine crafting tools that carpenters and woodworkers will typically use; they are powerful tough tools that pros and DIYers can use for demolition jobs and remodelling homes. When a hand saw, wood saw or jigsaw aren’t up to the task at hand it's time to call on a reciprocating saw to get the job sorted.

Here we take a look at what they are commonly used for and what to look out for if you are thinking of investing in one. 

What is a Reciprocating Saw and What are They Used for? 

A reciprocating saw is a multi-purpose power tool, but it is typically used by pros and DIYers when demolishing or remodelling studwall, lath and plaster walls, or timber framed buildings. They are also great at tearing through timber joists, plasterboard and nails to get a partition or timber extension down quicker than using hand tools.

They are also good for cutting timber when remodelling. They are ideal for cutting all types of wooden board and wooden frames for the placement of windows and doors. So if you want to know how to build a partition wall, a reciprocating saw is a tool that you'll need. 

What's more, they're good for shaping plasterboard and good for cutting plastic piping for any plumbing jobs.

Outside of demolition and remodelling, a reciprocating saw can be used for sawing through nails, metal sheeting, and pipes. They are also used for more specialist jobs such as cutting concrete, stone, ceramic tile and even glass. 

 What is the Difference Between a Reciprocating Saw and a Jigsaw? 

Reciprocating saws and jigsaws are similar in that they both have the back and forth motion of a handsaw and are available in corded and cordless models. But that’s where the similarities end. 

While a reciprocating saw has a horizontal design where the blade is in front of the saw, a jigsaw’s blade is vertical and underneath the saw.  

A reciprocating saw is typically more powerful, has bigger blades, needs two hands to use and can cut through more materials. A jigsaw is a good tool for laminate flooring and more intricate jobs such as accurately cutting wood in straight lines and is ideal for creating curved cuts.   

What Depth can a Reciprocating Saw Cut? 

This depends on the material being cut. A reciprocating saw can cut through almost any material if the right blade is being used. But as a general guideline you won’t be able to cut anything that is thicker than 10-12 inches in diameter. 

This is dictated by blade length and helps prevent the motor being overworked and burning out. 

Are All Reciprocating Saw Blades the Same? 

Yes and No. To answer the first part most reciprocating saw blades are universal when it comes to their fitment. So if you buy a blade it should fit your reciprocating saw even if it's not the blade you want or need.

However, there are different types of blades for different jobs. What you need to look out for is the material the blade is made from, how many teeth it has and how long the blade is. 

What are Reciprocating Saw Blades Made From? 

High carbon steel blades (HCS) are the most commonly used blade. These are ideal for most DIY jobs such as cutting through softwoods, plasterboard and plastic.

The next step up are bi-metal blades which add other metals to high carbon steel for a stronger, more robust heat resistant blade. These can cut some metals as well.

Carbide tipped blades are similar to bi-metal blades, but as the name suggests they have carbide tips. This makes them longer lasting and they are good for cutting metal.

Diamond tipped blades are considered the best in the world of reciprocating saw blades offering strength and precision. These are generally used by pros for cutting cement, masonry and glass. 

What Sizes do Blades Come in? 

Saw blade lengths range from 3-12 inches with 6 and 9-inch being the most commonly used. Obviously the length dictates what size you can cut. It is much more difficult to cut something six inches thick with a 4-inch blade. But the shorter the blade the more rigid it is when cutting.

TPI is also key when it comes to blades.

What Does TPI Mean and Why is it Important?

TPI means teeth per inch and blades ranges from 3 - 24 TPI. The lower the number of teeth the quicker the cut. The higher the number of teeth the cleaner the cut. For rough wood cuts, 5-8 TPI is best, for metal and plastic cutting 14-24 TPI is a good choice. 

Steve Jenkins

Steve is Homebuilding & Renovating's DIY content editor, and has been a writer and editor for two decades. He is an avid DIYer with over 20 years of experience in transforming and renovating homes. He specialises in painting and decorating, but has strong all-round building skills, having previously worked in the industry for 10 years.