What Is a Reciprocating Saw?

One saw which seems to confuse many people is the reciprocating saw. There are many types of electric saws on the market today and choosing the correct one for a project may, to some people, seem like a confusing experience. Not everyone is aware of the types and functions of all of the saws they see in the DIY store.

What Does a Reciprocating Saw Do?

The saw itself is quite aptly named. The word ‘reciprocate’ basically means to return. Therefore, the principle of this saw is a basic forward and backward motion. The blade of a reciprocating saw looks very similar to the blades used in jigsaws, but it is slightly differently shaped. A reciprocating saw works on the same principle as an electric carving knife, which many people will be familiar with. It can, to the same degree, be used in replacement if a jigsaw if one is not present. Reciprocating saws also have a vertical motion allowing the user to cut through a flat surface area, for example cutting a round surface out of a flat area of wood. Because of the way the saw works it saws through thicker wood at a better rate and quality that a jigsaw would do.

How it Works

The idea of the reciprocating saw came from the two-man saws used by lumberjacks, where one man on each end of the saw would pull and then the man on the other end of the saw would pull in the opposite direction, eventually cutting down the tree. This was very hard labor and since the invention of electric reciprocating saws these have taken precedent over manual tools.

Reciprocating saws are also known as oscillating saws, recipro saws or Sawzall (which is a Brand name saw from the Milwaukee Electric Tool company).

What Styles Are There?

There are many different designs, ranging in power, speed, and features. There are the smaller handheld models that are usually shaped a lot like a cordless drill and are very suitable for home use in smaller project like model making or small items of furniture. There are also the larger models which are usually corded and are used in a more professional capacity.

Most reciprocating saws have variable speeds, working, either through trigger sensitivity or via a dial on the saw. A newer, more recent feature is to include an ‘orbital’ action. The oscillating reciprocation works in up and down motion causing the tip of the blade to move in an oval pattern, up and down as well as back and forth, which allows the user to cut circles.


Reciprocating saws to not have a guard on them to prevent the blade from cutting if handled carelessly. Always ensure that the saw is switched off before and after use and that you have allowed the blade motor to come to a complete stop before you lay the saw on any surface. If your saw has a ‘trigger’ action, remove your finger from it when you wish to stop the saw. Some saws have a lock switch or button to ensure that they cannot be turned on without pushing the button. This is an excellent safety feature.

To check out reciprocating saws at your local DIY store, just go into the tool section and have a look at the display models and see if a reciprocating saw is suitable for your needs on a project.