How to Use a Reciprocating Saw

A reciprocating saw can cut and rip out many materials, which is why they’re very popular among construction workers. If you’re wondering how to use one, you’ll find that it’s actually not that complicated at all.

To use a reciprocating saw, you just have to attach the right blade, mark the cut, position the shoe, turn the saw on and allow the blade to reach full speed, push the blade into the material, and release the trigger when you’re done cutting.

Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? There just are a few extra things you have to keep in mind to make the most out of your reciprocating saw and to ensure you work safely, so keep reading this guide if you want to learn everything you need to know about reciprocating saws.

How Does a Reciprocating Saw Work?

Reciprocating Saw

A reciprocating saw has a thin blade with jagged teeth that moves back and forth in a reciprocating motion that gives it its name to cut through a variety of materials. The user only has to hold the blade in place and let the blade do all the work, sawing back and forth either downwards or upwards to slice through many different materials.

While the design of this saw somewhat limits its application for precise and angular cuts, nothing beats it when it comes to simple cuts on large pieces.

If you have a newer model, then it probably has a variable speed control system and a lock-off switch that enables you to select the force of the saw according to the material you’re going to cut.

One last thing that’s very important in terms of how a reciprocating saw works is, obviously, the motor. The power of the motor is what determines the capacity of the blade. This means that the greater the power, the faster and better the blade performs.

How to Select a Reciprocating Saw Blade

Cutting PVC with a Reciprocating Saw

Now, let’s discuss reciprocating saw blade types. There are many tooth designs available for different materials and uses, so getting the right one for your project ensures everything goes smoothly and, more importantly, safely.

Typically, reciprocating saw blades specify on their package what material they’re meant to cut. These are some of the most common ones you can find at your nearest hardware or home improvement store:

  • Wood cutting blades ⁠— for cutting most types of wood, tree branches, and other soft materials. They’re made of high carbon and steel and have 5 to 10 teeth per inch (TPI).
  • Metal cutting blades — used with harder and thicker materials like aluminum. They have fine teeth that can give you a slower, but smoother cut. They usually start at 10 TPI and can go as high as 24 TPI.
  • Carbide-tipped blades — used with even harder metals such as cast iron and stainless steel, and with a low TPI count, you can even slice through concrete, stone, and brick. These are rather expensive blades.
  • Carbide grit blades — for masonry and cutting tile because they have an abrasive strip instead of teeth that allows them to make cleaner cuts.
  • Diamond grit blades — are the most expensive blades of them all. They’re designed to work with brittle materials, such as glass, that would be otherwise destroyed by toothed blades, and for harder materials like concrete and cast iron that would ruin other blades.

As regards the TPI count, a good rule of thumb is that the fewer teeth per inch, the faster the cutting goes. However, the blade will leave a rougher finish as well. Blades with low TPI (between 6 and 9 TPI) are meant for wood cutting, medium TPI (between 10 and 14 TPI) is optimal for cutting PVC and thin metals, and high TPI (higher than 14 TPI) is what you should go for when working with for dense metals.

Once you know what type of blade you need and the TPI required for your project, make sure to choose a blade that’s about 2 to 3 inches (5.1 to 7.6 cm) longer than the thickness of the material you’re cutting through. This guarantees that the blade won’t wobble around as you cut.

How to Change a Reciprocating Saw Blade

Reciprocating Saw Blade

If you’re a seasoned DIYer who’s been handling reciprocating saws for a while now, then you’re probably familiar with the hassle of using an Allen wrench to loosen and tighten the blade whenever you needed to switch to a different one.

Luckily, changing blades is relatively easy in new models because they’re tool-free, which means you can switch blades using only your hands. As usual, we recommend reading the manufacturer’s instructions for your specific saw, but here are some general instructions on how to change a reciprocating saw blade in five simple steps:

  1. Unplug the saw and remove the battery.
  2. Find the button to unlock the chuck (if you’ve never used a reciprocating saw before, check the user manual to find out where the button is located).
  3. Press it down, and holding it until you insert the blade.
  4. Slide the blade into the slot, and release the button to secure it in the saw. Give the blade a light tug to make sure that it’s set properly.
  5. Adjust the shoe (the metal piece around the base of the blade) to help you have better control of the saw, and adjust its length.

Changing the blade of your reciprocating saw is quite easy and won’t take longer than a few minutes once you’re familiar with the different parts of the tool.

Prepping the Material and Workspace

Knowing exactly what you’re using the reciprocating saw for is crucial. The type of material you’re cutting determines the type of blade and the speed setting you’re going to need for optimal performance.

If you’re going to use the saw for demolition work, then accuracy is probably not the most important factor to consider, so you can simply skip this section and start cutting right away. However, if you do require a certain level of precision, then preparing your workspace and getting the right tools and supplies ready is important for the job to go smoothly.

So, let’s get started!

You’re going to need a pencil or marker, measuring tape, and a straightedge for straight cuts, or a compass for curved cuts.

Measure and draw a line to mark the place you want to cut on the material. If possible, clamp the material to your workstation using C-clamps to tighten it in place. Make sure that the section you’re cutting overhangs your workstation, and that there’s nothing on the floor that can be damaged when it falls after cutting it.

As with any kind of project that involves using power tools, declutter your workspace and remove any objects and debris on the floor that could make you trip and fall.

Lastly, check the sharpness of your blade. A dull blade will tear through your piece, which could send debris in your direction, and it also increases the risk of kickback.

Now, we can move on to how to use a reciprocating saw for cutting.

How to Use a Reciprocating Saw Step-by-Step

Cutting Wooden Floor with a Reciprocating Saw

Put your safety gear on. While working with a reciprocating saw, you should wear safety glasses and earplugs. This tool can be very noisy, and kick back and throw debris your way, so it’s important to protect your ears and eyes from potential damage.

An optional item you can wear for further protection is a dust mask, especially if you’re going to be working long hours.

Once you’re ready, this is how to use a reciprocating saw step-by-step:

  1. Hold the reciprocating saw firmly with both hands to ensure its stability, grabbing the front of the saw just behind the chuck with your non-dominant hand to support the tool’s weight.
  2. Position the recip saw blade at the end of the marked line so that the shoe sits flat against the surface, and the blade is perpendicular to it.
  3. Turn the saw on and allow it to reach full speed. The blade shouldn’t touch the material at all just yet, otherwise, it won’t make a clean cut once you start the saw.

If your saw has a variable speed setting, use a fast one for soft materials like wood or drywall, and a slow one for hard materials, so you don’t damage and break the blade.

  1. Keeping the shoe pressed firmly against the material you’re cutting, slowly push the blade along the line you’ve marked. You can try changing the angle of the saw blade as you slice through your workpiece to cut faster by reducing the surface area.

The saw should do most of the work, so you only need to make sure to keep the blade straight as you make your cut.

If you’re using the reciprocating saw to trim branches off of a tree, try to make your cuts as close to the main trunk as possible.

Keep in mind that If you’re making a plunge cut into a wall, there might be cables or pipes behind that the saw will cut through like a hot knife through butter.

  1. Release the trigger when you reach the end of your cut, and then pull the saw out. Don’t try to do it the other way around (i.e. pulling the saw out before releasing the trigger) because the blade could catch and kick back pieces of material toward you.

When you’re working with thicker or denser material, you might find that gently rocking the saw while you cut helps you go faster. This is because the rocking motion engages fewer teeth, allowing the blade to focus on a smaller section of the cut as you go, and clearing the way for the next stroke.

Safety Considerations

Cutting pipe with a reciprocating saw

Any tool can be dangerous when mishandled, even more so when it’s the first time you’re using one. So, here are some safety tips that will help you ensure that you’re operating the reciprocating saw safely.

  • Always wear your safety gear (safety goggles, hearing protection, and a dust mask), and avoid wearing any loose clothing and jewelry.
  • Make sure you know where the wires or pipes are when you’re cutting near finished walls and floors so you don’t accidentally slice through them.
  • Always unplug the saw and remove the battery before changing blades or attaching any accessories.
  • Never touch the blade after you stop cutting as it will be very hot. Let it cool down before removing it, and make sure you’re wearing gloves.
  • If you’re working on a ladder, keep an eye out for kickback if it gets stuck in the material you’re cutting. It’s not a good idea to cut thick wood while on a ladder.

Reciprocating Saw Maintenance

Maintaining your reciprocating saw ensures that it will perform at its best for years to come. Luckily, this is quite easy to do as there’s no oil, adjustments, or calibrations required. Just follow these simple tips:

  • Make sure you keep the saw clean and free of any debris or lingering sawdust. Wipe the saw’s body off with a dry rag after you’ve finished using it and it’s cooled down.
  • To clear out the insides, you can use a vacuum cleaner, a blower, or just a breath of air.
  • Never use harsh chemicals to clean your saw, as they can damage product parts that are made of rubber and plastic.
  • Check the power cord for any damage before using the saw.
  • Remove the batteries before storing the saw.

Frequently Asked Questions

Cutting with a reciprocating saw

Can you cut straight with a reciprocating saw?

You certainly can, but if you’ve never used a reciprocating saw before, it’s going to take some practice because you can get it right. We recommend practicing on a scrap piece of wood and drawing a line to guide your cutting.

How thick of wood can a reciprocating saw cut?

It will depend on the blades you have. The longer the blade, the deeper you can cut. The thicker the blade, the less bending, and wobbling you’ll experience. Heavy-duty blades, for example, can be either 7/8-inches wide or 0.062-inches thick.

Conclusion

Learning how to operate a reciprocating saw is not really rocket science, you just have to be careful and practice a bit first if you’re a beginner.

We’ve walked you through the most important aspects of using a reciprocating saw, from how to select a blade and change it to how to actually use the tool, and some safety and maintenance tips to get the most out of it.

Now you can hopefully start tackling some demo jobs like a pro!

Liam Weissman

Hello and welcome to PowerToolGenius! My name is Liam and for the last 9 years, I have worked extensively with various power tools and accessories. I have tested hundreds of different brands and models and understand the industry extensively and have been working with tools my entire life!

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