One of the power tools that probably appears last on the 'tools-to-own' list of most DIYers is the under-appreciated reciprocating saw or recip saw (also known as a sawzall in the US). However, the recip saw has many different roles to play in DIY building jobs and especially in any sort of demolition work, and as a consequence is slowly becoming one of the power tools that DIYers as well as tradesmen will always have ready at hand as part of their general tooling kit.
With its recent increasing popularity, more and more makes and models of the recip saw have appeared on the scene, and choosing the best reciprocating saw for oneself today can be more of a challenge. In this review of reciprocating saws, we first look at some of the many uses of this saw type as well as the features and technical specifications to look for when buying one. We then examine what actual reciprocating saws are available to the UK consumer towards the end of the page.
Uses of a Reciprocating Saw
The reciprocating saw can be almost thought of as a powered hacksaw as it uses blades which are not unlike hacksaw blades that are powered by an electric motor to generate the backwards and forwards cutting motion similar to a jigsaw. Unlike using a manual hacksaw however, the speed of the sawing action is very much accelerated, providing a fast and clean cut with minimal effort. As a consequence, the recip saw is unlike most other power saws and can often be the only power tool that can get a particular job done with any sort of efficiency. Reciprocating saws are especially invaluable when sawing in tight spaces or at odd angles, as well as in timber that has hidden nails or other metal elements within it. And the recip saw is not limited to just cutting timber, with the right blade, the reciprocating saw can cut through a range of materials including metal and plastic as well.
As a consequence of the wide variety of different types of blades that are available for the recip saw, the saw is used by a range of different trades and in a variety of different situations. For example, the recip saw is particularly useful for removing or remodelling assembled studwork timber in stud walls and other similar structures, as the large nails in studwork are usually hammered into the wood at awkward angles and are often difficult to remove. The recip saw can usually quickly dispatch them often without doing any damage to the timber itself (as shown in the video clip below).
Another typical use of the recip saw is the shaving off of a small section of timber without having to disassemble the whole structure (see video clip below).
Recip saws are also the saw that is often turned to when some substantial cutting needs to be done at elevated heights, such as when perched up a ladder or when needing to hold a power saw over one’s head. This is because using a recip saw is a lot easier to control and safer than equivalent power saws like a circular saw. Recip saws can also be used to make plunge cuts in a variety of materials rather than having to buy a dedicated plunge saw for the task (see video clip below).
Finally, recip saws are not just used by DIYers and tradesmen but also by gardeners who need to cut through thick branches or other natural wooden structures that garden tools have difficulty handling.
What to look for in a Reciprocating Saw
Now that you have had a taste of the many different uses of the reciprocating saw, you probably want to go out there and give one a go yourself. For many of us, the only option to get our hands on one, is to go out and buy it. Today, there are several different brands and models of recip saw available, some well known, others not so much, and each with its own unique characteristics and specifications. So what should one look for when buying a reciprocating saw? Let’s have a look…..
Corded vs cordless
As always with power tools of today, one of the first decisions to make when buying a new machine is the choice of the type of power system that will run it. The situation is no different for the reciprocating saw where both corded and cordless electric options are available. As is so often the case with power tools, the decision on which type is best is very much dependent on how one will be using the tool, personal preference, as well as the type of DIYer or tradesman one is. However, in basic terms, if the recip saw will be used for long stretches cutting through tougher materials, then the corded variety should be preferred over the cordless type. This is because corded reciprocating saws have more power and can accept bigger blades, all of which leads to being able to make unlimited bigger and faster cuts. On the other hand, corded recip saws cannot be used where the mains power supply is inaccessible, or when dragging along a power cable behind it is tedious or dangerous, such as when working up a ladder or on scaffolding. In these cases, a cordless recip saw is the way to go, and choosing one that fits with the brand of battery system of one’s other power tools, so that batteries can be used interchangeably, should be the brand to prioritise.
Brushed vs brushless
For cordless recip saws, another decision to make is whether the power tool's electric motor is of the traditional brushed variety or of the newer brushless kind. Although brushless corded (mains-powered) power tools do exist (such as this Festool Carvex PS 420 EBQ-Plus jigsaw), they are very few and far-between, so this criteria really only applies to battery-operated tools.
As the name indicates, the make up of a traditional brushed electric motor involves the use of small carbon brushes that facilitate the electrical connection to the rotating core of the motor. Brushless motors, in contrast, obviate the need for these brushes giving them several advantages over their brushed brethren:
As one can see, brushless electric motor technology represents the latest in power tool designs. In general, one should always try to pick the brushless version of a power tool over its traditional brushed variety. Indeed, these days brushless machines are becoming increasingly more commonplace especially when it comes to cordless power tools.
Different reciprocating saws often have different input power ratings. Going for the highest powered recip saw that is within one’s budget is the way to go here as the higher the power the tougher the materials the saw can handle. Higher power also means that larger blades can be used which translates into deeper cuts.
Saw stroke length
Similar to power, the larger the degree to which the blade oscillates or the stroke of the saw, the quicker and more aggressive the cut the recip saw is able to make, so aiming for a recip saw with the largest saw stroke that one can afford is what one should aim for when buying a new machine.
Maximum depth of cut in wood
This is mostly the result of a combination of both power and saw stroke which will determine the maximum ‘depth’ of cut a recip saw will be able to make. When talking about ‘depth’ here, it actually refers to the maximum ‘width’ of the wood that the recip can tackle. In other words, the maximum depth of cut is really determined by the longest blade that the recip saw can operate effectively.
Tool-less blade clamp
Older and perhaps less reputable brands of recip saw will require the use of an Allen wrench when changing and securing the blade to the saw. However, the majority of modern reputable reciprocating saws today use a tool-less system so that blades can be quickly changed in order to tackle a variety of different jobs with the least amount of down-time. The tool-less variety of recip saw should be the type of recip saw to aim for.
As an aside, most recip saw blades today have a universal fitment, meaning that they will fit into just about any brand of reciprocating saw on the market. Consequently, most of the time, one does not need to be too concerned with the availability of the right blade fitment when choosing a recip saw. Blades can usually be fitted with the cutting teeth facing downwards or upwards and, on some machines, can even be pointed out to the side giving the reciprocating saw added versatility.
Foot length adjustment
The foot (also sometimes referred to as the fence or shoe) is the frontmost structure on the recip saw and is usually pressed up against the material being sawn for better control of the cut. Consequently, the recip saw foot often feels loose and can pivot to lie flat against the surface. However, on some reciprocating saws, the foot can also be adjusted in length so that it can be set closer to or further away from the main body of the saw. This provides control of how deep the blade penetrates the material being sawn. The foot length adjustment is also useful for ensuring the use of different parts of the blade so that blade wear can be more evenly distributed, thereby extending its useful life. Most recip saws today make use of an Allen wrench for the foot length adjustment as it is not something that needs to be done frequently. However, some power tool manufacturers have now started to implement a tool-less system for improved recip saw functionality.
The overwhelming majority of reciprocating saws today have variable speed implemented either through variable trigger pressure or through a bespoke variable speed dial on the machine. As a result, this is not really a feature that one usually needs to look out for when buying a recip saw unless buying a truly unheard-of brand. Being able to control the speed of the blade oscillation on the recip saw can be useful for accuracy in plunge and other cuts where an initial slow speed can be used to ‘score’ the cutting line and then raising the speed as the blade penetrates into the material. Variable speed on reciprocating saws is also useful for cutting different materials more effectively. For example, a slower speed can be used to cut through metal to prevent the blade from over-heating.
Now that we have a good idea of what to look for when choosing a recip saw, let us now take a look at what recip saws are on offer to us here in the UK.
Popular CORDED Reciprocating Saws in the UK
|Bosch PSA 700 E|
no longer available
|Bosch PSA 900E|
|Bosch GSA 1100E|
SPM: Strokes Per Minute.
Popular CORDLESS Reciprocating Saws in the UK
n/a: not adjustable - the length of the foot is fixed.
SPM: Strokes Per Minute
** Weight includes battery pack(s). The use of different battery pack capacities changes the overall weight of the recip saw.
Reciprocating Saw Reviews
Bosch PSA 700 E Recip Saw Review
The PSA 700 E is a sturdy, robust and high-quality reciprocating saw from the reputable German company, Bosch. It is a simple recip saw, designed for the DIY user on a budget and comes with a minimum of features and accessories but with Bosch-level quality. Like most other recip saws on the market, the Bosch PSA 700 E is ideally suited for cutting through thick roots or branches in the garden as well as fencing or other types of materials in situ around the home.
Feature-wise, the Bosch PSA 700 E recip saw has a relatively low-powered brushed motor of 710W and a relatively short saw stroke length of only 20 mm. These modest specifications limit the maximum thickness of wood that it can cut through to approximately 150 mm, while in steel, the Bosch saw can cut up to 10 mm in thickness when using a metal-cutting blade. The Bosch recip saw also has a maximum oscillation rate of 2700 strokes per min (SPM) but has a variable speed trigger that allows the operator greater control over the cutting speed, useful when cutting different materials. Releasing the trigger also stops the cutting stroke quickly, allowing the saw to be put down immediately after use as well as increasing overall safety.
The Bosch PSA 700 E reciprocating saw also comes with a quick and easy-to-use tool-less blade clamp system that accepts most of the common reciprocating saw blade types and is operated by simply flipping a lever when installing a blade or removing one. The blade is typically fitted in the downward cutting direction, however, it can also be installed inverted on the recip saw, with the cutting teeth pointing upwards, ideal for cutting from below a workpiece.
Although the foot of the Bosch recip saw automatically adjusts to the surface it is pushed against, its length can only be adjusted using a hex key, unlike the tool-less foot-adjusting mechanisms of some of its competitor recip saws. Weight-wise, the Bosch recip saw is about average for this type of power tool coming in at 3 kg. This gives the saw a good weighty feel to it, emphasising its robust construction, but also makes the machine sufficiently heavy to make it tiring to manipulate if being used over an extended period.
On the more negative side, the power cord length on the Bosch PSA 700 E is about 2.5m in length which is a bit on the short side especially since the typical uses of this machine are in the garden where power sockets are likely to be some distance away. Fortunately, however, this power tool can be operated from an electrical extension cord, although if working at an elevated height, will also add to the overall weight and awkwardness of operating the power tool.
However, the most significant negative with the Bosch recip saw is the lack of a safety switch, with the machine turning on simply by pressing the trigger. This represents a bit of a safety hazard, especially for such a bulky and heavy power tool, since one is naturally inclined to lift the device by its handle making it easy to inadvertently press the trigger when doing so.
Other downsides with the Bosch PSA 700 E reciprocating saw have mainly to do with the accessories that come with it rather than with the tool itself. Firstly, only one wood blade is included with the recip saw, which does not last long and can only be used to cut timber. This means that new owners will need to go back to the marketplace to source additional wood blade replacements as well as blades for cutting other materials soon after purchase. The Bosch PSA 700 E recip saw also lacks an accompanying carry case, making storage and transportation of this bulky power tool more difficult.
Overall, the Bosch PSA 700 E reciprocating saw is a basic recip saw with a minimum of features designed for the DIYer. Although made in China (as opposed to where one might expect a German tool to be made), it still has Bosch-level quality in its design and build, and can still be procured at a reasonable price. Most users will use this type of saw for cutting garden timber in place of a chainsaw, where it represents a safer alternative, requiring less adjusting and sharpening maintenance. So if you are in the market for a well-made garden cutting saw without all the bells and whistles of extra features found on other less reputable competitors, then the Bosch PSA 700 E recip saw should be a candidate to consider.
Tacklife RPRS01A Recip Saw Review
(no longer available)
The Tacklife RPRS01A reciprocating saw is one of the best options to consider when choosing a recip saw for DIY work. The Tacklife recip saw is a fully-featured, well-built power tool with a solid feel to it, and is decently priced so as not to break the bank of the ordinary consumer. This power saw may not have the pedigree or be made from the same high quality of materials as some premium brand-name machines, but it will nonetheless do an admirable job when used for lower-intensity demolition work or branch-cutting in the garden.
The Tacklife RPRS01A sports a reasonably powerful 850W motor and has a saw stroke oscillation length of 28 mm. Together with a maximum 2800 strokes per minute oscillation speed, the Tacklife machine is able to cut through up to 180mm of timber - not the largest cutting capacity but not bad either. The oscillation speed on the RPRS01A is also adjustable so that an optimal velocity can be selected to tackle a range of materials, including up to 10 mm of metal, as long as the correct blade is used.
Other features of the machine include a universal-type blade clamp system that allows a wide range of blade brands to fit the Tacklife saw. This makes it quite easy to find material-specific replacement blades for the Tacklife machine once the included starter ones have been used up. The blade clamp system is tool-less, which makes the process of changing blades on the saw a simple process. The saw also features a tool-less foot adjustment, which is operated through an integral lever at the front of the tool’s body. This makes the foot adjustment on the RPRS01A a breeze, especially compared to most other consumer recip saws.
Another unique feature of the Tacklife RPRS01A machine is the ability to rotate the front section of the power saw around its long axis. This allows the blade’s angle of attack to be better oriented for tackling different jobs, while still keeping the handgrip of the machine in the same ideal vertical position for the user. Having the recip saw blade with teeth oriented to the side or upwards is useful for awkward or hard-to-reach cutting jobs. Few, if any, other recip saw brands achieve this level of versatility, and this feature, in particular, is most often appreciated by DIY novices and experienced builders alike.
But the feature list on the Tacklife RPRS01A does not stop there. The Tacklife recip saw also possesses an LED light positioned at the front of the tool, useful for lighting up the cutting area. The light comes in handy for darker indoor environments, although it cannot be switched off when not needed, such as outdoors where it cannot compete with natural sunlight.
To top things off, the Tacklife recip saw also has an ample three-metre power cord that should be sufficient for most DIY-er needs, and the power tool also comes in its own blow-moulded plastic case that makes transporting and storing the power tool a pleasure to do. The Tacklife recip saw also comes with a couple of blades, including one that tackles wood only, and another that can handle both metal and wood. However, the included blades are mere ‘starter’ blades of dubious quality, so one should not expect them to last very long at all. Getting higher-quality replacement blades will anyway produce superior results from the Tacklife recip saw.
Negatives for the Tacklife RPRS01A reciprocating saw are few, however, one rather significant flaw on the Tacklife tool comes with the design of the power lock-on button. This is located in a position that leaves it vulnerable to being inadvertently pressed on while using the recip saw. This has some quite serious safety implications, as the saw will continue to operate even after the user releases the trigger. This problem is particularly prominent with left-handed users of the tool whose hand and finger positions make them even more susceptible to switching on the lock-on button accidentally.
Another negative with the Tacklife RPRS01A reciprocating saw is something more benign, coming in the form of significantly greater weight than to its competitors. In fact, the Tacklife RPRS01A is one of the heaviest (if not the heaviest) recip saws on the market with a weight of 4.3 kg, making it a good kilogram above most of its rivals. This means that using the Tacklife recip saw will tire out operators more quickly and make using the saw more difficult in less accessible locations.
In conclusion, the Tacklife RPRS01A reciprocating saw is an excellent budget saw for the DIYer. It may not have the brand-name quality that is typical of premium power tool brands, but it is certainly packed with a variety of useful features that will make it a joy to use. It does have a couple of shortcomings, but with a little patience when using the machine, these should not pose too significant an issue for most users. So if you need a good recip saw that does not cost an arm and a leg (figuratively-speaking that is!), the Tacklife RPRS01A reciprocating saw may be just the thing.