How to Cut Trees with a Reciprocating Saw

How to Cut Trees with a Reciprocating Saw

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As spring and summer roll around in your area, you may have begun to notice the wooden parts of your property looking a bit shaggy. The warm season often brings about new growth, so it only makes sense that this would be a good time for trimming back branches and cutting out troublesome underbrush.

But the question remains – what power saw is best suited for this kind of routine outdoor maintenance?

As it turns out, a reciprocating saw can be used to perform both tasks reliably.

In fact, many DIYers consider this type of saw to be one of the most useful power tools when it comes to cutting trees and tree branches. You, too, can learn to make use of your reciprocating saw for this purpose by reading this guide’s step-by-step implementation method.

This guide will even provide you with some spot-on tips for taking your tree trimming process to the next level.

Can You Use a Reciprocating Saw to Cut Trees?

Generally speaking, the answer here is…yes, you absolutely can use a reciprocating saw to cut trees. In fact, the rapid push-and-pull action of this kind of saw, combined with its saw tooth blades, allows it to efficiently work through modest amounts of green wood.

That being said, a reciprocating saw cannot necessarily do it all when it comes to tree cutting. Most saws come with a recommendation to not cut anything larger than 12 inches in diameter, in fact. This is to prevent overworking the blade and motor, as well as to ensure that pinching doesn’t slow down your blade’s operation.

Still, though, a reciprocating saw can be put to great use out in the yard when it comes to pruning or cutting down small sapling trees.

Pruning Trees with a Reciprocating Saw

If you are planning on cutting larger branches or trees, though, you still have one very reliable option available. That is, of course, the chainsaw, which is the undisputed master of cutting up trees and branches of any size. With just a little practice and training, you can use these power saws to slice up whole trees and even thick gauge branches. To learn more, read my article about how to cut trees using a chainsaw.

Electric stick saws are also available, which are excellent for reaching up and cutting high up branches.


How to Cut Trees Using a Reciprocating Saw

With the basics out of the way, let’s get to work and look at how to actually cut trees using a reciprocating saw, step by step.

Step 1: Put on PPE

Before even picking up your reciprocating saw, you need to prepare yourself for the task ahead by donning the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE).

In all likelihood, you’ll be working outdoors and encountering a fair bit of saw dust as you complete your trimming project. So, it would make good sense to wear eye and mouth protection to prevent said saw dust from bothering your lungs or eyes.

Also, using a power saw outdoors comes with some added risks.

To help mitigate those, you should always wear fitted clothing while operating your reciprocating saw. This prevents the risk of loose clothing catching your saw’s blade while it is in motion.

You may also consider wearing ear protection if the repetitive saw noises bother you.

Step 2: Choose the Right Blade and Set the Shoe

After donning all of the proper PPE, you’ll be able to begin preparing your saw for the job ahead.

This includes picking out a blade that is properly sized to make your tree trimming job both effective and efficient. To do this, start by measuring the diameter of the largest branch you intend to cut. Add about 2 inches to that length and you’ll have the proper blade length you’ll need to finish your entire trimming job.

As for the actual blade type, you’ll be interested to know that many reciprocating saws are compatible with wood trimming-specific blades. These blades feature teeth that are sized and spaced to allow for efficient passes through fresh and treated wood. These may also be referred to as “pruning” blades when produced by some brands.

Regardless of what they are called, they are your best pick for cutting trees.

Pruning Reciprocating Saw Blade

While you are inserting your chosen blade, you’ll also want to adjust your unit’s shoe. This is done so that the saw is able to reliably hold its position while working through a cut. There isn’t a “perfect” shoe setting, so experiment and find which depth setting works best for your trimming job.

Step 3: Find the Collar and Begin Cutting

Once your reciprocating saw is fully adjusted, you’ll be ready to begin the trimming process.

To do this, you’ll want to find the collar on your first target branch. The “collar” in this case refers to the base of a branch where it extents either from the tree trunk or another branch. Cutting through the collar provides for a cleaner finish when the trimming job is complete.

With the collar in sight, you can finally turn on your reciprocating saw and position its blade. From there, you can begin to work your reciprocating saw’s blade through the targeted branch. This will send out a stream of sawdust, so be prepared.

Cut Trees with a Recip Saw

Step 4: (If Needed) Cut from Both Sides

In practice, some tree branches are simply too dense or too heavy to cut with a reciprocating saw without putting oneself in danger. To avoid this problem, always make sure you and others around you are clear of the branch’s drop zone.

Also, consider cutting about halfway through your target branch from the bottom. Then, complete the cut by slicing through from the top. This tends to help even heavy branches fall straight down, thus preventing the troubling process where large branches begin to split and splinter as they are cut.

Tips & Tricks

If you’re looking to really speed up your tree trimming process, consider trying out these tips the next time your fire up the reciprocating saw:

  • Always use a rocking motion when placing your activated saw blade against a branch. This allows the blade to cover more of the branch’s diameter and allows the blade’s teeth to more efficiently cut through the branch’s fresh fibers.
  • Maintain a consistent amount of pressure on your saw as it cuts. This includes maintaining pressure on the front grip point, which can prevent the blade from hopping about during a cut.
  • Be sure that your unit’s shoe remains tight. Repetitive use can cause a reciprocating saw’s shoe to compress, which in turn causes the whole unit to vibrate more. Proper shoe adjustment also allows for more consistent pressure to remain on the blade during a cut.


So, now you know the truth about cutting trees with a reciprocating saw. Not only can you do it, but you should do it if you want to make quick work of small and mid-sized branches and underbrush.

All you need to do is follow the steps and tips outlined above before you’re able to use your reciprocating saw for all of your outdoor pruning jobs going forward. Actually, one other thing you might want to do is check my list of things not to do when cutting down trees.

If you’re wondering about which reciprocating saw to get, check this article. You should also check my general guide to using a reciprocating saw.