How to Use a Reciprocating Saw

How to Use a Reciprocating Saw (...And What For)

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While working on a construction or demolition site, you’ve likely noticed that there are a lot of saws to choose from. With all of those options available to you, you may be wondering why you’d choose a reciprocating saw over any other power saw.

The truth is that the reciprocating saw is one of the most versatile power tools available to contractors and DIYers alike. Though their function is simple, these saws are able to efficiently tear into a variety of materials based upon their blade type. Better yet, a reciprocating saw is fairly easy to use, so long as you’ve received proper safety training.

Even so, numerous DIYers and even some contractors don’t know how to use a reciprocating saw yet. This guide should remedy that problem in a hurry by highlighting the steps needed to safely and successfully handle a standard reciprocating saw. This guide will also highlight numerous uses for these saws, as well as some tips to get you up to speed with this vital piece of construction and demolition hardware.

4 Common Reciprocating Saw Uses

While you can use a reciprocating saw to accomplish a multiplicity of worksite jobs, these are the four most common fields in which they are used. As such, if you routinely engage in any of the following job types, you’ll find a reciprocating saw to be a major asset.

If you want more ideas on what to do with your reciprocating saw, read this article.

#1: Demolition

First and foremost, you are bound to see a reciprocating saw on a demolition site.

That’s because their elongated blades and extended form factor allow them to flexibly slice through a wide variety of materials. By changing blades, a reciprocating saw can be used to cut through wood, metal, and even stone and concrete in some cases.

Using Reciprocating Saw for Demolition

#2: Nail Cutting

As noted, a reciprocating saw can cut through a wide variety of materials with ease. In particular, you’ll be able to use your reciprocating saw to cut through nails efficiently in a fashion similar to using an angle grinder for the same task.

Doing so only requires a bit of user force, too, so it is well within this saw’s capabilities. This is particularly useful while creating a new door frame for example, which requires you to cut free the frame’s old nails.

#3: Tree Pruning

Homeowners often use reciprocating saws to perform outdoor pruning jobs.

Given their light, portable form factor, reciprocating saws can easily be used for this purpose without excessively straining the user. They’re also way more practical than a chainsaw, especially for first-time users.

Using Reciprocating Saw for Pruning

#4: Plumbing

Plumbers also often keep a reciprocating saw close at hand, especially one mounted with a metal-cutting blade. These blades allow a plumber to efficiently slice through piping without needing to whip out a hacksaw.

A reciprocating saw can also help a plumber cut the holes and notches needed to successfully lay down new piping.

How to Use a Reciprocating Saw

Now that you know what you can use your reciprocating saw for, let’s get into the nitty-gritty of how to actually use it properly.

Step 1: Unplug the Saw and Don Safety Gear

First off, you should always pay close attention to safety when using an open-bladed power tool like a reciprocating saw. As such, any use of this appliance should start by unplugging it (to prevent accidental activation).

Once that is done, you should don any safety equipment appropriate to your current job site. To use a reciprocating saw safely, this should include long-sleeve clothing as well as eye, ear, and mouth protection.

Also, this time should be used to ensure that there will be no unsafe interference (such as a live wire) within your targeted cutting surface.

Step 2: Choose a Blade and Insert

Next up, you should pick out the correct reciprocating saw blade based upon the job at hand.

For example, if you’re planning to cut through wood or drywall, a medium-coarse blade would be appropriate. Meanwhile, a fine-tooth blade would be best suited for cutting through metal pipes and nails. Toothless blades with a tungsten carbide abrasive coating also exist, which may be used to cut stones and other masonry.

Once you’ve picked your blade, you should insert it into your reciprocating saw’s chuck. While the precise process for this will differ from model to model, you can usually open a unit’s chuck by pressing it back towards the main unit. For more details, read my detailed guide to changing a reciprocating saw blade.

From there, the blade can be slotted in before returning the chuck to its original position to lock the blade in.

Insert Blade into Your Reciprocating Saw

Step 3: Adjust the Saw’s Shoe

Once your blade is inserted, you’ll want to adjust your unit’s shoe. This is a piece of metal that extends from the front of your saw unit and encloses the blade.

It allows for a more stable sawing experience when aligned with the chosen cutting surface. To adjust it, carefully pull or push on it until your saw’s blade reaches the desired level of exposure.

Step 4: Stabilize and Begin Cutting

Once your unit is fully adjusted, it is time to take your reciprocating saw in hand and begin the cutting process. To do this, place your dominant hand on the support space near the chuck while placing your other hand on the rear of the unit.

Do not place your hand on the trigger until you’re are fully positioned and ready to cut.

After double-checking your cutting measurements, you can plug in and turn on your reciprocating saw to its full speed. Then, press the base of the shoe onto your target surface and apply a bit of lateral pressure.

Maintain this pressure as you guide the blade through your cut. Once your cut is complete, you can release the trigger and set aside the tool.

Cutting Safely with a Reciprocating Saw

The Basics of Reciprocating Saw Safety

Fully-fledged safety is essential when working with or near a reciprocating saw. As such, you should always follow all tool-specific regulations set forth by your local or state safety administration.

Besides these overarching guidelines, you should also keep the following safety precautions at the forefront of your mind when picking up a reciprocating saw:

  • Plan ahead and anticipate any issues posed by your targeted cutting surface. This includes checking for wires, pipes, and studs before initiating a cut.
  • Always unplug your saw when it is not in use
  • Be sure to account for a potential kickback, especially when working on a ladder.
  • Don’t touch a reciprocating saw blade right after use as their motion tends to cause them to heat up which can lead to a nasty contact burn

Additional Tips & Tricks

A reciprocating saw can take some time to master. But that being said, the following tips and tricks can help you work towards mastery in an efficient manner:

  • Maintain an even amount of lateral pressure on your saw while you are precipitating a cut. This will prevent excessive “bucking” and provide better balance to the power tool overall.
  • Always keep your unit’s shoe aligned with the cutting surface. Doing so reduces vibrations and ensures that your cut is at a uniform depth.
  • Consider switching blades after around 10 minutes of continuous cutting. Excessive use of a single blade can cause it to heat up excessively, which in turn can cause the said blade to warp or dull excessively.


After a bit of practice, you should be able to get a hold on using a reciprocating saw. Simply keep the operation steps and usage tips described above in mind and you should be able to find success quickly.

Don’t forget to keep this guide’s safety tips in mind, though, so that you can prevent any harm from coming to yourself or your associates while a reciprocating saw is in use.