Reciprocating Saw vs. Chainsaw: Which One to Choose?

Reciprocating Saw vs. Chainsaw: Which One to Choose?

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So, you’re looking at a bunch of downed branches in your yard after a big thunderstorm. Obviously, these limbs are not going to take care of themselves. Clearly, this would be a great time to whip out a power saw and use it to cut these branches down to a manageable size. Unfortunately, you may not know which kind of saw would be most suitable for this kind of heavy-duty task.

Even so, you might have already narrowed down the list of options to a reciprocating saw and a chainsaw. Indeed, both of these can likely cut through those branches in no time flat. But if you’ve never used one or the other before, you might not understand the key differences between them.

Well, it’s time to clear up that confusion.

Reciprocating Saws and Chainsaws: The Basics

If you’ve done a lot of outdoor work in the past, you may think you know the reciprocating saw and the chainsaw well. But before we look at their key differences, let’s take a moment to learn about each tool at a basic level.

What Is a Reciprocating Saw?

Reciprocating Saw At its core, a reciprocating saw is a specialized power tool that is designed to minimize the amount of effort needed to cut through wood, PVC, and even thin metal hardware.

To do that, these saws utilize an end-mounted saw blade that rapidly pushes and pulls against a material’s surface. This reciprocating motion is effectively stabilized by way of a “shoe,” which absorbs some of the lateral motion associated with the blade’s action.

In terms of form factor, most reciprocating saws require a user to place both hands on the device. One hand is placed at the rear (where the trigger is located) while the other supports the elongated end of the device (as one might do with a rifle).

As for the quality of cuts made with a reciprocating saw, most would consider these cuts to be “rough” in nature. As such, this kind of saw often sees use in demolition and outdoor maintenance.

What Is a Chainsaw?

Chainsaw Even non-professionals know the appearance and operation of a chainsaw well.

But even so, it’s important for you to understand that a chainsaw is a motor-powered tool that utilizes a rotating chain of small blades to facilitate a streamlined cutting action. Chainsaws see tons of use in both the professional and DIY realm due to their flexibility and their capacity for rapidly slicing through logs and branches of all diameters.

In terms of operation, chainsaws are notable because they can be fully utilized through a variety of productive techniques.

To that end, a chainsaw’s sizable cutting length allows it to be manipulated to achieve a desired type of cut. This versatility in the field allows a trained user to make use of a chainsaw to cut everything from small brush to full-sized trees with ease.

Reciprocating Saw vs. Chainsaw: What Are the Differences?

Now that you know the basics, let’s dive into the differences.

Scale of Work

There’s no doubt that both the reciprocating saw and the chainsaw are capable when it comes to cutting up wood with ease. However, these two tools do differ when it comes to the scale of their working capacity.

Most professionals and DIYers would agree that the chainsaw is made for large scale projects.

The tool’s larger cutting length allows such projects (including those that require the cutting of whole trees) to be completed in far less time.

Meanwhile, you can certainly count on a reciprocating saw for smaller-scale projects.

This includes cutting up underbrush and pruning fallen branches into a manageable size. This is made possible by this saw’s smaller blade, which can be slotted into tighter spaces when a certain level of finesse is required to complete the task properly.

Reciprocating Saw for Pruning


The chainsaw is well-known for its iconic rumble, especially while it is slicing through a thick log. That is to say, a chainsaw is loud by nature, regardless of what it is cutting. In fact, ear protection is an absolute must when using this power tool.

Also, this tool should be used outside urban areas whenever possible due to the immense spread of its output noise.

By comparison, a reciprocating saw is comparatively quiet when it is not actively cutting into a chunk of wood. This tool has a far smaller motor and blade, after all, so its reduced sound level only makes sense.

Of course, this is still not a power tool you’ll want to use late at night when other folks are sleeping. But during the daytime, this tool isn’t much of a bother at all.



As any professional can tell you, maintaining a chainsaw can be a lot of work. To start off with, these saws must routinely be oiled in order to keep their chain moving smoothly. Also, each tooth on the chain must be sharpened on a regular basis, which can be a considerable hassle.

Meanwhile, most reciprocating saws just need their blade replaced or sharpened every now and then. So, they are definitely the low-maintenance pick between the two.Chainsaw for Cutting Logs


These two saws differ a lot when it comes to price, as well. For example, a reciprocating saw will usually only cost you between $80 and $200.

On the other hand, even a cheap chainsaw will often come with a $180 or higher price tag. Some of the most expensive gas models even cost as much as $400 or more.

As such, a reciprocating saw is a clear choice for those working on a budget.

Which of the Two Should You Use?

When it comes down to it, you should choose a reciprocating saw or a chainsaw based upon the scale of your job and your willingness to put in the effort needed to maintain your new power tool.

So, if you plan on routinely cutting large volumes of wood and brush, then a chainsaw is for you. But be aware that choosing this tool also requires you to perform more maintenance when it is not in use.

By comparison, a reciprocating saw is far easier to maintain over the long-term. It is also more capable of completing small-scale wood and brush cutting jobs efficiently. Beyond that, this tool can also be effectively used for some demolition work, including the cutting of PVC and thin metal.

So, you definitely get a lot of bang for your buck when you opt for a reciprocating saw. Especially if you need to do a task that either of the two saws can handle like cutting 8x8s.


At first glance, you might assume that a reciprocating saw and a chainsaw are suitable for completing similar cutting tasks. But in practice, these tools are built to take on different kinds of jobs with differing levels of ease and flexibility.

So, it is important to take what you’ve learned in this guide and apply it when it comes time to prepare for an on-site job.

With the right tool in hand, you’ll be able to slice through your targets without wasting even a second of time or a drop of effort.

How Do Reciprocating Saws and Chainsaws Compare with Other Tools?

See how reciprocating saws compare with: angle grinders | circular saws | circular saws and jigsaws | hacksaws | jigsaws | miter saws | oscillating multi-tools

See how chainsaws compare with: hedge trimmers