For many construction contractors today, it can be challenging to know which of their power tools need the most urgent upgrade. This is especially true when it comes to reciprocating saws and oscillating multi-tools, which are mainstays in both construction and demolition tool kits today.
In fact, some folks have even started to confuse these tools and assume that they perform some of the same functions.
As it turns out, these two tools have a lot of differences that you should fully understand before investing in either.
This guide will take you through the most important of those while also providing you with insight into the best uses for each tool. With this knowledge, you’ll finally be ready to decide which of these power tools will best serve your team’s needs going forward.
Reciprocating Saws and Oscillating Multi-Tools: The Basics
While the reciprocating saw and oscillating multi-tool are commonplace on construction sites, some DIYers and amateurs may not be fully familiar with each tool. So, before jumping into their differences, let’s examine each of these tools at their most basic level.
What Is a Reciprocating Saw?
If you’ve used either of these tools before, there’s a good chance it was a reciprocating saw. That’s because these stout, rifle-shaped power tools are masters of roughly cutting up many common construction materials. They do this using their thin, end-mounted saw blade that rapidly moves in a push-pull motion. This allows it to efficiently slice through wood objects as well as some thin metal objects, such as nails.
In particular, reciprocating saws are favored for a lot of demolition work because of their overall strength. At the same time, these saws are uniquely able to squeeze into tight spaces. In fact, a reciprocating saw blade is capable of slotting into a door or window frame without any trouble.
Overall, reciprocating saws also serve in the “workhorse” role well due to their solid construction.
What Is an Oscillating Multi-Tool?
Oscillating multi-tools go by several different names, including “oscillating tool” and simply “multi-tool.”
Regardless of what you decide to call it, this handheld power tool is known as one of the most versatile around. That’s because its base can be equipped with any number of purpose-driven attachments. These allow this tool to saw, sand, grind, cut, polish, and more without needing separate tools for each task.
Because of their overall versatility, these tools see a lot of use in professional settings. The tool’s oscillating motion is fairly easy to control, too, even if you are operating the tool one-handed.
The base tool itself does tend to be less durable than most power tools, though it still remains affordable enough to be routinely replaced.
Reciprocating Saw vs. Oscillating Multi-Tool: What Are the Differences?
With the basics out of the way, let’s dive deeper into the differences between the two tools.
Interestingly enough, both of these tools offer differing degrees of versatility.
The reciprocating saw is a pretty straight-forward power tool when it comes to sawing. However, it provides a desirable degree of versatility through the unique shape of its blade. Because this blade is rather thin, it is able to slot into tight spaces – like window and door frames – that standard power saws cannot access.
Meanwhile, the oscillating multi-tool communicates its versatility right in its name. The tool itself is more of a base upon which a full arsenal of useful attachments can be equipped. These add-ons allow the unit to sand rough surfaces, grind out old mortar, polish up tarnished surfaces, and much, much more.
In many ways, a reliable oscillating multi-tool can replace a whole armload of single-purpose power tools.
Size and Ease of Use
In terms of size, you’ll immediately notice that these two tools differ.
The reciprocating saw is a bit of a bulky unit in some ways, requiring a user to occupy both hands while supporting it. Moreover, reciprocating saws require one hand on its rear grip and one on its far end to prevent the whole unit from shaking itself out of place while in use.
An oscillating multi-tool is a bit easier to handle. Though its precise handling will differ depending on which attachment is equipped, this power tool tends to be stable enough to operate with one hand. A second hand can be added when gripping this power tool to provide more control over the unit’s oscillating motion, though.
These two tools also differ when it comes to durability, though you may not know that just by looking at them.
Oscillating multi-tools tend to be the more fragile of the pair, especially when it comes to their accessories. Their service lives can be as short as 5 years, depending on how they are maintained.
A reciprocating saw tends to last longer by comparison. In fact, only their blades tend to require routine replacement over a decade-plus service life.
If you’re shopping based upon price, you’ll also find some noteworthy differences in these tools’ respective prices.
Specifically, you’ll find a greater range between each tool’s prices. As it turns out, both power tools can be obtained for a base price of around $80. But if you want a high-quality model, you should expect to pay up to $120 for an oscillating multi-tool and over $200 for a reciprocating saw.
Which of the Two Should You Use?
When it comes down to choosing between a reciprocating saw and an oscillating multi-tool, you should always inform your decision based upon the kinds of jobs you intend to undertake.
For example, if you are planning on framing a door or window, a reciprocating saw is a must-have. The same could be said of demolition projects, wherein a reciprocating saw’s strength is a big asset.
Meanwhile, you’ll be able to complete a bunch of small, but important tasks with an oscillating multi-tool and the right attachments in hand. In particular, you’ll find sanding with this tool to be far less tiresome than manual sanding. The same can be said of removing old mortar, which this tool can handle as well.
While you can make flush cuts with this tool as well, it would be best to leave those kinds of jobs to a reciprocating saw.
As you can see, there really are quite a number of differences between reciprocating saws and oscillating multi-tools.
While they are both fairly versatile, they each offer different advantages when it comes to cutting, sanding, grinding, and more. Be sure to keep these key differences in mind going forward. That way, you’ll be able to decide which of these tools your work crew needs to upgrade next.
In case you decide it’s a reciprocating saw, make sure to check my guide to the best ones. For the best multi-tools, check this article.
How Do Reciprocating Saws and Multi-Tools Compare with Other Tools?
See how reciprocating saws compare with: angle grinders | chainsaws | circular saws | circular saws and jigsaws | jigsaws | miter saws
See how oscillating multi-tools compare with: angle grinders | Dremels | jigsaws