Types of Reciprocating Saws: All You Need to Know

Types of Reciprocating Saws: All You Need to Know

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If you are getting into the world of construction and demolition, there are some tools that will help make life easier. One such tool is the reciprocating saw, a very popular and useful type of saw, particularly for demolition jobs. That said, there is some variety when it comes to the tool.

They’re not all the same, and this is what we are here to discuss today. Let’s take a closer look at the various types of reciprocating saws out there and what they’re ideal for.

What Is a Reciprocating Saw?

Reciprocating saws may also be known as recip saws or saber saws. This is an average size handheld saw that features a reciprocating blade.

That means that the blade is relatively long, narrow, and straight, and that it moves in a back and forth “reciprocating” motion. This blade is horizontal and moves forwards and backward, unlike a jigsaw where the blade is vertical and moves up and down.

Reciprocating saws can have a variety of power sources. They also come in a variety of sizes, which makes them ideal for different jobs. Reciprocating saws can be fitted with many types of blades, mainly ones that can cut through wood, plastic, PVC, metal, drywall, plasterboard, and more.

One of the defining characteristics of a reciprocating saw is that it is one of the only saws out there used for demolition rather than construction. These saws are designed to quickly cut through and rip apart wood beams, pipes, walls, and other such things.

Reciprocating Saw in Use

3 Types of Reciprocating Saws by Power Source

The first thing we want to examine here is how various reciprocating saws are powered. What’s the difference between a corded, cordless, and pneumatic reciprocating saw?

1. Corded Reciprocating Saw

Corded Reciprocating Saw The first type by power source is the corded reciprocating saw. As the name implies, this type has a power cord that needs to be plugged into an electrical outlet at all times.

Of course, there are both positives and negatives to this.

On one hand, perhaps the biggest benefit is that you never have to worry about running out of battery power. It’s always plugged in, so you have a constant source of power.

Moreover, corded reciprocating saws tend to be the most powerful. They’re best for handling big jobs and thick materials. There’s just nothing like AC power. Furthermore, corded tools tend to be fairly lightweight due to not having a battery.

On the other hand, being corded means that you have to be near an electrical outlet at all times, or have some good extension cords handy. Moreover, those cords can be a bit pesky as they can get in your way as you work, which can also be dangerous. Having to wrap the cords up for storage is an issue too.

2. Cordless Reciprocating Saw

Cordless Reciprocating Saw Next, we have the cordless reciprocating saw, which uses a battery for power.

Not having a cord is a benefit, as you don’t have to wrap it for storage, you don’t have to be near an outlet, and there is no cord to get in the way of your work. They’re definitely more versatile and portable in this sense.

On the other hand, cordless tools just don’t have as much power as corded tools. Moreover, that battery only lasts so long before you need to recharge it, and charging takes time. Also, those batteries are actually pretty bulky and heavy too.

On a side note, consider the issue of brushed vs. brushless motors. Simply put, brushless motors are more modern, more durable, longer-lasting, and better performing, but also more expensive.

3. Pneumatic Reciprocating Saw

Pneumatic Reciprocating Saw You then have pneumatic or air-powered saws, and they use air compressors to generate motion. These are the most powerful of all, but also the most expensive. Not just in terms of the tool itself but also because you will need an air compressor to power it.

You will usually only find these in factories and in professional settings.

Generally speaking, you won’t have any use for a pneumatic reciprocating saw, so we will leave it at that.

5 Types of Reciprocating Saws by Size and Purpose

Let’s take a quick look at the five sizes these saws come in, and what they’re best for.

1. Full-Size Reciprocating Saw

Full-Size Reciprocating Saw The full-size reciprocating saw, i.e. the medium-duty version, is the most common one out there.

This is your average reciprocating saw that you’ve probably seen. It is a two-handed model that is fairly large, has plenty of power, and is ideal for most demolition jobs. They can be corded, cordless, or pneumatic. These are ideal for quickly cutting through thick materials, such as large beams and pipes, but are a bit heavy and cumbersome.

2. Compact Reciprocating Saw

Compact Reciprocating Saw You then have the compact reciprocating saw.

These come in very short two-handed models, as well as even smaller one-handed models. The one-handed models are particularly versatile. They’re small enough to fit into tight spaces and light enough to use overhead. They’re fine for smaller demolition jobs, such as for cutting medium-large beams, pipes, walls, and more.  Although, they don’t have all that much power.

They may be cordless or corded but are usually cordless.

3. Mini Reciprocating Saw

Mini Reciprocating Saw You then have the mini reciprocating saw, which is the smallest of the bunch

It’s small, lightweight, and super easy to use in the tightest of spaces and for overhead tasks. These are always battery-powered. They don’t have much power, so they’re only ideal for small jobs, such as cutting through plasterboard and drywall, and for small studs and thin pipes, but they sure are convenient.

4. Heavy-Duty Reciprocating Saw

Heavy-Duty Reciprocating Saw You then have the heavy-duty reciprocating saw. These are some of the biggest and most powerful reciprocating saws out there.

They’re quite big and heavy, so they take some muscle to use for a prolonged time. They’re also always two-handed, as they’re too large to use one-handed. While they may be cordless, and sometimes are, getting a corded model is best, as these things eat through batteries.

They have a whole lot of power and are therefore ideal for some of the largest demolition jobs out there.

5. Super Heavy-Duty Reciprocating Saw

Super Heavy-Duty Reciprocating Saw You then have the professional-grade super heavy-duty reciprocating saw. These things often have 15 amp motors, and yes, they are the most powerful of all reciprocating saws. This is the kind of saw that professionals use on the jobsite for daily and constant use.

They can be used to cut massive beams and posts, thick plastic pipes, large metal pipes and metal sheets, and everything in between. If you need power, this is what you go for.

That said, they are very large and heavy. Using them for a prolonged time will definitely lead to fatigue. They’re heavy, so they only come in two-handed models. Due to their power consumption, they’re always corded too.

What Is the Best Type of Reciprocating Saw for Your Job?

Of course, which reciprocating saw you choose all depends on the type of job that you want to perform.

Let’s look at some quick examples:

  • If you are just doing basic demolition work and need something fairly powerful and large, but not too large (so you won’t get tired too quickly while using it), then your standard full-size medium-duty reciprocating saw is the way to go
  • If you plan on doing a lot of demolition on a daily basis, if you need something tough and durable, and if you need something that has plenty of power to cut through whatever stands in your way with speed and ease, then a heavy-duty or super heavy-duty reciprocating saw is what you need
  • If you need a reciprocating saw to fit into tight spaces, as well as for overhead work, and you don’t need all that much power, then a one-handed or two-handed compact model is called for; if you need something really small and compact, then a mini reciprocating saw will do just fine

The other consideration here is of course the power source. It really comes down to having something super portable that doesn’t need to be plugged in but will need recharging, and something that needs to be plugged in at all times, but also has a bit more power and doesn’t require constant charging.

For more on that, read my corded vs. cordless power tools article.


There you have it folks, everything that you need to know about choosing your next reciprocating saw. We hope that we were able to make your decision-making process a bit easier.