How Does A Reciprocating Saw Work?

What makes a reciprocating saw, reciprocating saw? To reciprocate means to give back, as in, you help your neighbor chop his fallen tree into firewood with your chainsaw, and he reciprocated by bringing you one of his wife’s fresh-baked pumpkin pies.

Related Article: How Much Does A Chainsaw Weigh?

It’s all about the give and take. And in the case of a reciprocating saw,  it’s all in the action of the blade, which goes back and forth, a movement which, paired with a sharp serrated saw blade, creates a sharp cutting action.

This cutting action can be most powerful. A reciprocating saw can cut through most anything, except solid rock, and other impenetrables. Even wood planks embedded with nails are handled by the raw power of the back and forth of a reciprocating saw.

In this article, you will get a basic introduction to how a reciprocal saw works, how it differs from the related jigsaw, what are some of the practical uses of the reciprocal saw, and how to ensure safety when using this most versatile tool.

How it works

So let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of how this machine works. The saw blade on this piece of equipment has a blade very much like a jigsaw blade.

It’s a relatively small metal blade with a serrated edge on one side, made up of jagged teeth. This blade attaches to a motorized machine that moves a piston up, and down. This causes the blade to move back and forth as the motor rotates.

The saw will have a handle that you hold, which allows you to cut through your surface. A hinge, with a spring load, provides a separating buffer between the surface being cut, and the saw blade itself.

The oscillating, back and forth motion of the blade, caused by the motor’s rotating power, is what allows the reciprocating saw to cut through the surface. Depending on the drive the is place within the machine, between the motor and the blade, the saw will create different levels of vibration, which can either enable smooth cutting or create movements with the saw that make it hard to control.

The end result, in how straight the cut, will reflect what type of drive is utilized by the machine’s manufacturer.  Of all the types of drives, the swash plate provides the greatest balance, with vibrations that can be easily controlled, and applied to the line of the cut.

This means a smoother but than the other kinds of drives, like a cam drive, or a crank drive. Keep this in mind when choosing your reciprocal saw. A swash plate will provide you with an easier to control saw, that creates a smoother cut.

A jigsaw (a.k.a. saber saw) is actually a type of reciprocating saw but is designed for more delicate work, while a reciprocating saw is more for heavy work, like demolition. That having been said, the reciprocating saw is one of the most versatile power tools out there.

It is recommended highly for home use because it can be used for many different kinds of jobs. While it is powerful enough to cut virtually any type of building material, it is also great for trimming tree branches.

It is recommended highly for home use because it can be used for many different kinds of jobs. While it is powerful enough to cut virtually any type of building material, it is also great for trimming tree branches.


Reciprocating saws are popular among construction workers, gardeners, home remodeling professionals, do-it-yourselfers, and landscaping professionals. This range of users shows its range of uses.

A reciprocating saw can be used to prune trees (up to about 5 inches in diameter), demolish trash and unusable building materials by breaking them down into moveable pieces, cut lumber to size, cut PVC piping, and even to cut through nails and screws!  and much more. For example, if you are working on a demolition project, you can make the work both easier and faster by employing a reciprocating saw.

Not to mention more fun! Instead of struggling with crowbars and hacksaws to remove wood, nails, and other materials in a demotion job, just use a reciprocating saw cut it free. It’s the ultimate demolition tool. This applies to doors, windows, plumbing, and more.

Cut it with your saw, and toss it out. So much more easy; and fun.


Any self-respecting do-it-yourselfer will want to have a reciprocating saw as part of their basic toolbox. However, it’s important to keep in mind that as useful as a reciprocating saw can be, it can also be dangerous.

It is precisely because the saw has such demolition power, that you are going to want to be careful with it. Like any power tool, and particularly those with a blade attached to them, they MUST be handled with care.     

Holding in your hands, the power to cut through wood, metal, and all sorts of construction materials can be a thrill. But of course, their very power makes them dangerous.

Kickback is your main concern. Kickback can happen as a result of pulling the blade out while you are still in the middle of making the cut (i.e, the blade is still moving). This can cause the tip of the blade to collide with the materials you are cutting, and the entire machine can come kicking back towards you.

You do not want this to happen. Especially if you are standing on a ladder!

Sometimes the blade can bind without warning, which means the blade stops, but you (and saw) don’t — so hold on tight! And if you are looking to switch out your blade (ie from a regular blade to a pruning blade) wait for it too cool off in order to avoid burns, which can be painful and slow you down.

Once you get the hang of working with a reciprocal saw, you will find it is one of the most satisfying and useful tools you can own.

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