How to Use a Reciprocating Saw

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Reciprocating saws are one of the most versatile saws you can own. These powerful hand saws can cut virtually any type of material with the right blade attached. They are perfect for demolition work and the ideal sidekick for electricians, plumbers, and construction contractors.

Mastering the operation of this power saw takes a little getting used to, but once you learn how to use a reciprocating saw, you’ll feel perfectly comfortable using it in all your DIY projects.

How to Use a Reciprocating Saw

A reciprocating saw, also known as a sawzall, is one of the easiest power saws to use. 

There aren’t many fancy instructions to read, or guides to set up.

This is one of the reasons it is often turned to as an easy-to-use, flexible saw

However, since it is a saw that you use by hand, properly learning how to use a reciprocating saw will help make your cuts faster, with less collateral damage to the surrounding area.

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While not as dangerous as using the table saw, safely using this demo tool is important. And, the more you know, the better you will be able to keep yourself safe.

1. Match the Blade to the Material

​Before you can begin using your reciprocating saw, you need to match the blade to the material to be cut.

For certain cuts, you can use an all-purpose reciprocating saw blade. These general blades work on a variety of surfaces, but rarely excel at any one. Once you learn how to use your ​reciprocating saw, you’ll want to invest in the​ right saw blade for the material that you are cutting.

For example, if you’re removing a tile wall, one of your options might be to just cut right through it using this sawzall.

Your blade type is dependent on whether you are cutting through metal, drywall, wood, or even plastic. Metal projects need a more durable blade than a drywall blade.

You may need a carbide-tipped blade for heavy-duty metals or plastics.

How to use a reciprocating saw on any surface reciprocating saw on wood

2. Secure the Blade Firmly into the Chuck

Once you have determined what type of blade you need for your reciprocating saw, you need to insert it into the chuck.

Most reciprocating saws have a twist and push mechanism, similar to a jigsaw, that allows you to insert the blade and lock it in place. This simple process only adds to why it is so much better to have a unique blade for every type of material you are cutting – changing the blade out is incredibly simple and fast.

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This twist and push mechanism is the same way that you remove the blade from your reciprocating saw, by twisting it in the opposite direction and pulling it out of the chuck.

Whether you are inserting a new blade or removing an old, dull blade, you need to make sure the saw is off and unplugged.

When you’re done inserting a new blade, be sure to double check that it is fitted correctly and securely in place before you begin to use it for cutting. You should give the blade a good tug to ensure that it is secure and tight.

Failure to secure the blade properly could cause damage to material, along with being unsafe for you to operate.

3. Size Up Your Cuts

​Typically, you’ll be using a reciprocating saw for demolition work, ​such as cutting a hole in a wall for repair or construction, and accuracy isn’t the most important factor to consider.

However, it’s important to plan out where you will be cutting, prior to turning the saw on. Once the saw gets going, it can start really accelerating through its cuts, and if you don’t have a good idea where you want to cut, you might end up making a problematic mistake.

You probably don’t need to go as far as to mark your cuts ahead of time. But, if you do need some level of precision, it can’t hurt to grab a pen and mark a line for your cuts.

​4. Think Before You Cut

Before you jump into cutting with your reciprocating saw, you need to consider all the factors of your cut.

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As mentioned above, once you start cutting, the reciprocating saw tends to have a mind of its own. You need to make sure your material is ready for cutting, which means you want all nails, staples, and any other obstruction removed before cutting.

In demolition projects, you need to think about electrical wiring and plumbing, while other surfaces can also present hidden challenges. Sometimes these are sitting behind or underneath the material you are cutting, and so it can be hard to identify them.

Before you begin to cut with your reci​ saw, make sure the surface and area you are planning to cut will not have any hidden surprises that could be damaged with the blade.

If you do need to make some cuts with a higher degree of accuracy, you might want to turn to ​a good jigsaw. These saws are a lot more precise than the reci saw.

​5. Adjust the Variable Speed

Typically, your reciprocating saw will have variable speed control, similar to a jigsaw. This is a good option to get used to as you begin using your saw. The variable speed will help you control your cut.

Start your cutting on a low speed, so that you can line up the saw accurately and get the hang of the process. As you make progress and feel more comfortable using the demo saw, you can easily increase the variable speed. This will cut faster and make more headway through the material.

You will need to adjust your variable speed as you cut to make sure you don’t damage the material you are cutting. Also, cutting at a slower speed will usually yield a cleaner cut.

​Using a high variable speed as you begin cutting will be too fast of a back and forth blade motion, and you will find the reci​ saw unmanageable. You also won’t have as much control of the cut line, and you need to ensure your cut line starts off accurate.  

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Start off slow and work the variable speed up when feel you need more speed and can still control the ​demolition saw as it cuts.

​6. Use the Shoe to Your Advantage

The shoe of your saw is there to act as a guide and give you more control as you cut. The shoe is at the base of your blade and should be pressed against the surface you are cutting.

This will provide you some support as you cut with the​ saw and allow you to manage the cut precision better and easier.

Not using the shoe can cause the reci​ saw to sway back and forth as you cut, making it almost impossible to control. Use the shoe liberally by pressing it with light force against the material you are cutting.

Keep it tight on your cutting surface, and you will find that you are able to cut as you need to with accuracy.

Man working on a piece of wood, preparing it for cutting

7. Check Your Blade

​We’ve mentioned this multiple times now – both the beauty and difficulty of ​this saw is that it tends to take off once you get going. If you find that you are doing most of the work, rather than the saw, then it may be time to replace the blade.

Your reciprocating saw blade can dull easily, especially if you use it ​to cut hard materials that require a lot of power and force.

Remember the saw blade should do most of the work when cutting. You are there to help it along and provide it support and guidance as you cut.

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​Anytime you feel that you are putting too much labor into your cut, change out the blade with a new one and see if that makes any difference to the way that you are cutting. It should cut faster, cleaner, and easier.


Using a ​demolition saw doesn’t have to be difficult if you follow these how to use a reciprocating saw instructions. You’ll find that your saw has uses in an extensive array of applications.

The more that you use the saw, the easier it will be for you to control and cut with. It is the perfect tool for demolition work and fast, big cuts.

An expert at home repair, remodel, and DIY projects for nearly 40 years. His first experience came in completely restoring an antique home. Completely redone from the inside out, and restored to its original form, the home is a featured design by renowned Southern California Architect Cliff May, considered to be the father of the California Ranch Home. Now Dennis spends his time on fine woodworking projects and tool comparisons.