Making the cut with recip saws PDF Print E-mail
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Issue Archives - September-October 2009 issue

Making the cut

Reciprocating saws can tackle tough demolition and remodeling jobs. Selecting the right model for your job is key to quick, productive cuts.

Demolition work can be downright fun if you’ve got the right tool in your hands.

Often, that “right tool” is a recip saw. Today’s models have features and capabilities for jobs ranging from cutting off plumbing under sinks to tackling studs to remove walls.

Corded recip saws still dominate the jobsite, but cordless tools of various sizes and capabilities pop up where electrical power isn’t available or on smaller jobs where it would take more time to run the extension cord than it would to make the cut. But for big jobs, the corded recip saw remains king.

Models vary in size, power and durability, report recip saw experts. At the low end, 10- or less-amp tools, many with 3/4" stroke, are utility tools better suited for onesey-twosey cuts in tight spots. Mid-range models rated between 11 and 13 amps are good tools

for heavier use, and then there are the15-amp heavy-duty recip saws built to take on stud, joist and rafter cuts all day long.

“For some applications, a smaller, more lightweight saw will do,” says Joe Soto, Makita product manager for pneumatics and residential construction. “But for more demanding applications like demolition and industrial use, a larger, more powerful saw with vibration reduction is best.”

“A smaller, lighter saw can be easier to manage for overhead work and easier to maneuver through rods and hangers on commercial projects.

But when it comes to heavy-duty demolition in older buildings with extensive plaster and lathe removal, a heavier saw with a bigger motor is better for the job,” reports Jon Bigden, DeWalt product manager for corded saws.

Good, better, best

Like so many things in life, you get what you pay for when you are in the market for a recip saw. “It all depends on customer needs,” says Romy Sheynis, rough-cutting tool product manager at Bosch Power Tools and Accessories. “Today’s recip saw buyer is demanding more versatility. They also want less vibration and smaller size, but in the past that meant a decrease in power,” he says.

“The most common mistake that contractors make is to buy a recip saw on price alone, not value,” says Scott Teson, senior product manager for corded saws at Milwaukee Electric Tool. “It is important to understand the lifetime cost of the product before making a purchase decision.”

Sheynis agrees. “Generally, low-priced saws are adequate tools fordo-it-yourselfers or some trades that make occasional cuts. These light-duty tools are fine if they won’t be used for long periods where there is a chance the tool will overheat,” says Sheynis.

The majority of professional contractors look to mid-range models as their go-to recip saw. “These models are used by framers, plumbers and remodelers who may use the tool for one to two hours a day on jobs that require more power and offer a balance between power and weight,” says Sheynis.

Recip saws at the top end of the line have ratings of up to 15 amps and are built to run almost continuously and can stand up to the dust, debris and abuse of demolition.

Depending on the saw model, you’ll find 3/4", 1 1/8" and 1 1/4"strokes. “A longer stroke length will result in faster cutting speeds and is preferred by contractors that use their recip saws to perform heavy demolition. A long stroke length is not ideal for all trades, however, because it can cause higher vibration levels if the mechanism is not counter-balanced. Plumbers, for instance, prefer a short 3/4" stroke length because it produces a lower level of vibration and is easier to use in tight areas,” says Teson.

User-friendly features

The higher end recip saws have features that can improve productivity and user comfort.

Vibration control, electronic and adjustable speed controls, built-in clutches, orbital action, adjustable shoes and tool-less blade changes make these tools easier to use and more productive.

The reciprocating action of the saw creates vibration that can affect saw life and cause user fatigue.

Look for tools that have some method of vibration control. Some use a counterbalance on the tool spindle; others use dampening systems that isolate vibration from the user.

“If you will be using the saw extensively, vibration control is very important,” says Soto, “Vibration transmission can take a toll on the tool user, so buying a model that controls vibration is a good investment. ”Higher end saws have electronic speed control that maintains tool speed under load for faster cuts.

“Blade speed can drop as much as 20 percent under load on saws that do not have electronic speed control. Recip saws with electronic speed control are able to maintain top operating speed through a cut, which in turn allows a contractor to get more work done in a shorter time period,” says Teson.

Adjustable speed control can govern saw speed. “This is helpful when cutting metal,” says Bigden. “In metal, a slower blade speed allows the blade to cut with less heat buildup for faster cuts and longer blade life. ”Built-in clutches protect the saw when the blade gets pinched in the work piece, a common occurrence on demolition projects. “A mechanical clutch can greatly increase the life of the tool. If the blade becomes pinched, the mechanical clutch will disengage the gears so that they do not have to absorb the force of the impact,” Teson says.

Most higher end saws have orbital action that offers fast, aggressive cutting, especially in wood. While orbital action can also offer faster cuts in metal, it can greatly increase blade wear, says Teson. “That’s why many recip saws with orbital cutting action also include a dial so the contractor can adjust the degree of the orbit to their preferred level.”

Soto says orbital action and other features can actually improve the saw’s cutting ability and save time. “Orbital action, anti-vibration technology and proper blade selection can greatly reduce the time and effort it takes to make a cut.

”Many models have adjustable shoes, a handy feature when cutting thinner materials with limited rear clearance. It can also be used to adjust the blade teeth so fresh teeth can cut thinner materials, extending blade life,” says Bigden.

The adjustable shoe also allows the user to angle the saw blade for easier cutting.

Blade removal systems can be found on many recip saws, and save time and frustration by allowing easy blade changes. They are tool-free – no need for a hex wrench or other hand tool and some are even touch-free – ejecting the hot, used blade so the user doesn’t have to risk burned fingers from removing it. “The blade clamping system must be able to tightly clamp even the longest, thickest demolition blades. Quick-release blade features simplify blade changes, too,” says Soto.

While less common, other features that can be found on user-friendly saws include a rafter hook, LED light for illuminating the cut line and easy-to-replace cords. A few models have housings or handles that rotate for more comfortable cutting and access in tight spots or allow the blade to be installed upside down for flush-cutting material.

Tool Tips/Recip saws

Article sources share ways to work smarter with recip saws:

• Read the operator’s manual – know your tool

• Select the right blade for the job

• Keep the shoe up against the workpiece

• Don’t bend the blade too far

• Support the work piece to prevent blade pinching




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