How to Use a Sawzall

Chris Deziel

Hard-working contractors who don't have time to say "reciprocating saw" say "Sawzall" instead. That's the brand name for a tool manufactured by the Milwaukee Tool Co., which was one of the first reciprocating saws on the market.

A reciprocating saw can make clean cuts in tight places.

A Sawzall isn't a delicate shop tool; on the contrary, builders use it primarily for rough carpentry, framing and demolition. With the right blade, it's a powerful tool that can do jobs that other saws can't.

Parts and Operation

A reciprocating saw features a powerful electric motor connected via a gear mechanism to a spindle; the gears transform the rotation of the motor's drive shaft into the back-and-forth motion of the spindle. The motor and gears are inside a housing with a handle and switch at one end and a flat shoe on the other. When you attach a blade to the spindle, it extends anywhere from 6 to 12 or more inches beyond the shoe and vibrates back and forth when you hold the trigger in the on position. The cutting action is similar to that of a jigsaw.

Uses for a Reciprocating Saw

The orientation of the blade with respect to the body of the saw allows the user to make straight or curved cuts in places that other saws can't reach. A reciprocating saw can cut through wood framing members, it can cut the nails joining them and it can even cut diagonally in corners where two pieces of wood meet, such as in the corner of a window. With the proper blade, it cuts wood, plastic and sheet metal as well as metal rods, pipes and structural members. It isn't just a demolition tool; it can shape curves on landscape features and even double as a cross-cutting tool in a pinch, although it cuts with limited accuracy.

Choosing the Right Blade

It's essential to use the proper blade for the material you're cutting; if you have the wrong blade, you can spend all day cutting one piece of wood or, conversely, quickly destroy your work. Wood-cutting blades typically have deep teeth with a distribution in the neighborhood of four to five teeth per inch. Metal cutting blades are finer, with a distribution of 14 to 24 teeth per inch, and they are also shorter to reduce the clearance you need to use them. Multipurpose demolition blades with a count of six to 14 teeth per inch can cut through both wood and metal, such as nails; they can be as long as 12 inches, so you can cut in hard-to-reach places.

Safety Considerations

You need goggles and gloves whenever operating a reciprocating saw, and if you have a corded model, be sure it's plugged into an extension cord and circuit that can handle the 12 to 15 amps it draws. Kickback is a hazard particularly common with reciprocating saws; it happens when the blade strikes a solid object behind the one you're cutting, and it can be violent enough to throw you off a ladder. To avoid kickback, make sure you have enough clearance for the blade before you start cutting, and keep the blade angled away from obstructions.