Reciprocating Saw vs Circular Saw


When it comes to the most versatile tool to have around the house, job site, or DIY project, you’ll have a tough time choosing between the reciprocating saw vs the circular saw. Without a doubt, both powered saws have their place in your arsenal, and each one comes with its own set of strengths and weaknesses.

A circular saw gives you the ability to make precise rip and crosscuts in a variety of materials while remaining portable enough to take with you nearly anywhere. It’s the ideal saw for most woodworking and DIY projects, striking the right balance between functionality, ease of use, and portability.

If the circular saw is the Swiss army knife of powered saws, then the reciprocating saw is more like the crowbar. It’s ideally suited for demolition, yard work, and renovation projects that need power and speed but don’t require precision cutting.

There’s a lot more to both these saws than that, so let’s take a closer look at the differences between them, as well as which tasks each is best suited for.

Reciprocating Saw vs Circular Saw – Basics

Before we can evaluate the differences between these two saws, it makes sense to take a quick look at each saw in more detail.

Reciprocating Saw

A reciprocating saw (sometimes called a Sawzall) is a powered saw which uses a push-and-pull “reciprocating” cutting motion to cut through a given material. It accomplishes this using an exposed knife-like blade which makes cutting in tight spaces more practical than other saw types.

reciprocating saw
Reciprocating saw in action. [Source]
Because reciprocating saws don’t feature any blade guard they are useful for getting into constricted spaces and can make cuts that other saw types can’t reach. Think of pruning trees, making cuts around windows, or in confined spaces while working on plumbing.

The design of the saw makes it easy to hold overhead or while standing on a ladder, allowing you to make cuts that would be difficult or unsafe with a circular saw.

Changing the blade type on a reciprocating saw allows you to rapidly change its functionality, so you can swap from a wood cutting blade to a metal cutting blade in a matter of seconds.

When it comes to making precise cuts, reciprocating saws lack the smooth operation needed to accomplish this. They are more geared towards quickly cutting through a variety of rough materials, similar to what you would find on a demolition site.

Circular Saw

A circular saw is a powered saw that uses a toothed disc blade to cut through various materials using a rotary motion spinning around an arbor. Typically when we refer to a ‘circular saw’, we are referring to the portable hand-held variety, although technically speaking miter saws and table saws are also types of circular saws.

circular saw cutting lumber

Circular saws are highly versatile, allowing you to make plunge cuts, rip cuts, and crosscuts in an accurate and efficient manner. This makes them ideal saws for DIY and woodworking projects, where precision and versatility are important.

The other outstanding feature of circular saws is their portability. While miter saws and table saws can be used for many of the same cutting tasks, none offer the level of portability and simplicity as the circular saw.

Circular saws can also be used to make mitered or beveled cuts, so they can be used for more complex, intricate tasks like fine carpentry work.

So What are the Differences?

Now that you have a basic understanding of these two saws, let’s take a closer look at some of the differences between the two.

Blades

As you can easily spot by glancing at them, each saw has significantly different blade types.

Reciprocating saws feature flat knife-like blades that can cut through a variety of materials, including wood, metal, PVC, and wood embedded with nails. These blades are typically cheap and disposable and are not indented for precision cutting.

Circular saw blades are disc-shaped blades built for precision cutting. Unlike reciprocating saw blades, these blades are typically designed for cutting a specific material and aren’t made for rough-cutting.

Cutting Capability

If you were to use both saws for the same cutting task, you’d quickly notice the distinctions between their cutting capabilities.

Reciprocating saws are able to rapidly cut through materials but sacrifice the ability to make precision cuts. The back-and-forth cutting motion is great at hacking its way through tough materials, but cannot cut a flush edge no matter how hard you try.

Conversely, a circular saw will cut through the same material slower while leaving a smooth finished edge. You’ll be limited to a smaller cutting depth with a circular saw, so deep cutting isn’t really possible.

Usage

When it comes to practical usage, there are a few things to be aware of when comparing these two saws.

Cutting with a reciprocating saw is a bit like trying to ride a wild horse. It will kick back on you eventually, and you should be prepared for this before you start cutting anything. Always use both hands when making a cut, and keep the saw braced whenever possible.

On the flip side, using a circular saw has a lot more refined feel, and the risk of kickbacks is significantly less. You should still use both hands whenever cutting with a circular saw.

If you spend significant time using a reciprocating saw, you’ll probably run into issues with the blades bending. Because these blades are thin and meant to be flexible, they have a tendency to bend when the saw kicks back significantly.

Luckily, you can fix this easily by bending or hammering them flat.

Lastly, because reciprocating saws don’t have any type of blade guard, they can be hazardous if you’re not prepared.  Circular saws typically feature a spring-loaded retracting blade guard, which automatically shields the blade when you finish making a cut.

Which Saw Should you Choose?

Now for the million-dollar question – reciprocating saw vs circular saw – which saw should you choose?

circular saw and reciprocating saw
Both the circular saw and the reciprocating saw deserve thier spot in your arsenal.

In my opinion, both a reciprocating saw and a circular saw deserve a place in your workshop. Each saw is so distinct that they don’t have much overlap between them.

For woodworking and DIY projects, a circular saw offers more precision and versatility. It’ll give you the ability to make rip, crosscut, and plunge cuts in a variety of materials.

For demolition and renovation projects, nothing comes close to a good reciprocating saw. It gives you the ability to quickly saw through just about any material, and its long thin blades can make cuts that would be impossible with other saw types.

There are also some jobs that will benefit from having both saws, like cutting through 6×6 posts or making half-lap joints in 4x4s.


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