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I had the privilege recently of field-testing 13 of the leading reciprocating saws on the market courtesy of JLC and the saw manufacturers. When JLC first contacted me about the test, John Matthew of Allenwood Construction and I were converting a college dorm into a nine-unit apartment building. I thought it would be a perfect place to abuse a dozen or so reciprocating saws. To get more input, I also enlisted the help of some other tradesmen, and tried to rotate the saws between carpenters every ten days or so. Each of the carpenters who used the saws has at least ten years of experience in the field, and most have well over twenty years in the trades. The testers were all small-volume, independent builders -- guys who pay close attention to the details of their tools and equipment. Ken Randall of Randall Contracting and his crew put the saws through their paces on a large commercial renovation of a late nineteenth century building in downtown Barre, Vt. Builders Pete Copping of Copping Construction and Kevin Rand of Kevin Rand Construction also used the saws and gave me feedback, as did Peter Thomas and John Ayers, who were working on an extensive renovation of a farmhouse in East Montpelier, Vt. Bob Pomer of Pomer Contracting and Dave Smith of Knob Hill Carpentry and Design used the saws, too, and weighed in.

Choosing a Saw

Deciding which recip saw to purchase has more to do with the volume and kind of work you do than any other factor. All the tools we tested are top-of-the-line, commercial-grade tools that will provide years of quality service if they are used properly and well-maintained. The saws ranged from two 6-amp models to several big 11-amp, heavy-duty saws, and they offer a fairly wide range of capabilities. Which blades will you use? We used several hundred blades during this review, including the Lenox 966R, 606R, and 650R, and the Magna Progressor M90452 and M90448 (see "Tool Test: Recip Blade Demolition Derby," 5/99). The availability of the new thicker demolition blades may also be a factor in choosing the right reciprocating saw. The smaller saws really don't have the punch to power heavy demo blades through thicker materials, and they're really not designed for these types of applications anyway. When you use a thicker demolition blade, you automatically require your saw to move around 25% to 30% more blade through the material that you're cutting. If you are involved with a lot of heavy-duty cutting, you'll need a big, powerful saw that can withstand this type of punishment on a daily basis. If you work more often on smaller remodeling jobs and are satisfied with the thinner, more conventional bimetal blades, then perhaps one of the smaller saws will be better suited toward your particular needs. Most of the testers agreed that the smaller models generally have less vibration, weigh less, and are quieter. This in turn is much less wearing on the tool operator. Another advantage is that the smaller saws also cost less than their bigger brothers, though all these saws are competitively priced. Finding a good deal on the saw of your choice shouldn't be too difficult.

Speed Test

The first task I threw at the saws was a simple speed cutting test. The item of choice was a doubled piece of 2x10 Douglas fir. I put a new, identical blade in each saw (a wood-cutting bimetal blade) and hung a 10-pound lead weight from each saw on the collar just behind the shoe. The process is way too arbitrary to be scientifically accurate, but it does give a basic idea of the performance characteristics of each saw, including the difference between straight and orbital cutting strokes. Not surprisingly, the heavier, larger-amperage saws performed better, with the Milwaukee 6521 and the Bosch 1634 leading the pack. For the results, see page two of this article.

Fire Department Extrication Drill

As a member of our local volunteer fire department, I took the opportunity to try these saws on a little bit of vehicle cutting. (Thanks to the help of Chief Tom Maclay of the Marshfield Fire Department, who put the drill together, and all the volunteer firefighters who participated.) We got a couple of junk cars and worked a full drill, but in the process also used all the saws for at least a couple of cuts each.


A firefighter in an extrication drill uses the Milwaukee Sawzall to cut through a car roof.

Time is obviously of the essence in every extrication situation, and the reciprocating saw is a key element, along with the hydraulic cutting and prying tools. Every saw performed really well during the drill. We used a new, identical Lenox Rescue Blade for every initial cut. Like its demolition cousin, this is a thicker blade than the standard bimetal blades that we used to use in these situations. As is the case with general demolition work on construction sites, the bigger saws were able to cut a little more smoothly and consistently at the slower speeds required for sheet metal cutting. Cutting at slower speeds is very important. This not only prolongs blade life, but also substantially reduces vibration, an extremely important issue when dealing with injured victims in a motor vehicle accident. The saws with the more accessible blade clamps were appreciated in this situation for the faster blade changeover times.

No Perfect Saws Yet

I can't say that I really had one favorite saw. Overall, Peter Thomas and I liked the performance of the Makita JR3020 the best, but agreed that the lack of a quick-change blade clamp is antiquated. I loved the Milwaukee quick-change blade clamps, along with their heavy-duty cords and cases. The Bosch was the best saw strictly in terms of power and cutting speed, but is a real monster in weight. Kevin Rand liked the Milwaukee Orbital Super Sawzall 6521-21 the best, rating it a good heavy-duty, dependable saw. Bob Pomer liked the DeWalt 309K quite a bit, but had reservations about the durability of the power cord. I particularly liked the blade clamp set-up on the DeWalts. This past week I've been using the Hitachi, and despite the fact that it's fairly heavy and the blade clamp is also inaccessible (unless the clamp is in the fully extended position at the end of the stroke), I've grown rather fond of it.

Will Schwarzis a remodeling contractor in Plainfield, Vt.

Recip Saw Manufacturers

Bosch Power Tools

4300 W. PetersonAve.

Chicago, IL 60646


www.boschtools.comHitachi Power Tools

3950 Steve Reynolds Blvd.

Norcross, GA 30093

800/829-4752 Electric Tool

13135 W. Lisbon Rd.

Brookfield, WI 53005



626 Hanover Pike

Hampstead, MD 21074


www.dewalt.comMakita U.S.A.

14930 Northam St.

La Mirada, CA 90638



4825 Hwy. 45

North Jackson, TN 38302


Blade Manufacturers

American Saw & Manufacturing(Lenox)

P.O. Box 504

E. Longmeadow, MA 01028


Magna Industrial Tool

101 S. 5th St.

Louisville, KY 40202


See page two for reviews and specs.