I've been a remodeling carpenter for more than 25 years, and
there haven't been many weeks during that time when I didn't
pull out my recip saw. Recently, I had the opportunity to try
out 13 pro-grade models. Some of them have been around for
years, but others were so new I had to test prototypes. Some
recip saw manufacturers make three, four, or five different
As a remodeling carpenter, I mostly cut wood. During demo, I
might cut studs, beams, drywall, sheathing, and the occasional
pipe. During framing, I'll do the kind of light cutting and
notching that plumbers, electricians, and hvac guys have to
I had four months to test the tools, so every few weeks I put
different saws in the back of my van. I used them myself and
loaned them to other tradespeople to see what they thought. A
friend of mine ran the saws through a timed cutting test. He
put a new blade in each saw and timed how long it took to make
three cuts through a 2x12. He avoided large knots and applied
even cutting pressure by hanging a 15-pound weight from the
nose of the saw. I wouldn't judge a saw by the specs alone, but
the fact is the test results were in line with the way I
thought the saws would perform.
The Mechanics of Fast
You want clean, accurate cuts from a miter saw, but with a
recip saw it's all about speed. Actual cutting speed is
determined by the number of strokes per minute (spm), length of
cutting stroke, power of the motor, and whether the tool has
orbital cutting action.
Strokes per minute is a
measure of how quickly the blade goes back and forth.
Two-thirds of the saws top out between 2,600 and 2,800 spm. At
3,200 spm, Milwaukee's Super Sawzall was the fastest. DeWalt's
2,400-spm DW303MK was the slowest. You might not notice if one
saw is 100 or 200 spm faster than another, but you can
definitely feel a difference of 300 or 400 spm.
The stroke length — how far the blade goes into the work
— is just as important as spm. At any given speed, the
longer the stroke, the faster the saw will cut. A slightly
longer stroke can make a big difference. For example, cutting
with a 1 1/8-inch stroke saw at 2,600 spm for one minute would
be the equivalent of pulling a 244-foot blade through the
material. If you increase the stroke by 1/8 inch, you get an
extra 27 feet, or 11% more cutting.
Every saw except one has a stroke between 1 1/8 inches and 1
1/4 inches in length. Milwaukee's 6509-22 has a 3/4-inch
stroke, which explains why it cut slower than any other saw I
Six or seven years ago, orbital cutting action was the hot new
feature on recip saws. Considering how popular it was back
then, I'm surprised that more saws don't have it now —
only four of those tested do. Saws cut more aggressively in
orbital mode because the blade swings up and down at the same
time it's moving back and forth.
The orbital control switch on the Super
Sawzall is recessed into the top of the saw, where it's both
out of the way and easy to get at.
While cutting in orbital mode is definitely faster than
cutting in straight mode, if you look at the speed test results
(below), you'll see that it's not necessarily faster by
(Time required to make three
crosscuts through a 2x12)
9747 Tiger Saw
9741 Tiger Saw
9750 Tiger Claw
9746 Tiger Saw
*Each saw had a new
5-inch Milwaukee 6-tpi bimetal blade (model 1012-61).
Cutting pressure was applied by hanging a 15-pound
weight off the nose of each saw. Large knots were
The feel of the orbital action is not the same on every saw.
The orbits are very pronounced on Hitachi's CR13VA and
Porter-Cable's 9747, while the action is much more subtle on
Power. A long stroke and a
high spm rating aren't much good if the saw bogs down while
you're using it. There's no industry standard for rating
horsepower, so most tradespeople look at amp ratings instead.
However, an amp rating is just a measure of how much juice you
can put into a tool without melting the motor. All things being
equal, more amps should yield greater power, but in reality you
won't notice a 1-amp difference when you're using a saw.
There's no point carrying more weight than you have to,
because many cuts don't require the kind of power you get from
heavier tools. Bosch's 1634VSK is very powerful, but at 10.9
pounds it's a pound heavier than the next heaviest saw. I don't
mind using it for heavy demolition, but there's no way I want
to carry that much weight if all I'm doing is cutting holes
Although the knurled ring makes it easy
to operate the blade clamp on this Tiger Saw, you can't get at
it if the blade stops on the in-stroke. The recessed lever to
the right of the ring is used to adjust the shoe.
We all have our own ideas about feel and balance, so the only
way to judge is to try different saws and see what you think.
I've got average-size hands, but the grips on some of the saws
feel like they're designed for guys with larger hands. I prefer
the grips on the Milwaukee and DeWalt saws. Porter-Cable's
grips feel big to me.
Recip saws used to be long and thin, but in recent years some
models have gotten thicker around the middle. I prefer the
thinner models because they feel better balanced and seem to
have more grip room up front. The Bosch, Makita, and Milwaukee
saws are all slender.
The keyless blade clamp is the best thing that ever happened
to recip saws; these days, every pro-grade saw has one. Most
clamps are operated by twisting a ring or flipping a mechanism
on the end of the drive shaft. They all work, but I prefer the
ones that are the easiest to get at. For example, the knurled
rings on the Porter-Cable clamps are easy to grasp but aren't
accessible if the blade stops on the in-stroke. The same is
true of Hitachi's clamp. I prefer the clamps on the Milwaukee
saws, because they're accessible for most of the stroke. I like
DeWalt's clamps even more, because they're activated by
flipping a lever on the side of the forward housing. The lever
is easy to get at, and the clamp stays open till you flip the
lever back down. This is the only clamp that's easy to operate
with gloves on.
DeWalt uses a lever-activated clamp to
fasten blades. It's so easy to use that you can change blades
without taking off your gloves.
All the saws I tested accept the thicker demo-style blades,
and in every case blades can be installed with the teeth facing
up or down.
Most saws have an adjustable foot. Extending and retracting
the foot allows you to use more of the teeth and to partially
limit the depth of penetration. To be honest, I almost never
adjust the foot.
If you regularly adjust the foot, be sure to get one that can
be adjusted without tools. Milwaukee's Super Sawzall and
Sawzall Plus use a contoured lever. The lever is easy to get at
and blends into the front grip of the machine. Porter-Cable
uses a similar mechanism on its 9746, 9747, and 9750 models.
You need a hex key to adjust the foot on the 9741. Makita uses
a lever, but it's big, clunky, and in the way. Most of the
other saws use push-button mechanisms built into the bottom of
It's easy to adjust the shoes on
Milwaukee's Sawzall Plus and Super Sawzall because they're
lever activated. The lever is shown in the disengaged position;
it folds into the grip when you lock it.
All of the saws have variable speed. On some, the trigger
alone controls the speed; on other models, the variable-speed
trigger is coupled to a speed-control dial that limits the
maximum speed of the saw. I like having a dial. I normally cut
at top speed, but if I want to make a long, slow cut, it's
easier to dial in a lower setting and then squeeze the trigger
all the way.
The Hitachi CR13VA is one of a few saws
with an auxiliary speed dial that allows you to set an upper
limit on the speed of the blade. It comes in handy for long
A case is a very important accessory, mainly because it allows
you to keep a good supply of spare blades with the machine. I
judge a case on how sturdy it is and whether the tool and cord
fit easily inside.
I don't mind a case made of plastic as long as the clasps that
hold it shut are metal. With some cases, stowing the cord can
be a problem: You have to coil it just so, or the top won't
I liked the Milwaukee and DeWalt cases the best. They have
metal clasps and plenty of room for the tool. I was
disappointed in Porter-Cable's cases — the clasps are
plastic, and you have to be careful about how you stow the
cord. Bosch makes a roomy case, but it has plastic
The only way to find out if a particular saw is durable is to
use it for a few years, something that's not possible for an
article like this. The next best thing is to look at the
overall quality of the tool: what it's made from, how it feels,
and what it sounds like when it runs.
All of the saws I tested looked and felt well made, though
there were some discernible differences. Two of the saws
— Porter-Cable's Tiger Claw and the Hitachi —
vibrated noticeably more than the others. I expected some extra
vibration from the Tiger Claw, given that the nose of the tool
is adjustable; there's no way you can add all those gears and
not get some vibration. I'm less forgiving about the Hitachi
saw, which vibrated a lot and sounded somewhat clacky when the
orbital function was on. The smaller DeWalt saws, DW303MK and
DW307MK, both emitted an annoying high-frequency whine.
Fortunately, that sound is drowned out by the noise of cutting;
you can only hear it when the blade is out of the cut.
I was curious to see if my perception of how loud the tools
were matched up with reality, so I borrowed a friend's decibel
meter and tested all the saws. It wasn't a fancy lab test, but
I tested each saw the same way and at the same time. The
absolute numbers are less important than the relative ranking
of the tools. I measured sound output with the saw going full
tilt, the blade out of the work, and the meter 30 inches away.
Orbital models were tested two ways, orbit on and orbit off. As
it turned out, the saws that sounded the loudest actually were
the loudest (see
spec table on next page).
Tool-less blade clamps and orbital action used to be special
features but are now common. I don't know if it's a sign of
things to come, but two of the Porter-Cable saws have
Porter-Cable's 9747 looks like a regular recip saw but is
designed so you can rotate the rear grip in relation to the
blade. This is a great innovation because it allows you to cut
up, down, or sideways while grasping the saw in the normal
The model 9750 Tiger Claw has an adjustable gear housing that
lets you change the angle at which the blade comes out of the
machine. The mechanism is well designed and allowed me to cut
from any and all angles. I talked to some plumbers who were
familiar with this saw; one thought it was pretty cool but
wished it was lighter. The other one said there wasn't a pipe
he couldn't cut with a regular saw, and he didn't see the point
of all those fancy gizmos.
The Tiger Claw has a unique adjustable
gear mechanism that lets you reorient the front of the saw.
This allows you to access cuts that might be impossible with
The 9747 Tiger Saw is equipped with a
simple mechanism that allows you to rotate the rear grip in
relation to the front end of the saw.
My absolute favorite is Milwaukee's Super Sawzall (6521-21). I
like everything about it: It's fast, powerful, light, and well
balanced, and the controls are easy to use. I also like
Porter-Cable's 9747 Tiger Saw: It's fast and powerful, and the
adjustable rear grip is great to use. Another big saw that's
worth looking at is DeWalt's DW309K. It's smooth-running and
powerful and comes with a nice case. I prefer the heavier, more
powerful saws, but if I wanted a smaller, lighter model, I
would choose the Milwaukee Sawzall Plus (6519-22). It weighs
only 7.4 pounds but feels as fast and powerful as some of the
Don Pascucciis a carpenter and remodeling contractor
in Billerica, Mass.See
page two for Reviewer's Comments and tool specs.