Reciprocating Saw vs Chainsaw. Which Saw is Better and Why?

Given the different types of saws on the market, it’s quite remarkable that so many different designs can share the same basic function. Cutting wood into smaller pieces can be performed with more than one type of saw. In fact, you may be surprised at how chainsaws and reciprocating saws can be used to perform similar tasks.

It’s not surprising to see professionals who both cut down and prune trees to have both types of saws with them. This is because, for different tasks, different tools are needed, and cutting up wood is no different.

Chainsaw vs. Reciprocating Saw Comparison

There are considerable differences between chainsaws and reciprocating saws both in terms of design and purpose, although reciprocating saws arguably have a wider range of applications.

  Chainsaw Reciprocating Saw
Cutting Speed Very powerful and fast Slow cutting
Cut Capacity Excellent. You can use a chainsaw to cut limbs around the yard to fell huge trees in the woods. Lower cut capacity. Best suitable for cutting limbs, pruning bushes, branch lopping etc.
Cut Quality Rough cut surfaces. More precise and better finish.
Ease of Use Require proper technique. Two hand operation. Comparatively easy. Can be operated with one hand.
Noise Very loud tool Less noise levels.
Safety Can be very dangerous Relatively Safe
Power Source Mostly Gas although electric versions are also available Electric and battery powered cordless versions.

20″ Gas Chainsaw
Husqvarna 20 Inch Gas Chainsaw
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Milwaukee Sawzall
Milwaukee Reciprocating Saw (2719-20)
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Which Saw is Best for Cutting Down Trees, Tree Trunks, and Roots?

The most common answer is a chainsaw, but it may not be the most appropriate depending on the circumstances. A chainsaw is most noted for felling trees and slicing up tree trunks along with the roots. Chainsaws are relatively simple devices that use a circulating chain to force their way into trees, large branches, and roots to cut them apart.

But other types of saws can do the same thing. Reciprocating saws can also cut down small trees, slice up tree trunks, and even get at roots that need to be cut away. But you will them more efficient to cut tree limbs, branches and twigs. They have a distinctively different design compared to chainsaws. Reciprocating saws use straight saw blades that move back and forth or in a reciprocating manner to saw through tree branches, twigs and other wood items.

The main difference in terms of function when cutting trees is that reciprocating saws are generally smaller, less powerful, and thus designed to cut down smaller trees compared to chainsaws. In fact, for pruning trees of their small branches, a reciprocating saw may be a better choice compared to a chainsaw.

Can a Reciprocating Saw Cut Logs?

Difference between chainsaw and reciprocating saw
Yes, a reciprocating saw can cut logs, but they will need to be small logs. The limit to the size of the logs will be the length of the saw blades. You can get blades up to 12-inches long. So, in theory, you should be able to cut a 10-inch diameter log. However, realistically you can use a Sawzall to cut lumber up to 6 inches or so.
Chainsaws are designed to be larger and cut larger logs which makes them perfect for cutting up trees into firewood or other items. Reciprocating saws are generally better for cutting smaller logs and branches, so they can be used for firewood, wood for the stove, or other items.

Of course, the reciprocating saw does have its limits despite its versatility. And while chainsaws are arguably more purpose-based, they have their advantages as well.

Now that you got answers to your obvious questions, let’s take a detailed looks at both the power saws. What follows are the pros and cons of each device.

Chainsaw Pros and Cons

There are considerable advantages to using a chainsaw, especially when you need to cut large amounts of wood in a short time.
Man cutting a log with Husqvarna 20

Advantages of Chain Saw

Powerful: Chainsaws have the power to cut through large trees and branches quickly thanks to their unique design. The cutting chain when properly sharpened can go through the toughest of hardwoods with relative ease. This type of power makes it easier to cut through wood that a reciprocating saw would have considerable difficulty.

Ergonomic: Chainsaws are exceptionally well-designed in terms of ergonomics. They are designed to be held at chest or waist level with the hands and wrists in a comfortable position. The way that chainsaws are held makes it easier to press down your own weight to keep the chainsaw cutting into the wood. This makes them far superior to reciprocating saws which are well-designed, but not nearly as ergonomic in nature.

Durable: If you can properly maintain a chainsaw, then it should last for a long time. This is because they are strong, durable machines that may last for many years if you take care of them properly.

Re-sharpen the Blades: When the blade gets dull you don’t have to throw it away. Instead you can use a Dremel rotary tool such as Dremel 4000 or 4300 with a grinding bit to sharpen the cutting edges.


Chainsaws are quite powerful. They also have quite a few issues that make them ill-suited for certain tasks. Here are the downsides of using a chainsaw.

Noise: Apart from its appearance, arguably the most noticeable thing about a chainsaw is the noise it makes. Gas-powered chainsaws can be quite noisy which makes them ill-suited for smaller cutting when in urban or suburban areas. You will need ear protection even if you use an electrical one, although they are not nearly as noisy compared to the gas-powered versions.

Maintenance: Chainsaws require far more maintenance compared to a reciprocating saw. This is because the chain needs to be oiled frequently along with being sharpened and tightened. Otherwise, you risk the chain coming off the saw. And if the chain breaks, it can be a real danger even if you are wearing protective gloves and eyewear. Maintaining a chainsaw is far more labor-intensive compared to a reciprocating version.

Mud and Dirt: When you buck-up or cut a log on the ground, be very careful not to touch your blade on the ground. The chainsaw blade will pull the mud into the saw and it will get messy. This is why it is not a good idea to use a chainsaw for your Yamadori trip.
When sizing logs, place them on a robust sawbuck so that you have enough room to operate the power saw.

Kickback: We have all experienced a kickback at some point of time. A kickback or pinching occurs when the wood closes the cut opening resulting in the chain saw blade getting stuck on the wood.

Rough Cut: You will not get a clean, precise cut with a chainsaw. Of course, the chainsaw is not designed to be neat. It is made to go through the wood as quickly as possible. And while you might get some smooth edges, it is not anywhere close to the cut you can get from a reciprocating saw. If the intention is precision cuts, then a chainsaw will not be the answer.

Weight: Chainsaws are considerably heavier compared to reciprocating saws. This means that you will become fatigued quicker when using them. While chainsaws are ergonomic in design, the weight of gas or battery-powered versions is considerable compared to the lighter, more compact reciprocating saws.

Reciprocating Saw Pros & Cons

Reciprocating saws offers several exceptional advantages when working with smaller trees, branches, or pieces of wood compared to chainsaws. However, there are also downsides to this type of saw that you need to be aware of before deciding on a purchase.

Woman using Reciprocating Saw for pruning
Reciprocating Saw with Clamping Jaw – Click for Details

Advantages of Reciprocating Saw

Compact: Although chainsaws can cut into tight areas as well, the reciprocating saw is even more compact. This means that if you are working in tight spaces and the wood is not too large, the reciprocating saw can be the answer. The thin blade makes it easier to guide and direct compared to the larger, rougher chainsaw.

Cost: A good reciprocating saw will cost you considerably less than a comparable chainsaw. You can find many good reciprocating saws for $100 or less. While chainsaws will generally cost you at least twice as much if you want the higher-quality versions.

Precision: The single saw blade of a reciprocating saw means it can make a better precision-cut compared to a chainsaw. For precision work, you should use a reciprocating saw in this regard.

Easy Blade Change: You can use different types of reciprocating saw blades according to the material and type of job. For example you can use a metal blade to cut different metals or a bi-metal blade to cut wood with nails.
Unlike a Chainsaw you are not going to re-sharpen the blade here; instead, you replace it with a new blade. Blade changing on this saw is quick and easy.

With all the clear advantages of reciprocating saws, you may wonder why they are not right for all jobs. But they do have their limitations which means that they are inferior to chainsaws in some ways.


Smaller in Size: The biggest advantage that a chainsaw has over a reciprocating saw is its size. Chainsaws are designed to be bigger and more powerful compared to reciprocating saws. This means that you cannot cut down larger trees, branches, and other wood items as efficiently compared to chainsaws.

Takes Longer: Despite its relatively simple design with a sawblade coming into direct contact with the wood, chainsaws tend to take less time. This is because of the spinning action of the chain itself which makes it considerably faster compared to a reciprocating saw.

While a chainsaw is messier in terms of its cut and is not suited for very small branches or pieces of wood, it can cut through logs and larger branches considerably faster.

Overheating: The motor on a reciprocating saw tends to be smaller compared to a chainsaw. Plus, the back and forth action puts more stress on the motor compared to moving a chain with a gear. The result is that reciprocating saws tend to overheat faster compared to chainsaws.

Which Power Saw to Use?

Put simply, if you need to chop up larger pieces of wood and you do not care about being neat or the noise, then the chainsaw is the best choice. It is designed to cut through large pieces of wood with ease and can be used for longer periods for bigger jobs.

Even though chainsaws are better for larger trees, branches, and pieces of wood compared to reciprocating saws, they may not be the right choice for you depending on the circumstances. You should consider different factors for what you need today and tomorrow in terms of a saw.

For smaller jobs, such as pruning small branches from trees, cutting down saplings, and breaking apart smaller pieces of wood, then the reciprocating saw is the right choice.

Consider that if you only need to chop up a few large trees or branches in the yard, you may be better off renting a chainsaw or having a professional come by to do the job. Plus, a reciprocating saw is more versatile, and given its low price is often a good purchase even if you only use it occasionally.

Although both chainsaws and reciprocating saws are designed to cut wood and trees, there are definite differences between the two. Understanding the differences will help you make the best-informed decision about which type of saw is best for your needs.