There are several different types of power saws. Two of the most common are circular saws and reciprocating saws. While each saw is quite different from the other in terms of size, shape, and appearance, they do share some common functions.
What follows is a comparison of circular vs reciprocating saw so you can choose the saw which is more useful to you.
In a nutshell, a circular saw is a portable power tool with a circular blade that can be used to cut precisely through a variety of materials, including lumber, drywall, plaster, masonry, metal, and plastic. On the other hand, a reciprocating saw has a flat, flexible blade that moves to-and-fro to cut through softwood to tough steel and masonry.
You might think that the circular saw is the better choice because it is more precise and the blade is rigid than the reciprocating, but accuracy isn’t everything you need!
For example, circular saws are more prone to kick-back than reciprocating saws. They also don’t work well in tight spaces and are difficult to use with long blades.
Read on to find out which type of power saw is best for you and your needs.
Circular Saw Advantages
The circular saw gets its name from the circular, disc-shaped blade, When the saw is powered and the trigger is pressed, the blade rotates which allows the teeth to cut into the material. You can make crosscuts, rip cuts, and plunge cuts using the circular saw.
A circular saw is a two-handed saw with one hand going on the rear handle where the trigger or ignition switch is located. While the other hand is placed on the guidepost located at the front of the device.
Note: You might have seen experienced users operating the saw with one hand. This is an unsafe practice.
Operating the circular saw with two hands has three major advantages.
- Holding the saw with two hands gives you better control especially when a kick-back happens
- By using your hand to hold the front handle, you are protecting your free hand from injuries.
- The use of two-hand operation forces you to clamp the workpiece which is safe woodworking practice.
This saw also features a retractable blade guard and a fixed guard that covers the top so that debris will not be directed at the user.
Circular Saw Pros & Cons
The advantages of a circular saw are considerable.
- Clean, Precise Cut
- Great for cutting boards and plywood
- Easy Angular Cuts
- Versatility of Types of Cuts
The circular saw is also intuitive to use, and its weight helps in controlling the direction of the device. But there are downsides as well.
- Its weight makes it tiring to use over time
- Can overheat
- Requires a flat surface
Circular saws are perfect for getting clean, accurate cuts, especially straight cuts along the thickness through material that is quite dense. With the help of a straight edge or track, you can get a perfectly straight cut comparable to a table saw.
For some applications, a table saw is arguably better. However, a circular saw is quite portable and flexible. Plus, with the proper blade, it can also cut through plexiglass, metal, and even granite. This makes it one of the most popular of all powered saws.
Reciprocating Saw Advantages
This is a powered saw that cuts through materials using a reciprocating blade. This means the narrow, sharp blade uses a back-and-forth motion to cut through materials. The blade itself is serrated on one side.
Reciprocating saw is held in a similar manner as you would hold a rifle. Place one hand on the butt end and pistol grip, then the other underneath the saw near the chuck to control the sawing action.
This saw is often referred to as Sawzall or hackzall although they are slightly different tools that work on a similar principle.
Reciprocating Saw Pros & Cons
The advantages of the reciprocating saw are as follows.
- Versatile: Can make many different types of cuts with ease
- Portability: Lightweight and easy to carry and use
- Ideal for working in tight spaces
- Ability to cut curves and shapes
- Good for cutting pipes and conduit
- Easy Speed Adjustment
- Excellent for demolition work
However, the reciprocating saw is not perfect. It does have a few issues that you need to know before purchasing.
- Difficult to cut along long straight lines (Rip cuts)
- Cannot perform accurate angular cuts
- No Blade Guard: Can be dangerous if not properly used
- Leaves behind rough edges
Despite the disadvantages, the reciprocating saw is perfect for making flush cuts, cutting away tree branches, shaping hedges, and demolishing items such as wooden furniture.
Circular Saw vs Reciprocating Saw Comparison
With the basic uses, advantages, and disadvantages of the circular and reciprocating saw known, it is now time to focus on the basic differences between each device.
Arguably the clearest difference between the circular and reciprocating saws are the blades themselves. A reciprocating saw uses a knife-like blade while the circular saw uses a disc-shaped blade. It’s pretty easy to tell the devices apart based on the shape of the blades.
Although there are major differences in terms of the blade-type, form factor, and appearance of the reciprocating saw compared to the circular saw, arguably the main difference is in the uses of each saw.
Put simply, the circular saw is for building or construction projects. While the reciprocating saw is for demolition or destroying items or materials. This should help make it easier as to which one is better for your needs.
Depth of Cut
Both saws can cut relatively deep into the wood, metal, or similar material. Cuts of 2” or more are certainly possible with both devices.
The main difference is the blade types. A reciprocating blade is knife-like in appearance. This means it can be used to cut tree branches and other objects that are not flat.
A circular saw can only efficiently cut on flat surfaces. If you need to cut some plywood, the circular saw is for you. However, if you need to prune a tree, then a reciprocating saw is better for that job.
Accessibility and Reach
Although it can be argued that a reciprocating saw is more versatile, the circular saw is easier to use. Because of its size, shape, and balance, a circular saw can be safely used by the operator. Of course, you will need to be careful when using any saw, but the circular saw offers a strong blade guard and balanced weight to make it easy to maneuver.
A reciprocating saw is considerably more dangerous to use. This is because the blade is fully exposed, making it easier to become injured. Plus, the reciprocating saw is more difficult and less intuitive to use compared to a circular saw. It takes more patience and control. Plus, you need to wear more protection while you work.
Having said that, a reciprocating saw can be quite fast when cutting apart materials. Its speed is one of its main attributes even if it is mostly used for demolition work.
Overall, the accessibility and reach go to the circular saw in terms of its ease of use. However, the reciprocating saw is arguably more versatile.
Form Factor of the Tool
The form factor varies considerably between the circular saw and reciprocating saw. While the reciprocating saw is held much like a rifle, the circular saw has the blade in the center location. It does take two hands to properly operate both types of saws. And the placement of the hands helps to balance out each unit.
Reciprocating saws tend to be less expensive compared to circular saws, although in some cases depending on the size the prices may be similar.
A typical reciprocating saw will sell for around $100 with some smaller models coming in at $50. There are also more expensive versions that may reach $150 or more.
A typical circular saw will sell for around $200 with some versions that may be less expensive, such as around $150. However, there are also sizes and brands that sell for over $250.
The prices between the devices become similar when purchasing a more expensive reciprocating saw and a less expensive circular saw. For those who are on a tight budget, the reciprocating saw is generally going to be cheaper.
Which Saw is More Useful?
The tool you should purchase should be the one that will be used most often. You will need to evaluate your work and decide which type of tool is best. Because both saws have considerably different uses, it should be relatively easy to see which one works best for your needs.
Ideally, if you have the money and perform a wide range of tasks that includes construction and demolition, then getting both types of saws may be the perfect solution. Otherwise, you should base your decision on the following.
When to Go for the Reciprocating Saw?
Reciprocating saws are best used for demolition work. When you need to tear apart material and do not care about its condition afterwards. This is because reciprocating saws leave behind a raw, rough cut that will need to be sanded and smoothed if it is going to be used for construction or renovation. For demolition purposes, the roughness of the cut will not matter.
Reciprocating saws are perfect for demolition because of their toughness as well. They can cut through wood and metal with ease. In fact, they can go through a wood with nails in it quickly and easily. Because of the form factor of the reciprocating saw, you can also make cuts in narrow spaces. This adds to the versatility of the device, especially for demolition work.
So, if you make your living in demolition, then the reciprocating saw is for you. However, if you do not mind sanding the cuts made by the saw, then you can use it in other functions as well.
Who Should Get a Circular Saw?
Circular saws are primarily used for construction and renovation work. This is because they leave behind a clean, smooth cut that can be used right away in putting together materials. For making carpentry-type cuts, the circular saw is considerably more versatile compared to the reciprocation saw.
The downside is that you need a flat surface to create the cut. A reciprocating saw does not need a flat surface since it can be held and cut materials that may be on walls, the ceiling, and other odd angles. However, the circular saw is easier to use, and its very weight makes it safer compared to a reciprocating saw.
For those who are building a project, the circular saw is the obvious choice. It makes smooth, clean cuts that speed up the construction process. From small projects to building homes, the circular saw is also quite portable and easy to use.
Back to Contents
- Circular Saw Advantages
- Reciprocating Saw Advantages
- Circular Saw vs Reciprocating Saw Comparison
- Which Saw is More Useful?