Reciprocating Saw Vs Circular Saw

by Joost Nusselder | Updated on:  March 18, 2022
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Any woodworker with some considerable time spent at the job can tell you how powerful a tool a circular saw is. It is one of the single best tools for any workshop.

However, it struggles a lot in some scenarios, where another power tool, a reciprocating saw, shines. So, why doesn’t it completely replace the circular saw? That’s what we will explore in this comparison between a reciprocating saw and a circular saw.

A circular saw is a go-to tool when you have to make long straight cuts such as rip cut, miter cuts, or so. Very few tools can outperform a circular saw in those sectors. Reciprocating-Saw-Vs-Circular-Saw

However, a circular saw, as good as it is, is not the be-all and end-all. There are situations, like a perpendicularly placed board or a really tight space, where a circular saw simply renders obsolete.

To aid you in situations like that, the second tool of our discussion, a reciprocating saw, exists. Despite having almost, the same purpose, a reciprocating saw functions differently. It has a significantly narrower base that allows it to reach places that are inaccessible to a circular saw.

What Is A Circular Saw?

A circular saw is a powerful tool that uses a toothed circular blade to cut through the piece you are working on. In terms of materials, a circular saw can comfortably handle things like wood, plastic, ceramic, plyboard, or even concrete, given that a proper blade is being used.

A circular saw has a flat base at the bottom. All you need to do is place the saw on top of the piece and run the saw over it. A relatively larger footprint helps it to slide over the piece horizontally almost the whole time. A portion of the circular blade sticks out under the base, which actually cuts happen.

The bigger flat surface of the circular saw enables the tool to cut bevel cuts without much effort. And a miter cut with a circular saw is the same thing as a rip cut. It’s not an issue as long as your hands don’t shake.

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What Is A Reciprocating Saw?

A reciprocating saw is closer to a jigsaw compared to a reciprocating saw in terms of functionality. It has a thin straight blade like a jigsaw and the structure of a hand drill. A reciprocating saw can handle things like wood, plastic, and metal, although not as handily as a circular saw.

Despite having the general structure of a power drill, it has a flat base at the front as a circular saw has. However, the base is considerably smaller.

Hence arise the capability to wiggle its way into narrower places, where a circular saw is simply unusable. On the other hand, on a regular piece of board, the smallish base allows it to get a good 90-degree cut as is expected.

In terms of different cuts, a miter cut is the same as a regular rip cut to a reciprocating saw as well. But the bevel cuts are a whole different story. The flat base of the saw is completely useless.

You will have to manually tilt and hold the saw while overseeing the bevel angle just with your eyes unless you can come up with a jig to aid you at this.

What-Is-A-Reciprocating-Saw

Which Of The Two Is Better?

This is the section, which is always tricky to answer. Because both of the tools have their ups and downs, some people will prefer one over the other, and others will choose the opposite.

That’s natural. I will try my best to stay neutral and point out the facts for you to decide. Here are the categories I will consider:

Which-Of-The-Two-Is-Better

Speed

While comparing two tools, speed is a big factor to consider. A reciprocating saw is quite fast, but not as fast as a circular saw. The circular saw uses the whole circumference of its blade to cut.

Therefore, there is more surface area that comes into contact in each revolution. Thus, more teeth come into play. Therefore, it cuts faster. A reciprocating saw, on the other hand, is limited because of its structure.

Accessibility

A circular saw has a larger base and easy-to-reach handles. Despite the tool being handheld, you actually do not need to hold it by hand the whole time. Most of the weight of the tool is rested on the piece, while you just need to control its movement. Also, The more significant base allows more space for higher functions, like setting the bevel angle or blade depth adjustments.

A reciprocating saw is limited to this as well. The smaller base is not quite enough to bear the full weight of the tool and stably even when working on a horizontal plane. And on an angled or vertical surface, as well as when working on things like pipes, yeah, go ahead and try.

For other things like bevel cuts and cuts with varying depth, you will be better off not even trying with a reciprocating saw. The tool does not support them and taking the whole responsibility of maintaining an accurate angle manually, nightmare!

Reach

The reach/working area of a tool is not as big of a deal as some other factors. However, it is a thing to consider while getting a new tool. If your work zone is mostly limited to plain boards and smooth surfaces, then you will get much more use out of your circular saw than a reciprocating saw.

However, if you need to work in varying environments, tough materials, or rough surfaces, you will be next to stick with a circular saw. A reciprocating saw is basically the only way out from there.

Diversity

A circular saw is more customizable than a reciprocating saw. Therefore, it is also much more diverse in terms of ability and possibility. Both a circular saw and a reciprocating saw are just as good as their blades are.

A circular saw has a wide range of blades available in the market. There are designated blades for special cuts as well as special materials.  In this sense, a reciprocating saw will feel a lot more limiting.

However, a reciprocating saw has some advantages where a circular saw is simply useless. A reciprocating saw is an excellent tool to work on pipes and plumbers. Imagine trying to cut a steel pipe with a circular saw. Yeah, good luck with that.

Last-Minute Thoughts

Whether you like a circular saw or a reciprocating saw, they are both just a tool after all. The outcome does not completely depend on the tool. The experience and the expertise of the user play a big role in the outcome as well. The more you use a tool, over time, the cleaner and more refined your final result will be.

Even then, the tool will play a big role. If you are expecting one definitive answer, then no. I will not give you one exact answer about which one to choose. It is very subjective, and you will be better off assessing your situations and making your call yourself—peace out.

I'm Joost Nusselder, the founder of Tools Doctor, content marketer, and dad. I love trying out new equipment, and together with my team I've been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with tools & crafting tips.

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