Reciprocating saw: models tested

Last updated December 2017

Reciprocating saws are often called "demolition saws", but can be used for much more than this. However, these are saws that are indeed very good for demolition. Because there are a number of different blade types available, you can demolish everything from autoclaved aerated concrete to tiled bathrooms. But of course a reciprocating saw is also useful for other things. For example, many hunters use reciprocating saws when they cut up game. Equally, this type of saw is often an excellent tool if you're clearing an area of the garden.

Battery-operated reciprocating saws are becoming increasingly common today. There are a number of advantages with these. It's easier to use one in a range of places because you don't have to use an extension cable. Nor do you risk cutting the power cable. And modern batteries have such a high capacity that in optimal conditions they can last for several hours. Often you'll alternate demolition, cutting and other tasks with other work, during which you can recharge the battery. Our experience is that if you have a quick charger it usually takes less than an hour to fully charge a battery. It's not uncommon to have a charging time of as little as half an hour for "large" batteries with many ampere hours' charging capacity. However, mains powered reciprocating saws are a little cheaper if you compare two models with similar performance. If your budget is very tight, and you don't have other battery-operated tools from the same manufacturer, which will allow you to swap batteries between tools, you should perhaps consider a mains powered model instead.

Buying a reciprocating saw

To find the best reciprocating saw, you need to work out what your requirements are. If you're only going to be sawing now and then in a domestic environment, you don't really need a model that's as high quality as if you're working with a reciprocating saw on a daily basis. Something you should also think about is the tasks you intend to use the reciprocating saw for. If you're going to be cutting thick and/or hard material, it's easier if it's heavy and has low vibration levels. If you're instead going to be using it for simpler tasks, these factors aren't as important.

Some good functions to look for include lighting and adjustable speed. These mean you can work under poor light conditions and you can set the speed to suit the material you're cutting. Something that distinguishes different reciprocating saw models is the stroke length and the type of saw blade it can handle. When you're sawing thicker material, for example, you need a longer saw blade. If you're sawing metal, you need a saw blade with finer teeth. In this case, the saw blade and the reciprocating saw specifications interact. On some models, for example, you can adjust the baseplate by sliding it out so that longer saw blades become shorter, or sliding it in towards the saw body so that you exploit a larger amount of the short blade. This is a useful function.

And the type of saw blade also plays a role. There are saw blades for a number of different tasks, everything from wood and metal to cast-iron and pure demolition blades. If you're demolishing a wall, you need a longer saw blade with coarser teeth than if you're just cutting a 10 mm metal pipe. Make sure you choose the right saw blade for the right task. Sometimes a reciprocating saw includes saw blades, but they won't necessarily be right for your task.

In addition to reciprocating saw blades, there are other accessories, such as scraping tools that you can attach to the saw to remove paint residues, carpets etc. Another example is a grout remover, which means that you can cut tile grout. There are also special blades for sawing insulation and cutting nails. In other words, reciprocating saws are versatile tools. They can saw most types of material. During demolition, you are also faced with many different material types, and perhaps this is why this tool has become so popular for such tasks. But they're just as useful if you're removing a window or cutting the branches off a newly fallen tree.

Products tested

How the test was made

We carry out all of our tests ourselves and test all products in real conditions. We used reciprocating saws for a number of tasks over a period of several months. For example, we tested accuracy and power by cutting thick studs and ventilation pipes. We also trimmed the tops of thick fence posts of pressure impregnated wood from an existing fence to evaluate how easy it is to handle the reciprocating saw when working at height and on more difficult angles.

In our assessment we focused on the following characteristics:

Performance: What can the reciprocating saw cope with before it becomes unstable or drains the battery?

Operation: How long does the reciprocating saw last before the battery runs out? How quickly does the battery recharge? Is a battery included in the price, and if so what capacity does it have?

Ergonomics: How much does the reciprocating saw vibrate during use? Do you have a stable grip? How heavy is the saw? 

We have also taken into account aspects such as build quality, accessories included and guarantees. Each reciprocating saw has been given a score according to its value for money; in other words how good it is in each area in relation to its price tag. We thus have higher expectations of an expensive product than a cheaper one, and vice versa.

AEG BUS18

Powerful, quick cutting in a stable design

Type: Battery Voltage: 18 volt Battery type: Li-ion Battery indicator: Yes Weight: 3.5 kg (including battery) Speed unloaded: 0-3600 strokes/min Stroke length: 19 mm Variable speed control: Yes Tool-free blade change: Yes Lighting: Yes Supplied with: 2 x saw blade Miscellaneous: Pendulum function, saw blade can be rotated 180 degrees Manual: PDF

The AEG BUS18 is our best in test because it's a very powerful reciprocating saw with many functions and with a weight that makes it easy to keep in place as you saw. Power comes in handy when you use the reciprocating saw as a demolition tool. It easily and steadily chews through everything we present it with, including cutting a set of substantial joists for the patio. It also works extremely quickly, probably because it has a pendulum function. Nor does the task of cutting up bushes and chunky branches from trees pose a match for this reciprocating saw. The weight of the saw also means that you constantly have good control of the sawing process and can be ready when the branches give way. The only disadvantage we can see with the weight is that it's hard to work accurately with the BUS18 at heights. As soon as you have to raise your arms higher than your hips, it becomes tougher to hold the saw. An extra handle would have been useful. On the other hand, you should be careful when using a reciprocating saw, and perhaps using a ladder if you need to saw at height is a sensible idea.

The battery life is very good despite the power of the saw. And the batteries recharge again quickly too. We alternated between two batteries and had no problems changing directly from the charging station when the first one ran out, as the other one had already charged up by then. Other advantages are the comfortable rubberised grip and the option to rotate the saw blade 180 degrees. It's easy to adjust the depth and angle of the blade. It's also easy to replace the saw blade, and no tools are required. The feature we really miss on this reciprocating saw is above all the option to steplessly be able to lock the angle of the baseplate. You can lock it into three positions, but the current solution is rather stiff and fiddly. We'd also have liked to have seen clear markers on the baseplate to make sure we were in the right place on the material. There is at least one marker, and that is a plus. Given the price, all of the above-mentioned advantages and the fact that it's battery-operated – with the freedom that implies – we have absolutely no problem recommending that you buy the AEG BUS18. Particularly if you already have a number of AEG tools which it can share batteries with.

+Very powerful, long battery life, quick charging, stable sawing
Stiff setting of the baseplate
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4.5 of 5

Bosch GSA 18V-32 Professional

Powerful reciprocating saw for demanding jobs

Type: Battery Voltage: 18 volt Battery type: Li-ion Battery indicator: Yes Battery capacity: 5 Ah Weight: 3.5 kg (excluding battery) Dimensions: 482x101x218 mm Speed unloaded: 0-2500 strokes/min Stroke length: 32 mm Variable speed control: Yes Tool-free blade change: Yes Lighting: Yes Supplied with: 2 x saw blade, case Miscellaneous: 2 gear stroke frequency User manual: PDF

The Bosch GSA 18V-32 Professional is a reciprocating saw that stands out from the crowd with its combination of power, many setting options and excellent vibration suppression. This makes it easy to use even during longer sessions. You always have a stable grip. The handle is also rubberised. The noticeable weight of the reciprocating saw helps make it easy to keep in the right place. However, at greater heights and on difficult angles, the weight can also mean that your wrists tire quickly. But as long as you're cutting immediately above hip level, the weight is an advantage. In terms of performance, this is a powerful reciprocating saw. It quickly and easily makes accurate cuts even in thicker materials. For example, we had no problem making accurate cuts in thick wooden fence posts, cutting heavy joists or sawing thick metal rails. It's an excellent tool if you're demolishing part of a building and looking for an alternative to a chainsaw. Because it's battery-operated, it's also practical for demolishing indoor features because it doesn't give off any exhaust gas.

The GSA 18V-32 Professional also has a number of other advantages. For example, it's very easy to change the saw blades without tools because of the rotation lock. This also works well when it's cold out and you're wearing thick gloves, as the control is quite big even though it's discreetly positioned. It's also easy to control the speed of the reciprocating saw because there is a stepless control for this on the top. This is an advantage when you're sawing different types of material. It's also useful when you're working on tricky angles where it's more difficult to keep the machine steady. In this case you can slow down when you approach the end of the cut to get better control when the material gives way. Ergonomically, the saw sits in a well-balanced position against your front hand throughout the sawing process. Our only complaints about this reciprocating saw are primarily related to the construction. For example, the button for setting the length of the baseplate is very stiff, and the machine squeaks a lot as we pull the foot out despite being new. We'd also have liked a marking on the baseplate, which would have made it easier to saw with greater accuracy. It also lacks the option to lock it on a particular angle. But if you don't need these functions and you're looking for a powerful reciprocating saw, you're not likely to be disappointed with the performance of the GSA 18V-32 Professional. On simpler tasks, the battery lasts for a couple of hours with no problems. The saw gets extra credit for including two substantial batteries – and for how quickly the charger (also included) charges the battery. We timed this at about 40 minutes; perfect for your lunch break. If you're looking for power and quality and are ready to pay for it, the GSA 18V-32 Professional is an excellent buy.

+Excellent vibration control, lots of power, many functions, stable and ergonomic
Clumsy baseplate without lock function, stiff and creaky button
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4.5 of 5

Best price at:

Black & Decker BDCR18

Light reciprocating saw for simpler tasks

Type: Battery Voltage: 18 volt Battery type: Li-ion Battery indicator: No Battery capacity: 1.5 Ah Weight: 1.5 kg Speed unloaded: 0-3000 strokes/min Stroke length: 22 mm Tool-free blade change: Yes Lighting: No Supplied with: 1 x saw blade Miscellaneous: 2 year guarantee User manual: PDF

The Black & Decker BDCR18 is a compact, light, budget-price reciprocating saw in the 18 volt segment which is suitable for simpler tasks. Its lightness is useful when you're working on more complicated and physically demanding angles, such as cutting off a ventilation pipe at roof level. The BDCR18 also has a rubberised grip which keeps it steady in your hand. However, the construction isn't particularly robust as a whole, and it feels rather plasticky and thin. The light body also means that it's hard to keep sawing accurate as a result of the vibrations, and you have to use quite a lot of brute force to keep it stable and in place. This means that it isn't suitable for cutting accurately, particularly in thicker materials. For example, we couldn't cut the top off a thick wooden fence post because the vibrations prevented us from getting a neat result. However, it's ideal for demolishing or sawing thinner materials indoors. The BDCR18 is also suitable if you're going to cut up undergrowth or smaller branches and don't want to get out the big chainsaw to do so.

The BDCR18 is a user-friendly reciprocating saw in that it's relatively spartan. When you want to use it to saw something, you simply click the battery in and press the button for the throttle. Something we feel is lacking is the option to lock the adjustable angle on the baseplate. We'd also have liked to see a marking on the baseplate to help achieve straight cuts. The baseplate moves steplessly, and sometimes this is useful, but at other times we would have preferred it to be immobile for better accuracy. It's easy to change saw blades, because the control for this is clear and because you don't need any tools. The battery that's included is pretty much a minimum. You can saw for about 30 minutes before you have to recharge it. If you do a lot of sawing, it can be worth buying an extra battery to swap with. If you have other B&D tools, you can use the same battery for several products. Another advantage of the BDCR18 is that the manual clearly explains how to use the tool with different materials to get as good a result as possible. This is a reciprocating saw for simpler tasks, and as such it does a good job for an attractive price.

+Light and compact, good grip, user-friendly construction
Rather short battery life, lots of vibrations, no central marking on the foot
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3.5 of 5

*Black & Decker also sells the sister model BDCR18N, which is identical to this product except it doesn't include a battery or charger