Reciprocating Saws: The Saber Saw

Reciprocating Saws: The Saber Saw

Saber Saw

The Saber Saw is one of the most common power tools in any workshop. Its primary purpose is to cut shapes and patterns, which it does well. This relatively inexpensive saw is a must in any home workshop.This tool is also very good at cutting project workpieces to their overall widths and lengths, and in some cases to their final size. Our special Basics section will show you how to use the saw properly, how to maximize its capabilities and what to look for when buying a new Saber Saw. With virtually hundreds of Saber Saws and other reciprocating saws on the market, buying the right tool can be difficult.

Basic Features

Saber Saws have a blade that moves up and down and an adjustable pad. All allow you to rip, miter and cut designs. However, there is a variety of other features that you can get when you purchase a new saw. Some of the new tools on the market are cordless, have variable-speed controls, include orbital action, or have scrolling heads that allow the blade to turn 360 degrees.


The distance that the blade moves from its peak moving upwards to its lowest point moving downwards is referred to as its cutting stroke. You may be surprised to know that Reciprocating Saws vary from tool to tool when it comes to determining the stroke. Generally, consumer tools have shorter strokes (5/8") than professional tools (13/16 inch).

A longer stroke translates into faster cutting, because more of the blade is coming into contact with the wood. Faster cutting also keeps the blade sharper for a longer period of time. When possible, pay the extra money for a tool with a longer stroke.

Ripping and crosscutting. Reciprocating Saws allow you to rip materials to length (crosscut) and width (rip). Usually, the resulting edge of each cut is less than desirable for most applications, since the edges still must be jointed or sanded.

The type of blade you use can diminish the roughness of the edges. The more teeth the blade has, the smoother the cut. For instance, a plywood cutting blade will minimize wood splintering and make a smoother cut than a blade with fewer teeth.

The width of the blade makes a big difference. Narrower blades tend to weave more than wider blades. Obviously, narrower blades are ideal for cutting tight curves, but wider blades are great for making long, slow-curving cuts.

To produce straighter cuts, use a wider blade and a clamped straightedge to guide the Reciprocating Saw. For getting smoother crosscuts, use a straightedge as well.


The Saber Saw's foot or pad can be set to swivel left and right of center, usually by 45 degrees. This ability lets you rip or crosscut bevels in woods. Again, the use of a wider plywood cutting blade provides a smoother, straighter cut. Guide the tool against a clamped straightedge.

Unfortunately, the angle calibrations on many tools are not precise. Use a small protractor to give you more precise angle-setting calibrations, and make test cuts before you cut the good material.

Cutting patterns

This is what the Saber Saw does best. However, most of us make the mistake of using an old blade to make these cuts. For making a rough cut, the old blade is fine. To aim for a perfect cut, however, install a brand-new blade, one that is suitable for the type of cut you want, and let the tool do the cutting. Never push the tool hard into the wood or turn the blade hard into the cut -- both will result in a rough cut and may even bend the blade.

If the blade bends, it will begin cutting at an angle. When this happens in the middle of a cut, backing out the blade and cutting again may not square the cut, even though the blade may not be permanently bent. Pushing too hard heats up the blade and will result in the blade bending or in premature wear-out. pushing can be felt and heard. You will not be able get the tool to move appreciably faster with excessive pushing, and you will hear the tool's motor labor more.


A Saber Saw with a scrolling feature means that the saw blade assembly can be rotated, usually 360 degrees. A lock keeps the blade assembly from moving during a cut. For cuts in a variety of directions, the assembly can be unlocked so that you determine the direction of the cut. This is a great feature for making intricate, curved cuts. Most manufacturers allow the blade to be locked at 90 degree settings.

Sometimes a cut results in the saw's pad being off the edge. In these situations the pad may not give you firm tool control. Therefore, by setting the scroll assembly 180 degrees, the pad can rest firmly on the material while you cut, backing up the saw.


A cordless Saber Saw is invaluable for many situations. The short-term energy source (battery) does not really make the cordless saw enticing, however. It is great for short-term cutting, but the tool does not have enough battery power for working on jobs that require more than 15 minutes of continuous cutting.

The cordless saw is appropriate for cutting a vent opening at home or at a cottage where power is not available. As a staple of the workshop, however, the cordless saw may be a disappointing addition.


Speed is rated as strokes per minute. The more strokes per minute, the faster the tool cuts. This may be fine in wood but not in metal. When cutting metal, the tool works best at a slower stroke, this is the rationale applied to cutting other material types. A single-speed Reciprocating Saw will suit most workshop purposes.

If you seek more cutting control, variable-speed tools are available that can be set to cut from between 0 to 3200 strokes per minute. Speed also must take into account the tool's length of stroke. A tool with higher number of strokes per minute and a shorter stroke may cut slower than a tool with fewer strokes per minute but a longer stroke. To compare the real cutting ability of different tools, multiply the cutting stroke times the maximum strokes per minute. The resulting figure will be a truer measure of the tool's real cutting ability.

Reciprocating Saws: The Saber Saw Part II

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Reciprocating Saws: The Saber Saw