Reciprocating saws and chainsaws are both versatile tools, but they’re not interchangeable. Although these saws can be used in multiple roles, it’s critical to know when to pick a chainsaw vs a reciprocating saw.
Each one offers some specialization that allows it to shine where the other might fail. If you’re looking to get one for your toolshed, we’re ready to help you pick which one of these tools is best suited for your needs.
We take a look at the differences between chainsaw vs reciprocating saws and help you determine which one you need.
What Will You Be Cutting?
The foremost consideration in choosing a chainsaw vs. reciprocating saw is what you’ll be cutting.
Use of Chainsaws
Chainsaws were initially designed for logging, and are the premier tool for dealing with tree branches, trunks, and firewood, and even for rough shaping of large posts, joists, and floors. If you want to cut wood and only wood, a chain saw will offer the power and size to get the work done quickly.
With gasoline-powered options, chainsaws are available with enough horsepower to handle the stoutest pieces of wood you can throw at them. Saws up to 20 inches long are readily available, and because of their mechanism of cutting, they will be able to handle material up to 36 inches in diameter.
Use of Reciprocating Saws
If you’re cutting mixed materials and working with smaller pieces, a reciprocating saw, also known as a recipro saw, saber saw, or sometimes by the brand name Sawzall, will be your go-to choice.
With its full suite of replaceable blades, the reciprocating saw can handle wood, metal, and plastic without the binding and kickback issues of the chain saw.
While the saw’s design and removable blades effectively limit the size of the work material to about 12 inches, this smaller size makes the reciprocating saw more portable and easier to use in confined spaces.
Practically, this means that reciprocating saws are better suited to demolition jobs where you’ll benefit from their portability and the flexibility of being able to cut whatever you encounter.
Comparing Ease of Use
The reciprocating saw is hands-down the easier saw to use, requiring the least training to operate safely and quickly, as well as being more portable, versatile, and requiring less expensive safety equipment than the chainsaw.
Almost all reciprocating saws are electrically powered. Like most other electric power tools, recipro saws can be had in cordless or corded versions.
A cordless reciprocating saw allow you to harness the utility and versatility of this power saw anywhere, eliminating the need to carry a generator or extension cords into the worksite.
While chainsaws are increasingly available with electric power options, because of their legacy as logging tools, they are more frequently powered by internal combustion engines. Gasoline saws may offer superior off-the-grid ability, but require additional engine knowledge, tools, and fluids to operate.
Changing and Replacing Blades
Reciprocating saws use easily replaceable individual blades to cut through material. Because changing the saw’s blade is easy – usually, no tools are required – and manufacturers offer a huge variety of blades, the reciprocating saw has tremendous versatility.
Blades designed for wood, metal, or plastic are readily available. Specialty mixed-use blades are especially useful if you’ll need to cut through wood with screws or nails in it, and are more worried about getting dismantling structures quickly than about making the cleanest cut.
Because chainsaws rely on a cycling toothed chain, their cutting mechanism is drastically more complex and expensive than the recipro saw. Changing or sharpening your chainsaw blade requires additional tools and training.
Power Source: Electric or Gas?
If the only factor in making your selection of a chainsaw vs a reciprocating saw is electrical access, then chainsaws may have a clear advantage.
While the reciprocating action of the saw is great for quickly dealing with smaller pieces of wood, if you won’t have access to electrical power, then a gas powered chainsaw and its internal combustion engine will most likely be the best option for your cutting woods. But these days it is not difficult to find electric chainsaws. But electric chainsaws may lack power.
If you’ll have electrical access, then a reciprocating saw will most likely be the better option. With battery-powered models offering portability and power, a recip saw will provide plenty of cutting ability without the need to worry about long term fuel and maintenance costs.
Budget and Maintenance
When choosing a chainsaw vs a reciprocating saw, both tools will cost about the same for long-term operation. However, let’s take a look at some of the upfront vs. the long-term costs of each saw type.
Price & Maintenance of Recipro Saws
Reciprocating saws range in price from around $100 to over $240 for top-shelf cordless models. An important factor in reciprocating saws’ cost is the cost of blades; because they are consumable, they will need to be regularly replaced as you use the tool.
Blades cost between $2 for basic pruning blades to more than $20 per blade for highly engineered, carbide-coated blades for metal or ceramic.
However, the reciprocating saw’s electric motor and relatively few moving parts mean that beyond blade replacement and occasional lubrication, other maintenance costs are virtually zero.
If you want get a reciprocating saw then read our top 10 recommendations here: Best Reciprocating Saws & Buying Guide
Price & Maintenance of Chainsaws
Chainsaw pricing is more varied than reciprocating saws, with basic electric models costing about $60.00 and high-end internal combustion models soaring past $500.
For a chain saw to work well for years, it needs a continuous supply of bar oil to keep the cutting chain lubricated (costing between $5 and $12 per quart), as well as regular blade sharpening (requiring a set of files and sharpening guides) and chain and bar adjustment (requiring additional tools).
If you’re operating a gas-powered saw, maintenance costs are further increased by the need for fuel, two-stroke oil, and regular engine maintenance and rebuilding.
If you’re not comfortable cleaning air filters, and adjusting carburetors, or can’t factor paying someone else to do it into your operating budget, then a gas chainsaw is a clear loser in the budget category.
Additionally, a chainsaw’s cycling cutting chain is a serious safety hazard. If you don’t already own the eye, ear, hand, and leg protection required for its operation, the purchase of the requisite safety gear could add significantly to the saw’s cost, in some cases adding up to hundreds of dollars worth of protective equipment.
Final Verdict: Which Saw to Choose?
Both the chain saw and the reciprocating saw are versatile tools that can handle a lot of work. Ideally, if you were outfitting your dream toolbox, you’d be able to have one of each.
If you have to choose just one, though, consider the following points. If your job includes cutting large pieces of wood, have no access to electricity, or need to saw for hours non-stop, a chainsaw is your best option.
A reciprocating saw might suit your needs better if you have various materials to cut, need to work indoors, or need a saw that’s easier to maintain long-term.