Reciprocating saws have been on the move–fast–since the last time we looked at this group. Category-wide, manufacturers have made advances with tool-free blade changes, articulating handles, and even LED work lights.
But all the features in the world don't matter unless they have a real impact on how well these workhorse tools can take out material. Since most of my projects require tearing down the entire house I'm "remodeling" and building a new one in its place, there was no shortage of demo work and framing alterations to keep these saws busy.
In the group of tools I tested, about the only thing that remains the same from my old recip saws is that the blade goes back and forth. Now, each tool offers somewhat different functionality than the others, using unique combinations of design and features. I tested 10 tools over a 12-week test period: the Bosch RS20, Craftsman 26672, DeWalt 304PK, Hilti 1250-PE, Hitachi CR13VA, Makita JR3070CT, Milwaukee 6523-21, Porter-Cable 9747, Ridgid R3001, and Worx WT401K.
I first tested the tools in the shop using new, identical blades to cut 4x4s, 6x6s, and hardwood decking. Here I wanted to work each tool in relatively uniform materials and in a controlled environment to get a baseline for power, vibration, and feel while getting a close look at each tool's feature set before taking them out to my sites.
In the field, I looked to see which tools were the go-to models on everything from cutting out door plates to hacking through plaster and lath to removing nail-embedded framing or deleting old knob-and-tube wire chases and plumbing pipes. Here, I was concerned with how the combination of feel, balance, power, and features combined into a tool I'd reach for day in and day out.
Blade Change. All the tools in the group, thankfully, have quick-change blade mechanisms. I think this is the best single improvement to this category. Bosch and Makita were the easiest to load. I liked how the locking mechanism on both tools stays open until you insert a blade into the shaft; inserting the blade also locks it in place. I do, however, have two small complaints: the small collar is tough on your fingertips, and while you can change blades wearing light-duty gloves easily enough, the winter gloves have to come off for you to get a grip. To eject the blade, you turn the collar again, which locks it open and pops the blade out.
The Craftsman, DeWalt, and Ridgid all have a lever on the side of the body that activates the blade-locking mechanism. I liked this design best. The Worx has a lever on the blade shaft itself; you release or insert the blade by pushing the lever downward. I found it on the small side, but it worked. The Hilti, Hitachi, Milwaukee, and Porter-Cable function similar to the Bosch and Makita; however, they don't lock open when the blade is out of the tool, which adds an extra step. The blades don't pop out, either; you have to pull them out.
Adjustable Shoe. All the tools have a quick-adjust shoe except the DeWalt, which has a fixed steel cage around the shaft. I suppose a conveniently adjustable shoe is useful for getting better control of the blade depth for certain operations like cutting blindly into a wall cavity, but in 25 years of using these tools, I've never really found a need for the feature. That said, the adjustments work just fine on all the saws.
Orbital Cutting Action. An important operational difference among these tools is whether the saw blade can cut in an orbital fashion or not. Orbital action is where it's at for aggressive demolition, enabling the blade to hit the material harder and remove it faster than a straight reciprocating motion. The Makita and Worx each allow for straight action and three degrees of orbit. The Hitachi, Hilti, Milwaukee, and Porter-Cable allow for straight cutting and one orbital setting. The Bosch, Craftsman, DeWalt, and Ridgid offer only straight cutting action.
Shop Cuts. After previewing each tool, I clamped the 4-by, 6-by, and hardwood decking to the bench and set them to work cross-cutting the stock. After working in each material, I started noticing how much each tool's weight distribution and balance affected its performance. The Makita, Milwaukee, Hilti, Hitachi, and Bosch had good weight distribution along the tool body, felt very solid while cutting, and almost fell through cuts. The Craftsman, DeWalt, Porter-Cable, Ridgid, and Worx required more push.
Next, I flipped on the orbital cutting action in the tools that had the feature (Hitachi, Hilti, Makita, Milwaukee, Porter-Cable, and Worx), which immediately enabled them to pack more punch cutting through wood. And I noticed Makita's new anti-vibration feature here. The saw ran smoothly in the shop cuts.