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Chainsaw vs Sawzall. Tips from a professional

Chainsaws are popular tools for cutting wood, but they can also be used to cut other materials like metal or plastic. Another popular saw is a Sawzall. Where a chainsaw uses a rotating chain, a Sawzall uses a reciprocating saw blade. With the correct blade, a Sawzall can be used to cut through wood, metal, plastic, plaster, and much more.

Chainsaw vs Sawzall

A chainsaw uses a rotating chain and is designed to cut thicker logs and trees quickly. A Sawzall, or reciprocating saw, is slower and better suited for smaller logs, planks, and cutting all kinds of other material.

This article will further explain the differences between a chainsaw and Sawzall and how a Sawzall can be used.

Chainsaw VS Sawzall: the differences

Generally, a chainsaw and a Sawzall differ in their operational mechanism. As the name suggests, a chainsaw runs a chain that is powered by a gas or electric engine. It is fast but has a relatively rough cut. It is primarily used for cutting logs, trees, and other wood. Instead of a chain, a Sawzall or a reciprocating saw has a mounted saw blade. The saw on a Sawzall runs up and down to cut the object’s surface. It has a much finer cut and can be used for cutting wood, PVC, or even metal objects.

Reciprocating saws come with a shoe that absorbs the movement caused by the cutting motion of the saw blade. So using a reciprocating saw like Sawzall is smooth and easy than using a chainsaw.

The following table shows the main differences between a chainsaw and a Sawzall:

Use purpose
Used for thicker logs and trees and work like clearing up fallen trees on a ranch
Used for demolition or remodeling drives which involve small-scale cutting of wooden or other building material. Best fit for small pruning, domestic purposes  
Cut Quality
A chainsaw has a rough cut
A Sawzall has a mich finner cut due to its sawblade.
Very noisy
Less noisy
Entry-level chainsaws start from approximately $100
Generally cheaper than a chainsaw. Price range: $30 to $200
Maintenance depends on the model. Gas models need more maintenance, like all gas equipment. Electric models need less maintenance.
Relatively low maintenance. You only have to replace the sawblades when it’s not sharp enough.
Safety issues
A chainsaw can be dangerous. I recommend always using proper safety equipment like chainsaw chaps and more.
It is less dangerous, but it is still a saw, so basic safety is needed.
Ease of use
A chainsaw needs two hands and has some learning involved. Proper usage is needed to make the workplace safe. But kickbacks and chain breaks can be challenging to manage
Easy to use. It can be used with one hand. Vibrations are manageable to an extent with the shoe. Less effort needed to operate
There are gas, electric, and battery-powered chainsaws.
There are both battery-powered and electric Sawzall

● Chainsaw VS Sawzall: Usage differences

The chainsaw is undoubtedly a woodworker’s tool for rough, fast cutting of trees and logs. It can also be used for making different kinds of cuts, whether you are making firewood or trying to clear up a fallen tree. Artists also use a chainsaw for chainsaw carving.

Using a big chainsaw for smaller tasks like pruning a bush or cutting small branches can be overkill, and a Sawzall or similar reciprocating saw can also be used for this. When the branches have a smaller diameter, the slower Sawzall will still cut them reasonably quickly.

But a Sawzall shines for all kinds of construction and demolition jobs. The thinner saw blade gives a fine cut, and allows precise operation, especially when inserted into tighter spaces.

A chainsaw comes in different sizes and bar lengths. A Sawzall can be used with different saw lengths, so you can cut both thin and thicker logs or planks. The shorter the saw, the stiffer it will be, and the easier it will be to steer.

● Chainsaw VS Sawzall: Operating Noise

Running a chainsaw is a loud affair, and I always recommend wearing ear protection. An electric chainsaw will be slightly quieter but is still loud. It may not be a big deal in the wilderness when you are cutting a tree or some logs. But a lot of noise while pruning the bushes in the garden in your city home is less may be desirable.

The different way of working from a Sawzall, and its electric motor make it a lot less noisy. This makes a reciprocating saw a better choice for urban jobs or enclosed locations.

● Chainsaw VS Sawzall: Maintenance

A chainsaw, particularly a gas model, requires regular maintenance. Professional Chainsaw owners keep a romantic relationship with their equipment. They religiously clean the saw, oils its chain, and clean the air filters to keep the chainsaw in good health. However, you can go easy on a Sawzall, as it does not demand such regular maintenance.

The cutting capacity of a chainsaw depends on the sharpness of the chain. You need to check and refill the chain oil and remove all accumulated sawdust. Occasionally, you need to sharpen the chain to keep it working well. The gas engine needs regular maintenance like keeping the air filter clean, checking and cleaning the sparkplug, and more.

A battery-powered or electric chainsaw needs a lot less maintenance but still requires checking and refilling the chain oil, and removing sawdust from the chain and sprocket.

In the case of Sawzall, there is not much more to do than replace the saw blade when it is not sharp enough.

● Chainsaw VS Sawzall: Price

Generally, a Sawzall is cheaper than a chainsaw. You can find a reciprocating saw ranging from $40 to $300 and slightly above. Depending on features, manufacturer, and build quality. However, even the cheapest chainsaw will cost you around $75 and upwards, and a decent one will cost you anywhere more than $200.

For both types, an electric model will be the cheapest. Gas or battery-powered machines will be more expensive. Check that the battery is included in case of a battery-operated chainsaw or Sawzall. Sometimes I see cheap offers, but without the battery.

● Chainsaw VS Sawzall: Safety

The potential danger if you mess up while working with these tools differs. A chainsaw is a powerful tool, and any slippage or a moment of negligence can result in a grave situation for the operator or people around.

A chainsaw has some build-in features, like an emergency brake. I always recommend wearing suitable personal protection when using a chainsaw, like chainsaw chaps, a helmet, and ear protection.

Chainsaws are notorious for unexpected kickbacks. A less experienced person operating a chainsaw has an increased risk of a kickback, particularly if the chainsaw has a dull chain.

Compared with a chainsaw, using a Sawzall is less hazardous. There is no danger of kickbacks as it does not have a rotating chain. It does create vibrations while cutting wood or other material. However, the shoe of the Sawzall can be pressed to the material being cut, which will absorb the vibrations of the cutting process. Still, if you are operating a Sawzall standing on unstable ground or cutting an unstable object, it may cause dangers. However, it is more controllable than a chainsaw.

● Chainsaw VS Sawzall: Ease of use

When it comes to portability and ease of use, obviously, the reciprocating saw wins this category as it is more portable compared to a chainsaw. A chainsaw with its bar sticks out and is a relatively heavy tool when filled with fuel or heavy batteries. A Sawzall is lighter with its smaller motor and smaller batteries, and it is easier to carry around.

But both are different tools for different jobs. The chainsaw is more capable if you need to cut a big tree or want to fell a standing tree. The Sawzall is more suitable for construction-related jobs or cutting small branches or logs with a smaller diameter.

Can you use a Sawzall to cut trees?

A Sawzall can cut trees up to the diameter of the saw blade. A Sawzall is a handy saw that can be used indoors and outdoors for jobs like dismantling, construction, or remodeling work. Take care that the end-mounted blade of a Sawzall has a limited length and cannot be used for cutting tree branches or logs bigger than the saw size.

Is a reciprocating saw the same thing as a Sawzall?

A reciprocating saw is another name for a Sawzall. Technically, Sawzall is a type of reciprocating saw manufactured by Milwaukee Tool. However, it is used in common parlance to denote all kinds of reciprocating saws from all manufacturers. It is mainly because the Sawzall has the exact usability feature of a typical reciprocating saw like the end-mounted blade, shoe, handles, and safety features.

How big of a tree can a Sawzall cut?

The size of the tree that you can cut using a Sawzall depends on the size of the mounted saw blade on your Sawzall. Different Sawzall models come with varying sizes of saw blades, generally ranging from 3 inches to 12 inches. This means that you can cut trees with a diameter from 3 inches to 12 inches.

I recommend not cutting trees thicker than the length of the retracted saw blade. Some users manage to cut trees thicker by cutting around the tree, but this can be challenging. I recommend using a chainsaw in these cases.

Can a Sawzall cut a log?

A Sawzall can be used for cutting logs if a proper wood blade is used. Depending on the material you want to cut with a Sawzall, you need to use specific blades. Generally, wood blades have comparatively lesser teeth per inch. Any blade with 8 or lesser teeth per inch will be fine for cutting logs, be it for firewood or other purposes. However, if the log has a larger diameter than the saw blade, cutting it using a Sawzall may not be a viable idea.