What is a Sabre Saw?

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

Old versions of the sabre saw — also spelled saber saw — were unpowered hand saws that consisted of a thin blade with a handle at one end. Today, however, the term usually refers to a handheld power tool with a blade that moves at adjustable speeds. Some people refer to sabre saws as jigsaws or reciprocating saws, though these saws can also come in a stationary form. The sabre saw is primarily used for cutting curves at a variety of angles in wood, but with the proper blade and guide, the saw can be used for a variety of other purposes.

Man with a drill
Man with a drill

The date of the earliest sabre saw isn’t known, but the first power sabre saw was invented in 1947, and while some of its basic components have stayed the same since then, new features have also emerged. All sabre saw models feature a housing containing a motor, an on-off switch, and a blade assembly, with some newer models offering variable speeds. Corded models have a power cord, but newer, cordless models have a battery. Though early power models featured a top handle or barrel grip, a D-shaped handle has also been introduced. Most sabre saws also come with a guide that helps the user keep the saw flush against the material it's cutting. Early models featured blades with a standard reciprocating motion, while more recently there is also an "orbital" version which allows the blade to move forward and backward as well as up and down.

Cutting with a sabre saw may require a different set up, depending on the type of cut being made. Curves are often cut by simply clamping the wood in place and moving the saw to follow a line that has been drawn on the wood. For perfect circles, however, a circle guide may be employed. The “normal” setting of the saw is 90 degrees, but to cut a bevel, the sabre saw’s angle can be adjusted to between 45 and 90 degrees, and a mitre guide can be used to guide the angle of the cut as well. For a straight cut, a guide fence — a straight piece of wood used to keep the saw cutting in a straight line — may be used, and some people use two fences, one on each side of the saw.

A variety of blades make it possible for the sabre saw to be used in different ways and on different materials. When it was first introduced, the sabre saw was advertised as a replacement for a variety of other saws, including rip saws and crosscut saws, and — given the appropriate blade, it is capable of making both rip cuts, parallel to the wood grain, and cross cuts at right angles to the grain. In addition, there are fine cut and coarse cut blades, distinguished by a smaller and larger tooth size, and special blades for cutting metal. Burr-resistant blades are made for cutting veneer and laminated wood.

In order to use a sabre saw safely, wrap-around goggles are generally recommended. Before each use with a corded model, the power cord should be checked for fraying, and the user should make sure that the power switch is in the “off” position before plugging the saw in. For all sabre saws, the appropriate blade should be chosen and checked for sharpness. When the saw is being put away, the blade can be removed and put in a case for safer storage.

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

Mary Elizabeth is passionate about reading, writing, and research, and has a penchant for correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to contributing articles to wiseGEEK about art, literature, and music, Mary Elizabeth is a teacher, composer, and author. She has a B.A. from the University of Chicago’s writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont, and she has written books, study guides, and teacher materials on language and literature, as well as music composition content for Sibelius Software.

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