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I have a heap of untreated reject timber from a portable mill which I intend to use for firewood. It's in long pieces, often with bark on one side, and some are up to about 20cm (8") thick.

It is probably too thick for a circular skill saw, so my other options seem to be a chainsaw or maybe a reciprocating saw (I'd go with a corded electric model for either case). I've never seen anyone use a reciprocating saw at all, so I have no idea what they are capable of; would one cut through 20cm of timber without too much trouble?

Are there any other problems I might run into using one for firewood (other than having to replace a blade occasionally if I hit a nail or stone)?

This question was a good introduction to my investigation, but only provided a small amount of detail about the reciprocating saw option (and it's hard to know how seriously to take it when it's the "most fun" option).

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5 Answers 5

up vote 10 down vote accepted

A reciprocating saw WILL do the job. If that is what you have and you do not wish to buy/borrow/rent a chainsaw, then you can use it. Get a long blade, designed for cutting wood. These blades have large, sharp teeth with wide gullets between them.

The reciprocating saw will take longer to do the job, and it does have some vibration issues, but I can assert that you can use it for hours at a time. A good saw is a beast, designed for heavy duty work. (I did so to cut up the wood after we had an ice storm once. It left piles of wood behind that can only be measured as many cubic yards. My chainsaw was dead, and was painfully unwilling to be revived. Amazingly, I used only 3 blades for the entire job. The final pile of wood and brush was roughly 10 feet wide, 6 feet high, and 60 feet long.)

If you do use a reciprocating saw for this purpose, you might buy some gloves with padding in the palms. Good gloves will be a necessity anyway, so use them. Ear protection is a good idea too.

If you already have a reciprocating saw and a circular saw, and want to just buy the right blades ... I'd consider a carbide blade in the circular saw, using it for wood that is up to 3 inches thick. Choose a blade with few teeth and large gullets. Then use the reciprocating saw with a wood blade only for those pieces that are too thick.

Having said all that, perhaps another solution if you do not wish to buy a gas powered chainsaw, is an electric chainsaw. These saws have no issues with gasoline, so are slightly simpler to deal with. It is still a chainsaw though. You will still need to use oil, and kickbacks are still a problem to watch out for, but a circular saw can also be dangerous if used unwisely.

Replace or sharpen dull blades as appropriate. A dull blade is a dangerous blade. It takes more effort to use, so you push harder. A good saw with a sharp blade should almost glide through the wood.

Finally, if you are cutting up a large amount of wood, then be careful. Do not work when you are tired. This is true using ANY saw. Stop and finish the job another day, a far better idea than spending time in the emergency room.

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+1 for "Stop and finish the job another day, a far better idea than spending time in the emergency room." –  Dan Neely Oct 1 '12 at 13:51

A heap isn't very descriptive as per quantity, so I am going to assume that this is akin to a buttload.

A chainsaw really is your best option as they are designed for quick, rough cuts. Also, the blades last for a very long time. A large reciprocating saw will also do the job just fine but will take longer and go through some blades. Also, the vibration from them will make your hands go numb after awhile. You might be able to rent either, or maybe borrow one, so if you're going to rent rather than buy and you have choice then go with the chainsaw.

Chainsaws are really only good for going through large amounts of tree, often. Large reciprocating saws are used mostly for demolition work, and saw through your typical house material like a hot knife through butter, which can be fun especially if you don't have pieces of the house land on you while you do it. However, neither tool is any good for normal DIY tasks as they are blunt instruments and leave no finish-able edges. Chopping lots of wood into small pieces for firewood is a long and boring job, neither is going to make it interesting, so my advice is borrow or rent a chainsaw to get it done quick.

Don't forget to use a full face shield, ear plugs, and sturdy shoes and clothing when using either of these. They are very powerful, noisy, messy, and if they get away from you can kill you in seconds.

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Thanks, that sounds like good advice. Will wait a short time before accepting, just in case anything else comes out of the woodwork... –  Highly Irregular Oct 1 '12 at 9:18
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Chainsaws are great, but they also come with a bit of a learning curve. If not properly handled, they can cause a buttload of damage. A reciprocating saw might take a bit longer, but they are very user friendly (just don't cut the cord, and watch where you put your hands). –  Tester101 Oct 1 '12 at 11:29
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Kickback - The tip of the bar is not a cutting tool... Unless you're a chainsaw sculptor and very skilled. –  Fiasco Labs Oct 1 '12 at 15:15
    
@Tester101 I agree with you up to a point, but I would say that a really big reciprocating saw need a lot of respect, almost as much as a chainsaw. –  GdD Oct 1 '12 at 15:22
    
@GdD As I watched a neighbor hack through a wall and punch holes in something he'd left leaning against the wall on the other side. A Sawzall has some pretty good penetrating power and could be a handy side feature in the "Texas Chainsaw Massacres" if they do a remake. –  Fiasco Labs Oct 1 '12 at 17:46

Reciprocating saws typically have very short blade movement - something like 30 millimeters, so once you cut anything thicker than perhaps three times that range the blade will not fully remove the chips out of the cut and that will slow the cutting process down. A circular saw or a chainsaw doesn't have this problem - it's teeth move continuously into the same direction, so at each revolution all the chips are removed from the cut.

So a reciprocating saw will not be the fastest tool for thick firewood.

Btw your other option is a hand saw with large teeth - if the teeth are hardened they stay sharp very long. This is slower than a chainsaw but much cheaper.

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Yeah a reciprocating saw would take forever to cut through normal sized firewood. You really need a chainsaw, or if the pieces are small enough in diameter, you could use a chop-saw, if you have one.

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If you use a reciprocating saw properly there will be no build up of wood to clog the blade. With a reciprocating saw you should use the same forward and backward motion as you do when using a hand saw. This helps clear the saw dust build up whilst sawing, enabling you to cut quicker and thicker logs.

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