This is more out of curiosity. I came across the term sabre saw and tried to figure out what it was.

Searching the internet turned up results for both a jigsaw:

sabre saw / jig saw?

...and a reciprocating saw:

sabre saw / reciprocating saw?

This leads me to wonder if sabre is a descriptive word to describe a reciprocating blade mechanism found in both jig saws and reciprocating saws. Or is it another type of saw?

  • Answers might need to acknowledge this could be a regional issue.
    – Matt
    May 12, 2015 at 16:46
  • @guitarthrower I've edited your question for clarity but please make further changes if I've changed the meaning of anything in your question. I also removed the second part of your question ("...what would be the ideal uses for that saw?") but please feel free to post it as a separate question if appropriate.
    – rob
    May 12, 2015 at 18:00
  • @Matt good point. I would also add that, due to the confusion of terms, any definitive answer should probably include references to manufacturers' ads which both picture a specific tool and call it a sabre/saber saw.
    – rob
    May 12, 2015 at 18:05
  • 1
    @rob Don't know if it is a good answer but I found an old advert for a sabre saw that I moulded into an answer. It is mostly there to stop the infighting.
    – Matt
    May 12, 2015 at 19:09
  • @Matt Nice finds; you can't get any more definitive than the manufacturers' advertisements. Now let's just hope nobody digs up a "sabre saw" ad with a picture of Joe DiMaggio holding a recip saw!
    – rob
    Jul 1, 2015 at 3:57

9 Answers 9


Questions like this will lead to contradictory answers. There are some main points I would like to make to aid in everyone's answers.


Experience plays this role very well. As you are introduced to tools you will typically accept what you are being taught. If my dad handed me a jigsaw and called it a Lemon Mutilator that is what I would have called it.


I had mentioned this in comments but your region plays a big part in this. A simple example would be: trunk and boot. They are the same thing but it depends which word you use in which region (US and UK respectively).


Time also changes things. I had a question about quarter-sawn lumber and the meaning of that term meant something different decades ago. If you asked wood workers of different generations what a piece of quarter-sawn lumber was they could give you two different answers that are both right.

The "Sabre" Saw

I have a theory that both of the saws you have pictures are the spiritual ancestors of the "sabre saw". As the tools evolved into their respective uses, intricate and rough, the naming might have become convoluted.

I would like to come to CharlieHorse's defense at this point. I found an old advertisement for a Weller Sabre Saw. Its the tool Mr. Mantle is holding.

Old Advert

If you look it is making intricate cuts much like a jigsaw would. Modern jigsaws don't have the same design as they do in that picture. Those changes might have driven the name change as well (Warning: This sentence contains speculation). Mostly trying to show that time changes things.

Here is another one just to show that its not just one manufacturer.

Another Ad

At the End of the Day

I have always seen the tool above, in your question, as a jigsaw and the other a reciprocating saw. Until today I have never even heard the phrase Sabre Saw. If it gives context I am 33 at the time of writing this.

  • I think this is the clearest and least speculative answer. Thank you. I am also 33 and my father-in-law (60) was the one who called it a sabre saw. May 12, 2015 at 20:00
  • @guitarthrower I am surprised but happy you picked my answer. Glad I could help.
    – Matt
    May 12, 2015 at 20:10
  • Because when I think power tools, I think, "What would Mickey Mantle use?" ;)
    – Daniel B.
    Jul 1, 2015 at 20:06
  • Fascinating. I would call the BOTTOM picture a sabre saw. Also they are quite new tools to me; probably saw my first one 10 or 20 years ago. (British, 57) Mar 17, 2016 at 19:44

Currently Saber Saw and Jigsaw refer to the same tool. My Dad always called the top item a Saber Saw. Up through the 1980's, the hand held tool was referred to as a Saber Saw in Popular Mechanics, but was called a Jigsaw by the manufacturers.

The name Jigsaw predates hand held tools by about 100 years. It then referred to what we now call a scroll saw.
Scroll Saw

This 1977 quote sums it up perfectly:

“For one thing, with a scroll saw (sometimes called a jigsaw) you will be able to do all the curved and intricate sawing you would like to be able to do with a saber saw (sometimes also called a jigsaw), but can’t.”

There is an entire article on the history of these names found here.

The item on the bottom photo, often known by the tradename Sawzall, was invented by Milwaukee Tool Company in 1951 as the first electric hacksaw. Generally known as reciprocating saws, they are typically used for rough cuts and demolition.

  • I have always understood those tools as reciprocating saws and that Sawzall is to reciprocating saws as Kleenex is to tissue paper.
    – Matt
    May 12, 2015 at 16:49
  • In common terminology, you are correct. Technically, any saw that works via a reciprocating action can be thus called, including jigsaws, scroll saws, and sawzall type saws.
    – LeeG
    May 12, 2015 at 17:04
  • 1
    @LeeG by the literal definition they could also be called oscillating tools, and table saws and lathes could be called rotary tools. Ugh...I hate when the unbranded name is overly generic.
    – rob
    May 12, 2015 at 17:47
  • That's pretty much what I was taught, both by my dad and by my middle school (and later high school) shop teachers. May 13, 2015 at 13:25

It's another one of those dastardly terminology issues - I think woodworkers are particularly prone to calling different things the same thing, and the same thing different things depending on who you ask!

I would disagree with CharlieHorse's answer and call the top pictured saw a handheld jigsaw, and the bottom pictured saw a sabre saw or reciprocating saw. Again in reality they are both types of reciprocating saw, and the term "jigsaw" can also refer to a fixed/bench-mounted version of the same thing as the handheld one shown above.

For my own definition I would say that a jigsaw has a shallow blade, and is meant for doing fine, controlled/intricate work generally to thin boards (like a jigsaw puzzle!) whereas a sabre-saw has a deeper blade and is particularly suited for doing fast but rough cuts and is of particular use for demolition when removing old windows or other timbers. Both sabre-saws and jigsaws can also be fitted with metal-cutting and other types of blades.

A further distinction is that what I call a handheld jigsaw is always meant to be used with the large flat base guide on flat material, whereas with the sabre saw it's often used as a quick "cut-off" saw without relying much on the guide, which is usually smaller and may be mounted non-rigidly so that you can easily follow contoured material.

Wikipedia currently claims that the top pictured saw may also be called a sabre saw, but I've personally never heard of it being referred to anything other than a (handheld) jigsaw. To be clear, "reciprocating saw" would be (in my mind) the general term for any type of saw where the blade moves back and forth.

Edit: I've done some research on Makita's, Ryobi's, Black and Decker's, and Bosch's websites (all large power tool manufacturers:


So they would tend to agree that the top is a jigsaw and the other one is a reciprocating saw, though I'd still contend that a "reciprocating saw" is a valid term for any kind of saw where the blade moves back and forth.

  • The interchangeability definitely exists. FWIW when I see jigsaws, like the one above, in results for sabre saw then they are specifically called scrolling sabre saws
    – Matt
    May 12, 2015 at 16:52
  • I would also never try using a reciprocating saw, like the one pictured below, with one hand where as I would use a jigsaw single handed. My definition of reciprocating saw requires two hands.
    – Matt
    May 12, 2015 at 17:01
  • If I wasn't already aware of the terminology and had to name the tools myself, I would call the recip saw a sabre saw...but in reality I've only ever heard or seen a jigsaw called a sabre saw by any reputable woodworking authority. The Wikipedia article which states the sabre saw is a reciprocating saw is highly questionable, as it doesn't cite any references and the Wikipedia article itself is under debate. Unfortunately, even Google Image Search turns up ambiguous results. I wonder if anyone can find an old manufacturer's ad that pictures a recip saw and calls it a sabre/saber saw.
    – rob
    May 12, 2015 at 17:15
  • 1
    @WhatEvil, please don't further confuse the issue by introducing literal interpretations of the words used to name a tool. By the logic you're applying to "reciprocating saw," you could call a jigsaw or recip saw an oscillating tool (which actually refers to a tool like the Fein MultiMaster), and you could call a table saw or lathe a rotary tool (which is the generic name for a Dremel's namesake rotary multi-tool).
    – rob
    May 12, 2015 at 17:40
  • Well really "oscillating" more describes the movement of swinging back and forth/from side to side, like a pendulum (or like a Fein Multimaster). It's not my fault the manufacturers have decided to use a very literal description of how the saw blade moves for the name of the tool.
    – WhatEvil
    May 13, 2015 at 16:08

In general, a Sabre Saw is a hand held tool, like the one in your top picture. Only one end of the blade is supported by the tool. This can cause cuts to vary in angle when you encounter areas of differing density (like a knot).

A jig saw in normally a bench top tool that has the blade secured at both ends (sometimes called a scroll saw). The term "jig saw" is sometimes used interchangeably for both tools.

The saw in your second picture is a reciprocating saw (sometimes called by the brand-name "Sawzall") and is normally used for very rough cuts.

  • 3
    I've always heard the top picture being called a jigsaw...
    – beattyac
    May 12, 2015 at 16:21
  • Many people have. Oddly enough, they also call a scroll saw a jig saw, so one has to wonder if there actually is a thing that is a "jig saw". May 12, 2015 at 16:30

I'm old enough now I suppose I'm the "fathers" age group. Shop class and catalogs of the era when I was in school said saber saw was the handheld power tool and jigsaw was the benchtop tool. Even back then there was confusion over the terms. Scrolling was something you did with either tool, a process, not a tool. As much as I dislike it, jigsaw has become the dominate term for either. Times, and the language we speak changes over time and I'm afraid the term Jigsaw has superseded saber saw and unless you want to appear as one of the model T generation, jigsaw is the term to use.

Being a stickler for "accuracy" I'm not sure what I'll use. Be correct and outdated and use a term nobody else knows or be wrong but have people understand what I'm saying.


It is somewhat wrong use of the name for basically the same tool.

Originally what you would call a 'Jig'Saw and 'Sabre'Saw were the same tool fitted with different kind of blades, where 'Jig' simply referred to the fact that blade was going in an (up/down) or (in/out) motion instead of rotating or like with a bend-saw in continuous one way motion. thus you could have a 'Jig'Saw with a normal thin/fine toothed blade for fine cut works and a 'Sabre'Saw with a thicker more rough toothed blade for fast rough jobs and metal cutting. Hence the name identified the specific job you are doing. it could be the same tool just fitted with different blade suited for the job at hand.


In 1953, Shopmaster sold the model J.S. 3000 Jig Saw which is what today, most of us would call a scroll saw. This could be converted into a Saber Saw by removing the arm that holds the top blade guide.

They also sold the model SS-700 Saber Saw, which is essentially a scroll saw without the top blade guide.

See pages 14 & 15 of their catalog from that year courteously hosted by Vintage Machinery.


They were always sabre saws until the late 1990's in my recollection. Find any old craftsman catalog and you will see that the portables were sabre saws and the bench top models were scrolling jig saws. However I remember my father telling me when I was young that they used to use both names to describe the portables depending on the maker. Maybe it was more a branding patent thing that created multiple names? Today it seems they are now all called jigsaws for the portables. I'm not sure there is a correct answer.

  • "I remember my father telling me when I was young that they used to use both names to describe the portables depending on the maker" I don't know that it started from the makers' names for their respective products but I can confirm that in older books the terms sabre saw and jig saw are used interchangeably.
    – Graphus
    Mar 14, 2017 at 18:11
  • After my comment yesterday I found it funny because I looked up Craftsman Jigsaw on the Sears website. Three models are called jig saw, one is one is called jigsaw, and the final one a sabre saw.
    – Pokester
    Mar 15, 2017 at 14:59

Many years ago, in wood shop class, I learned what a jig saw was. It was a mechanized saw which used a coping saw blade to make the same, intricate types of cuts. The blade is attached top and bottom, allowing for some degree of stability, even with the thin blade. This, obviously, is not possible with a sabre saw. The sabre saw has a blade which is attached at one end, like a sword. I recall one variation called a bayonet style blade, sold by Porter-Cable, which I owned. The blade was relatively short. It also , as I recall, was prone to the unique mounting scheme breaking. I would like to say how disappointing it is when tool people call a sabre saw a jig saw. I do not believe they are remotely interchangable.

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