Survival Gear Review: Milwaukee Sawzall

Created in 1951, the Milwaukee Sawzall has been destroying wood, metal, nails, bolts, pipe and stone ever Milwaukee_Sawzall_battery_posingsince. With it’s few moving parts, fast blade changes, variable speed, and a near unlimited number of blade options, the Sawzall is first and often only choice when speed and results are more important than precision and stealth.

The Milwaukee Sawzall is a reciprocating saw of which there are many brands. Most major power tool manufacturers sell a reciprocating saw, but the Milwaukee Sawzall is the original. Lately battery-tool options have pushed the reciprocating saws well beyond the extension cord, outside the construction site and into the hands of fire/rescue personnel. And from there it was a short hop into the survival kit for those who are a little more prepared than most.

See also: Milwaukee Work Lights

The real breakthrough came with the high-capacity Lithium-Polymer batteries that give the battery-powered Milwaukee_Sawzall_gun_in_handSawzall near-corded performance. With 18 volts and 9 amp-hours of run time, the ability to swap blades and batteries will keep the Sawzallin the destruction fight until the job is done. Using a corded saw, here’s a video showing 73 seconds of saw time to cut a car in half.

Reciprocating saw blades come in many lengths but three main flavors of cutting prowess: those for wood (mostly), those for metal (mostly) and those for both. There are a few less common options for cutting cast iron, stone, trees, and plastics, but the survival/rescue side usually leans towards the combination blade or metal cutters.

A Survival Lightsaber (almost)

Much of the cutting magic is found in the dance between number of teeth per inch and the reciprocating speedMilwaukee_Sawzall_blade_kit of the saw. For instance, a popular general purpose survival choice might be the six-inch 18-tooth metal cutter, or perhaps the nine-inch 12-tooth combination blade. But luckily, you can have both. And others. And more. By finding the cutting sweet-spot of blade type and blade speed, the ideal recipe for slicing up whatever you’ve got can be found quickly. Full speed is always an option, but it might just dull your blade faster and heat up your workspace.

Some specific uses include using the five-tooth Sawzall Axe blade to cut through windshield glass and reinforced protective plastics. Or the 14-tooth Sawzall Torch blade to slice through chain link fence like butter. Need to go through a wood door with metal hardware, the Sawzall Wrecker blade is a good choice. Slicing bolts and rebar is child’s play for the right blade, and cutting your way into a vehicle or out of a building is a powerful breaching option camouflaged as a common power tool.

Also Read: Estwing Survival Tomahawk

If I had to choose only one blade, it would be the nine-inch 8-teeth per inch Diablo Steel Demon carbide-Milwaukee_Sawzall_Diablo_extreme_metal_cuttingtipped thick-metal cutting blade. A few companies even make specific “rescue/demolition” blades in bright emergency yellow color and averaging 12 teeth per inch in lengths from six inches to 12 inches.

Some of the best blade choices regardless of length or teeth is bi-metal technology. Bi-metal means that the blade is actually a composite of two metals, a harder high-speed steel for the teeth, and a durable and flexible spring steel for the blade body. The two metals are welded together creating a stronger blade that stays sharp longer.

Always Use Protection

When using the Sawzall, eye protection is a must, and ear pro is highly recommended. Gloves are also a good Milwaukee_Sawzall_closeupidea because there is nothing subtle about the way the Sawzall cuts. It’s violent, aggressive, and permanent. Once the jackhammer-like action of the Sawzallstarts up, the blade strokes back and forth at hundreds to thousands of times a minute, or if the blade jams, the saw starts slam dancing, the blade bends or snaps, or usually a combination of the above. A key element to successful and safe Sawzalling involves keeping the shoe tight against your workpiece. The shoe is the adjustable metal plate between the blade and the saw body. By pushing the shoe against what you are cutting, the reciprocating motion is only with the blade. But if you loosen your grip, the saw will buck violently. Because the Sawzall cuts with impunity, you must take care around electrical and gas lines, and the heat generated by the sawing friction can start a fire.

If rescuing a person, don’t forget that the jabbing blade on the far side of cut can do serious damage to flesh so apply the necessary safeguards and distance when operating the saw. Additional protection should be provided when glass and hot metal flakes can rain down or fly around in the wind. Pulling metal shards out of an eyeball is hard enough in an emergency room.

Related: Survival Tools

Adjusting the depth of the shoe keeps fresh blade in contact with the material to be cut while allowing a firm Milwaukee_Sawzall_Wreckersaw placement. The Sawzall can behave like a small chainsaw as well when using one of the pruning blade choices. The heavy tooth design is similar to bow saws and camp saws and cuts with the same speed and flying sawdust. Another area where the Sawzall excels is with large game butchering. If metal presents few problems for the Sawzall, then bone and gristle will do little but wet the blade and damen the noise.

Packing an 18 volt Milwaukee Sawzall in your kit might be on the advanced side of preparedness, but many of the battery-powered tools and lighting solutions popular in shops and construction sites can make important contributions to your initial survival options.



Doc Montana
Written by Doc Montana

Doc honed his survival skills through professional courses, training, and plenty of real-world situations, both intentional and not. Doc lives to mountaineer, rock climb, trail run, hunt, race mountain bikes, ski, hunt, and fish. Doc Montana holds PhD’s in both Science Education and Computer Science and currently teaches at a University in the northern United States. Read his full interview here. Read more of Doc's articles.

5 thoughts on “Survival Gear Review: Milwaukee Sawzall”

  1. Really, isn't your BOB heavy enough! How heavy is this tool with all its different blades and extra batteries and battery charger and maybe that generator for a power source? Are you going to cut down trees to make logs for your log cabin with this battery-powered 'wonder', how many days and battery changes would that require? Does it debark too? Overlooking the fact that the video showing someone cutting a car in half in supposedly 73 seconds was done using a corded Sawzall with the front seats already removed and the blade change done 'off the clock', two question emerge. One, why in the world would you want to cut a car in half like this and: Two, doesn't this just illustrate what crappy materials are used to make cars now? Wouldn't a good axe do the same job, since I've seen more than one video of someone cutting up a car with a hatchet, I think it would, no power cord (and power source) needed! Personally, I don't like using a sawzall, especially on thin materials because the reciprocating action will shake you to death in short order! GLAHP!

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  2. Hello Roger,

    Thanks for the read.

    The weight of the saw with battery is at a minimum 10 pounds with more batteries and blades pushing a 15+lb total kit an easy reality.

    I do not intend to drop the saw into my bug out bag. It is a bug in/bug out vehicle solution. As noted in the article, the saw's effectiveness is important to the fire/rescue side of things, and as far as cutting through cars, yes the video was a stunt. But try extracting someone from a rolled vehicle with an axe especially in wet or snowy conditions. Not fun nor easy.

    Cutting through fences, locks, chains, steel doors, barriers, trees, and even deliberate but impromptu barricades is child's play for the Sawzall. When the batteries are dead, move on. But until that time, the Milwaukee Sawzall is a force of nature in it's own little space. And you are right, of course keep backup handtool solutions in your kit. But when speed is of the essence (think mass evacuation or non-directional bug out), have a power tool handy. Especially the Sawzall.

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  3. If your bugin out it is a good thing as long as your in a vehicle. I love a sawzall I got 2 and I seem to find uses for them all the time a chainsaw is such a pain in the azz, have the gas mix the 2 cycle oil with the gas fil with bar oil and then the [email protected] won't crank then it's a dozen point check list pull the plug clean the plug put ion a new plug blah blah blah BUT NO MORE sawzall to the rescue and when you turn loose of the trigger it STOPS and I have yet to have one kick back and try to lop off a section of my head !

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  4. If you are going to get a sawzall at least get an American made one. Milwaukees are now China junk. At one time they were the best but not any more.

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  5. good post doc — your quote is exactly right.
    "Cutting through fences, locks, chains, steel doors, barriers, trees, and even deliberate but impromptu barricades is child's play for the Sawzall"

    Even if power is out these batteries last and an vehicle inverter or solar setup can charge them, also I have a handle that uses the blades and there are many types and cutting ability IMHO.

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