The jigsaw tool is an electric saw in which the cutting action is provided by the vertical down-and-up motion, reciprocating motion, of a cutting blade. Yes, the jigsaw works similar to a reciprocating saw, but they are not the same tool. The jigsaw tool can also be found as electric jigsaw and hand held jigsaws. Or even orbital jigsaws, but orbital refers just to those with orbital movement of the blade.
There are other electric powered saws in which the cutting blade has a reciprocating motion, but in this article we will focus on the typical jigsaw tools used in woodworking and DIY projects and that many people has at home.
Depth of cut in aluminum: 20mm
Depth of cut in non-alloy steel: 10mm
In this blog I refer to the jigsaw mainly as a woodworking tool, although it can also be used to cut metals or plastics.
So, in this article we are going to see:
What is a jigsaw tool:
The versatile electric saw for woodworking and do-it-yourself projects to make straight or curved cuts.
A jigsaw tool is a portable electric saw that performs cutting by the up-and-down reciprocating motion of a narrow and long blade. And by using a narrow cutting blade, the jigsaw tool can be used not only to make straight cuts, but also to make curved cuts in wood, plastics, metal … Hence its versatility. Moreover, miter cuts can also be made with this very versatile electric saws. As for miter cuts, these can be made at an angle on the wood surface and keeping the jigsaw blade vertical. But miter cuts can also be made at a vertical angle by tilting the jigsaw tool with respect to its shoe or base.
As for the system that makes the reciprocating motion of the cutting blade of the jigsaw tool, it is a scotch yoke mechanism. And what we achieve with the scotch yoke mechanism is to transform the rotary motion of the electric motor into a rectilinear reciprocating motion.
Typical jigsaw blades used as cutting tools in jigsaws. These are small saw blades compared to the ones we see in other electric woodworking tools. They are small strips made of metal with a flat edge in the back and teeth in the front edge. Thus, depending basically on the size and shape of the teeth, we can cut some materials or others, or make cleaner or faster cuts. Although the materials from which the cutting blades for jigsaw tools are made, and their shape, also influence the cuts to be made.
As for the teeth of cutting blades for the jigsaw tool, they can come in a variety of shapes and sizes. And with regard to the shape of the teeth, it even can be different the direction to which the cut is made. The cut can be made during the upward movement of the blade (normal), or during the downward movement (we use this jigsaw blades when we need a very clean cut in the top surface).
The jigsaw is a very versatile electric tool, which allows a multitude of different cuts in wood and other materials. And besides, it that does not commands as much respect as the hand held circular saw. And because it can also be used for cutting curves, it is an electric saw that allows us to express our creativity when it comes to our woodworking or do-it-yourself projects.
Parts of the jigsaw tool:
The basic parts of a jigsaw tool, which allow us to adjust it, operate it and work with it, are as follows. Well, the parts that all jigsaws have, plus some that only some models have:
1.- Trigger: It is used to turn on the jigsaw tool. Unlike other power tools such as drills, it does not usually serve to regulate the speed, but only has an on or off position. And I say not usually referring to regulating it by pulling the trigger with more or less force. Because sometimes the trigger of the jigsaw tool do have the typical little wheel to regulate the speed. This can be not only on the trigger itself but sometimes the little wheel is on the top of the machine.
2.- Trigger lock button: It is not often used, since the cuts that are usually made with the jigsaw tool are not very long. But for long cuts we can lock the trigger with this button. And believe it or not, not having to pull the trigger allows us to work more comfortably and more relaxed when making long cuts with the jigsaw tool. What we do is to press the trigger and then press the lock button. We release both and the trigger remains locked. And as soon as we press the trigger again, it unlocks.
3.- Blade clamp: It is the system in which the cutting blade of the jigsaw tool is fitted and clamped. And it transmits the down-and-up reciprocating motion to the cutting blade. The blade clamp system can be very different on the outside and inside for each brand and for each model of jigsaw tool. Thus, the interior of these blade clamp systems determines the blade types that can used in each jigsaw tool (we must take into account the shape of the upper part of the blade, the one that goes into the blade clamp system. We will see them later). And as for the external shape of the blade clamp, there we can find even more differences between the different jigsaw tools: from the first blade clamp systems with a screw; to blade clamps with a lever; others that must be pressed on both sides of the blade; or even systems that rotate and eject the blade by the action of a spring. If the cutting blade is very hot after using it, it is great to have a blade clamp that ejects the blade so we don’t have to touch it.
4.- Blade roller guide: This is a small metal roller with a groove that helps to keep the blade vertical and to prevent the blade clamp mechanism from being forced sideways and backwards. Although, as many of us already know, it doesn’t help as much as we would like and the cuts sometimes don’t come out perfect vertically but crooked. Also, in orbital jigsaws, the roller guide is the one that helps to provide the orbital movement to the blade.
5.- Metal base or shoe: This is the base on which the jigsaw tool rests. And this base or shoe must always be well flat on the wood we want to cut. If it is not resting well on the surface to be cut, that is one reason why the jigsaw bounces and jumps. In the jigsaw shoe we find the slots and knobs to attach a parallel side fence. And on the jigsaw base we also usually have the system to tilt the cutting blade. More details in number 11 of this list.
6.- Dust collection port: Dust extraction port to connect the suction hose of the dust collection system or shop vacuum cleaner we have in the workshop. Connecting there a vacuum cleaner hose helps reduce sawdust in the air and keep the cutting line clean so we can see where we cut. But on the other hand, it makes working with the jigsaw tool more difficult, since the vacuum cleaner hose tends to push the jigsaw to the side. I prefer to put on a dust mask. However, if you work inside your house, you will probably prefer the vacuum cleaner hose so you don’t spread a lot of sawdust in the room. A smooth vacuum cleaner hose would be a great help, as the typical ones with the rings that make it easy to bend are continually snagging on the edge of the wood to be cut.
7.- Sawdust blower system: Some jigsaws have a system to blow the sawdust that accumulates on the wood covering the cutting line when cutting. As I said before, connecting the suction hose makes it difficult to operate the jigsaw. I prefer to use an dust mask. But using a dust mask I cannot blow the sawdust to see the cutting line and, let’s face it, sometimes I don’t put my dust mask on just so I can blow the saw dust out of the cutting line. With the dust blower system the problem is over. I can put on the dust mask, keeping my lungs protected, and the jigsaw machine blows out the sawdust by itself.
8.- Blade guard protection: This system prevents objects from getting into the blade area above the jigsaw shoe, for example our fingers. Sometimes this blade guard is a transparent plastic window that we can lift and lower and that covers the whole area in the front and sides around the jigsaw blade. In other jigsaw tool models it is a rigid protection, made of plastic or metal, like a safety arch like those of the Formula 1 cars. Note that this guard does not protect the area below the base of the jigsaw.
9.- Electric motor: The electric motor determines the power of the jigsaw machine. And to a large extent also the price. Although the price is also influenced by the brand. The power of the electric motor of these woodworking and do-it-yourself machines is usually between 350W and 800W. And unless we cannot afford a better jigsaw tool and we have to resort to a very cheap jigsaw, my recommendation is to buy a jigsaw of a well known brand and around 500W. If we want a more powerful electric woodworking machine, for example to mount it as a jigsaw table, a 650W jigsaw tool should be enough. If you are a professional then you already know that brands have also jigsaw professional ranges. My experience with very cheap brands is not good, so I would recommend a well known brand. In addition, in a brand that makes good quality tools the motors are usually of better quality, they maintain better power throughout all the cut, produce less noise (which our ears and neighbors appreciate) and less vibration (which our hands, wrists and arms will appreciate) making it easier to make more precise cuts.
10.- Orbital action switch: It is usually a small lever with three or four positions. But sometimes the orbital action switch is a button that slides up or down. When this system is activated, the blade roller guide will start to move back and forth, causing the jigsaw blade to tilt back and forth during the cut. A movement similar to the one we make when cutting wood with a handsaw. The result is that we make a faster cut in wood. Although very fast cuts in wood tend to be less clean. But well, it all depends on the cut we need to make at any given moment when making a project.
11.- Jigsaw blade tilt mechanism: The most common jigsaw blade tilt mechanism is to have some screws in the lower part of the base that allow us to loosen the base and turn it with respect to the cutting blade of the jigsaw. This way we can make miter cuts vertically. But sometimes we have a wheel or some other system that allows us to tilt the jigsaw shoe without the need of hand tools. The blade tilting system is usually complemented with notches in the base of the jigsaw to fit the upper part of the jigsaw. These notches come with different preset angles: 45º to the right or left, 90º and sometimes 30º to the right or left. This way we can make vertical miter cuts with the jigsaw tool that will be more or less precise depending on our skill and how well we are able to adjust the angle between the jigsaw blade and the shoe. The advice is not to rely entirely on the notches. I usually use an architects set square triangle to check the angle.
12.- Blade direction system: The first jigsaw tool I had, and which I still have, has a lever that allows to release the shaft that goes up and down with the blade. This shaft is connected to a knob at the top of the jigsaw tool, so that by turning this knob by hand we can change the cutting direction of the blade without having to turn the shoe. In principle, this is supposed to improve accuracy when cutting curves. But I never saw it as very useful and hardly ever used it.
Types of jig saws:
Saws with handle
These are the typical do-it-yourself saws that we can find for sale. They have a trigger handle, which makes them easy to start and work with. They generally have somewhat less power than barrel grip jigsaws. I prefer this type of jigsaw because they are more comfortable to handle.
Barrel grip jigsaws
These saws are characterized by the fact that they do not have a handle at the top. They are usually more elongated and have a large protrusion, the barrel grip, at the front of the saw. And instead of a trigger they have a button that we must slide to turn the machine on. These jig saws are usually more powerful and usually have a pendulum blade movement system. But in my opinion, because of the way they are gripped with the hands, they are more difficult to handle. And the power button is usually more difficult to operate. Also, because they have more power, they are heavier.
Corded electric jigsaw
There is not much more to say. It is the normal jig saw to which the electric current arrives through a cable that we plug into a socket. Avoid tripping over the cable and be careful not to cut it. But as long as the power does not go out we can work with it indefinitely. As long as we don’t overheat it, of course.
Battery-powered jigsaws differ from normal corded jigsaws in that, instead of being powered by a cord connected to the mains, they are powered by a battery that is attached to them. Thus, we now measure the power of these power tools by battery voltage. This voltage is usually between 12V and 18V or 24V for professional ranges.
Today’s batteries are usually lithium-ion batteries, which allow many charge and discharge cycles with little loss of capacity. Nothing to do with the old batteries that immediately broke down. Thanks to these batteries, cordless tools have gained the trust of many DIYers and professionals.
The Ah (ampere hours) of the jig saw battery is also important, as this is the energy it can store. The more Ah the longer the battery will last before needing to be recharged.
I’m not a big fan of battery-powered power tools in the workshop (with the exception of the screwdriver drill), as an electric cord (almost) always provides the necessary electrical power. And the batteries need to be charged. Yes, it makes me very angry to have to leave a job due to lack of battery charge.
The advantage of battery-powered jigsaws, apart from not having the inconvenience of the cord, is that they can be used in areas without electrical current (such as in the garden at home). And besides, since we don’t have a cable, we won’t trip over it, it won’t get in our way and we won’t run the risk of cutting it. Oh, you’ve never cut the electric cable of a power tool? I did. With an electric hedge trimmer 🙁
How do you use a jigsaw to cut wood?
We will talk later about safety. Now let’s look at how to use the jigsaw power tool:
a.- The first thing to do before cutting with a jigsaw is to draw the cutting line. And if we want to be precise, we have to check if the cutting line belongs to the piece we want or if it is outside the piece. That way we will know if we should cut on one side of the line or the other. And if we should remove the line while cutting (the line does not belong to the final piece) or not (the line does belong to the final piece). We must also take into account that we may prefer to adjust the size of the part with a disk sander or a belt sander.
b.- The wood to be cut should be clamped with clamps. To prevent it from moving, making cutting difficult. And to avoid that when pushing the machine against the wood it falls.
c.- Assuming that we already have the cutting blade installed, we rest the front of the base of the jigsaw on the wood to be cut. And we turn it on before the blade touches the wood.
d.- With the machine on, approach the blade to the wood and start cutting.
e.- If we want to make a cut on the inside, first we are going to make a drill. We put the blade through it and proceed in the same way.
f.- During the cut we must keep the shoe flat against the wood, preventing it from being lifted by the down-and-up movement of the cutting blade.
g.- If we want to make a quick cut we can activate the pendulum system and use a blade for quick cuts. Although the cut will not be very clean.
h.- If we want a clean cut we will use a blade suitable for cleaner cuts and avoid cutting too fast.
One problem we tend to have is that if we want to cut very fast, the blade tends to go where the wood is softer. Then, the blade bends to one side or the other, and in the end we find that the cut is not vertical. Although I would say this happens more with softwoods than with hardwoods. In woods such as spruce, there is a great difference in hardness between hard and soft grain. I solve this with my guide to keep the jigsaw blade vertical on my table jigsaw.
Also in miter cuts with the inclined saw blade we can encounter the same problem, so that the miter cut would be a disaster.
I usually put a finger next to the skid to help me guide the saw. It is very effective, but can be dangerous.
The saw blade is usually very hot after cutting, so do not touch it with your fingers.
Advantages of the jigsaw:
The main advantage of jigsaws is that they are very versatile power tools and less dangerous than other woodworking machines such as circular saws.
If we do not go to high power or professional machines, the jig saws have a fairly affordable price. And there are also cheap and very cheap machines. Although my recommendation for buying one of these power tools is, if you can, buy a good brand. Even if it has less power than the private label or a cheap brand.
Cutting blades for jigsaw are affordable. And we can buy cutting blades for cutting various materials. In addition, in the case of blades for cutting wood with the jigsaw, we can find blades for quick cuts, thin cuts, rip cuts, miter cuts … A recommendation, good quality cutting blades make the difference.
Disadvantages of the jigsaw:
The main disadvantage of the jigsaw is that it is not a power tool that makes very fast cuts. Even if we put a blade designed for this purpose. The result is that when we have to make a lot of cuts and/or very long cuts, we end up noticing the fatigue in our arms.
Another disadvantage is that the cutting blade, although made of metal, is not very rigid. So, it is not uncommon that after making a cut we find that the blade did not remain vertical throughout the cut, but bent slightly to one side. The result then is that the cut is not vertical, but slanted and irregular.
Dangers of jigsaws:
I guess we have already read the manual of this power tool and its recommendations, haven’t we :)? And is that whatever I say in this post or anywhere else, it should not be accepted as valid if it goes against what the manual of the jigsaw or its manufacturer says, in that or anywhere else. That said, let’s take a look at some of the hazards I’ve encountered myself when using this DIY and woodworking power tool. There are many things I left out of the computer inkwell that you can find elsewhere. Here I focused more on my experience(s).
Take some time to read the manual of your jigsaw. It will tell you about electrical hazards (before you start cottering make sure you won’t cut the power cable) and others that I may not discuss here.
The jigsaw causes a lot of fine dust that can end up flying through the air. Wear a mask suitable for dusty environments. Dust masks usually have an FFP code that can be FFP1, FFP2 or FFP3, depending on the filtering capacity of the mask. I usually use FFP2, since FFP1, apart from having less filtering capacity, break down quickly. In addition, if they have an NR code it means that they are Non-Reusable.
When cutting with the jig saw, not many chips usually jump out, but sometimes some do. Even more so if we cut boards such as melamine boards. Safety glasses are highly recommended.
Jigsaws make a lot of noise. We must wear hearing protection. Earplugs are available, but I prefer to use hearing protection helmets.
I put first the goggles on and then the ear protection. If we do it the other way around and the goggles rubber is above the helmets, sometimes we can remove the helmets without remembering the goggles and they pull the goggles rubber dragging them. And the plastic of the glasses can rub the inside of the eye 🙁 (It happened to me and it is not pleasant).
I am not going to get into the gloves debate. I do not use them. However, when putting on or removing the blade it is advisable to do it with gloves or with the help of a cloth. If the fingers slide when pressing the blade against the machine, we can cut ourselves with our teeth. We must also have this electrical tool unplugged.
When you have the jigsaw hanging in your hand make sure you do not press the trigger. You could cut your leg. Yes, it’s not a good idea to have it like that.
Sometimes we stop the machine in the middle of a cut, leaving the blade in the wood. We must avoid pulling the machine upwards, since having our fingers on the trigger will cause it to be pressed. The machine will turn on and start jumping. I usually take my fingers off the trigger and tilt the machine back. Yes, unplugging it beforehand is not a bad thing.
Sometimes I guide the jigsaw shoe with the big toe of my left hand while putting my fingers under the board. And, although I never have my fingers stretched out, I guess it’s a bad habit, since I can’t see where the blade is going. Any day I have a mishap :(.
When cutting our workpiece on the edge of the workbench it is easy to get close to the edge of the bench. We must be sure to stop before reaching the workbench, or the machine may jump.
The blade is usually very hot just after cutting. Fingerprints turn white, but for now they always came back. Wait for it to cool down, use a rag or gloves … or maybe you have one of those machines that when you turn the anchoring system the blade shoots out. Be careful, sometimes it gives a good jump.
The jigsaw I decided to buy:
As you may have noticed, I have bought several jigsaws over the years. One of them has not too much power and it’s a bit old now. Another one I dropped so many times on the floor that it said enough is enough (yes, sometimes I’m a bit of a mess). And the handheld jigsaw I currently use is a Bosh PST 650, which despite its surname 650 has a power of 500W.
What I like about this machine is:
The quality/price ratio is very good. Anyway, it is a Bosh saw, it has 500W and the price is affordable.
It does not vibrate too much, which is appreciated when using it a lot.
It cuts through thick, solid wood comfortably and without complaint. Two half afternoons cutting 3 cm thick chestnut wood without major problems.
The anchoring system is firm and free of slack. This helps to make more precise cuts.
It weighs little and is very easy to handle.
What I don’t like:
I have only one drawback to this jigsaw, which will be more or less important depending on the strength of our fingers. This blade anchoring system (SDS System) ensures that the blade is held firmly and securely in place, with no slack. This helps to make it easier to cut accurately. But it is very hard. Put a finger on each side and push the system with a little force. And even if we manage to press it, sometimes it gets stuck making it difficult to remove the cutting blade. Occasionally I do a little 3 in one, but still.
But would you recommend buying it? Yes, without a doubt. That SDS System drawback aside, I am very happy with this jigsaw. However, if you have limited finger strength, you may prefer a jigsaw with a lever system to hold the blade. The blades will be easier to put on and take off, but in return they have a little more slack and the cuts are not as precise. After all, we will always need to pass the sandpaper 😀
The Bosch PST 650 jigsaw also has neither speed regulation nor a pendulum movement system for the cutting blade. But I don’t comment on the things I don’t like because they are systems that I don’t miss. In return, it has a blowing system that keeps the cutting line clean of sawdust and dust.
We will now see what is inside a jigsaw, with its electric motor, the reciprocating system and the system that causes the pendulum motion of the cutting blade.