How to Use a Jigsaw
In the previous chapter, we introduced three of the most useful power tools for sawing. We’ve already seen what a circular saw can do, and in this chapter, we’ll explore just how versatile the jigsaw is.
Most well known for cutting curves and shapes, there are plenty of other uses for this amazing power saw. It’s one of the most beginner-friendly power tools and with this quick jigsaw guide, we’ll show you all you need to know to cut wood like a pro when using a jigsaw.
Let’s get started.
What Is a Jigsaw and What Can You Use It For?
A jigsaw is very similar to the larger, stationary band saw in that they both perform similar tasks. However, unlike a band saw, jigsaws are portable and more versatile. Both can cut shapes and curved lines, but the jigsaw can be adapted to many more uses.
What To Use a Jigsaw For?
Cutting curves with a jigsaw tool is one of the most common uses for this incredible power tool, but there are plenty of other applications. In some ways, it can rival both a miter saw and a circular saw and it certainly deserves a place in your toolbox if you’re looking for a new power tool.
Here are some of the most common uses for a jigsaw.
- Straight cuts: including rip, cross, and miter cuts.
- Curved lines and shapes: from letters to holiday decorations to perfect circles, the jigsaw is your best bet.
- Bevel cuts: an angled cut on the edge of the board or crown molding.
- Plunge cut: a cut in the middle of a board rather than starting from the edge.
In terms of specific jobs, your jigsaw tool can help out in hundreds of scenarios. Here are a few examples.
While a miter saw will do the bulk of the work when laying floorboards, the jigsaw is essential for cutting notches out of boards to fit around pipes, frames, or sections of wall that jut out or dip in. It’s also handy for ripping the boards on the edge of the floor to width.
With the ability to make both large and intricate plunge cuts, the jigsaw is ideal for cutting holes in countertops for sinks. In the same vein, you can use it to cut holes in desks for cables and power sockets.
Few other tools are capable of cutting shapes like a jigsaw. Working freehand, and with a little practice, you can follow your cutting line to create the most intricate shapes. It’s also useful for creating templates for painting and spray painting.
Scribing is an essential technique for ensuring your woodwork fits neatly into any space. For example, if you’re fitting a cabinet against an irregular wall, you’ll need to scribe it to be sure of a snug fit. It’s also used in crown molding, especially if the ceiling is wavy.
With a jigsaw, you can set the bevel to the desired angle, mark your scribe, and cut to your line accurately for a perfect fit. Cutting both a bevel and a curved line at the same time is a valuable asset that few tools can offer.
What Materials Can You Use a Jigsaw On?
Jigsaws are great for cutting wood but can be adapted for a wide variety of other materials too. By changing the jigsaw blade, you remove the need to buy a specialized tool for working on different materials.
- Soft and hardwood: typically up to a thickness of around 2 3/4 inches (70 mm).
- Man-made boards: including MDF, plywood, chipboard, etc. up to a thickness of around 2 3/4 inches (70 mm).
- Metal: with the right blade, a jigsaw can cut sheet metal, pipes, non-ferrous metals such as aluminum, and even mild steel.
- Ceramic tiles: perfect for cutting notches and holes.
- Plastic: soft and hard plastics including rubber and fiberglass.
- Carpet, cardboard, cork: typically with a special knife-style blade.
The jigsaw blade that you use determines what type of material you can cut. With that in mind, let’s take a look at jigsaw blades for wood and other materials.
Different Types of Jigsaw Blades
Like most saw blades, the cutting edge of a jigsaw features a number of sharp teeth. While a circular or miter saw blade spins to saw into the wood, a jigsaw blade moves rapidly up and down to make vertical cuts.
Most blades cut on the upstroke, although reversible options are available too. When choosing a blade for your jigsaw, there are a few elements to consider.
Teeth Size and TPI
Like a typical saw blade, jigsaw teeth come in different sizes, normally measured in teeth per inch (TPI). Pitch is another way to measure a jigsaw blade and describes the distance between each point.
As a basic rule of thumb, the larger the teeth, the quicker the blade will cut. However, it will typically also make a slightly rougher cut than a blade with smaller teeth. The fewer teeth a blade has, the finer the cut.
Generally speaking, a blade with a TPI of 6 to 20 is suitable for cutting wood and other softer materials. Meanwhile, a blade with a higher TPI between 14 and 36 is best for harder materials, including metal.
When cutting wood, the depth a typical jigsaw can cut is between 1½” (40 mm) to as much as 6″ (150 mm). A standard wood jigsaw blade will generally cut to a depth of 2 3/4 inches (70 mm). Beware that while a deeper cut is useful, it does increase the chance that the blade will flex or wobble, reducing the accuracy.
For metal, most blades can cut between ⅜” (10 mm) and 1½” (40 mm) in non-ferrous metal, and ¼”(5 mm) and ⅝” (15 mm) in mild steel.
Regardless of the depth you require, when choosing a blade, be sure that the length is at least ⅝” (15 mm) longer than the maximum thickness of the material you wish to cut.
Narrow blades, known as scrolling blades, are designed to cut tighter curves than a typical blade. They often also feature smaller teeth to ensure a fine kerf.
Set of the Teeth
The teeth of jigsaw blades can be set in the same way as a conventional saw blade. Blades that are side-set have large teeth that alternate between being bent left and right, ensuring a quick, albeit rough cut. Finer blades aren’t set but are generally ground thinner behind the cutting edge to provide clearance for the kerf.
Meanwhile, the very finest blades are wavy-set, producing something like a serpentine cutting edge that makes very clean and smoother cuts. These also prevent edge burrs and are ideal for thin sheet metal, plywood, MDF, and block-board.
Blades for jigsaws are normally made from one of four materials:
- High carbon steel (HCS): the cheapest and most common type of blade, they’re flexible and can wander off-course. They also become dull quicker than other types. However, for general purpose work, they’re more than good enough.
- High-speed steel (HSS): harder, less flexible, and more durable than HCS blades, these are great for hardwoods, plastics, and even metal. They can become damaged by heat though.
- Bi-Metal: with an HCS body and HSS teeth, these blades combine the best of both worlds and are best for heavy-duty work.
- Tungsten: heat resistant and far more durable than other types of blades, tungsten carbide grit takes the place of teeth. Designed especially for ceramic tiles, fiberglass, and mild steel.
The shank describes the part of the blade that fits into the jigsaw, holding it securely in place. There are two main types of jigsaw blade shanks to look out for, and the one you choose will depend on your jigsaw tool.
- T-shank blade: these are the most common in modern jigsaws. They allow the blade to fit into the jigsaw without requiring a tool to fit or remove them. They clamp in securely, are easy to remove, and are by far the most popular style these days.
- Universal shank blade: recognizable by the U-shaped cut out on the top of the blade, these are generally locked into place using a hex key to secure a bolt. More prone to working loose when in operation, this style is no longer as common since T-shanks were introduced.
How To Use a Jigsaw for Beginners
Before getting to grips with the ever-versatile jigsaw, let’s go over the basics and see what it’s made of.
Like a circular saw, jigsaws have a shoe, or base plate, on the bottom. This rests on the workpiece as you saw to ensure a square cut. The motor is encased in insulating plastic, which forms the handle. A trigger located on the underside of the handle powers the saw on and off.
On most models, a thumb-operated trigger-lock button can be used to keep the saw running continuously, ideal for long or complex cuts. The dust extraction port can either be fitted with a bag or hooked up to a vacuum cleaner to improve safety.
Top Features To Look For in a Jigsaw
Besides the blade and the basic elements, there are plenty of other useful features to look out for in a jigsaw. Many of the following features come as standard on most modern jigsaw tools. However, there are some handy optional extras that you might find your DIY projects will benefit from for a small additional cost.
- Pendulum/Orbital action: this feature allows the blade to swing forward on the upstroke while falling backward on the downstroke to clear the sawdust from the kerf. As it swings forward into the workpiece, it cuts faster and more vigorously. Most models have four or five settings, ranging from zero pendulum action, best for intricate cuts, to full action which is ideal for quickly rough-cutting thicker pieces.
- Variable speed: the ability to change the speed that your jigsaw is running at is invaluable and comes as standard on most modern models. Depending on the material you’re working with, you can go from top speed for rough woodwork, medium speeds for harder wood and softer metals, and slow speeds for steel sheets and ceramic tiles. On some models, the amount of pressure you apply to the trigger will adjust the speed, fantastic for intricate work.
- Handle type: jigsaws either have a top handle, shaped like the letter “D”, or a barrel handle. The top handle is more common and they’re generally easier to hold. Meanwhile, the barrel handle offers a little more control and is better for more intricate work.
- Corded or cordless: corded jigsaws are typically more powerful than cordless models and can saw a wider range of materials. Cordless tools can be great for light work and offer much more flexibility. Be sure to opt for a fast charge system with two batteries, so that you’re never left without power.
- Power: corded jigsaws are measured in amps while cordless models are measured in volts. The higher the value, the more power. Corded models are normally available between 3 and 7 amps. Anything over 5.8 amps is considered heavy duty and is typically quicker and more efficient, though a 4 amp tool will carry out most DIY tasks. Cordless models typically range from 12 to 36 volts.
- Blade shank type: T-shanks are more common these days are are generally more secure and easier to work with than universal shanks.
- Bevel adjustment: the shoe on nearly all modern jigsaws can tilt to any angle up to 45 degrees. This is essential for making beveled cuts and is an excellent feature. Look for tool-less shoe adjustment so that you can make angled cuts without fiddling with screws or bolts.
- Splinter control: an anti-splinter insert can help produce a cleaner kerf by reducing the clearance on either side of the blade. This is useful if you don’t have a reverse-tooth blade and want to keep the face of your work free from edge burrs.
- Dust blower: a blower switch helps keep dust out of the way, preventing it from obscuring your cutting line.
- Scrolling action: this function allows you to turn the blade without turning the entire tool. Operated by a knob on the top of the handle, it’s ideal for very intricate work or working in confined spaces.
- Laser guide: projecting a laser directly in front of the blade allows you to see the precise course you’re on, ensuring you follow your cutting line with greater accuracy.
- LED work light: this lights up your cutting line and is an invaluable feature if you’re working in confined spaces, such as inside cabinets.
- Shoe cover: this plastic case slots over the saw base, protecting the surface of softer, more delicate materials.
- Saw fence: most models will allow you to fit a fence to the shoe. This is a fantastic way to ensure accurate cutting along a straight edge.
Making Your First Cut With a Jigsaw
Now that you know what to look for in a jigsaw tool, let’s start cutting. First of all, check your blade is securely fitted, clamp or secure your work in another way to secure it, and accurately mark your cutting line.
Line up your blade with the marked line, but don’t let it touch the material, and rest the front of the shoe firmly on top of the work surface. Hold your jigsaw with two hands for stability, switch it on, let it get up to speed, and then feed the blade slowly into your work. Follow your cutting line steadily and don’t force the tool.
Be sure the shoe lies flat on the surface at all times for greater accuracy. As you near the end, release the pressure slightly to slowly sever the offcut. Allow the blade to come to a complete stop before raising it from the work.
How To Cut Straight With a Jigsaw
Over a long length of wood or board, you can clamp or screw a wooden baton to act as a straight edge. Press the side of the shoe against this baton and cut as before, maintaining slight sideways pressure to prevent the blade from drifting. This method is perfect for wider boards and long planks of timber.
Alternatively, if your cut is close to one edge of a board, you can use the saw fence provided. For best results, screw a longer hardwood strip to the face of the fence. You can also work with the fence if you’re cutting a beveled edge.
How To Use a Jigsaw To Cut Curves and Holes
Most curves can be cut freehand in the same way, just follow your line. For tighter curves, it can help to make a series of straight cuts in the waste section up to your line. As you’re cutting along the curve, the waste will fall out, providing additional clearance for the blade to move without catching.
To cut holes with a jigsaw tool, the easiest way is to first drill a pilot, or starter, hole. From there, you can start sawing in any direction. For rectangles, drill a pilot hole in the waste of one corner. If rounded corners are okay, just follow your line. If you need square corners, cut into each corner, then back off and make a curve to start cutting the next straight side. With the bulk out of the way, cut out the remaining waste from each corner.
A plunge cut is useful if you can’t make a pilot hole. It helps to fit a specialized blade that has a point at the end. Tip the front edge of the shoe onto the workpiece, making sure the blade isn’t touching the surface. Switch on the tool, and slowly pivot it until the blade cuts through the material. Once the shoe lies flat, you can proceed as normal.
Tips and Tricks for Using Jigsaws
A steady hand and a little practice will see you confidently working with a jigsaw with ease in no time. However, the following tips can help you avoid common mistakes.
- Prevent edge burrs on thin sheets by placing the sheet between two thicker plywood boards. This reduces vibration but also ensures the fibers of the top plywood board are ripped, rather than damaging the thinner sheet.
- If your jigsaw is struggling, check the blade. It’s likely that it’s blunt or possibly the wrong type for the material you’re cutting. Scorch marks also hint at a blunt blade.
- Keep the finished face down to prevent splintering. Since jigsaws cut on the upstroke, the top face is most likely to splinter. If it’s not possible to do this, look for a reverse-tooth blade.
While the jigsaw is among the safest power tools, it can still do considerable damage if care isn’t taken. Follow these safety tips for best results.
- Unplug your jigsaw whenever you fit or remove a blade or whenever you’re not working with it for extended periods of time.
- Always wear safety glasses, a dust mask, and ear protection to protect yourself when operating a jigsaw. Wear gloves to improve your grip on the tool and also prevent splinters.
- Always use a sharp blade for easier, safer cutting.
- Check the wood: Before you start sawing, check that your lumber is free from nails, screws, or anything else that could break the blade.
- Ensure plenty of clearance for the blade.
Jigsaw vs. Miter Saw vs. Circular Saw
In the next chapter, we’ll take a closer look at miter saws and how they compare to jigsaws and circular saws.