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Choosing a Jigsaw

A jigsaw is a versatile and indispensable tool for beginner and professional woodworkers alike. It's a lightweight power saw with a reciprocating blade designed for making straight and curved cuts. This power tool can cut through materials like wood, plywood, particleboard, plastic, melamine, metal, and ceramic tiles. It offers more control than a circular saw and is suitable for a wide variety of cutting jobs. Besides straight and curved cuts, other jigsaw uses include crosscuts, plunge cuts, ripping, and beveling.

Jigsaw Types by Power Source and Grip Design

The tool's versatility and the wide variety of materials it can cut are major reasons many DIYers pick it as their first power saw. Knowing the different types available is a necessary initial step when considering adding a jigsaw to your tool set.

Corded vs. Cordless

Like all power tools, corded jigsaws are more powerful than cordless models. They’re suitable for heavy-duty jobs and best for those who do most of their cutting in one place.

DIYers and homeowners planning renovations may prefer cordless models because of their flexibility. These draw power from rechargeable batteries and are portable. Without power cables tethering them to outlets, you can use them anywhere. There’s also no risk of power cables and extension cords getting in the way when using these battery-powered tools.

Unlike corded units, owners should expect downtimes when using cordless models as they need to recharge their batteries. To minimize such breaks, it helps to have fully charged extra batteries at the ready. Note that some manufacturers don’t include batteries with their cordless jigsaws. Some also supply these tools without a charger. A cordless unit without an included battery or charger may be a cost-saving option if you already have cordless power tool sets from the same manufacturer.

Barrel Grip vs. D-Handle

While often overlooked, handle designs determine how you'll use the tool.

A barrel grip model has its handle at the back of the tool. This design necessitates two-handed operation with one hand placed on the bulging ledge at the top and the second hand gripping the saw by the shank handle. This two-handed position makes it possible to push the blade through the material with a greater force. However, cutting with this tool requires fastening the material to a workbench as both hands are gripping the tool. Therefore, a barrel grip jigsaw is best suited for an equipped workshop.

A top or D-handle model permits a one-handed operation. It has a bulbous head at the top that serves as the handle and offers a solid grip. This design has a low centre of gravity that improves the balance of the power saw and makes it easier to manoeuver the tool. The ergonomic D-handle design is found on most jigsaws.

Pro tip

A Li-ion battery is the best option if you want a cordless jigsaw with a fast-charging battery. Other commonly used battery types for this power tool are NiCad and NiMH.

Jigsaw Parts to Know

When learning how to use a jigsaw, it's important to know the different parts of the tool and their functions.

Handle and Trigger: The handle is the tool's grip and comes in two varieties: D-handle and barrel grip. The trigger is a switch that turns the saw's motor on and off. It's usually located beneath the handle where operators can easily reach it.

Footplate: The base of a jigsaw. Also referred to as sole or shoe, it’s usually adjustable and tilts side to side. By adjusting the base, the tool can make bevel cuts up to 45 degrees.

Swivel Head: A feature found on select units. Models with swivel heads can cut sharp curves, a task commonly accomplished with a scroll saw.

Blade Clamp Mechanism: It holds and stabilizes the blade inserted in the jigsaw. There are two types of blade clamps: U (Universal) and T (Multidirectional).
The U-clamp found on earlier models requires a screwdriver when removing and changing blades.
The currently used T-clamp has a quick-release mechanism that allows tool-free blade changes.

Dust Collection Port: Connects to a vacuum hose and removes sawdust from the work area.

Dust Blower: An air ejector that directs a stream of air at the cut area to remove sawdust and keep cut lines visible.

Blade: The part of a jigsaw that does the actual cutting. It moves up and down like other reciprocating saws and comes in different varieties for cutting different materials.

Blade Guard: A metal or plastic guard mounted in front of the blade. It prevents accidental cuts and makes vacuuming dust from the cut area easier.

Blade Guide System: This is a roller that keeps the saw blade aligned above the footplate. A jigsaw cutting guide prevents the blade from bending and breaking and improves cutting precision.

Trigger Lock: Keeps the trigger locked in the "on" position so users don't have to keep the switch pressed down to keep the tool running.

Splinter Guard: A clear plastic guard that slides over the footplate and leaves a slit opening for the blade. It minimizes splintering when cutting fragile and thin materials.

Features to Consider When Choosing a Jigsaw

Jigsaw models have varying sets of features. Some are available on most models, while others are reserved for high-end units. These are the most desirable features and factors to consider when shopping for this versatile power saw.

Motor Power: The power ratings of corded jigsaws are quoted in ampere (A), while cordless units use volt (V) to describe their outputs. Corded models are available with motor power from 3.2 A to 7 A. It's best to choose one with a rated power between 6 A and 7 A when looking for a power saw capable of handling heavy-duty cutting tasks. Cordless models have motors with power ratings between 14 V and 36 V. Just as for corded models, a higher power rating translates to faster and cleaner cuts.

Variable Speed Control: This allows users to adjust the cutting speeds of their jigsaws. This is useful when cutting metals and materials harder than wood. Sometimes, slower speeds produce better cuts and make intricate curved cuts easier.

When experts offer tips for using a jigsaw effectively, they advise that making cleaner and more accurate cuts is achieved by using high cutting speeds (over 2,000 SPM or strokes per minute) for sawing wood. It's also advisable to switch to medium cutting speeds for plastic, steel, and aluminium (1,000 to 2,000 SPM) and low speeds for ceramic and other delicate materials (500 to 1,000 SPM).

Stroke Length: This is the distance covered by the blade in one stroke. Jigsaws with longer strokes cut faster and rougher and are better suited for thick materials. It’s best to have a short-stroke unit on hand when cutting delicate materials.

Orbital Action: While a standard jigsaw only moves its blade up and down, an orbital-action unit powers its blade in an elliptical cycle. This means it moves the blade slightly forward on the upstroke and slightly backward on the downstroke. This orbital path protects the cutting edges of jigsaw blades, prevents blade chattering, and produces smoother cuts.

Laser Guide: A thin red laser line cast in front of the saw that serves as a jigsaw cutting guide to help users maintain straight cutting lines.

LED Lamp: A saw with a built-in LED lamp is best for working in dimly lit areas. It shines a bright light around the work area and helps operators avoid errors and accidents.

Pro tip

Unless you only need to cut wood, it's best to avoid one-speed jigsaws.

Blades Turn a Jigsaw into a Versatile Tool

Blades are essential power tool accessories to have when working with power saws. To produce clean and accurate cuts, it's important to find the right ones. Each blade is designed for specific materials (metal, wood, plywood, ceramics, etc.) and types of cuts (straight, curved, scrolling, V-shaped, etc.). These jigsaw parts have different serrated patterns on their edges. Common ones include fine-, large-, and reverse-toothed edges. Bigger blade teeth cut faster but rougher.

It also helps to match the thickness of the material you need to cut to the length of the blade (long blades for thick materials and short ones for thin materials). While most jigsaws use T-clamps, there are models that support both T- and U-shank blades. An opportunity to reuse the U-shank blades you have lying around is one good reason to select a model that accepts both clamp styles.

Lastly, it's also a good idea to pay attention to blade materials. Commonly used materials are high-carbon steel (HCS), high-speed steel (HSS), alloy, carbide, and diamond. HCS blades are best for wood, particleboard, and plastic, while HSS units can cut through metals. Alloy blades made of HSS and HSC are stronger, more flexible, and last longer.

Carbide blades are ideal for cutting fibreglass, reinforced plastic, glass, tile, and cement board. To make cuts in stone, marble, granite, and porcelain tiles, diamond blades should be included in the list of reciprocating saw blades and accessories to purchase.

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