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How To Use A Jigsaw

Construction How-To, Finish Carpentry, Tool Reviews, Tools, Woodworking - Directory November 4, 2003 Matt Weber

Jigsaws, also called bayonet saws, are the type of tools that get a lot of use in the home workshop. They’re lightweight, easy to use and extremely versatile. To some degree, a jigsaw can perform the duties of a band saw, a scroll saw and even a circular saw. I’ve used jigsaws for all sorts of general applications, such as cutting wallboard and rough-cutting large pieces of plywood and lumber before hauling them to the table saw. But jigsaws are exceptionally great for making tighter, more intricate cuts. The traditional “jigsaw” puzzle, with its tightly curved and complex network of cutout pieces, nicely illustrates the maneuverability of the tool and the detailed cuts that the narrow blade of a jigsaw is capable of achieving. A great saw for both basic home repairs and advanced woodworking, the tool is used to cut curves, holes and scroll work for projects such as cabinets, countertops, furniture, woodcrafts and more.


Saw Selection

When shopping for a new jigsaw, focus on the features that will make everyday use a piece of cake and you’ll be happy with the saw for many projects to come. When holding the saw, is it lightweight and well balanced? Is it easy to see the point where the blade meets the wood? This is a critical area when making cuts, and without a clear view you’ll struggle with accuracy.

Blade alignment is another important feature. Some manufacturers offer disposable plastic guides to hold the blade in alignment with the base. Other manufacturers offer solid metal guides. From my experience the metal blades offer more reliable blade alignment.

Most traditional jigsaw models feature D-shaped horizontal handles. However, many newer styles feature “barrel grip” handles, which are palm-sized handles positioned directly above the cutting point of the saw and designed for better balance and control. Handle design is really a matter of personal preference. Many people love the barrel-grip design, but just as many have grown accustom to the more traditional style.


Use a compass to mark the radius for round cuts. Note the D-style handle of Freud’s FJ85 saw above.

One welcome feature of many modern jigsaws is an easier blade-change system. Changing blades, which used to be an awkward process requiring special tools, now can be done using only dials or switches to release the blade for easy removal. Bosch offers a “One Touch” blade-change system on some of its models that ejects hot or broken blades with the pull of a lever.

Other handy features include variable speed control. On some saws the blade speed, or the number of blade strokes per minute, can be adjusted with a variable speed trigger. A light touch on the trigger produces a slow cutting motion. Pressing harder increases the blade speed and the aggressiveness of the cut.

In addition to speed control, some jigsaws offer orbital cutting action that controls the horizontal motion in the cutting action of the blade. For example, on Freud’s FJ85 model the orbital selection switch, located on the left, rear of the saw, offers only vertical cutting action when set at “0.” By changing the setting to a position between 1 and 3, a horizontal motion is introduced into the vertical motion of the blade. This improves the speed of the cutting process. The higher the number setting, the greater the horizontal motion.

Making the Cut

In some situations the jigsaw can be mounted to a stand and fixed upside-down on a bench. This allows the material to be pushed into the jigsaw, as when using a band saw. The more common method of use, however, is treating the jigsaw as a hand tool, pushing it over the material.

The limitations of jigsaws lie in their thickness of cut and their trouble cutting a straight line. Typically, stock thicker than about 1 1/2 inches is too thick for jigsaw work. However, the problems of cutting a straight line with a jigsaw can be greatly alleviated by using a saw guide.

Rule number one for using a jigsaw: Safety comes first. Get to know your owner’s manual and all the safety recommendations specific to your jigsaw.

Rule number two: Let the saw blade do the work. Manual pressure is not going to help the cutting action, and too much forward pressure will reduce the life of the blade and the quality of cut. For basic jigsaw cuts, follow these guidelines: