A jigsaw is one of the most versatile and powerful power tools that will belong in any woodworker’s repertoire. This is a device that you will use to make both straight and curved cuts, as well as ripping, bevelling, plunge cuts and a whole variety of custom shapes. It’s also one that can cut through all manner of different materials, from wood, to ceramic, to metal. Its form factor make it particularly easy to operate, while the handle offers great precision. In short, this is a highly useful tool and one that you’re going to find yourself reaching for often when you’re in the shop.
So the question is: how do you make sure that you get the right one? And how can you spot a good jigsaw when you see one?
What is a Jigsaw
A jigsaw is not only an important tool, it could even be considered the second most crucial power tool right behind the drill for any DIYer. The first reason for this is that they are one of the only tools that can cut curves, unless you are looking at more specialist and expensive machinery.
These devices are held in one hand using a handle that sits on the top of the device. From there, they allow the user to squeeze a trigger, which will drive a downward-facing saw. That saw will work similarly to a reciprocating saw, moving up and down and perhaps forward and back, driven by a powerful motor that enables it to cut through such a wide variety of materials.
Jigsaws can vary in terms of power and in terms of their feature set. Some will be corded, while others will use battery packs. Some can even make bevel cuts (angled cuts) and will allow you to angle the saw by 45 degrees.
Things to Look for When Considering Jigsaws
When buying jigsaws, there are numerous different factors and features to look out for. As we’ve already seen, they can do a lot more than you might at first expect them to but in order to get all those benefits, you need to ensure that you are buying the right model and that you know which features are available.
Here are some things to consider when making your choice…
The power of the motor is one of the single most important considerations when making your choice. You can buy both corded and cordless jigsaws, which will give you different motor speeds ranging from 4-7 amps or 18-20V (the difference is because amps are used for corded models and volts are for cordless). The difference between the lower and higher end are very different and this can allow you to cut through much tougher materials with greater ease.
That said though, most people will do just fine with around 5 amps of power. If you’re a general ‘DIYer’ rather than someone who makes a living from woodwork, then this will give you enough oomph to cut most materials easily and give you enough versatility.
It’s also worth noting that the power is not the ‘be all and end all’. In some cases, a less powerful motor can actually result in a better cut, if the saw is sharper or if the design is such that it is slightly easier to use.
This is an example of something that is equally as important, if not more important than the power alone. A jigsaw’s speed is shown in ‘strokes per minute’ or ‘SPM’. The vast majority of tools will have a max speed of around 3,000 SPM which should be enough for nearly any project. If you see something with considerably lower numbers though, you may want to reconsider.
Also important in this regard is to look for individual speed settings. The more speed settings your device has, the better suited your tool will be for a wide range of tasks. Lowering the speed for instance will improve your accuracy and allow you to cut more precisely. Increasing it on the other hand will be better for when you need to quickly cut through a very thick material.
That said, if you only need this saw for very simple DIY tasks and there isn’t much variety in terms of what you are doing, then a single speed setting may suffice and can save you some money.
Corded vs Uncorded
Another important but largely self-explanatory consideration is whether the tool is corded or cordless. Corded tools tend to be a little more powerful but of course you sacrifice a little bit of flexibility and versatility as you’ll need to be near a power outlet and as the cord can end up getting in the way and tying things up.
Orbital settings are something else important for thinking about the way you intend on using your saw. While normal jigsaws only move up and down, an orbital setting will mean that the saw will also be able to move forward, backwards and sideways using a circular motion. This provides more precision and speed but is also very useful when it comes to removing chips.
Different saws will have different numbers of orbital settings and if you can find one that has a lot of settings, then you’ll have a lot more control over precisely how the device performs. Again though, if you are only really performing a single task over and over, then you might find that you don’t need this extra functionality and once again, going without could save you money.
As mentioned earlier, it is possible to use a jigsaw to make bevel cuts, meaning that you don’t need to spend extra money on something like a miter saw. Of course a miter saw will be necessary for when you want to make lots of very precise angled cuts but if you just need to make the occasional bevel, a jigsaw can do just fine.
When using a jigsaw to do this, you will need to find one that has the option to adjust the angle of the blade. Most saws these days have this option and by loosening a single screw, you can normally tilt the base up to 45 degrees in either direction. Some will have an on-board Allen wrench for this, while others will come with a lever or a trigger that you can squeeze to loosen it. If this is something you think you’re likely to use fairly often, then finding a saw with an easy mechanism is a good idea.
Some also have fixed settings, allowing you to automatically set the base to 45 or 90 degrees. This is very useful indeed, as it means you won’t need to use a protractor or a square. It also results in a much more precise cut.
There’s another added benefit of having an adjustable base like this too, which is that it will allow you to saw right up close to a wall or any other vertical surface. This is very useful for working on the inside of cabinets or closets for example. Most premium saws will have a plastic cover inserted into the metal baseplate and this will help to prevent damage to softer surfaces as you’re pressing against them. Look for this if this is a feature you’ll be looking for often.
Something to look into, is how the saw performs on certain materials. As we’ve seen, the motor and the speed don’t actually tell you the whole story so it’s worth looking on the manufacturer’s website for more details. Does it say if it works particularly well on a certain material? If not, then consider looking for customer reviews to see what they have to say about it.
As mentioned, there are lots of different blades available for any jigsaw and so you might find yourself occasionally switching them out on the fly. Look for a saw that has a quick release and specifically a ‘tool-less’ release. This means that you can swap the blade by squeezing a trigger or flipping a switch, rather than having to use a tool to unscrew the blade and take part of the tool itself apart. That makes a big difference if it is something you will be doing often!
If you are going to be making lots of curved cuts – and this is indeed one of the great benefits of a jigsaw – then it is worth looking for a jigsaw with a scrolling feature. This allows for the blade to be steered directly along the curves without altering the angle of the jigsaw itself. Otherwise, you’ll need to turn around whenever you make a curve, making it a lot more impractical.
When choosing blades, you need to think about the precise job you’re going to be doing and which blade will work best in that context.
Saws will be described in terms of TPI, which stands for ‘teeth per inch’. The more teeth (higher the TPI), the faster the blade will cut. However, if you have a very thick material (especially metal), then you might want to find a blade that has a lower TPI.
Also important to consider is the thickness of the blade. A high speed steel or bi-metallic blade will work just fine for wooden surfaces and for light metals. However, if you are cutting something thicker, then you might want a cobalt steel blade. Then there are carbide grit blades that you want to look for if you are cutting masonry board.
In many cases, you will get a few different blades included with the jigsaw. Where you only get one though, it will tend to be a mid-range blade that should be versatile enough to handle a variety of different tasks.
Added Features to Look For
As well as the features of the device itself, it’s also worth looking for a number of desirable additional features. These include:
Sometimes you’ll be sawing in places that you can’t easily see. Sometimes you’ll be sawing when it’s dark! In these cases, having a jigsaw that includes an LED light can be a very useful feature.
How is the handle to hold? Is it pleasant to use? This is important if you’re going to be performing long jobs as some tools can actually become quite painful when you’re using them for a long time.
Along similar lines is the vibration – avoid any tools if the reviews say they vibrate a lot. This can be painful, noisy and ultimately detrimental to the quality of your cut!
How is the Dust Blower?
Some tools, including jigsaws, will feature an in-built mechanism for collecting dust. This can help to prevent it from getting in the way and interfering with your work. It can also prevent you making a mess in your workshop that you later have to clean. And better yet, it can also help you to
If you are getting a cordless saw, then make sure that the charge will last an adequate amount of time. The last thing you want is to keep having to recharge it after each use!
Finally of course, you need to think about price, looks and whether or not you like a certain brand.
As you can see, there are many different things to consider when choosing a jigsaw. Just make sure to shop around, do your research and read plenty of reviews. That way, you should be able to find a tool that will be highly versatile and powerful enough to handle any situation you throw at it. As we mentioned at the start, this is one of the most popular tools in any woodworker’s arsenal and as such, it is one that is well worth spending the time to choose properly and perhaps spending a little money on in order to get the very best model.
Once you have this in your shop, you’ll find yourself just looking for excuses to cut things… but only if you get the right model and the right model for you.