Tool Primer: How to Select & Use Jigsaws

Some tools do only one thing well.  Some tools do a lot of things well if you know how to use them.  The jigsaw (or sabersaw), in my opinion, is unique in the pantheon of modern woodworking tools as it does nearly everything with equal parts of ineptness and frustration.  So why keep it around?  It’s the only portable tool that cuts curves.  And that makes it invaluable in the shop when the project calls for it.

Skil jigsaw
D Handled Jigsaw

The jigsaw is a device which moves a unsupported cutting blade in a vertical reciprocating motion. A small metal shoe provides some stability and can often be adjusted for 45deg cuts.  The whole assembly, motor, housing, blade, shoe, etc, can be held in hand in one of two configurations. The D-grip configuration is more common, while the barrel grip receives more compliments and has been winning converts over the years.

Barrel Handled Jigsaw
A barrel handled jigsaw

Curve cutting machines aren’t new inventions.  Portability makes the jigsaw different, than say, this Shillings scrollsawing machine from the late 1800’s.

Schillings' improved scroll-sawing machinery
Old scroll saw machines

In the modern shop, bandsaws and scroll saws cut cleaner curves in a wider variety of materials.  Yet, much like how a fret saw would be grabbed in 1890, a woodworker picks up the jigsaw whenever a strange curve is needed.

So lets talk jigsaw safety for a moment.

Clamping your work piece firmly to a stable surface is the most important safety step when using a jigsaw.  Loose, unstable work pieces can shift.  Parts, saws and body parts start flying everywhere.  Clamp that stuff down.

Use a two-handed grip whenever possible.  If you think you must hold the work piece, spend at least five minutes trying to find another way.  The only way a jigsaw can cut off a finger is if you put your fingers below the piece – two hands on the tool prevents this from happening and promotes more control of the cut.

Beginning and ending a cut happens to be the most dangerous actions in using a jigsaw.  Start the blade before you begin a cut.  Starting a blade while the blade is in contact with the work piece causes the jigsaw to move up and down, not the sawblade.  After a cut is completed, or you must shift grips, etc. turn off the saw and allow the blade to come to a complete stop.  Lifting out the jigsaw while the blade is still moving causes broken blades, jammed thumbs, sore wrists and scarred work.

Use the right blade for your jigsaw and the job at hand.  Jigsaws come in U-blades, as seen in the SkilTools video, and T-shanks.  Make sure you use the one which is appropriate for your type of saw.  Also, as mentioned in the video, match your blade to the work at hand.  Nearly every company puts together some sort of jigsaw blade combo pack.  Pick a name brand and get to it.

Jigsaw Saws.
Grouped from R to L: Rough Wood Cutting, Fast Wood Cutting, Metal Cutting Blades, Clean Wood Cutting
Make it safe & keep the rubberside down this weekend.

Other Articles in the Tool Primer Series:

Circular Saws

Power Drills

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