How to use a jigsaw (with photos)

Posted in Home Improvement on June 22, 2018

Curves, cutouts, and straightaways - jigsaws can cut 'em all, providing you use the right blades and techniques.

A woodworker buddy of mine mused that if he could keep only one power saw in his workshop. he'd hold only his jigsaw. Hand-held jigsaws not only excel at cutting curves. but can cut holes, compound angles, and straight lines (with a guide) to boot. They can cut through wood, metal, plastic, and tile, and can handle intricate trim work (Photo 3) or coarse remodeling work.

Sure, jigsaws cut slowly, but that's a bonus when it comes to safety and cleanup, and it makes them great for kid builders and DlYers who shy away from circular saws or table saws.

For a small tool. it packs a wallop – and the longer I own mine, the more uses I discover for it. Here's what I've found out:

  1. Make a series of relief cuts in order to more easily negotiate sharp inside and outside curves and turns.

  1. Make plunge cuts by slowly and firmly lowering the blade into the workpiece while the jigsaw is running. The front of the shoe acts as the hinge point.

  1. Cope moldings to fit with a jigsaw equipped with a thin, fine-tooth blade. Clamp or firmly hold moldings and make relief cuts as needed.

  1. Cut perfect circles with a circular guide. Center point digs into work surface. Jigsaw can be secured along guide bar to create different radiuses.

  1. Use carbide-grit blades for cutting curves and inside corners in ceramic tile. Other specialty blades cut metal, laminates, plastics, and fiberglass.

  1. Use heavy-duty blades, which are specially designed for cutting through nail-embedded wood, for remodeling, and demolition work.

A blade for every task

A jigsaw will cut only as effectively as the blade that's in it. Its up-and-down “sewing machine” action gets the cutting done on the upstroke.

When selecting a wood-cutting blade, keep in mind:

  • The radius of the curve will meet how wide the blade should be. Blades 3/16 in. wide can cut tighter circles than those 3/8 in. wide, but they also break quicker.
  • The smoothness and speed at the cut you need will determine how many teeth the blade should have. One with 10 teeth per inch will induce a smoother, slower cut than a coarser-cutting blade with six teeth per inch.
  • The thickness and hardness of the wood will influence your choice of blade. Cutting a curve in 1-1/2 in. thick
    oak will require a thick, coarse blade.

Most blade manufacturers label their blades according to “best use," so follow their guidelines. In addition to wood-cutting blades, specialty blades are available.

  • Metal-cutting blades can cut soft steel, aluminum, and other metals and pipe up to 1/4 in. thick.
  • Carbide-grit blades (photo 5) can cut odd shaves in ceramic tile, slate and even in brick.
  • Knife blades (sharp-edged ones with no teeth) can cut leather, rubber, cardboard, and other materials.
  • Remodeling-type blades are sturdy enough to cut through wood and nails.
  • Laminate-cutting blades, with teeth that cut on the downstroke, can cut through countertops without splintering the laminated surface.

Always make sure your blade is tightened securely in your jigsaw. Bosch and Porter-Cable require specially designed blades; most other saws accept a universal blade.

Jigsaw features and accessories

Jigsaws prices vary a lot. One big difference between a cheap saw and an expensive one is the accuracy and rigidity of the blade guide. That's the small roller or mechanism that helps support the blade near the base of the saw (Photo 5). A well-constructed guide will help keep your blade perpendicular to the workpiece, help it follow the line of your cut more accurately, and minimize blade breakage.

Consider these features, too:

  • Stroke length. This refers to how far up and down the blade travels. A saw with a 1-in. stroke will cut faster and use more of the blade, giving you more for your blade dollar than one with a 1/2-in stroke.
  • Orbital action. This thrusts the blade forward at an angle as it moves up and down. It greatly increases the speed at the cut and is ideal tor rough cuts.
  • Variable speed. This usually ranges from about 500 to 3.000 strokes per minute. This feature is handy when working with different densities of wood and materials.
  • Tilt-base. This allows you to adjust the base shoe, both left and right, for angle-cutting up to 45 degrees.

Another simple feature many tools have is a blower that directs air from the motor across the blade to keep the cutting line free of sawdust.

A circular guide (Photo 4) can help cut perfect circles ranging from 3 in. to 15 in. in diameter. You can make straight cuts with a special guide or by running the base shoe along a straight board tacked in place.

Cutting tips

Practice makes perfect with your jigsaw. Keep in mind:

  • Always start with the shoe of the jigsaw resting firmly on the workpiece and the workpiece damped or held firmly in place.
  • Make sure you have plenty of clearance for your blade below the project. I've bent and ruined dozens of blades by jamming the tip on a hard work surface under the project.
  • Make relief cuts (Photo 1) and complete your cutout in several small passes rather than one long, continuous cut. This will allow your blade to “corner” easier and allow you to approach the piece from different directions.
  • When precision is important, cut just to the outside of your mark, then sand to the line by hand or with a random-orbit sander. Even the finest blades leave a bit of a rough cut; leave yourself some time and room for sanding.
  • Make cuts in the center of boards by drilling a small starter hole or by making a plunge cut as shown in Photo 2.
  • Because of a jigsaw’s up-and-down action, jigsaw blades lend to splinter thin veneers and plywoods. Prevent this by using an anti-splintering jigsaw blade or by sandwiching your workpiece between thin layers or scrap plywood.

    Jigsaw blades tend to wander. While you may he following your line exactly on the surface, the blade below may he angling inward or outward. This is especially a problem when making turns in thick woods or when using the orbital action found on some saws. Minimize wander by using a blade stout enough tor the job and making relief cuts so your blade can get back on track as necessary.