Learn everything you need to know about how to use a jigsaw and make amazing projects with this in-depth tutorial.
Have you ever needed to cut curves on a project or saw a hole in a piece of wood? You can do that and more with a jigsaw!
The jigsaw is a versatile tool for most beginner woodworkers and is safer to use than other saws. But as with any saw, the proper technique and knowledge are needed to use your jigsaw safely. Read on to learn all about out how to use a jigsaw.
What is a Jigsaw?
A jigsaw is a power saw with a thin long blade that moves up and down to cut. It is very versatile, portable, and can cut through different materials. It was called a saber saw in the past.
Jigsaws can essentially do everything a circular saw and miter saw can do and more. Jigsaws can be used to:
- cut curves or shapes
- make straight cuts.
- make bevel cuts
- Cut larger holes or shapes in the middle of boards
Depending on the type of blade, you can cut –
- sheet metal
- ceramic tile
- PVC pipe
- and more!
I have used it to cut the shapes in the dinosaur shelf, the handles in the vegetable bins, the legs on the nightstand, and even the half-lap cuts on this shoe organizer.
Types of Jigsaws
The main types of jigsaws are –
- The top handle jigsaw – the handle above the motor, and the grip tends to be slimmer. This is the most common configuration.
The drawback to these jigsaws is that the handle tends to be further away from the workpiece, which can hinder you from seeing the cut line or maneuvering tight curves.
- Barrel grip jigsaws – the grip doubles as the motor’s housing (example here).
When using this type of jigsaw, you are positioned behind the saw, allowing you to guide the saw and follow the cutting line with more ease.
The drawback to barrel grip jigsaws is that the handles tend to be larger, and you need to use two hands to hold the saw during operation.
As always, I have a detailed video tutorial discussing all about the Jigsaw and how to use it. A complete written article with frequently asked questions is below.
Like most handheld saws, jigsaws are available, either corded or cordless. This guide is helpful for either option, as cordless jigsaws and corded jigsaws have very similar parts.
- The Blade
Jigsaw blades are typically long and straight, come with different shanks, materials and a variety of widths and tooth counts.
We will get into details of all of that in a little bit.
- The Shoe
The base of the jigsaw is called the shoe. The shoe sits on the material being cut. It is important that the shoe lays flat on the material in order to make an accurate cut straight or curved cut.
As you will read later, the shoe should be angled differently for a bevel cut or plunge cut.
- The handle
The best jigsaw is the one that you can hold comfortable and safely through the entire cut. There are two types of jigsaw handles – the top handle or the “D-handle”, and the barrel grip handle. More on the differences below.
This is the ON switch of the jigsaw. It is usually located on the inside of the top handle jigsaws. As you make the cut, you have to hold the trigger to keep the blade running. When you let go of the trigger, the saw comes to a stop.
- Trigger Lock
The trigger lock locks the jigsaw trigger in an ON position so you don’t have to continue to hold the trigger as you make the cut. This is especially helpful when you are making long cuts.
- Speed Control Dial
Many jigsaws come with a dial that controls the speed of the jigsaw blade. The speed at which you run a jigsaw depends of the material you are cutting.
- Blade Roller Guide
The blade roller guide is located just above the shoe. The guide is slotted, and the blade rests between the slots. The roller guide ensures that the blade is kept square to the work piece.
- Orbital switch
Jigsaws can have two cutting actions:
The straight action – where the jigsaw blade moves up and down and makes the cut
The orbital action – where the blade moves forward during the cutting stroke in addition to up and down. This results in a faster cut which is also rougher.
Orbital action should never be used for metals or hardwoods.
Helps tilt the saw so you can make bevel cuts. How to set this varies between models.
Also see: How to use a Circular Saw
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There are multiple considerations when picking a blade for your jigsaw.
A jigsaw accepts with either a T-shank blade or a U-shank blade.
- The T-shank blade is common in newer saws. It has a point at the top of the blade and is easy to insert into the saw. I highly recommend getting a T-shank jigsaw.
- A U-shank blade has a “U” shape at the end and can be mostly found in older jigsaws. They require a wrench to install the blade.
Some brands have made blades that work in both types of jigsaws. These blades are known as universal blades.
Jigsaw blades are made from different materials based on the type of material they can cut. The most common ones are – high carbon steel, carbide, high-speed steel, or bi-metal.
The packaging will almost always tell you what material it can cut.
Always be sure to pick the right blade that works for the type of material you are cutting.
The tooth count is defined by “tooth per inch” or TPI. Blades with a higher tooth count typically go through the material slower but produce a cleaner and smoother cut.
In contrast, a blade with a lower tooth count can make a faster cut, but it will often be a rough cut.
Jigsaw blades come in different widths. The width you pick will depend on the type of cut you want to make.
A wide jigsaw blade is best for making straight cuts, while a narrow blade is better for curves as you can easily turn it along with the shape. Scroll cut jigsaw blades are the best option for cutting circles or curves.
If you try to make sharp turns with a wider blade, the blade with jam and the saw will kick back.
Direction of teeth
Most blades available in the market have teeth pointing upwards. This means the saw cuts in the up motion. This leads to the splintering of the top surface.
One way to avoid that is to place the workpiece good side down. This can get a little confusing when drawing shapes because we always draw them on the good side.
Reverse Tooth blades are an option. These blades have teeth pointing downwards and cut in the down motion. The top surface is clean and free of splinters but the bottom of the workpiece gets splinters
The best one though is the top and bottom cut teeth blade. This gives you a splinter-free cut both on the top and bottom of the workpiece. Ever since I discovered this one, I don’t use anything else.
Jigsaw Blade recommendations:
Like any other power tool, before using a jigsaw, you want to make sure to read the manual and understand your tool well.
- Wear safety glasses, hearing protection, and a respirator/ dust mask.
- Make sure there are no loose clothing or jewelry hanging and long hair is tied up.
- Secure the material before cutting. Jigsaws tend to move the workpiece more than other handheld saws, so it’s important to fasten your material while working with a jigsaw.
- Do not plugin the saw or insert the battery while you insert the blade.
- Keep the power cord out of the way of the blade and behind you as you cut.
- Unplug or remove the battery of the jigsaw when not in use.
- When you are done using the saw, and the blade has stopped, allow the blade to cool down before touching it to change it or put it away.
How To Use
Once you have chosen the best blade for your needs, it’s time to set up the saw and get to work!
- Set the dial setting for the speed and cutting method that is best suited for workpiece and jigsaw cut.
- Adjust the angle if you want to make beveled cuts.
- Insert the blade into the saw
- Carefully clamp your workpiece to your work bench, workhorses, or table
- Ensure that the cut area overhangs so the saw blade doesn’t hit the table while in use.
- The workpiece is clamped well enough that the workpiece doesn’t vibrate as you cut.
- Plug the jigsaw to the power supply or insert the battery.
- Position the blade at the cut line paying attention to the Kerf.
- Turn on the saw and slowly guide the saw along the line to be cut.
Remember – let the saw do the cutting. Do not push the saw or it may bind.
Cutting Straight Lines
Though the jigsaw is best known for cutting curves and different shapes, it can also produce very accurate straight cuts.
- Mark your cut line with a pencil and straight edge. Move the front of the saw’s shoe onto the workpiece, and turn the saw on.
- Clamp a straight edge guide to help get the best straight line cut possible.
It may be tempting to force the jigsaw faster than it wants to go, but you only just need to guide it — the jigsaw will do all the work!
Also see: How to use a miter saw
A jigsaw is probably the best and affordable option for cutting curves.
- Pick a the blade width. The tighter the curves, the thinner the blade should be.
- Make relief cuts if needed.
- Guide the saw along the line as needed.
Be prepared to make more relief cuts to keep the saw blade straight. Relief cuts keep the blade from binding in tight spaces and corners. They help remove excess material so that you can cut curves more easily. The tighter the curve you are cutting, the more relief cuts you will want to make.
If the cut is too tight, the saw blade is unable to turn, and the saw may seize up, and the blade may snap.
When your project requires a hole to be cut or you need to cut the center of the workpiece.
- Drill a starter hole (usually about ½ inch) in the desired location
- Insert the jigsaw blade into a hole to start your first cut.
Depending on the shape of the cut, you may have to make relief cuts inside the holes as well.
This is specifically true if you are trying to make a rectangular cut inside the board.
When. you need to cut a rectangle inside a board, it can be cut similar to the above technique for cutting a circle.
But I find that making relief cuts works a lot easier and accurately.
Here is how I like to make rectangular cuts:
- Make a hole in the middle of the shape.
- Make relief cuts to each corner of the rectangle.
- use these relief cuts and cut along the edges of the rectable.
- Once the cut is complete, you can come back and clean up any remaining material.
Cutting plywood with a jigsaw takes just a little more care and preparation than cutting with hardwood or pine boards. Plywood tends to splinter easily, but there are easy ways to ensure that doesn’t happen.
- Masking tape – After marking your workpiece, place masking tape (or painter’s tape) on the cut line. Make sure the cut line is dark enough to be visible under the tape, or you can draw the line after placing the tape.
- Use a top and bottom cut blade – with teeth pointing in both directions, the splintering is minimum.
Make your cut as you normally would, remove the tape, and your result should be free of splinters!
Frequently asked questions
How to avoid tearout with a jigsaw?
Tearout happens when the blade pulls up and rips the fibers of the board, causing it to splinter at the edge. This is especially pronounced in plywood, but softwoods and hardwoods can have this happen too.
There are two ways to avoid tearout. My favorite way to avoid tearout is to use masking tape or painter’s tape on the cut line, which pushes the fibers down and holds them in place as the cut is made.
Another solution is to use top and bottom cut blades which keeps both top and bottom surfaces free of splinters
How thick can a jigsaw cut?
A jigsaw blade needs about an inch below the work surface in the fully extended position to work best without binding. Jigsaw blades come in different lengths, so choose the correct length of the blade.
For example, to cut a 2×4 with a jigsaw, at least a 3″ long blade is required.
Why won’t my jigsaw cut straight?
If you are trying to cut a straight line, you always want to use a straight edge guide to help the jigsaw cut exactly on the line. You are human and can never really get the straight cut to be perfect no matter how much you practice.
Why does my jigsaw always cut at an angle?
If the cut is not straight down and is at an angle despite the saw being set to 0-degrees, it may be because you might be forcing the saw through the cut. This is called drift and is most common in thick material.
The jigsaw blade is very flexible and can bend if you put force on the saw at an angle while cutting. The best practice is to let the saw do the cutting and steer the saw without any additional force.
If you notice, you have to force the saw through the cut, check the blade, and make sure they are sharp.
Can I use a jigsaw instead of a circular saw or miter saw?
Yes, you can. However, cutting boards with a jigsaw is slower than cutting with a circular saw or miter saw. A jigsaw is a lot safer to use and is a very common choice for beginners.
Can you use a jigsaw to cut vertically?
Yes, you can cut vertically, as long as the jigsaw plate can sit flat on the vertical surface and there is enough clearance under the board for the blade.
Best Jigsaw for Beginners
- RYOBI Corded variable speed Jigsaw (Budget-friendly)
- Bosch Corded Variable speed Jigsaw
- Dewalt XR Brushless jigsaw ( my new favorite)
- Milwaukee Brushless Jigsaw (Cordless-best upgrade!)
Take a look at all Beginner Woodworking articles here.