How to Use a Jigsaw

Young carpenter using an electric jigsaw
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At first glance, jigsaws may seem simple and limited to only a few tasks, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Jigsaws are somewhat of a woodworker’s multitool. Cuts that can’t always be made with a circular saw or table saw, such as crosscutting, ripping, beveling, scrolling, and mitering, are easy feats for the jigsaw, even in a variety of materials. The jigsaw is right at home at both the job site and in the shop, and, if it’s not already, should be the next addition to your toolbelt.

What Is a Jigsaw?

A jigsaw is a handheld power saw with a straight serrated blade that is open on one end and cuts through a variety of materials in an up-and-down motion.

Parts of a Jigsaw

A jigsaw consists of just a few main parts, as well as some smaller components that vary from saw to saw. The base of the jigsaw that smoothly rides across the top of the material is called the shoe and, on most jigsaws, this can be adjusted to cut material at different angles. The part you hold is the handle and tucked beneath the handle is the trigger or on/off button. The last major component is the blade, which can be swapped out after use or depending on the needs of the material.

Some jigsaws have features that control the speed of the blade as well as a dial that controls something called orbital action, which alters how aggressively the blade attacks the material. Many jigsaws even feature a dust blower that clears the cut line of debris, aiding in the accuracy of cuts.

What Blades to Use

Jigsaws are useful for cutting materials like wood, particleboard, plywood, metal, plexiglass, vinyl, plastic, cement board, and even tile. Blade manufacturers typically label blades according to materials, which makes it easy to pick the right one for the job.

However, there are some simple blade-picking tips that will make cutting smoother:

  • If you're wanting to cut scrolled curves through wood, a thinner blade with fine teeth is best for the job.

  • A thick blade with large teeth is best for fast, aggressive cuts.

  • Smaller teeth will result in cleaner cuts, making them ideal for finish materials.

  • A thicker, hard-steel blade is best to prevent blade wander and encourage straight, 90-degree cuts, especially when cutting thicker material.

Safety Considerations

Before using a jigsaw or any other power tool, first put on eye protection. Contrary to popular belief, you should not wear gloves, as the blade can grab the loose materials and pull your hand in with it. For the same reason, loose clothing should be avoided when operating a jigsaw and hair should be tied back out of harm's way. To prevent the material from jumping, you should clamp it down to a work surface. Lastly, always ensure the power cord is out of harm's way and is not a tripping hazard.

How to Use a Jigsaw

  1. Position Blade

    Start by determining which side of the line is best to cut on, as cutting directly on the line can prove difficult. If you plan to use the material on the left side of the line, position the blade on the right side of the line. Once determined, place the front of the shoe on the materials with the blade touching the material.

    Tip

    While there is debate from source to source, a jigsaw blade can actually rest on the material before starting the blade in motion. Unlike with many other saws, this can be a safe and effective way to accurately start a cut. This is due to the nature of the saw and the upward cutting motion and is not recommended with other saw types.

  2. Start Cut

    Firmly grasping the handle, slowly pull the trigger to start the blade's cutting motion. Gently press the blade into the material and move along the line. Avoid forcing the blade, as this will result in poor cuts, bent or broken blades, and unnecessary stress on the jigsaw's motor.

  3. Accurately Cutting Curves

    If making curved cuts, it may prove helpful to throttle down the saw's speed during the curves.

  4. Making Precision Straight Cuts

    Jigsaw blades tend to wander, making precise straight cuts fairly difficult. In this case, the best solution is to cut with the shoe positioned against a guide. Some jigsaws will come equipped with guides, but you may have to purchase a saw guide.

    Tip

    To make a DIY saw guide, use a box level and two C-clamps. No level? Simply swap it out for a straight piece of wood.

  5. Making Cuts That Don't Start at the Edge

    If your cut falls at the center of the material rather than at the edge, create an entry point for the blade by first drilling a hole. Make sure you drill the hole on the side of the line that is to be discarded.

  6. Safely Stop and Remove the Jigsaw

    Allow the blade to fully stop before removing it from the material.

Buying vs. Renting

Odds are, if you need a jigsaw for one job, you'll need it for another in the future, especially after you realize how handy the tool actually is. While jigsaws are available for rent at many hardware stores and tool rental shops, a quality jigsaw is a worthy investment for any level of craftsman.

Keeping a Jigsaw in Good Condition

There are a few key steps to ensuring a jigsaw lasts as long as possible while staying in tip-top shape. If buying, opt for a saw with a quality case or purchase a small toolbox to store the saw in. Always remove blades after use to avoid blades locking in place. Use compressed air to thoroughly clean any dust and debris from on and in the saw. Lastly, properly use the saw. If you abuse it by forcing the blade and overworking it, it will not last as long.

When to Replace a Jigsaw

To put it simply, a jigsaw should only be replaced when it stops working. Replacement cords and components are available for nearly every jigsaw. Even if the saw does stop working, if it's a quality saw, it is likely worth a trip to a tool repair shop before you consider a replacement.