What Is the Difference Between a Jigsaw and a Sabre Saw?

Bosch jigsaw
Amazon.com

In recent years, the terms jigsaw and sabre saw have become almost interchangeable in the marketplace. Differnt tool manufacturers market these saws under both names, when, to the consumer's eye, the tools may look identical. So where did this confusion come from?

History of the Terms Jigsaw and Sabre Saw

Years ago, the small stationary power saw that we now know as universally as a  scroll saw (a tabletop model where the reciprocating blade is fastened at both ends and moves up and down) had a variation in which the blade was affixed on one side only.

This variation was referred to as a jig saw.

This latter type of tool that had a blade open on one end evolved into a portable, hand-held tool. It became very popular, and some manufacturers soon placed a knob on top of the unit that could be used to turn the reciprocating blade for use in intricate cutting tasks. As this type of continued to evolve, they were often referred to as jig saws, while similar models without the turning knob were called sabre saws. Initially, it was merely an industry convention for distinguishing between two different types of handheld versions of the table top jig saw. 

If this wasn't confusing enough, the term sabre saw was also sometimes used for the reciprocating saw. These saws are available from a number of manufacturers and are sometimes commonly referred to as a "Sawzall"—the trademarked term for this type of saw that is manufactured by the Milwaukee Electric Tool Company.

This type of "sabre" saw is most often used in demolition and construction, but it has little use in fine woodworking. Fortunately, this labeling confusion is beginning to slip away, and the term reciprocating saw is now the standard name for this type of demolition saw. 

Sabre Saws and Jigsaws Today

Today, we have lost most of the early distinctions between hand-held sabre saws and hand-held jig saws.

Any type of hand-held saw with a short reciprocating blade attached on one side only can be called either a sabre saw or jigsaw—the choice of names is really up to the manufacturer. A tool by either name may or may not include the rotating handle on top of the tool, used to make fine turns with the blade.

In the world of tabletop saws, though, there is no longer any confusion. The tabletop saw that features a blade that reciprocates up and down is always known as a scroll saw.