Using A Jig Saw

The Jig Saw

Wood Working Tool Guide 101

A Jig Saw Image
The Jig Saw: tricky twists, turns, and curves

At a fraction of the cost of more expensive scroll saws, a jigsaw is the perfect tool for making tricky cuts in your next wood project.

Why a Jigsaw?

When it comes to cutting twists, turns, and curves in wood, the jigsaw is hard to beat for its low cost and ease of use (you’ll spend only fraction of what you would pay for its close cousins—the scroll saw and band saw).

In fact, it’s so easy to use that you might forget that this tool cuts through fingers just like any other power saw (just a safety warning).  But with a nice, tight grip on the handle and the proper set up (boards secured and clamped to a sawhorse or bench), using a jigsaw can be fun and easy.

Understand The Controls

Trigger Switch:

jigasw trigger switch

Like most saws, the jigsaw includes a safety-lock feature that keeps you from picking up the saw and accidentally starting the the blade.

Orbital Control:

orbital control knob

This controls the cutting pattern of the blade, which can be adjusted to better match the material you are cutting. This is crucial for cutting thin laminates.

Bevel Adjustment:

orbital control

Probably not something you’ll use very often, but nice to have when you need it. Use an angle gauge tool for setting precise bevel cuts.


Top 3 Mistakes People Make While Using A Jig Saw

 

1) Wrong Blade Choice

A jigsaw works great - However, if you have the right blade installed for the job. The wrong blade will bring your jigsaw down to a frustrating, slow  and battery-draining grind.

wrong jig saw blade

Take the time to switch blades when switching between different materials and you’ll do both you and the saw a favor.

wrong jig saw blade 2

2) Pushing

It’s easy to get impatient with a jigsaw and try to speed up the cut by pushing forward. This causes more trouble than it solves.

pushing jig saw

Even a small amount of forward pressure can make the blade bend—creating a small bevel to the cut. Worse yet, the extra pressure can cause a blade to snap.

pushing jig saw 23) Pinching

When cutting large sheets of thin material, the weight of the saw can cause a sheet to bow and sag in the middle—making the material collapse against the blade.

pinching jigsaw blade

This can cause the saw to stop, stray off path, or worse, jump dangerously up and away from your work piece.

pinching jigsaw blade 2


 

What You CAN Do With a Jig Saw...

 

Cut Circles
Cutting circles in wood is a task that not many tools can do. A jigsaw makes the job surprisingly quick and easy. I like to start by drilling a large pilot hole near the edge of the circle.

cutting circles 1

Then I simply lower the jigsaw blade into the hole and start cutting along the circular path.

cutting circles 2

Cut Curves
I think what I like most about a jigsaw is how well it handles intricate and complicated curves—the kind of curves that are normally made on expensive shop tools like band saws and scroll saws.

cutting curves with jigsaw

A jigsaw is also perfect for cutting small notches, indents, dips, angles, decorative edges, and patterns—all for $75 or less.


...And What You CAN’T Cut with a jig saw

Complex Joinery Joints
I’ve tried cutting joinery with a jigsaw—like half lap joints on outdoor construction projects—but I’ve never had much success with that.

jigsaw joinery

The blade doesn’t seem stable enough to cut the square edge (shoulder) that you’ll need for accurate joinery. I usually have better luck cutting joints like this with a hand saw.


 

Jig Saw Blade Guide

There are 3 main types of jig saw blades that you will require in your toolbox, and these 3 types will be sufficient for most diy wood working projects.

  1. Rough Wood Blade
  2. Smooth Wood Blade
  3. Laminate Wood Blade

1) Rough Wood Blade

rough blade cut

With less than 10 teeth per inch, this blade is perfect for quick cuts in thick boards like 2x4s and wood posts.

2) Smooth Wood Blade

smooth blade cut

With twice as many teeth, this blade leaves a nice, smooth edge on 1x pine, MDF, and particle board.

3) Laminate Wood Blade

laminate blade cut

I like to use a laminate blade for getting a super-smooth edge on thin plywood, hardboard, and plastics.


The Right Shank

t shank blade
T Shank Jig Saw Blade
universal blade shank
Universal Shank Jig Saw Blade

 

The shank is the part of the blade that fits into the saw—with a small notch or hole that locks the blade in place. Blades have either a T-Shank or a Universal shank. Some jigsaws accept both styles—but some do not. Be sure to check your owner’s manual.


Other Features on a Jigsaw

Orbital Action
A decent-quality jigsaw will usually feature orbital motion—a circular up-and-down path that forces the blade to cut on the upstroke only. orbital jigsaw image

The orbital motion does two things:

1) It makes the cutting action of the blade more aggressive, which means faster cutting in soft woods,

2) it reduces the amount of wear and tear on the blade (the teeth don’t touch the board on down stroke).

Orbital action is fairly common in the $75 - $100 price range. Most jigsaws with orbital motion let you control how much orbital action to apply. orbital jigsaw adjust nut image

For example, if I need to make some quick cuts through thick pine, I’ll set the jigsaw to full-speed and full-strength orbital action.

This takes the blade through thick boards fast and easy.

Keeping the same settings on a more dense material (like plastic) would either melt the plastic from too much heat, or more likely, break the blade.

It’s much easier (and safer) for a jigsaw to cut through metal and plastic at slower speeds and with no orbital action.

Cutting Bevels
Most jigsaws can cut a fairly decent bevel, although I’ve found the mechanism for adjusting the saw can be awkward and inaccurate.jig saw bevel cut image

On most jigsaws, you’ll make the adjustment by pivoting the base of the saw itself to create the desired cutting angle (see below).

Some jigsaws have a bevel scale located somewhere on the saw, but don’t assume this is even close to being accurate.

The only way to get your jigsaw to cut a true, accurate bevel is by trial and error.

I like to use a piece of scrap wood and a real bevel gauge—checking the angle of the cut after each test run.

Once you have hit the correct bevel on your test board, tighten down the saw base. Now you’re ready to go on to the real work piece and finish the cut.orbital control

Although the bevel feature might be helpful for creating certain types of project joinery, the more popular application is in scrolling and decorative work.

Where a small bevel on the cutline gives an interesting look and feel to the overall project.