A jigsaw is a very versatile power tool used to cut curves and patterns into a variety of materials. From oak, plywood, PVC, aluminum, and even concrete board, jigsaws are ideal for cutting many different materials. Operators need only be certain they are using the appropriate blade for each application and a jigsaw will eat through most materials. Jigsaws are generally used for more aesthetic purposes and embellishments than are traditional saws. Built to cut intricate patterns, most jigsaws also have a beveling capacity at 450 to either the right or left, sometimes both. Because the tool’s shoe (footplate or saw base) tilts, the blade can cut into materials at an angle to achieve compound shapes. Because jigsaws are designed to move around curves and stencils, they do, however, struggle to cut a straight line, even with the help of a guide.
Jigsaws tend to be pretty safe and generally simple to use and maintain. The blade in jigsaws only moves up and down about 3/4″ – 1″ per stroke, and moves through materials only as fast as it is pushed; this means that although making contact with the blade will hurt and cut you, it likely won’t result in severe damage or limb loss. Though safety risks are fewer with jigsaws, it is still important to be cautious when cutting, and touching and changing blades. During use, the up-down and cutting friction causes blades to become very hot; grabbing hot blades will burn you so be cautious of that as well.
The motor power in jigsaws ranges from around 3.6 ? 6.4 amps. This motor powers an eccentric gear which drives the blade holder shaft and consequently moves the blade up and down. A jigsaw is mainly composed of a plastic body, a metal gear housing, a shoe (which acts as a rest for the saw as it cuts), a blade holder, and blade guide. There are two basic designs for jigsaws: the barrel grip and the top handle. The top handle design has a handle grafted atop the tool’s motor housing. The barrel grip is designed without a handle so the operator manages the saw with its barrel shaped motor housing. Each of these designs are popular, but choosing between the two generally chalks up to personal preference. One of the most important factors in choosing a jigsaw is comfort. Making sure you can maneuver the saw, and that it feels comfortable and stable in your hands are crucial aspects of finding the right jigsaw. Because of its lower center of gravity, many craftsmen claim the top handle has greater controllability.
Variable Speed: With a variable speed option most jigsaws can run between around 500 and 3,000 strokes per minute. In jigsaws the variable speed is controlled either with a separate knob or through applied trigger pressure. Some jigsaw’s have an individual knob with settings from zero up, zero meaning the variable speed feature is not engaged; settings one and up deliver a progressively more aggressive cut. In other models the variable speed is controlled by the amount of pressure put on the tool’s trigger.
Orbital Action: Most jigsaws offer orbital blade action which allows for quicker, rough cuts. The orbital motion pushes the blade forward on the upstroke (as apposed to simply up and down) cutting materials faster and more aggressively. Keep in mind, however, that the more aggressively you cut, the more likely you are to see tear out.
Blower: Many jigsaws offer a blower designed to shoot a stream of air at the cut point. The idea is that the blower will clear any saw dust off the path of the cut making materials, patterns, and cut-lines more visible to the operator. In most models the blower feature can be turned on or off, and in some air pressure can be controlled as well. Some jigsaws can also hook up to a shop-vacuum, but still, dust collection is notoriously sub-par with these saws.
Nearly every jigsaw today offers tool-free blade changes. A button triggers a spring-loaded release mechanism which unlocks the blade from the locking clamp and the blade is released. Some systems require a manual turn of the blade to remove it completely while others simply eject the blade altogether. The blade ejection feature keep fingers safe from potential cuts and burns.
Choosing a Jigsaw:
Power: It’s not always the best answer to simply buy the most powerful saw. Purchase the saw with the amperage that best suits the applications you’ll be using it for.
Comfort and Controllability: It’s crucial to be sure that the jigsaw you choose feels right in you hands and that it is comfortable to push and maneuver. Vibration in the tool is also an important factor for comfortability and quality of cut as well.
Blade Guide System: Because jigsaw blades can veer off course, a good blade guide system is a vitally important part of finding the right jigsaw. A veering blade can easily cut off mark or even result in a kind of unintentional bevel where the blade bends at a slight angle. This generally delivers pretty poor cuts, so a good blade guide is essential. All jigsaws have blade support from behind and most are supported from the sides as well. The amount of side support given, however, varies between models and manufacturers. Look for a blade guide system with adequate side support to keep your blade on track and reduce bending during cuts.
Brushes: Because jigsaw action is typically short in duration, the tool’s factory brushes generally last for the lifetime of the tool. If your brushes do happen to go out, you can simply remove the motor housing to reach them.
Cleanliness: Keeping your jigsaw clean is a big component in enhancing performance and lifespan. Things can get pretty dusty inside your saw, and the grease and oil used to ensure your blade and parts are moving smoothly act as the worst kind of trap for dust and debris. Simply cleaning the blade guide and clamp mechanisms (ideally after every use) will save a lot of headaches. Any built up debris can force the blade out of alignment, so keeping clean will keep you cutting smooth and accurate. Using a toothbrush (or something with a similar design) provides the best reach and leverage.
Shoe or Saw Base: Try to keep your shoe in like-new condition. If the shoe becomes bent it will interrupt the angle of your cut. Replace your jigsaw’s shoe if, for instance, you drop the saw and it bends. It’s also possible that the shoe’s surface will get some scratches or scrapes. Sharp, protruding edges can from around these gouges and mar your cutting surfaces. To keep your materials safe, simply use sandpaper or a scouring pad to smooth over the scratches and sharp edges. Most shoes can also be fitted with a plastic shoe cover when working with soft or finished wood, or plastic.
Cord: As with every corded power tool, check the cord periodically for cracks, cuts, or breaks, and replace the cord if it’s damaged.
Cordless: As battery technology becomes better and better, cordless power tools are becoming a much more viable resource for craftsmen. Cordless jigsaws range from 12 ? 28v; generally, the higher the voltage, the better the tool’s performance. Additionally, because the saw’s exertion comes in relatively short lived periods, batteries in jigsaws tend to last longer. This makes cordless a pretty good and convenient option.
When using a jigsaw, take things slow; let the blade do the work. Don’t push too hard and don’t turn too quickly. Also, you should cut on the bottom of your workpiece whenever possible. Because the blade cuts on the up stroke, cutting on the bottom of the piece will reduce visible tear out to your workpiece.
Jigsaws are an incredibly versatile tool to have around, and are the undisputed king of the curved cut. For cutting patterns and aesthetic shapes there is no better tool to have in the shop than a jigsaw.