If you are DIYer planning to start a workshop, a jigsaw is one of the first tools to consider. It is safe, easy to operate, accurate, and affordable. However, there are many details that you need to look into before buying one. Follow through this article and get the knowledge that you crave.
So, what is a jigsaw power tool?
A jigsaw is a hand-held cutting tool that has a reciprocating saw blade powered by a motor. You may think of it as a sewing machine’s head in appearance and operations. Some versatile jigsaws have sole plates that you can tilt to make an angled cut.
Types of Jigsaws
For more clarity on jigsaws, let us delve into the available types in the market. The jigsaws are classified into two;
- Depending on the power source: They are either corded or cordless jigsaws.
- Depending on the blade motion when cutting: either reciprocating or orbital action
Let’s discuss them briefly
1. Depending On the Power Source
They are categorized as;
- a) Corded Jigsaws
Electricity powers these tools. They have a cord connected to a power source. The source of power could either come from the wall outlet or a generator for offsite jobs. Most of the available corded saws run on Amperage of 5 to 6.5 AMPS.
- b) Cordless Jigsaws
Lithium-ion batteries power them. The voltage between 18V to 20V is sufficient for most of your cutting projects. They have the advantage of accessing tight corners that the corded jigsaw may not reach. However, they have a lower power output, and you have to interchange the batteries from time to time.
2. According To the Blade’s Motion
In this classification, the jigsaw blade can either be reciprocating or have an orbital action. Let’s get to the difference
a) Reciprocating Jigsaw
The movement of the blade in these types of jigsaw is up and down. You can describe it as a push and pull. The tool has an exposed blade making it suitable for demolition.
b) Orbital Action Jigsaw
The orbital action jigsaw is more expensive than the usual reciprocating saw. It has dial settings that change the cutting action. The blade moves in slightly circular forward movement in and out of the saw. The slightly elliptical motion increases its cutting aggression.
Before we proceed, let’s look into the most important parts of a jigsaw that you need to familiarize with.
Parts of a Jigsaw
1. The Handle
Let’s start with the handle because it’s what you see as you observe from above. Besides, it’s the point that gives you the full control of the saw.
The jigsaw power tool comes with a D-handle, barrel grip handle, or hybrid handle.
a) D-Handle/ Top Handle
As the name suggests, this handle rests on top of the jigsaw.
Pros of the Top Handle
- Its position gives you full control of the tool even with one hand
- Well shaped to fit the hand lowering wrist fatigue
- Always rubberized for more comfort
- Easy access to trigger and lock-on switch
b) Barrel Grip Handle
The handle rests at the back on the side of the saw.
Pros of The Barrel Grip Handle
- Its position enables you to use more force as you cut through
- Has an additional handle allowing you to use both hands for better control
- Better control for intricate cuts as the arm is closer to the shoe
Cons of the Barrel Grip Handle
– Longer projects can cause fatigue and inflammation on the wrists
C) Hybrid Handle
These handles have a particular configuration that allows you to switch from top handle to barrel grip.
Pros Of Hybrid Handle
The handle allows you to enjoy the advantages of both handles as you limit the disadvantages of each.
2. Lock-On or Off Switch
The switch is on the lower side of the handle. It allows the jigsaw to run at a constant speed even when you remove your hand.
Cutting with the wrong blade may damage your material and can also be dangerous. Therefore, you need to select the appropriate blade for the right job.
The first thing to consider is how fast you can change the blade in the middle of a project. In this case, let’s look at their changing mechanism.
Jigsaw Blade Changing Mechanism
Blades are categorized depending on their jigsaw’s shank compatibility. Their end shapes differentiate them into either T-shanks or U-shanks. Let’s understand them briefly
Jigsaws that accept T-shank blades are the most common. They have the advantage of a quick blade change system. You press a button to change the blade.
With the U-shank, you need a retaining screw to fasten the blade. Therefore, more time used in swapping the blade, making it unpopular to many hobbyists.
What Should You Know About Jigsaw Blades?
Apart from the above two categories, you need to know the following about blades;
a)What Blade Size Fits Your Project?
Different blade sizes have varying cutting results. Longer and thicker blades are harder to bend but make rough cuts. Consequently, thinner blades are weaker but have clean cuts. Aside from the cutting results, note that you need a blade that is at least an inch longer than the thickness of the material.
The most common jigsaw’s blade sizes range from 3-1/4 to 4 inches. Longer blades with length ranging from 6 to 7 inches are suitable for cutting hardwood. The longest blades measure 10 inches. They are ideal in cutting wood and metal sandwiches.
b) Do I Need To Check The Blade Teeth?
Of course, you do. The teeth are responsible for the actual cutting. Besides, they determine whether you get rough or smooth cuts. Check out for the following specifications;
c) Alignment of the Blade
The alignment refers to the direction of the teeth. They could either be;
- Facing upwards- these are ideal for more aggressive cuts.
- Facing downwards- ideal for excellent materials like veneers
- Combination for both up and down- suitable for moderate cuts
- Straight-ideal for fine and slow cutting
b) Teeth per Inch (TPI)
Another essential factor to look out for is TPI. TPI is the total number of teeth in a square inch of the blade. Higher TPI is suitable for hard materials, whereas lower TPI is ideal for soft materials. Also, note that blades with higher TPI have smooth finishes but have slower cutting speed.
3. Is The Material Of The Blade Relevant?
Blades come in various metals and compounds. Hard materials require strong and hard metals compared to soft plastics. Luckily, you don’t have to fuss a lot as the jigsaw manual will assist you in selecting the blade. Besides, all blades are with specific materials that they cut.
What Materials Make Jigsaw Blades?
In a nutshell, the cheapest and most common blades consist of High Carbon Steel (HCS). Though weak, they are very flexible and make precise cuts. However, you need Bi-metal blades for their strength and flexibility. For cutting sturdy materials, you need the tungsten carbide blades. These blades cut by grinding, which is ideal for cutting ceramics and glass.
4. What Material Are You Working On?
You need to select a blade that cuts your materials effectively. The following guideline will assist you in what to use on different materials.
- Wood- when cutting large stock, the ideal blade is sharp with large, widely spaced teeth. On the other smaller and closely spaced teeth are suitable for smaller wood that requires more exceptional finishes.
- Metals– metal blades are suitable for hard materials like pipes. The blade’s teeth have small space with smaller teeth for optimal cutting ability.
- Soft materials – cutting soft materials like carpets or leather requires blades that leave a smooth edge.
- Plastics– the multi-purpose blades are well fitted to work on plastics such as acrylic, polycarbonate, or PVCs.
What Is A Blade Guide System?
The blades discussion cannot end before mentioning the blade guide system. In the past, you could only find this feature on very expensive jigsaws: not anymore. Nowadays, most saws have this feature.
The jigsaw blade guide system consists of two rollers that support the blade from flexing or breaking as you push the saw on the material. It is located just above the shoe for maximum blade protection. I prefer the transparent ones for a better view of my cutting.
Aside from the guide system, a blade guard covers the blade. It is fixed at the front of the blade to protect you from accidents and cutting debris.
Shoe or Footplate
When cutting, the shoe comes into direct contact with the material. Some footplates have a protective layer for protecting delicate materials like glass. Beyond this, the shoe plays an essential role in making your cuts more appealing.
What are the functions of a shoe/footplate?
The shoe has the following functions;
a) Setting the Desired Cutting Angle
A jigsaw makes straight or angled cuts. You can place the footplate at an angle of up to 45 degrees. Once set, the shoe maintains the angle for the entire cut.
b) Holds the Slots For Attachments
Some jigsaw footplates have slots for attaching fence guides and circular guides. The fence guides you in making straight cuts along the length of the material. When you connect the circular guides, it becomes easy to create accurate circular cuts or arcs on the wood.
c) Splinter Guards
Delicate materials like melamine may splinter as you cut. However, with the splinter guards on, it will hold the wood in place, producing smooth edges.
- Bevel Adjustment
If you want to make an angled cut, the bevel adjustment knob makes it an easy task. Just tilt it to the required angle, and it will adjust the shoe to correspond to the set angle.
3. Orbital Action Switch
The jigsaw’s blade can either move up and down or move in a semi-elliptical motion. When you turn on the jigsaw, it should be in the default settings of up and down movement. Turning on the orbital action switch initiates the semi-elliptical movement. When turned on, it increases the cutting speed and the tool’s aggression.
4. Variable Speed Control Dials
Very high jigsaw blade speed can damage soft materials like veneers. Similarly, very low speeds may be insufficient for hard materials. Setting a variable speed control dial at a given Stroke per Minute (SPM) ensures that the jigsaw does not destroy your stuff. Note that the higher the maximum SPM of a jigsaw, the more powerful the motor and, consequently, the tool.
5. Motor Air Vents and Dust Blowers
The air vents are small holes on the sides of the jigsaw. You feel hot air blowing your hand if you pass it across them when the tool is operational. Their primary function is to act as exhaust vents for cooling the jigsaw’s motor. Note that the air generated by the engine acts as a dust blower from the kerf as it blows out from the vents.
6. Laser Guide or LED Light
The laser guide and LED light are useful tools for enhancing the jigsaw’s cutting accuracy. The laser guide marks a clear cutting line that the blade should follow. It’s handy when you don’t have a cutting guide. Some jigsaws have LED lights that illuminate the workplace and the materials you are working on. The LED lights are handy when working on tight areas and dark corners.
7. Dust Collection Port
Working on a clean environment keeps you healthy and protects you from dangerous dust. Besides, a clean working area improves cutting accuracy by maintaining a precise cutting line. The dust collection port collects all the debris and moves it through the vacuum hose to the shop vac.
8. Battery Park
All cordless jigsaws have lithium-ion batteries for power. The cordless tools have become widely accepted by hobbyists and pros for their power and portability. When you buy a cordless jigsaw, check the battery pack on the side of the tool near the base of the handle. Ensure you have a spare and fully charged battery for swapping in between projects.
9. Power Cord
The power cord is connected to an electric outlet and delivers electrical power to the jigsaw. Their length varies from 6 feet to longer than 15 feet. The longer the cord length, the more you can maneuver around the material.
How to Use a Jigsaw
Now that you have known the critical parts of the jigsaw, the question of how to use it in real cutting comes into play. However, you should be aware of the fact that using a jigsaw is quite easy, as you will learn shortly. Let’s look into how you can achieve the best results with this tool. First, ask yourself the following questions;
1. Which Blade Do You Need?
As we have described above, the jigsaw can cut metal, wood, tiles, plastic, and others. The ability to reduce these different materials depends on the blade that you choose.
2. How Fine Do You Want Your Edges To Appear?
The blade’s teeth will determine the fineness of the cutting edges. As a rule of thumb, large teeth with larger spaces will have rough edges but will cut quickly. Consequently, smaller teeth with close arrangement will have smooth cuts but with slower cuts.
After making the right choice, now you are ready to make your cut in the following steps;
Steps to follow when using a Jigsaw
The following steps will assist you in operating a jigsaw for the first time;
1. Insert the Blade
I would recommend that you use the T-shank blades for ease and speed of insertion. Fix the blade by pulling the quick release and let it go. For the U-shank blades, use the Allen key to fasten it into place. Wiggle it slightly to ensure the blade is firm.
2. Wear Safety Gear
Put on your mask, earplugs, and safety glasses for protection against the noise and any debris that may come your way.
3. Secure the Cord For Corded Jigsaws
Do you ask yourself why the cord keeps on getting damaged at the point of joining the jigsaw? The reason is that you bend it on different sides as you cut. The best way to handle the cord is by wrapping the end section around your arm. You will also realize that it won’t lie loosely on the worktable.
4. Clamp the Material
Secure the material firmly on the bench and mark the cutting line. For straight lines, you can fix a straight edge guide.
5. Start the Cutting Process
Place the jigsaw’s footplate on the material firmly and ensure that the blade does not come into contact with the wood.
- Set the required speed on the variable speed dial.
8. Switch on the Saw
Turn on the start switch and wait for the tool to gain full momentum before you start cutting. Additionally, to avoid fatigue on your wrists, you can press the lock-on switch when working on long pieces. Push the tool slowly outside the marked line as you cut till the end.
Note; as you cut to the end of the material, wait until the blade stops moving. There is a potential danger if you turn a speeding tool on yourself!
- Turn Off The Start Switch And Remove The Cord From The Power Socket.
Now that you have cut let’s discuss how you make a variety of cuts on different materials.
How to Use the Jigsaw in Cutting Various Materials
1. Cutting Ceramics
Working on ceramics is a tiring, slow operation that requires lots of patience. Breakages are common but preventable if you follow some ground rules. Some of the guidelines include;
- Select a toothless carbide-grit blade
- Use water as a lubricant for thin tiles and oil for thick tiles to lubricate the saw
- Change the blade often if it loses its cutting ability
- Ensure that the ceramic is no more than ¼ inch thick
Ceramics are sturdy but easily breakable materials. However, with the above rules, you can work on them with minimum breakages. Just hold the ceramic tightly with clamps on the bench and apply periodic cut reliefs to remove waste.
2. Cutting Metal
You can quickly reduce or make patterns on metal with a jigsaw. However, you need more expensive saws that have orbital actions, long blades, and variable speed gears. Besides, stick to the following guidelines;
- Select metal cutting blades with 21 to 24 inches
- Select a low speed when cutting
- Pile several blades as you will replace often
- Lubricate the saw with oil continuously
Cutting metals generate a lot of dust. It’s therefore advisable to keep the cut line clear by connecting the saw to the vacuum hose. Some ingenious professionals usually sandwich the sheet metal in between two plywoods before cutting. This trick produces precise cuts.
3. Cutting a Sink Opening On a Countertop
As a DIYer, you can replace your sink with a jigsaw. You can use the old tub to mark the cutting edges. If that proves difficult, make fresh measurements from the sides of the sink on the countertop. Follow the steps below;
- Mark the cutline with a tape
- Drill start holes for the interior cuts
- Insert the jigsaw blade into the hole and cut through the material
Safety Tips for Using a Jigsaw
A jigsaw is a safe tool when used in the right way, as directed in the tool’s manual. However, you need to consider the additional safety precautions bellow;
1. Familiarize With the Device First
If you are a beginner in using a jigsaw, it’s prudent to practice using it on rough boards before you work on serious projects. There is no tension when making errors is acceptable. Still, you can use this initial time to read the manual and try to apply what you have learned.
2. Protect Against Injuries
The most common injuries are associated with contact with the reciprocating blade. Before becoming an expert, you may end up slicing your skin if you are not careful. Keep your hands away from the blade to prevent this eventuality.
3. Protect Against Electric Fire
Power surges are a common phenomenon with electricity supply. Use the RCB circuit breaker to automatically turn off the jigsaw in case of a power surge.
4. Operate In A Dry Environment
Water and moisture are dangerous components when working with a jigsaw and other power tools. Such a surrounding causes electric shock to the operator. It’s therefore advisable to work on a dry area with no exposure to these conditions.
5. Apply Learned Skills On The Jigsaw
Avoid pushing the saw on hard or stubborn materials. Instead, reverse it and try again. Other tricks involve periodic cut reliefs to alleviate the cutting burden.
6. Keep the Jigsaw Well Lubricated and Sharpen the Blade
A well-lubricated jigsaw will operate optimally and cut your material with the required aggression. At the same time, a sharp blade will cut through the pieces with ease.
7. Keep the Extension Cord Safe
You may find yourself tripping over if your extension cords are not well secured. Always keep them short and away from the cutting machine.
How to Cleaning and Maintain A Jigsaw
A jigsaw can outlive generations with proper cleaning and maintenance practices. All you need is to follow these minimum guidelines
1. Wipe the Tool after Each Use
Always wipe the whole tool casing and handle with dump cloth soaked in mild soap. The practice maintains a shiny look and removes any corrosive element that could be stuck on the tool.
2. Keep the Motor Vents Open
Clogging the motor vents is one of the reasons that your jigsaw is overheating. The cutting debris sometimes sticks on the vents interfering with the airflow. This blocked air heats the jigsaw and could heat some components, causing adverse effects.
3. Keep a Pile of Blades
Working with blunt blades overworks the saw reducing its lifespan. Besides, it tires your wrists as you cut. It is, therefore, prudent to keep an assortment of blades for timely change.
4. Replace the Carbon Brushes
The carbon brushes transmit electricity to the jigsaws’ motor. As they rotate within the engine, they cause friction that wears them out. Worn-out brushes cause the motor to spark and have incomplete electric contact. The tool output becomes hindered and lowers its lifespan. It is, therefore, advisable to perform regular service to check on the brush integrity.
5. Oil the Movable Parts
Oil the blade guide system before and after using the jigsaw. A well-lubricated guide system prevents the tool from jamming. Besides, regularly check whether it’s clogged with grime and clean it accordingly.
As with all power tools, store the jigsaws in a cool and dry place. Some jigsaws come with a storage case that keeps them safe from external hazards. You can buy a suitable case if yours doesn’t have one.
A jigsaw is such a versatile tool in your workshop. You can use it to cut an array of materials into almost any shape. Besides, it easy to use, clean, and maintain. They say you can’t value it till you lose it. But for the jigsaw, its value withstands all through your cutting experience. Buy one and enjoy this versatility.