How To Use A Jigaw

Last Updated:  June 30, 2021

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I’ve had a rocky relationship with the jigsaw. But, after purchasing a newer model last year, I realized it was just the old jigsaw from the 1980s-1990s that my dad gave me about 15 years ago. It vibrates horribly and uses u-shank blades. I didn’t realize how bad it was until I bought the more modern model.

The jigsaw is a must for the beginning woodworker. It is a safer tool to use than many others and it lets you make all kinds of cuts – much more versatile than any other tool.

The Parts of a Jigsaw

While they will be slightly different, most jigsaws have the same basic parts. This one has the power trigger on an overhand handle and the trigger has the ability to lock in place. There is a speed selector dial on the trigger, as well. An orbital control sets the pattern of the blade movement.

The bottom plate of the jigsaw is called the shoe. This jigsaw can be turned around to the end with a much tighter clearance, but it can only be used with certain blades.

The orbital selector changes the motion of the blade to a more aggressive cut. At “0” the blade goes straight up and down. At the higher settings the blade is pushed out as it goes up and down which results in more tear out but a much quicker cut. If you’re cutting studs on a construction site, you don’t care about tear out (only that it’s straight), so a higher orbital setting will save you time.

What does the Jigsaw Do? Tips and Tricks.

The jigsaw is probably best known for cutting curves, but it’s a versatile tool that can make almost any type of cut.

Partnered with a straight-edge like a speed square it can make accurate cross cuts.

The shoe tilts on most jigsaws to cut bevels.

A pocket cut, otherwise known as a plunge cut, gives access to cut out holes in a workpiece. There is a special bracket on the front of the jigsaw to support it leaning forward. The blade is brought up to speed and the jigsaw slowly lowered until the shoe rests flat on the workpiece.

Another option to start a cut on the interior of a workpiece is to drill holes big enough for the jigsaw blade.

Jigsaw Blades

Jigsaw blades are described according to the number of teeth per inch they have or TPI. The more teeth a blade has, generally, the cleaner the cut and the tighter a cut can be.

I use a T-shank blade with my newer jigsaw, although, it will take both types. T-shank can be easily and quickly loaded into the jigsaw. Most modern jigsaws are made to fit T-shank blades.

An older blade type is the U-shank and on the jigsaw pictured it fits into an insert and is tightened down with a screw. This type is less secure in the clamp and it takes longer to load and unload.

Some blades have alternating teeth that are ground to be inline. This is a cleaner cut than teeth that are “set” with their sharp points extending beyond the blade’s shank.

The teeth at the top of the blade cut even cleaner since they are not alternating teeth, at all, but pointed straight up or down.

Most blades have teeth that point up and cut from the bottom of the workpiece . This leaves a clean cut on the bottom of the workpiece where the teeth enter and then a rougher cut as they exit the workpiece on top.

You can also find blades that are reversed and the teeth point down. This leaves a cleaner cut on top and the rougher cut on bottom.

There is a difference in the way the jigsaw reacts when cutting with a reverse blade. As the blade cuts on the downstroke, the wood resists, and the tendency is to lift the jigsaw off of the workpiece.

With an “up-cutting” blade the tendency is for the jigsaw to press against the workpiece.

Feeding the jigsaw through too fast or using the wrong blade for the type of wood can cause deflection. The blade isn’t supported on the bottom and can flex fairly easily causing the blade to deflect and cut at an angle.

Additional Tips

Jigsaw manuals will usually say to get the blade up to speed and then push it into the workpiece. The problem with this technique is that the jigsaw wants to walk around on the edge and it’s hard to accurately start a cut on a line. Since the trigger is analog, I like to push the blade against the workpiece and slowly bring the blade up and down a few times to start a kerf (a slight cut the width of the blade). Then, I back the blade up, get it up to speed, and then make the cut. Having the shallow kerf directs the blade into an accurate cut.

If I need to make a really clean cut on both sides, I will clamp a sacrificial piece on top and make the cut.

You could also lightly score the line before cutting or put masking tape over it on the side that the cut is going to blow out. (Top for an upward blade and bottom for a reverse blade).

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