How to Use a Jigsaw

how to use a jigsaw

No matter what material you're working with, a jigsaw is an essential tool for any workshop. It works for wood, metal, fiberglass, or plastic. Jigsaw are small, compact, and an affordable way to take any DIY project to the next level. 

When you have to make curved cuts, usually on a wood, particle board, plywood, plexiglass, or other thin materials, few power tools are as useful as the jigsaw. The​ best jigsaws can make straight or angled cuts and anyone can use this tool regardless of their experience.

Our guide will help you get up to speed with using a jigsaw. With these tips, you’ll be able to make high-quality cuts in a safe and efficient manner. This guide gives tips on the best ways to make cuts with a jigsaw blade, and of course, a few safety tips to keep you in one piece.

When You Need A Jigsaw

​Jigsaws are used by experienced and casual woodworkers alike. They are a great introduction to power tools due to their versatility and cutting ability. Jigsaws cut through wood faster than a hand saw, or hack saw, which saves you time and energy.

Jigsaws are ideal for small work areas. They can be placed inside a hard carrying case where they can then be stored inside of a closet or shelf. Despite their size, jigsaws are as useful as band saws and circular saws when cutting pine boards or plywood, and they are safer. 

With proper supervision and instruction, even children can learn how to use jigsaws safely. The tool remains on the surface of what’s being cut; meaning that it doesn’t require an adult’s strength to keep the saw in place.

Hands and fingers are easily kept away from the blade. Thus, making jigsaws a great tool to teach children and novice woodworkers how to utilize the blade without getting injured. In the next section, we’ll show you how to use a saw professionally.

Jigsaw in use.

​An Explanation of Jigsaw Parts

Knowing how to use a jigsaw starts with understanding the various parts of a jigsaw, and how they work together. Even if you think you know your way around the jigsaw, you'll likely be surprised by a few features you didn't realize you had.

Jigsaw Shoe

The shoe of a jigsaw is the metal base of the tool. It is sometimes referred to as the baseplate or sole. When using the jigsaw, you rest the shoe on the material ​you are cutting.

​Normally, the jigsaw blade will be perpendicular to face of the shoe. To make a bevel cut, most jigsaw shoes can be readjusted​, which we'll address later in this article.

Jigsaw Blade

The jigsaw's blade protrudes from the shoe and performs the business of cutting your material. The teeth of most blades are angled so they can cut on the upstroke of the jigsaw.

The​ blade is normally set to a 90 degree angle from the shoe. Blades for jigsaws can be found in many sizes, and thicknesses. ​They also vary in the type of teeth, and the number of teeth per inch.

Different blades are used to make cuts in various materials for various finishes. In general, a thinner blade will allow you to cut a tighter radius, while a thicker blade is more durable and will often cut your material faster.

Variable Speed Dial

Jigsaws have several speed settings on them for cutting different materials. For example, a lower blade speed is better to use when cutting metals, because it helps preserve the blade. This also protects plastics from the risk of melting.

Orbital Action

Orbital action refers to the forward thrust of the blade as it moves up and down. Not all jigsaws have orbital action. ​If you elect to use a jigsaw with orbital action, then you'll have an enhanced cutting speed in comparison to a conventional saw.

Bevel Adjustment

Some jigsaws have a bevel adjustment setting and a special pivoting baseplate which helps in cutting wood at an angle. This isn't necessarily a feature that you'll use every day. But when it comes to cutting 45-degree angles, it is a great feature to know about.

Trigger and Lock-on Switch

The trigger on your jigsaw will stop and start the machine. After turning it on, it takes a moment for the jigsaw to get up to speed. Make sure you're at full capacity before beginning a cut. If you're making a long cut, use the lock-on switch to keep the saw going.

Blade Clamp

Jigsaws have a variety of mechanisms that lock the blade for changing and securing the blade. The simple blade changing systems are tool-less, but many use a key for securing the blade.

how to use a jigsaw

Photo credit: Mark Hunter on Flickr / CC-BY

​Selecting a Jigsaw Blade

Choosing the right blade for the job is important. Your blade will have a high impact on the way you cut through different materials, such as plastics, metal, and wood.

​Teeth Per Inch (TPI)

Measuring a blade's Teeth Per Inch (TPI) is the dimension used for identifying a blade's suitability for different materials.It is important to understand TPI, because different surfaces recquire a different type of jigsaw blade. 

A TPI of 10 or 12 is perfect for most woodworking projects, for example. A TPI of 21 to 24 is better for metal. 

Lower TPIs will allow you to cut faster, but the final cut will be rougher. Higher TPIs on the other hand, create a smoother final cut, but are slower to use. The TPI of your blades should be identified on their packaging.

Jigsaw Blade Width

Selecting a blade with a proper width is also important for determining the type of cut you'll be doing. While widths don't differ by that much, the effect the width has does differ by a lot. 

Jigsaw blades generally come in two widths: 1/4 inch for cutting a tight curve, and 3/8 inch for a more gradual curve. The width of the blade is important, as it can throw off your measurements if not accounted for.

​The Best Jigsaw

​We've put together a comprehensive review, where we found the very best ​jigsaw on the market​.

​Teeth Direction

Finally, you'll have to familiarize yourself with the teeth direction.

A standard jigsaw blade has teeth that point upward to cut on the blade’s upstroke. This is the best choice for all-purpose cutting. However, there are many types of teeth that can be used.

Each has its own ways to cut material. For example, a reverse blade with the teeth pointing downward can be used on material with a pre-finished surface. This reduces the risk of nicking or chopping during the cut.

Choosing the right blade will have a major impact on your final product.

techniques on how to use a jigsaw

Photo credit: pjmturning on Flickr / CC-BY-SA

​How to Use a Jigsaw

​To cut with the jigsaw, start by practicing cutting through smaller pieces of material. This helps your hand get acquainted with the device. Once you’ve gotten used to your jigsaw and mount the right blade, then you’ll have to setup your workpiece

  • 1
    ​Measure and create a cut line for your workpiece. If you’re creating a round hole or ​ellipse for a certain item such as an electrical socket or a sink, then draw the round object before cutting.
  • 2
    ​Get your materials secured on a sawhorse or a worktable and use a few clamps to reduce movement while cutting. This gives you two hands to navigate the jigsaw around a cutting line. After your workpiece is put together, then you can make some cuts based on the line.
  • 3
    ​Line up the saw with the cut line you’ve drawn earlier. Keep the baseplate in a secure position.
  • 4
    ​Pull down the trigger and wait for the jigsaw to cut at full speed. The baseplate should remain flat against the workpiece when cutting.
  • 5
    ​If the cut line becomes obscured by saw dust, you can always pause the cut. Get rid of the excess material and finish cutting where you left off. Don’t engage a saw when the blade comes in contact with the material. Bring the saw to speed before restarting the cut.
  • 6
    ​Finish the cut by following the cut line completely. Look for any excess material that can drop from the workpiece. Having excessive material drop off before you complete a project will result in a binded blade and might splinter your work piece.

​Jigsaw Cutting Techniques

​​There are a few different techniques you can master when learning how to use a jigsaw. The most basic cut used is generally the vertical cut. But, jigsaws are also great for beveled cuts and center holes. 

Jigsaws are great for contouring and fine edges with most material. Some, like cutting tile, also require a different technique. Below are four different cuts you'll learn when you learn how to use a jigsaw.

​Simple Vertical Cut

Position the shoe of the jigsaw firmly, by placing the front end on the material that you intend to cut. It's important to keep the shoe pressed as firmly as you can against the material for an accurate cut. When preparing to make a cut, align the cutting guide of your jigsaw with the line you've marked on your material. Don't let the blade touch the material before the jigsaw is running smoothly.

Turn on the tool and ease the jigsaw forward to begin the cut. If you turn on the blade while it's touching the material, you can catch the blade on the wood, and cause the wood to be cut in the wrong spot, or the blade to snap.

If you're using a thin, breakable material, you can reinforce it by pressing the material between plywood boards. This prevents bending and ragged edges.

When cutting sheet materials, it's best to layer them between 1/4-inch thick plywood sheets, with one on top and one below. Secure the layers with clamps. Guide the jigsaw through all three layers for the cleanest finish.

Additionally, to speed up the cutting process, you can experiment with the 'oscillating feature' of your blade. These features are generally found on higher-end jigsaws. They make the blade move back and forth in a rocking motion, as well as up and down.

Oscillating blades can give you additional power for cutting with speed, without the risk of edge burns and splintering.

Center Cuts

To drill center cuts with your jigsaw instead of simply curving the edge of a shape, you'll want to make a starter hole in your material without a jigsaw. Drill a 1/2-inch hole in the center of the intended hole, and then insert your jigsaw blade into the cut.

Until the blade is all the way in the starter hole, and the shoe is resting on the material, do not begin cutting. Once you have the blade in a safe position, you can begin cutting the shape of your intended hole.

Beveled Cuts

For making beveled cuts, you have to adjust the angle of your blade. Not all jigsaws are capable of doing this. However, for making a 45 degree or beveled cut, this is very a helpful feature. Simply adjust the angle of your blade and follow the same cutting technique you would use in a vertical cut.

Tile Cuts

Tile is difficult to cut, and you'll want to take your time when making these cuts. While professionals may have a separate saw just for tiles, a DIY-expert often makes do with the tools they have.

When cutting tiles, start by making sure they are no more than 1/4-inch thick. Place masking tape on the tile face to prevent scratching and clamp the tile securely to prevent movement.

As with any other cut, place the shoe firmly against the tile, and go slowly. Let the blade do the work for you.

​Jigsaw Safety

Before you even get started with mastering your cuts or choosing the right blade, remember to always exercise caution when using a jigsaw. They can be dangerous tools to use.

​Safety Tips

A few key safety tips to remember are:

  • Always use protective eyewear
  • Plug in an extension cord as jigsaw cords are usually relatively short
  • Keep the extension cord away from work area, and don't let it pool in a place it could become a tripping hazard
  • Store your jigsaw in a safe place, away from stray hands or children
wear protective eyewear for safety

And it isn't just your safety that you want to remember. Jigsaws can wreck even the strongest workstations with scratches and cuts if you aren't careful. The bottom of the jigsaw shoe is a particular source of scratching, especially around laminate countertops or wooden workstations.

If your jigsaw came with a protective film, make sure to leave in in place when making cuts to minimize scratching. With unprotected material, cover the surface area with masking tape, especially the places where the jigsaw will be cutting. This simple measure will go a long way to protect your finished product from scratches and splintering.

Protect Your Work Surface

When cutting, you have to keep the blade pressed down to prevent chattering, even then, the blade might vibrate. The combination of vibration and downward force places a strain on the work surface.

Remove the tape when you’re done using it. Doing so keeps the base clean and free from residue. Remember to keep your work surface clean when cutting to protect you and your machine from dust and other debris.

Cut With The Right Side Down

Most jigsaw models cut on the upstroke; meaning that splinters and chips are placed on top of the wood. If you use one side of the blade than the other, keep the good side down and create a cut on the weaker side.

You can purchase “down-cut” or “reverse cut” blades that cut during the downstroke. Your jigsaw uses these blades when you want little to no tears on the top surface. Cutting a sinkhole through a laminate countertop is one of the main uses for reverse cut blades. 

What Is Optimal Speed Setting For A Jigsaw?

Start by using the jigsaw at a low cutting speed. Use lower speeds when you only need a bit of power to cut through the desired material. This allows you to start the machine and adjust to a higher setting when needed.

Variable speed on jigsaw.

Use the medium speed when you have to cut laminates, hard metals, and plastic. You’ll notice the blade working correctly once it creates a clear cut. If you don’t notice any difference, increase the speed until the material is thoroughly cut.

You also need to adjust the jigsaw to the intricacy of your cut and the cutting material. For example, if you’re cutting through wood, place the jigsaw at a high-speed setting. This allows users to get through the wooden material without breaking the device.

​Cordless Jigsaws

​One highly convenient option is to go with a cordless jigsaw. A typical jigsaw normally comes with a cord that is notoriously short, meaning that you usually have to add an extension cord to make use of the saw. 

In addition, the cord can get in your way while you are cutting. While it isn't the end of the world, a cordless jigsaw removes this annoyance by giving you the ultimate in convenience and flexibility.

You'll need to be mindful of your battery, and how long it can last you. For larger projects, a cordless jigsaw typically doesn't make sense. But, for the quick DIY task, a cordless jigsaw might be just what you need.

Conclusion

Feel like you're ready to conquer the jigsaw? This humble tool is an invaluable part of any DIY toolkit, as well as a necessity for most professionals. By learning how to choose the right blade and make a clean cut, you can start using a jigsaw like a master.

Get acquainted with your jigsaw's parts, and strap on your safety glasses. Your DIY projects are about to get a lot easier by learning how to use a jigsaw.


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