Router vs Jigsaw

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While routers and jigsaws can perform some of the same jobs, they are not interchangeable. Selecting the best tool for the job means knowing the similarities and differences between these two tools, and what kinds of jobs each tool is best suited for. We’ll take you through the basics and tell you whether a router is better than a jigsaw.

This article will explain further about router vs jigsaw.

What Is a Router?

A router is a portable, handheld power tool used primarily for hollowing out an area of a soft material. They can also be used to shape and smooth edge material.

A router on the wood floor

Routers are most commonly used with wood, although soft metals such as aluminum can also be routed.

Routers have a circular base. An arbor extends from the bottom center of the base, and various bits can be attached to the arbor. Depending on the router type and bit selection, a router can be used for a variety of purposes.

Types of Routers

There are four main types of routers. They are fixed base, plunge base, multi-base, and CNC.

Fixed Base Routers

The spindle on a fixed base router does not move up and down. This type of router is limited in its use, as you cannot start routing from the center of a workpiece, and instead must enter from the edge.  Fixed base routers are often used for shaping workpiece edges.

Plunge Base Routers

Plunge base routers have the ability to retract the bit into the body of the machine. Then, when the router base is in place, the bit can be ‘plunged’ into the workpiece from above.

Multi-Base Routers

Some routers have detachable bases, so that you can switch back and forth between fixed and plunge routing without the need for two motors. A multi-base router gives you flexibility without taking up additional storage space in your shop.

CNC Routers

While not typically found in home workshops, computer numerical controlled (CNC) routers are used in industrial settings. The routing specifications are programmed into a computer and carried out precisely by these exacting machines.

Router preparing to measure the woods

What Is a Jigsaw?

A jigsaw is a portable, handheld power tool used for cutting wood and other soft materials, usually in a curved pattern. The best jigsaws on the market can make straight cuts and plunge cuts with ease. When equipped with a tilting soleplate, they can also be used to make bevel cuts.

Jigsaws are primarily used to remove material from wood. Even basic budget jigsaws can be used to cut other materials such as plastic or soft metals, when fitted with the appropriate blade.

Find the top jigsaw under $100 in our review.

The jigsaw blade, which is long and thin, extends downward from the base of the machine. It is unsupported on the opposite end, making it flexible but also breakable. A motor atop the base drives the power of the saw in a reciprocating (or back-and-forth) motion.

Jigsaw Blade Types

Swapping out the blade type in your jigsaw changes the way it performs and which materials you can cut with it.

Jigsaw blades are made from metal. They may be made from high-speed steel, high-carbon steel, bi-metal, or tungsten carbide. Jigsaws are a powerful and versatile tool.

The number of teeth per inch (TPI) on the jigsaw blade affects the speed and quality of the cut. With fewer teeth, the space between each tooth is greater, and the saw can tear through material quickly. A higher TPI with less space between the tooth will give you a nicer-looking finished product.

Specialty blades can be attached to a jigsaw so it can be used to make plunge, flush, or reverse cuts.

Jigsaw fixing the broken wood

Router vs Jigsaw

Routers and jigsaws are both versatile cutting tools with significant overlap in their function and performance. There are important differences as well.

Similarities

The similarities between these two tools include their source of power, their portability, the safety requirements for using them, and the way they interact with the material.

Portable

Both routers and jigsaws are handheld tools that can be lifted by most people. They are easily transportable.

Jigsaws and high-quality compact routers share this similarity in convenience and portability.

Power Tool

Routers and jigsaws are powered by electricity. This electricity is provided through a battery pack in cordless models, while corded models need to be plugged into an appropriate outlet.

Material Compatibility

Routers and jigsaws are intended for use with soft materials such as wood. They can also cut plastic and, in some cases, metal.

Safety

To safely operate a powered tool like a jigsaw or a router, you must remove loose clothing and remove dangling jewelry. Hearing protection in the form of earplugs or earmuffs is also necessary, as are safety glasses or a full-face shield.

With that being said, both jigsaws and routers are great for beginners. For power tools, they are very safe.

Material Removal

Both jigsaws and routers are designed to remove material from whatever workpiece they are being used on.

Differences

Differences between jigsaws and routers include the types of cuts they can make, the device used to cut through material, the direction of the cut, and the depth they can cut to.

Specialty Cuts

The tilting base of a router can be adjusted to produce miter or bevel cuts. Routers can produce rabbet and chamfer cuts, as well as rounded grooves and dovetails.

Jigsaw resting on a wood floor

Plunge routers are great for repetitive cuts that require precision.

Cutting Device

While both jigsaws and routers cut into the material and remove it, they do so with different attachments. A jigsaw is fitted with a straight, thin, toothed blade while routers use various bits.

Direction of Cut

Jigsaw blades cut through material by moving back and forth. Router bits perform their cutting function through rotation.

Cutting Depth

To change the cutting depth of a jigsaw, you must install a shorter blade. Routers have adjustable cutting depth settings.

Major Differentiating Factor

The major difference between routers and jigsaws is the amount of material they remove.

Routers hollow out space in wood or other materials, turning the excess material into chips and dust and leaving behind recesses, cavities, and grooves.

Jigsaws separate one piece of wood from another without removing a significant amount of material.

When to Use a Router

Use a router to hollow out an area of wood, plastic, or soft metal. Some examples of times you might use a router are:

  • Cutting biscuit joint slots. A slot-cutting bit attached to an appropriate arbor can make rabbet cuts, allowing it to cut slots for biscuits in the edge of a board.
  • Making 3D designs in wood. A router can be traced along a pattern to create variation in wood depth. You can use a router to create 3D letters, for example.
  • Shaping edges. When a square edge isn’t desirable, routers can be used to smooth and shape furniture or trim.
  • Mounting cabinet or door hinges. Routers are used to carve out cavities in wood, creating space for recessed hardware like cabinet hinges, door part including door hinges, or lock plates. With the hardware out of the way, doors can sit flush against the frame, creating a sleeker look.
  • Hollowing out mortises. A mortise is a rectangular recess in wood. They are frequently used to place locks in doorjambs, or for mortise and tenon joints. Routers quickly and efficiently manage this job.
  • Dovetail joints. Traditional dovetail joinery requires the use of chisels, which is inefficient and difficult to master. A router with a dovetail jig can be used in place of chisels to create the pins and tails needed for this interlocking joint. Learn how to use your router as a jointer.

When to Use a Jigsaw

Use a jigsaw to fill the gap between larger power saws and handheld tools.

  • Tight curves. The thin blade gives jigsaws a much smaller turning radius than, for instance, a circular saw, making it easier to carry out detailed designs and curved cuts. In this way, a jigsaw has many similarities with a scroll saw.
  • Crosscuts. Jigsaws can be used in place of a chop saw or circular saw to make larger crosscuts. It wouldn’t be efficient to do all your crosscuts this way, as the jigsaw will be slow to work through thicker wood. The blade of a jigsaw is thin and somewhat brittle and is only supported on one end, which can make it susceptible to breakage.
  • Rip cuts. When your stock is too wide, a band saw is the best tool for ripping it down to size, but a jigsaw can also be used. You can also use a table saw for the rip cut. A straightedge will help keep the tool on track.

With the right kind of blade, a jigsaw can perform many more tasks than just cutting wood.

  • With a downcutting blade, a jigsaw can cut through laminate. They are commonly used to cut holes in countertops, allowing a sink to be installed.
  • A carbide grit blade, which does not have teeth, can be used to cut tile, provided you have the patience. For best results, restrict yourself to tile no more than half an inch thick.
  • Jigsaws can even cut thin metal – special metal cutting blades are available for this purpose.

The thin blade of a jigsaw is only attached at one end, so blade flexion is a concern. To ensure your jigsaw cuts produce a straight edge, you should not use a jigsaw on wood that is too thick.

Softwood thicker than one and a half inches and hardwood thicker than three-quarters of an inch is too thick to be cut with a jigsaw.

Which Is Better, a Router or a Jigsaw?

Routers and jigsaws have many similarities, but they are also very different tools.

Routers are better for cutting grooves and patterns into the surface of wood without cutting all the way through it. They are superior to jigsaws when it comes to edge smoothing and shaping.

Jigsaws are better at creating a stenciled or intricate design in a soft material. They effectively separate pieces of wood with minimal material loss.

Ellenkate grew up on job sites run by her family’s construction company. She earned her theater degree from The Hartt School, a prestigious performing arts conservatory in Connecticut. Her design and DIY work from her Chicago loft was featured in the Chicago Reader and on Apartment Therapy.