Jigsaw Tips and Techniques
The jigsaw, also known as a saber saw, is one of the most popular and versatile of all portable power saws. It can be used to make both straight and curved cuts in a wide variety of materials, including wood, particleboard, plywood, plastic, metal, even ceramic tile. The jigsaw is also safe and easy to use, which is why it’s often the very first power saw bought by do-it-yourselfers. And both corded electric and battery-powered cordless models are available in a wide range of prices to fit any budget.
However, despite being versatile and highly effective, the jigsaw is probably the most under-used power tool in the shop. It’s often used only to make the occasional curved cut, but this under-appreciated tool can do much more. Here are six tips for getting the most out of your jigsaw.
1 Pick the Right Wood Blade
The most common jig-sawing mistake is not using the correct woodcutting blade for the task at hand. And it’s easy to pick the wrong blade, especially for novice DIYers, because jigsaw blades come in literally dozens of different widths, lengths and tooth configurations. There are two general rules to keep in mind when choosing a woodcutting jigsaw blade:
First, wider blades are best for making long, straight cuts, and narrow blades are better for cutting curves. Second, blades with larger and fewer teeth cut extremely fast, but produce a rough, splintered surface. Blades with smaller and more teeth cut slower, but leave behind a much smoother surface. Before purchasing a new blade, check the packaging for specific information on the type and thickness of material the blade is designed to cut.
2 Pick the Right Metal Blade
Choosing the correct metal-cutting blade is a bit easier than selecting the right wood blade, simply because there are fewer metal blades from which to choose. Metal-cutting jigsaw blades have very tiny, but very hard, sharp teeth that can cut through most mild metals, including sheet metal, nail-embedded wood, bolts, hinges, conduit and galvanized and copper pipes.
The correct blade to use depends on the thickness of the metal being cut. Hold the saw blade against the edge of the metal and confirm that at least three teeth contact the edge. If not, choose a blade with more teeth. Metal-cutting jigsaw blades typically have between 21 and 24 teeth per inch (TPI).
3 Cutting Straight
Making a perfectly straight freehand cut with a jigsaw is very difficult. Even when fitted with the most-appropriate blade, the saw will tend to wander off course. The trick to cutting straight is to steer the saw along a clamped-down straightedge guide. The guide could be steel square, long level, rip of plywood, or perfectly straight wood board. As you feed the blade into the cut, place one hand on the edge of the saw’s base plate and press in toward the straightedge guide. And advance the saw slowly with even pressure.
Now, occasionally a single straightedge guide won’t be enough to keep the saw on course. When that happens, clamp down a second straightedge guide, aligning it parallel to the first. The distance between the two guides should be only slightly greater—about 1/16 inch—than the width of saw’s base plate. Then, make the cut by steering the saw between the two straightedge guides.
4 Make Flush Cuts
When a jigsaw is fitted with a standard saw blade, it can’t cut flush to a vertical surface because the saw’s base plate extends past the blade. However, if you install a flush-cut blade (right), the saw will cut right up to a wall, backsplash, cabinet side or other vertical surface. Flush-cut blades, which are sometimes called, offset blades, are available at most hardware stores for about $5 to $10 each.
5 Cut Circles
The jigsaw is ideally suited for cutting perfectly round circles of virtually any size. However, to cut them accurately use a circle-cutting jig. The jig consists of little more than a long, flat arm, or beam, that attaches to the saw, and an adjustable pivot point that represents the center of the circle.
To use the jig, simply attach the jigsaw, then position the pivot point by measuring the radius of the circle from the saw blade out along the jig’s arm. Tap the pivot point into the wood, securing the jig in place. Start the saw motor and guide the blade into the wood, keeping the jig’s arm flat against the surface. Slowly guide the saw all the way around to complete the circle.
You can buy a circle-cutting jig; they start at only about $8 (right). But it’s just as easy to make one from a 6-inch-wide piece of ½-in.-thick plywood. Make the jig’s arm 3 to 4 inches wide and 2 to 3 feet long. And on one end of the arm, cut a 3-in.-wide x 6-in.-long rectangular mounting plate. Screw the saw to the mounting plate and use a single nail or screw as the pivot point.
6 Produce Splinter-Free Cuts
Standard jigsaw blades have teeth that point upward. And all jigsaws cut on the up stroke. As a result, splintering occurs along the top surface of the material being cut. Now, that’s not a problem if you’re slicing a 2x4 or cutting through an old subfloor. And you can avoid splintering the top surface by simply turning over the workpiece, placing the “good” side down. But that’s not always an option.
For example, you can’t flip over an existing plastic-laminate countertop to make a sink cutout. So, when jig-sawing into an installed surface, avoid splintering by using a reverse-tooth blade. This specialty blade has downward-facing teeth (below) that produce smooth, clean cuts—at least on the top surface. Use it to cut counters, doors, cabinets, shelving and other finished surfaces.