Canadian Woodworking

Jig Saws


Nothing beats a jigsaw for on-site portable curve cutting.

I use my jig saw quite a lot when I just want to cut a few large boards down to size and don’t feel like setting up my table saw for crosscutting. With an aggressive, heavy-duty blade, a quality jig saw can cut almost as quickly as a circular saw. But the jig saw can also make very fine cuts in thin stock and tight curves. It’ll also cut steel, aluminum, brass, PVC and other plastics easily with the right blades.

Unless you need a bandsaw for resawing, I often suggest that a good jig saw could hold off that purchase for a long time, or at least until a high level of accuracy is required. Let’s take a look at some of the features that make a jig saw a solid performer in the workshop.

Getting the most power in a lightweight tool is important to me for any portable power tool. There is no point in having the most powerful tool on the market if it is too heavy to be used in a versatile number of ways. A jig saw is most commonly used running flat on top of the material being cut. But it is also handy for cutting vertically in renovation or construction work. It might even be used upside down in a ceiling. So choose a tool that you can easily handle.

Among entry level corded models, amperage could vary from as little as about 4 amps right on up to 6 ½ amps. I’ve also seen models ranging in weight from 4 lbs., all the way up to about 6 ½ lbs. Besides weight, also consider general comfort, as you will often want to use this tool one-handed.

There are many variables that determine how well a jig saw will cut, and in what materials. One factor is the number of strokes per minute, or SPM. Variable speed models sometimes start at 0 SPM, while others start at 500 or even 1000 SPM. The high limit varies from about 2600 to 3200 SPM. I’m not sure that having a super high speed is all that important, as I rarely run a blade at full speed. It might cut faster that way, but can result in overheated blades and burned cuts. Having a lower SPM limit, though (as opposed to a jig saw with only one fixed speed) is very important. Sometimes a jig saw can kick back at the end of a cut if the off-cut is falling away and pinching the blade. I like to use the variable speed trigger on my jig saw to ease the speed down very low at the end of a cut. I also might choose a slower speed when in the middle of a very tight curve with a fine-toothed blade.

In addition to the strokes per minute, there is the stroke length to consider. The bigger the stroke length the more teeth are used to cut materials of a given thickness, leading to longer blade life. If you cut ¾” material most of the time, you’ll notice that only the top of the blade gets used while the teeth at the tip remain sharp. Having a longer stroke length would allow that blade to work longer. Stroke length usually varies from about ¾” to 1″.

A fixed speed model is likely to be a less expensive entry-level jig saw, suitable for occasional use. But if you plan on doing serious work with your jig saw, variable speed is a must. Electronic variable speed is even better because circuitry keeps the blade at a more steady speed even under high load. You should also consider whether the speed control is done by a dial, a speed trigger, or both. Sometimes there is just a dial, which controls the speed you get when you pull the trigger or turn it on. That means you have control over the speed, but it only runs at one speed at a time. A true variable speed trigger allows you to control speed based on how hard you pull on the trigger. That way you can change speeds on the fly, exactly when you need it.

Having orbital action on a jig saw is, thankfully, very commonplace now. At the ‘regular’ or vertical setting, the blade just travels up and down. This is required for most curved cutting and when cutting very hard materials like metals. Many jig saws also have two or three orbital action settings, which allow the blade to rotate in a small circle while you cut. The blade rotates forward on the upstroke, which is the cutting stroke, and backward on the down stroke. The larger the orbit, the more aggressively the blade is forced into the wood. When making rough cuts in thick hardwoods, I choose a heavy-duty blade with fewer teeth and set my jig saw to the largest orbital setting. This is where a jig saw can almost outperform a circular saw.

Some jig saws come with an attachment for dust collector hook-up. I like the idea, but I dislike carrying a hose around with me on a portable tool. One feature that is worth looking for is a blower switch. Many jig saws now have a switch that directs the motor’s air flow at the cut line. The air blasts sawdust out of your way as you work through the cut.

There is nothing worse than a tool that isn’t user friendly when it comes to blade changes. Most tools seem to be getting better in that area and jig saws are no exception. It is quite common to be able to just pop in a blade, turn a handle, and the blade is secured. Look for this kind of feature, especially if you will use your jig saw for different kinds of work in various materials, requiring frequent blade changes.

The foot, or base, of the jig saw usually bevels to various angles so that you can make beveled cuts. You probably won’t use it often, but it is handy to have. Some models have positive detents for various angles and allow changes with little or no tooling. My jig saw uses a single hex key, which is stored on-board with the tool. You might also find accessories like zero-clearance inserts that fit into the foot around the blade, and softer foot covers to prevent scratching on delicate items like veneered stock. These are all handy accessories.

Most jig saws break down into two handle styles: a barrel grip and a D-handle. Many renovators and carpenters I know love the barrel grip. They find it easier to make vertical and overhead cuts with that style. However, most of these guys have huge hands that can wrap around the barrel grip with ease. I have smaller hands and find I have more control with the D-handle, with less vibration transmitted to my hands. I’d suggest that you try both. Comfort is important for a tool that can be used for long stretches and in some awkward positions.

There are many other add-ons that come with some jig saws, or can be purchased separately. One is an edge-guide to help you cut parallel to an edge. There are circle-cutting attachments, lighted plugs, longer cords, carrying cases and package deals that include a large number of blades. Compare the different brands carefully to find the extras that really matter to you. Above all, buy a quality tool that will see you through many projects, even as your skills progress. I owned my previous Bosch jig saw for about 12 years and the person I sold it to is still using it.


Corded Jig Saws
Bosch 1590EVSK
DeWalt DW317K
Fein_ASTE 638
Fein ASTE 638
Hitachi CJ110MV
King 8330
Metabo STEB135 Plus
Milwaukee 6268-21
Porter Cable 9543
Ridgid R3121


Scroll Jig Saws
Black and Decker JS700K
Skil SK469001


Cordless Jig Saw
Ryobi P521

Last modified: September 29, 2023

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