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Project Guide

How to Use a Jigsaw

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Jigsaw Basics
A jigsaw resting on pieces of cut wood.

The components of a jigsaw contribute to its versatility. 

The up-and-down motion of a jigsaw blade is activated by pulling a trigger on the saw’s handle. Most models are variable speed, meaning that the speed of the reciprocating action depends on how much pressure is placed on the trigger. Releasing the trigger will slow or stop the saw blade.

Some jigsaw models have settings for different cutting actions – straight and orbital. In orbital action, the blade moves forward during the cutting stroke in addition to the up-and-down movement. This more aggressive blade motion and is designed for cutting in soft materials like wood or plastic. The orbital movement provides a faster cut, but less smooth than a straight stroke.

The base of the jigsaw, called the shoe, rests on top of the material being cut. For a regular straight cut, the shoe and the blade are at 90-degrees. The angle of the shoe can be adjusted so that body and blade of the saw are tilted to make a bevel cut through material.

Jigsaws are best used for cutting shapes and curves in wood with its narrow blade, which is attached to the tool’s body by a spring-loaded clamp at the front. The blade’s sharp teeth are measured in TPI, or teeth per inch. A higher TPI gives a smoother cut that requires less sanding. Blades with a lower TPI produce faster cuts that are good for rough work. Multi-purpose blades are available but specially designed varieties should be used when cutting materials like metal, ceramic tile, glass and plastic.

Make a Cut With a Jigsaw
A jigsaw cutting along a curved line on a board.

Beginners can easily learn how to use a jigsaw and safely control it to achieve successful results. Like any power tool, however, it can be dangerous if not used properly. Read more about jigsaw safety in Step 4.

For a basic cut:

  • Clamp the material firmly to a workstation.
  • Attach the appropriate blade to the saw.
  • Plug the saw’s cord into a power source or attach its battery.
  • Rest the saw shoe on the edge of the material and near the cutting line.
  • With the blade next to but not touching the workpiece, pull the trigger and get the saw to full speed.
  • Keep the shoe firmly on the surface and ease the saw forward to the cutting line while keeping the trigger engaged.
  • Guide the saw along the outside of the cutting line, keeping the shoe flat.
  • Let the saw do its work. Pushing with too much force can strain the motor or cause the blade to break.
  • Avoid any side-to-side pressure on the blade to keep it from bending and creating an unintentional bevel in the cut.
  • Release the trigger to stop the blade when the cut is complete. Then lift the saw and place it on the workbench.
Tips for Using Jigsaws
A jigsaw cutting a circle from a board.

The hallmark of a jigsaw is cutting circles, scrolls and other shapes but it can also be used to cut along a straight line. Use a saw guide or rip fence to help keep steady along straight cuts. A framing square can be used as a guide for shorter straight cuts. This is particularly useful when making a bevel cut.

Here are some other tips in mind when learning how to use a jigsaw:

  • Take your time and remember to stay outside of your cut line. You can trim more or sand for fine-tuning but you can’t add back what you’ve cut.
  • Use relief cuts to remove waste and prevent the blade from binding when a curve is too tight to make with a single cut.
  • Raise the workpiece by placing it on rails thick enough to allow the jigsaw blade to make its full stroke without hitting the workbench.
  • Protect the surface of fine finishes by using masking tape on the bottom of the saw’s shoe.
  • Reduce chipping on cut edges by marking and cutting through masking tape. 
  • When cutting thin sheet metal with the proper blade, it is best to clamp wood to the bottom of the sheet to reduce vibration and help ensure a clean cut.
  • To make a cutout in the middle of your wood instead of the edge, drill a 1/2-inch hole into the material. Insert the blade into the starter hole to begin the cut.
  • An alternative to the starter hole method is a plunge cut, or pocket cut. On rough work, lean the saw forward onto the front lip of the shoe so that the blade is parallel to the wood. Start the saw and when at full speed, tip the saw back to ease the blade into the wood.
Jigsaw Safety
A person using a jigsaw to cut wood.

Safe operation is the most important part of learning how to use a jigsaw. These power tools are easy to operate but care should be taken to prevent serious injury.

  • Unplug the saw or remove its battery when changing blades and when not in use.
  • Avoid dangerous kickback. Always use sharp blades that are intended for the material to be cut and follow the blade manufacturer’s guidelines.
  • Do not attempt to turn on the tool when the blade is against material to be cut.
  • Never force the saw while it is cutting. Allow it to cut at its own speed.
  • Keep the jigsaw shoe firmly placed flat on the cutting surface.
  • Wait for the blade to completely stop before lifting the saw from a cut.
  • Wear safety glasses to protect your eyes from dust or flying debris, use appropriate ear protection to dampen the loud noise and a dust mask to avoid inhalation of sawdust.
  • Keep hands away from moving blades.
  • Do not wear loose clothing or jewelry when operating the saw.
  • Bystanders should also follow these safety guidelines.

If this is a small project or you know you won't need a jigsaw of your own, we have the tools to make your job easier.