The introduction of the jigsaw was a welcome relief to many woodworkers and craftsmen who have to endure the unenviable task of sawing wood manually to achieve a desired size, shape, and numbers. The jigsaw is a portable power tool that can be easily brought to almost any location, unlike other power saws which are either heavy or bulky. The band saw, for example, is heavy and is primarily used for milling lumber products. The circular saw—while being portable enough—is a much heavier power tool that is used for cutting in straight lines. Due to its weight, it is often seen mounted on a cutting table or used as a miter saw.
The jigsaw is a very handy power tool that can be used for straight, curved, or circular cuts as well as for making holes and other openings for electrical sockets. The jigsaw’s motion was inspired by the reciprocating motion of the sewing machine. The very first jigsaw was invented by mating a saw blade with the sewing machine!
Typically, they are used for straight cuts, curved, scroll cuts, plunge cut (to perforate a workpiece), and bevel cut. Most jigsaw models feature a swiveling foot plate or shoe that allows bevel cuts up to 45° angle from either side. Moreover, the jigsaw is a very versatile power tool with many cutting applications. Using the appropriate blade type, it can cut through metal, brick, glass, porcelain tiles, marble, granite, and other stones. Due to its great versatility and functionality, the jigsaw has become one of the most sought-after tools by professional contractors and DIYers.
The jigsaw is generally composed of two main parts: the saw blade and the electric motor that necessitates a power source. This power is supplied by either having an electrical cord that can be plugged into an electrical power outlet or by a rechargeable battery. The third type of jigsaw uses compressed air instead of electrical power to drive the jigsaw mechanism.
The corded jigsaw is the first type of jigsaw power tool that was commercially introduced and is commonly used for industrial fabrication and construction. Corded jigsaw is a powerful tool and usually operates at 3 to 8 amperes of power. This is the most suitable type of professional contractors as the power tool can be used continuously. However, it needs to be close to an external power source like an electrical outlet or fitted to an extension cord during its operation, making it less mobile. Also, the power cord of the jigsaw can be a nuisance, and a safety hazard as the cord can be trampled underfoot and damaged. It is therefore recommended by many to use rubber-insulated power cords rather than plastic-insulated.
This type of jigsaw uses an integral power source, eliminating the need for a power cord and allows more flexible use in the construction site. This flexibility made the cordless jigsaw a top favorite among DIYers despite its limitations. One such restriction is that cordless jigsaw is a bit heavier than its corded variant. This is due to the weight of its integral power pack or battery. Also, when the battery’s power is spent, the battery needs to be replaced and recharged, eventually stopping any work. This stoppage constitutes an unacceptable loss and/or delay, making the cordless jigsaw not so attractive to commercial contractors. However, this can be alleviated by investing in additional batteries, to provide spares (when a battery needs recharging) to keep the operation running.
Most cordless jigsaw operates at 12 to 20 volts of power and commonly utilize a rechargeable battery with high power storage capacity like the current Lithium-Ion battery. This jigsaw type likewise uses the brushless motor technology that reduces friction between moving parts allowing increased power.
The pneumatic jigsaw, as its name implies, uses compressed air as its power source. It is the lightest model as it doesn’t have the heavy, internal electric motor. However, this type of jigsaw requires an air compressor along with its associated pneumatic hose. When attached to the pneumatic hose, the jigsaw becomes less mobile jigsaw-like that of the corded type. The need for a compressor and air hose makes the pneumatic jigsaw less attractive to many jigsaw users.
The pneumatic jigsaw and other pneumatic power tools are best utilized in large-scale fabrication workshop where the air is provided by a central compressor unit with air hoses hanging from above. This arrangement reduces floor clutter and keeps the work area tidy. For home and commercial construction use, it is not a good option.
Factors to Consider When Buying Jigsaw
Before buying a jigsaw, it is essential that the buyer has some ideas about the product, its features, and its parameters. It is not only about the looks. It is important to learn of the tool’s functionalities. A buyer needs to have in-depth knowledge about the machine’s power, speed, orbital functions, and other features.
Aside from knowing the features of a particular jigsaw type, buyers also need to know some basic things regarding jigsaw brands, products, and product supports. For example, when buying a jigsaw of a well-known brand, you need to buy its associated and compatible blade.
The Jigsaw Power Tool
The jigsaw can be grouped into two distinct types, the barrel handle, and the D-handle. Many users find the D-handled variants easier to handle and more controllable than barrel handle type. But more importantly, the prospective jigsaw buyer must have some insights on the tool with regards to its power, speed, orbital action, and other features.
For corded jigsaw models’ power pertains to the wattage of the machine’s electric motor. The jigsaw power tools are usually rated from 400 to 900 watts. Larger wattage denotes more power. Many models have a power rating of 500 watts which is considered adequate for most DIY cutting requirements. This power rating is, however, insufficient when it comes to heavier cutting applications. A 700 watts power or more is deemed necessary specifically when cutting through harder or thicker materials.
The term speed pertains to how many strokes the blade completes in a minute. Typically, the jigsaw operates from 500 SPM (strokes per minute) to 3000 SPM or more. The speed of a jigsaw can either be single (or fixed) speed or variable speed. The variable speed function is achieved by the inclusion of electronic variable speed (EVS) control. High-speed cutting is beneficial when cutting soft materials such as softwood and plywood. However, for cutting denser materials such as metals and hardwood, it is imperative to lower the speed as it can ruin the blade due to excessive heat.
The orbital action or “pendulum” action of a jigsaw pertains to the movement of the blade in and out of the jigsaw. The orbital function selector switch is often marked from zero to three. When in zero position, the blade’s motion is in a fixed straight, up, and down motion, while in position 3, the blade’s motion shows slightly circular reciprocating action.
The orbital action is best employed when cutting through the softer material, facilitating the faster rate of cuts and is very helpful in demolition works. The low orbital action is also beneficial when employed in performing a curved or scroll cut. But when cutting through hard materials, or when using fine-toothed blades, or making plunge cuts, the orbital action must be switched off as it produces unnecessary vibrations that can affect the user’s control on the tool.
As mentioned above, there are two major jigsaw designs based on the tool’s handle. The D-handle is the more numerous and popular jigsaw model. The D-handle provides a better user grip for maximum tool control, and the handle is separate from the motor casing. On the other hand, in the case of the barrel-handle jigsaw design, the user must hold the tool on its tubular body that houses the electric motor. Due to the diameter of the said motor, many users find it difficult to handle this type of tools.
Many of the more recent jigsaw models have added some helpful features like the LED lights to aid the user in seeing the cut in the dimly-lit work area. Other models have less obvious features such as easy hook-ups to dust extractors, highly efficient brushless motor, tool-less blade changing system, and ergonomic design for better handling.
The Jigsaw Blade
Its blades are generally classified according to its shank’s shape, purpose, or use. Each use or purpose dictates the size of the blade’s teeth as well as the blade’s material. Moreover, the shape of the blade’s teeth, as well as the teeth’s arrangement, determine the speed and quality of cut.
The Blade Shank
Two types of shanks are used for jigsaw blades, namely: U-shank and the T-shank. The U-shank or the “universal” blade is readily identifiable by its U-shaped depression on the top-end of the blade. Earlier universal blades have a hole just below the U-shaped depression. This is where the tightening screw passes through in the earlier tools.
The T-shank or “bayonet,” on the other hand, is characterized by its bayonet-shaped shank that fits into the jigsaw. The introduction and subsequent popularity of the tool-less blade change system made the T-shank widely used and currently the de-facto standard for jigsaw blades. Despite the overwhelming popularity of the T-shank blades, the U-shank blades are still produced and marketed.
The Blade Material
Different kinds of jigsaw blades are commercially available for a variety of uses or applications. Each blade is manufactured from materials that correspond accordingly to its applications. Some of the blade materials used are the following:
- High-carbon steel (HCS) is utilized for jigsaw blades that are used for cutting softer materials such as wood, plastics, fiberboards, and laminated particle boards. HCS are very flexible metal that can return to its original shape when bent.
- High-speed steel (HSS) doesn’t have the flexibility of HCS but is much stronger and durable than HCS. This material is used for blades designed to cut through copper, aluminum, and other non-ferrous metals, reinforced plastics, or tough wood.
- Bi-metal (BIM) blades are manufactured by combining a flexible HCS body and strong HSS teeth. This blade combines the best attributes of HCS and HSS into one blade. Because the teeth are made from HSS, BIM blades can cut through materials that can be cut by HSS blades.
- Tungsten carbide (TC) blades are heat resistant and more durable than HSS or BIM blades. Instead of having teeth, the blade’s cutting edge is coated with tungsten carbide grit that can cut through fiberglass, cement board, ceramic tiles, and steel.
- Diamond grit blade can cut through hard materials as the TC blade but is more durable. Like the TC blade, the cutting edge of a diamond grit blade is toothless and is covered with grits of diamonds that can cut through extremely hard materials like porcelain, slate, granite, marble, and other stones.
The Blade Teeth
The number of teeth in a blade, measured in teeth per inch or TPI, determines the cutting quality and capacity of a blade. Blades with lower TPI number produce faster, but rougher cuts; while those with high-numbered TPI are slower but produce finer cuts. This is particularly apparent on HCS blades, designed to cut through wood. The TPI range for HCS blade is from 6 to 20. Jigsaw blades with TPI of 6 or 7 produce a very coarse cut while those of the high-numbered TPI produce a clean and smooth cut. On the other hand, the TPI range for cutting hard materials is between 14 to 36.
Moreover, aside from teeth size, teeth arrangement and geometry can have some significant cutting results, especially on wood. The blade’s teeth can either be milled or grounded, but the teeth’s angle and shape dictate the extent of cut. For example, the use of a milled side set teeth can result into a fast cut, but coarse finish, similar to that of a rip saw. On the other hand, a milled wavy set of teeth can result into a fine and straight cut.
Most jigsaw blades have their teeth designed to eat on the upward movement of the blade. This method has a hidden drawback—the front side is hidden from your sight. It is the backside that is on top. To rectify this deficiency, the reverse tooth blade with its downward-facing teeth can be used instead.
Best Jigsaw Brands
Since the introduction of this power tool, the jigsaw has grown to be very popular among industries and individual users. A lot of power tool manufacturers have ventured into improving and producing this handy power tool. Some of the well-known jigsaw brands include Black & Decker, Bosch, DeWalt, Hitachi, and Makita.
Black & Decker
Black & Decker is a brand that is deeply associated with power tools that began in 1917. It was during this period when the first of the now familiar pistol-gripped hand-held portable drill was invented. Since then, Black & Decker has developed and improved its line of hand-held power tools. At present Black & Decker is known as Stanley Black & Decker, as a result of a merger with Stanley Works in 2012.
Bosch is the brand name for the products of Robert Bosch GmbH in Germany. Bosch was established in 1886 by a man who firmly believed that he would “rather lose money than trust.” This notion was the very foundation of the company, and when it comes to power tools, Bosch is one brand that has a reputation for durability and dependability. This is why the name “Bosch” is a highly trusted name by many when it comes to power tools and products.
DeWalt started in 1923 by Raymond E. DeWalt, this company has since been indulged in the manufacturing of woodworking machinery. With its acquisition of the German power tool manufacturer ELU in 1994, DeWalt has been a household name associated with power tools. At present, DeWalt manufactures and markets more than 200 types of power hand tools.
Hitachi is a brand name that is known throughout the world and is previously not associated with power tools but with other electrical and mechanical items such as appliances, heavy equipment, and batteries among others. Hitachi is particularly new to the power tool foray, but currently produces and markets some of the top-of-the-line power hand tools that are commercially available.
Makita is another big name brand associated with power tools like the jigsaw. Founded in Nagoya, Japan in 1915 by Makita Mosaburo, the company started by selling and repairing electric motors, transformers, and lighting equipment. Like Bosch, Makita established its name through innovation and quality. Makita has established several milestones in the development of power tools. In April of 1969, Makita introduced the world’s first rechargeable power tool. This was followed in December 1978 by the first Nickel-Cadmium battery powered hand tool, and in 1997, by nickel-hydride battery-powered rechargeable tool. In 2005, Makita introduced the very first Lithium-Ion battery-powered hand tool, and this is undoubtedly not the last.
Choosing the right jigsaw for personal use is dictated by the need, frequency of use, as well as the allocated budget. Some features can be reflected as added costs while other feature can be essential to the task at hand. For example, if you would not need the orbital function, you can buy the jigsaw models that don’t feature orbital action as it adds up to the initial price. Some people may consider the LED feature as pure gimmickry; while other users may view it as an innovative function.
In acquiring a jigsaw, it is important to know your requirements and needs. You should not necessarily buy the latest or the best-selling jigsaw model. Moreover, you need to engage in research about the parameters of the power tool you want to buy. Furthermore, it is essential to know the appropriate blades for any particular job or cutting task. After purchasing the machine, you should familiarize and educate yourself about the jigsaw product you’ve bought. In this way, you will be able to get the optimum performance and functions out of the jigsaw model that you’ve purchased.