In this edition of our Training the Apprentice series, we’re looking at how to use a jigsaw. The jigsaw, or saber saw, might be one of the most versatile tools you’ll pick up. It can tackle straight cuts, patterns, curves, and plunge cuts, and it can cut through a variety of materials. The jigsaw is simple enough to use that a beginner can make quality cuts safely within minutes of using it. Because the jigsaw is so simple to use, it ought to be a breeze to explain how to use it, right? We’ll see if that’s the case. Here’s how to use a jigsaw.
How to Use a Jigsaw
Blade Material Matters
To use a jigsaw, the first thing you’ll want to do is settle on an appropriate blade for the task at hand. Jigsaws can cut through wood, laminate, metal, and even ceramic tile, but they will need a specific blade designed for cutting through each of these materials. Stick with blades that have been designed for the specific material you plan to work with to get the best cut quality.
Regardless of what material you plan to cut, most blades will be made from either carbon steel or bimetal. They generally come 2″ to 3-1/2″ long, and either 1/4″ wide for tight cutting into or around corners or 3/8″ wide for general purpose cutting. Blades with fewer teeth will cut quicker, while blades with more teeth will make smoother cuts. It varies for different materials as well. Wood cutting blades will have fewer teeth than metal cutting blades, for example.
Pro Tip: Nearly every jigsaw shoe has a no-mar pad covering the metal base plate. You don’t have to worry about messing up that expensive oak you’re making a lazy Susan out of. If your jigsaw’s pad is messed up or missing, give the base a layer of masking tape to keep from scratching or marking up surfaces.
How to Use a Jigsaw for Cutting Wood
Wood represents one of the more common materials you’ll use a jigsaw to cut. While you could probably learn by doing, going into a project with a few tips might speed up the learning process.
This might seem obvious, but remember to press the shoe (base) against the wood as you cut. It’s what helps you keep the saw stable. You can cut straight lines, or you can cut curves, but keep the shoe on the workpiece.
- Straight cuts: Use a fence to guide your jigsaw parallel to the edge of the wood. This also helps your precision on bevel and compound cuts.
- Finish circular saw cuts: If you’re actively trying not to blaze past a certain point with your circular saw cut, like when cutting out stairs, you can use a jigsaw to cut precisely into an inside corner.
- Cutting curves: Move the jigsaw along at a pace that won’t cause the blade to deflect (bend) so you don’t have a slightly beveled edge. Move the saw forward slowly and let the motor and blade do the work.
- Plunge cuts: You’ll tip the jigsaw over on the front lip of the shoe. Fire up the jigsaw and tip the saw steadily back over so that the blade stabs into the wood. If you plan on starting your cut in a place where plunging in would be a challenge, try drilling a hole to start.
- Fine work where chipping/tearout won’t do: Pick up a downstroke-cutting blade instead of the more common wood-cutting blades that cut on the upstroke. If that’s not an option, lay down some painter’s tape over the line you want to cut, draw your line, and cut with the tape in place. It will help you avoid tear-outs.
Cutting metal requires a blade with a greater number of smaller teeth; you’re looking for 21 to 24 teeth per inch. With this blade, you can use your jigsaw to cut up to 10 gauge sheet metal, iron-free pipe (non-ferrous), mild steel, and wood with embedded nails.
- Avoid burrs: Sandwich your metal between two pieces of thin plywood to help keep those burrs down.
- Cutting metal plate and pipe: Cut on the low speed to keep the heat down and extend the life of your blades.
Metal cutting chews through blades pretty quickly so keep extras on hand if you have a lot of cuts on your plate. You can extend the life of your blades by using cutting oil to lube up the blade.
Using a Jigsaw to Cut Laminate
For laminate cutting, you’ll want a down-cutting blade to minimize the chip-out on your material.
- Drill starter holes: Reduce chip-out by drilling starter holes rather than trying to make plunge cuts.
- Tape it Up: Using masking tape or painter’s tape over your cut lines helps is another way to reduce tearout.
- Get Relief: Use short relief cuts to ease the blade through your corners to get less blade deflection.
Cutting Tile? You Betcha.
Your jigsaw can cut tile, and for tiles under 1/4″ thick, they might even be the ideal choice for when you need to make curved cuts. You’ll need a special carbide-grit abrasive blade designed for the task.
- Lubricate the cut: For thinner tile, you can use water to lubricate the saw cut. Thicker tile can require cutting oil.
- Reduce tile breaks: Clamp the tile down securely and hold the saw firmly.
- Cutting curves: Work slowly and steadily, and be sure to make some relief cuts to remove waste.
If you’ve got any helpful tips on how to use a jigsaw, feel free to leave them in the comments section below.