The first jigsaw was invented in 1947. The design was derived from a sewing machine, after a Swiss engineer replaced the machine’s needle with a saw blade, and found it to be very effective.
Jigsaw power tools are compact, lightweight power tools with an oscillating blade, and are primarily designed for curved cuts in materials such as wood, metal and plastic.
They can make straight cuts too, both along (rip cuts) and across (cross cuts) the grain of the wood, as well as on an angle (bevel cuts), but other saws (such as circular saws) are much more suited to this task.
Jigsaws are also one of the only saws that can perform plunge cuts. Plunge cuts are where a cut is commenced in the middle of a soft material (like wood or plasterboard) without any initial hole. This is done by starting the jigsaw when the blade is horizontal, and slowly easing it down into the material (only using blades specifically designed for this type of cut).
Jigsaw power tools feature many different components, and having a sound understanding of these plays an important part in the purchasing process. Knowledge of these parts also aids in the efficient and effective use of the tool.
The power source is the component that provides the tool with electricity. On jigsaws, this is done through a wired connection to a mains power supply. In Australia, jigsaws operate off mains power (240V) through a 10A socket.
Cordless jigsaws that are powered by a battery and a charger are also available and bear very similar features to those described below. They are generally not as powerful as their corded equivalents and require regular charging, but are usually considerably light in weight and have unmatched portability.
The switch allows the electricity from the power source to flow through the tool. A jigsaw is activated either by a trigger switch or a sliding switch.
A trigger switch will begin to operate a jigsaw when it is depressed. Most trigger switches will be variable speed triggers. This means that the further you depress the trigger, the faster the jigsaw’s blade will oscillate, giving you added control over the work.
A sliding switch must be pushed forward to activate the tool. To disengage the machine, the switch must be slid back to its rest position.
Lock-on buttons are only found on jigsaw power tools with a trigger switch. This button can be pushed while the trigger is depressed and the trigger will lock on to that set speed. To cease this function, simply pull the trigger.
Make sure this button has been released prior to disconnecting the tool. If not, the tool will begin to operate upon reconnection and may result in injury. For more safety recommendations, click here.
Motors are the main component of all power tools, and are the component that converts the electricity into motion. The power that motors produce is measured in Watts. Motors used in corded jigsaws are called AC motors (they are also known as universal or series motors). They will have an input power of between 400W and 750W, and weigh between 1.9kg and 2.8kg.
Many manufacturers will state only the input power of the jigsaw, as this is the larger and more impressive number. This value is actually just an indication of the demand a tool will place on a power outlet under normal operating conditions. The power output at the blade, though, is significantly less than the input power. This is due to the efficiency of the saw’s internal components, and how power is transferred through the machine. Generally speaking, higher quality tools have greater efficiency and require less input power to produce the same power output. Therefore, although it is uncommon for most manufacturers to include a power output value, it is a much better way of comparing tools. With sawing power tools, the best indication of power is wattage, as speed is generally a constant.
Most professional quality tools will have a round port on either side of their housing. These ports give simple access (with a slotted screwdriver) to the most frequently wearing component of any tool – it’s brushes.
Also known as a gearbox, transmissions dictate the speed range (strokes per minute, or spm) that a jigsaw power tool oscillates, and the power it will produce.
Each time a jigsaw’s blade moves up and down it is known as a stroke. The speed that the blade oscillates at is called the stroke rate. This rate describes the amount of times the blade travels up and down in a minute. Jigsaws can attain speeds of up to 3200spm.
The length of each stroke varies amongst different jigsaw models, and ranges from 18mm to 26mm. For example, if a jigsaw has a stroke length of 26mm, the blade will travel 26mm up, and 26mm down. The longer the stroke length of the jigsaw, the more efficient the jigsaw will be. This is because a larger stroke length allows more teeth to come into contact with the material per stroke.
A jigsaw’s efficiency is predominantly determined by its blade stroke length and the stroke rate.
Depending on the model, jigsaw power tools are capable of cutting up to 135mm in wood, 12mm in steel, and up to 30mm in aluminium (or other non-ferrous metals) at their default 90° angle. More than anything though, it is the fitted blade that dictate a jigsaw’s cutting capacities.
The speed control dial is a small numbered wheel on the top of the jigsaw that allows users to preset a speed selection, and gain more control over the tool.
Pendulum Action Switch
The oscillating blade of a jigsaw power tool travels in a rapid up and down motion. However, it is common for some jigsaws to have a switch that engages a slightly different motion, called pendulum action. This action is controlled via a pendulum action switch.
Pendulum action (also known as orbital action) is a setting on some jigsaws that swings the blade forward and backward slightly as the blade travels up and down. As most jigsaw blades cut on the upward stroke of a jigsaw’s oscillating action, the pendulum action ensures the blade is pressed firmly up against the material on this stroke, increasing cutting efficiency. In wood, it can be used to speed up cutting, and in metal, it can be used to clear swarf (metal shavings). The drawback with this motion is that it does create a rougher finish on cuts.
Pendulum action has different extents of blade swing. This is determined by the pendulum setting. The settings are numbers, where ‘0’ is normal oscillation, and numbers ‘1’ to ‘4’ are varying degrees of pendulum action. The higher the number you select, the faster the cut will be, but the rougher the finish will be.
The blade clamp is the component of the jigsaw that secures the blade in place.
On some jigsaws, the blade clamp is in the form of one or two hex drive screws, that must be loosened and tightened (with a supplied allen key) to clamp or lock the blade in place.
On more expensive models, the blade clamp is nearly always a keyless system, which enables a blade to be changed in seconds.
The support roller is what gives a jigsaw power tool its accuracy. As the blade oscillates back and forth, it runs along the support roller. This gives the blade the support and rigidity it needs to perform precision cuts.
The housing of a power tool is the casing that protects the internal components.
Jigsaw power tools will have either a clamshell housing, or a jampot housing.
A clamshell housing is where the housing is manufactured in two plastic halves, and where these halves are fixed together around the internal components.
A jampot housing is where the internal components of the jigsaw are inserted into the housing and then a lid (usually an alloy casing) is screwed down to seal it. This durable style of housing is generally used on high quality power tools, and is much more effective at keeping the internal components aligned and the power toolstructurally sound.
The housings of more powerful jigsaws are sometimes partially comprised of aluminium (usually as part of a jampot housing). This enables excellent heat dispersion and therefore a potentially longer lasting tool.
Some jigsaw power tools can project a laser line along a pre-marked cutting line to increase the accuracy of cuts, and some feature onboard blade storage. Others may also have an LED light at the front of their housing that light up the material upon operation of the tool.
The handle is the component of the jigsaw that you hold with your dominant hand and is what you use to guide the tool along the cut.
The most common handle amongst jigsaws is the D-handle design.
The other type of handle that jigsaws may have is a barrel grip handle. This design gives greater control when cutting tight curves.
At the end of the day however, both designs function in exactly the same way.
Some jigsaw handles also have built in shock absorbing capabilities, in order to quell excessive vibrations during prolonged use.
The base plate of a jigsaw is the plate that rests on the material and provides stability as cutting occurs.
Most base plates can be moved back and forth for cutting close to edges, and can be angled up to 45° for bevel cutting. These adjustments are made by either pulling a quick release lever on the jigsaw’s side, or by loosening off two screws underneath the base plate.
To further aid in the overall finish of cuts, some jigsaws come with an anti-splintering device. This is a small plastic blade guide that fits into the base plate of the jigsaw and stops the surface of the material from splintering.
The dust extraction port allows the connection of a dust extraction system (or vacuum cleaner) to control the removal of waste material.
Some jigsaws will also have dust blowers to clear the cutting line of waste material.
A parallel guide is used to guide a jigsaw along the length of a desired material parallel with its edge (i.e. a rip cut). It runs through the base plate of the tool, is easily adjustable to the width required, and is found on nearly all jigsaws.
With a bit of careful measurement, a straight piece of wood/metal (straight edge or guide batten) clamped down along the material being cut can serve the same purpose. It will allow the jigsaw to run along its edge, sawing through the material along the angle you have set. It is also the best alternative if you are making a cut further away than the parallel guide will allow.
Some jigsaws also come with a variation of a parallel guide called a circle cutter. This is a guide that allows you to set a specific radius and centre point, and gives a jigsaw the ability to cut a perfect circle.
The blade that a jigsaw power tool uses is the key characteristic that defines its cutting capabilities, and is the tool’s primary accessory.
Always ensure the tool is disconnected from the power source prior to changing accessories. For more safety recommendations, click here.
There are many different types of jigsaw blades available, and each one has it’s own style and characteristics.
The component that causes the most confusion with jigsaw blades is the blade’s shank. This is the part of the blade that locks into the tool’s blade clamp.
The most common style of blade shank and the one with the widest range of blades is the ‘T’ shank (or ‘tang’ shank). This style of shank offers superior retention and allows the use of keyless blade clamping systems. This is the style all manufacturers are now producing jigsaws for.
The older standard was the ‘U’ shank (also known as the ¼” ‘universal’ shank), but these blades are now getting harder and harder to purchase. They are characterised by a ‘U’ shaped cut-out at their end, and are normally locked into the blade clamp with a hex drive screw.
Another older style of blade shank is the ‘MA’ (Makita shank). Used exclusively on olderMakita jigsaws, they are clamped in place through one of the two fixing holes in their shank. They have now fallen into relative obscurity though, making blades quite hard to source.
The type of shank a jigsaw will take depends on the model and manufacturer of the jigsaw. If your not sure, it’s a good idea to consult your tool’s manual.
Blades can be designed for either straight, curved, or plunge cuts. All jigsaw blades are capable of cutting straight lines, but those that have constant parallel edges are designed especially for repetitive straight cutting.
Curved cutting blades can be recognised by how the teeth of the blade are set back from the front of the blade.
Plunge cutting blades have a special tip on the end of the blade that allows them to slowly bite into the middle of a soft material (like wood or plasterboard) without any starting hole. They are not available for harder materials like metals which require a starting hole.
Jigsaw blades are generally made of either high carbon steel or high speed steel (or a bit of both). High carbon steel blades are very flexible, but wear the fastest and are easily damaged from excessive heat. High speed steel blades are harder and more resistant to wear, but are less flexible. To achieve the best of both worlds and for more demanding applications, bi-metal blades were designed. They have high carbon steel bodies and high speed steel teeth, providing both flexibility and durability, and are essentially shatter-proof. Some jigsaw blades also feature tungsten carbide tipped (TCT) teeth for use on specialised applications.
Jigsaw blades also have differing quantities of teeth. This is usually relative to their application but generally speaking, the more teeth the finer and slower the cut. The number of teeth on a jigsaw blade is usually measured by a ‘tooth-per-inch’ (TPI) measurement.
There is not one jigsaw blade that will cut everything. Each jigsaw blade can be used on a small selection of different materials. These materials include:
Wood with nails
Each blade will have recommended thicknesses for specific materials that it is able to cut. A shorter blade will have a smaller cutting capacity than a longer blade (as well as finer teeth). The specific capacity will be stated on the blade’s packaging upon purchase.
Jigsaw blades can become extremely hot after use, and it is therefore recommended you wear gloves when removing them. For more safety recommendations, click here.
Once the correct blade has been selected and fitted, it is important to remember to let the blade do the work. Forcing the saw along will only result in substandard work and shorter blade and tool life. If the work rate decreases, it is most likely the blade is blunt and needs to be changed.
When purchasing a jigsaw, decide what features are most important to you (from the specifications above) and make sure these are included in your final purchase. The main considerations you should make include how much power you require, the size and weight of the tool, whether you need it to be cordless, and how often you will be using it.
A jigsaw power tool should be lightweight, comfortable to use, and able to take the current standard ‘T’ shank blades.
Manufacturers will either direct their products at the DIY or professional market. DIY tools are designed for home use and generally include plenty of features for a very modest price. They also tend to have very generous warranty periods, including replacement warranties. Professional tools are designed for commercial use and are built for durability, performance, and reliability. Their warranty periods tend to be much shorter than DIY tools, and are exclusively repair warranties. The main advantage of these tools is that they should well outlive their warranty period, and if they require repair and maintenance spare parts are readily available.
The price of any tool will depend on the quality, capabilities, and features of the model. Bear in mind that at least one of these three elements is commonly sacrificed by manufacturers to reduce the tool’s price and increase its sales. After all, price is the most important factor for consumers.
Jigsaws can cost anywhere from $30 to $600.
It is important to bear in mind that the entire cost of any power tool is not just it’s initial purchase cost. Added costs can include accessories for the tool to function, maintenance, downtime, and replacement costs. Buying according to your requirements will help to keep these costs to a minimum.
The following tips will help to preserve the life of your jigsaw, increase your efficiency, and most importantly, keep you safe.
- When cutting hard materials like metals, slower speeds should be used. Alternatively, when cutting soft materials like wood, faster speeds should be used.
- Never apply excessive forward pressure to the tool – always let the blade do the work.
- Always ensure blades are sharp to ensure less load on the tool and better cutting results.
- Cutting oil is recommended for metal cutting applications (with the exception of brass and iron).
- Always let the blade cool naturally. Never force them to cool down in water (or any other liquid).
- Always operate the saw with two hands and when positioned in a firm stance.
- Let the blade run freely for a few seconds before commencing the cut.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) must always be worn when operating power tools. For more information on PPE and power tool safety, click here.
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