Since their invention in 1946, jigsaw saws (also variously referred to as jigsaws, jig saws, scroll saws, bayonet saws, and sabre saws) have been an effective way of cutting through weaker materials. If you’re considering buying one to use in your projects, here are the things you need to know.

Basic Design

Every jigsaw saw follows a basic design. The saw itself is a thin strip of metal that goes through a large, flat plate and attaches to the interior engine. The saw itself is held behind the plate, which both protects the user’s hand and ensures that the saw rests flat against whatever is being cut.

As astute craftsmen have pointed out, this isn’t the best design for power – quite frankly, a blade that’s only attached at one end isn’t strong enough to work with particularly thick or tough materials. If your project involves those, consider getting a ring saw instead.

Jigsaws are available in both cord and battery variants – which one you should get depends on where you expect to use the saw. In general, the corded version is more reliable, but the battery version is easier to take wherever it’s needed.

While most projects start at the end of the item being cut, this isn’t required. A technique known as the “jigsaw plunge cut,” where the blade starts at an angle and slowly works into the material, allows a jigsaw saw to be used anywhere on an item’s surface.

Types Of Blades

Jigsaws can be fitted with a wide variety of blade types, though not every type of blade is available from every manufacturer. The main consideration is what you’re trying to cut – while all blades work well on wood and other ‘soft’ materials, some harder materials need correspondingly stronger blades.

High Carbon Steel is the weakest material and wears out faster than any other jigsaw blade. That said, it’s still steel, and it’s perfectly good as the jigsaw of choice for softwood and other popular home improvement materials. As such, the comparatively low quality doesn’t deter most buyers.

High Speed Steel isn’t actually faster than the other blades. It’s a little tougher than High Carbon Steel, and it can cut noticeably harder materials than its lesser cousin. The downside is that High Speed Steel often builds up heat while in use, making it difficult to use over longer periods.

Bi-Metal is a blend of the two previous metals, using High Carbon Steel in the blade for flexibility and High Speed Steel in the teeth for cutting power. These are an excellent choice for heavier cutting jobs, and notably, Bi-Metal blades generally last several times longer than the two previous options.

Tungsten Carbide is the strongest (and therefore most expensive) blade available for most jigsaws. Unlike the distinctive saw teeth of previous blades, tungsten carbide blades often have a sandpaper-like grit cutting surface that helps to make smoother, easier cuts. Tungsten carbide is appropriate for cutting the hardest materials, including ceramic and steel.

Blade Layouts

Aside from the material, the most important part of a jigsaw blade is its layout. Unless you’re using the grit of tungsten carbide, blades come in several layouts that are each designed for a specific purpose.

Taper blades feature a straight alignment. These are most often used for fine cuts where it’s okay to take it slow and make sure the job is done correctly the first time.

Wavy blades are similar to taper blades in that they’re designed for straight, fine cuts. However, most wave blades can go faster than their tapered cousins, and they’re used when detail isn’t quite as important.

Milled blades are blunter than most teeth. This makes for a rough and aggressive cut, but it also means they’re more resistant to wear when you’re cutting a dense material like stone or metal.

Side blades have an offset design, and they’re used for fast, rough cuts. These are more for logs than pipes, and their cuts are usually followed by sanding or another treatment process to smooth down the rough edges.

Reverse blades have the opposite alignment of taper blades. Their focus is on cutting materials that are likely to chip, reducing the chances of that and providing a better overall cut.

Blade Sizes

A good jigsaw blade should be at least one inch longer than the material being cut. This is because the blade rapidly moves back and forth, so the extra distance is necessary to include a clean cut. Past this, there are several factors to consider when determining blade size.

First, long blades are also thicker blades. Since they’re not attached on both ends, the extra thickness is used to add stability and stop the blade from breaking while in use. Blades that are too thick may not be suitable for every project.

On the other hand, thin blades are easier to turn. This makes them more ideal for curves, patterns, and decorative work despite being weaker than long blades.

In short, blades should be chosen based on the material being cut. Picking the wrong blade will drastically reduce the effectiveness of your jigsaw tool.

Teeth Per Inch

Teeth Per Inch, or TPI, is one of the most important factors in the quality of a jigsaw saw blade. In the broadest sense, low TPI is ideal for soft materials, while high TPI is better for tough, denser materials. The commonly accepted ranges are:

  • Low: 6 to 20 TPI
  • Medium: 14 to 36 TPI
  • High: 36+ TPI

Most people only need to purchase a low or medium TPI blade. High TPI blades are generally for specialty projects, such as cutting glass, tile, or other easily damaged materials. If you’re not sure which blade to get, go for Medium TPI. These are suitable for most home improvement projects, and there are few situations in which getting a slower (but better) cut is the wrong choice.

Angled Cuts

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Most jigsaws have movable metal plates that allow for up to a 45-degree angle in cuts. While not necessary for most projects, the fact that it can be done expands your range of options.

Color Coding

Some manufacturers color the ends of their blades based on the intended use. This isn’t universal, and colors may vary by manufacturer, but it does make it easy to see, at a glance, which blade you should reach for in any given situation.

Blade Clamp

Blade clamps are used to hold the jigsaw blade in the correct position. Older models use one or two screws, usually secured with an Allen key to lock the blade in place.

Modern jigsaws use a keyless clamping system featuring a spring-loaded lever.

The type of clamp you have doesn’t matter if you only need to cut one type of material since you won’t be changing blades very often. However, if you expect to change blades on a frequent basis, look for the keyless system – it’s designed to make changing blades faster and easier.

Blade Roller

Blade Rollers are a guide that helps to keep the blade straight while cutting. In general, the better the blade guide is, the straighter and cleaner the cuts are going to be.

Variations

While jigsaws are usually handheld, there are some variations. The most popular of these is the jigsaw table saw, where the saw is installed under a flat table and carefully kept in place while the items being cut are moved across its cutting surface. This is extremely convenient for cutting many pieces of wood, but it loses the convenience of taking the saw directly to a project area.

Health Concerns

Like all power tools, jigsaws have the potential to cause health issues if they’re used frequently over a long period of time. Many symptoms may not develop without decades of frequently using these tools, so there is no health risk as long as all safety precautions are followed.

That said, constant use of jigsaws is associated with two conditions.

Hand-Arm Vibration

If tools like jigsaws are used frequently and for a long period, you may develop hand-arm vibration. Symptoms of this condition include muscle fatigue, muscle weakness, pain in the shoulder and arm areas, and potentially a number of mental issues like depression, problems sleeping, and forgetfulness.

Vibration-Induced White Finger

This condition is characterized by pale fingers which occur as the result of impaired blood flow to the hand. In effect, the regular use of power tools ‘shakes’ the blood away from cells, leaving them more prone to problems.

Most symptoms quickly disappear when the use of the power tool stops, but constant development of symptoms can lead to permanent health problems.

In general, it’s safe to use a vibrating power tool like a jigsaw for up to one hour, followed by a ten-minute break. Keeping your hands warm can also help to prevent health issues.

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