How to Use a Jigsaw Safely & Correctly

If you’re going to have one power saw in your tool box, let it be the faithful jig saw. As power tools go, next to your drill/driver, it’s probably one of your most reached for tools. Whether you’re going to be cutting wooden boards in straight lines, or sheet metals in intricate patterns, a good jigsaw is versatile enough for it all. But are you getting the most out of your jigsaw? 

Here at SGS we’ve put together the ultimate jigsaw how-to guide so you can cut it with the best of them. Whether you want to brush up on the basic technique before you make those first cuts, or you’re looking for the real insider trade secrets - this guide is for you. Curious novice or seasoned DIY-er, we’ve collected all the most useful jigsaw information, and put it in one place. We think if you follow all the tips and tricks in this guide, your woodworking projects will be sight for saw eyes in no time. Everything you could want to know about how to use a jigsaw has been crammed into this one compact guide.

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Get to Know Your Jigsaw

Before we get started with any cutting or woodworking projects, it’s worth taking a good look at your jigsaw to see what features it actually has, and where they're adjusted. Not every jigsaw is the same, and you’ll find some saws will be missing more advanced features like orbital action or a bevel adjustment. Check through your instruction manual to be 100% sure you know what you’re working with.

Get to know your jigsaw part diagram Variable speed dial - Many saws will have several speed settings for cutting different materials. For example when cutting metals, use a lower blade speed to keep your blades in top shape. You might also choose a slower speed setting when working with plastics, thereby minimising the risk of melting your workpiece.

Orbital action - Some saws are capable of orbital action, meaning your jigsaw provides thrust to the blade as it moves up and down motion. These jigsaw have an impressive cutting speed when compared to a conventional saw. Use the orbital action knob to increase or decrease the jigsaw’s “thrust”. If you’ve ever rocked a handsaw during a cut, you’ll understand the benefit a thrusting motion can be when sawing.

Bevel Adjustment - Some jigsaws will have a special pivoting baseplate and bevel adjustment setting, so you can cut wood or other materials at angles. Although you probably won't use this feature day-to-day, a jigsaw with bevel function can be incredibly useful for sawing at an angle of up to around 45°.

Trigger & Lock-on switch - Your trigger will start and stop your jigsaw. It can take a moment for the saw to get to speed after pressing the the trigger, so make sure you're working at capacity before your start a cut. A lock-on switch will help you work on a longer cut. While holding the trigger click the lock-on mode and now you'll be able to release the trigger while the saw continues to work.

Blade & Blade clamp - Jigsaws come with a variety locking mechanisms for securing and changing out your blade. The simplest blade changing systems will be tool-less, but many will use a standard hex key for securing your blade in place.

Stay Safe When Using Your Jigsaw

  • Jigsaws make dust, and depending on what you’re cutting there might be a lot of it. Use a mask and goggles to keep yourself protected.
  • Be wary about where your power cord is when you’re using a corded jigsaw. Keep it clear from the cut line and make sure you have an extension lead that’s long enough to move around without it being so long you get entangled.
  • A jigsaw has a fairly exposed blade, so keep all your appendages away from the business end. Make sure the saw is completely unplugged (or the battery removed) before you try and adjust a blade.
  • Make sure your saw blade is sharp and fit for purpose. Old blades go brittle and have the tendency to snap while you’re cutting - causing potential damage to you and your workpiece.

How to Choose a Jigsaw Blade

The most common mistake when using a jigsaw is picking up the wrong blade for the job at hand. Your jigsaw is probably capable of cutting everything from plyboard to steel, but if you select the wrong blade, you’re not going to get the finish your work piece deserves.

A good jig saw blade is precision engineered for a specific task, so to get the most out of your tool, it’s worth having an array of different blades at hand (we sell a mixed Ryobi blade set here). This guide should give you an edge when it comes to choosing the perfect jigsaw blade.

choosing-the-right-jigsaw-blade

  1. Shank type - It’s worth remembering that not every jigsaw blade will fit every jigsaw! Double check the shank type of your jigsaw before you invest in a stack of brand new blades. Ryobi jigsaws will take a “T-shank blade”, however “U-shank” blades are very common too.
  2. Amount and size of teeth - As with every cutting blade, the larger the teeth, the quicker the cut, but rougher the finish. The smaller the teeth, the slower you’ll get through your material, but you’ll get a far finer finish. The amount of teeth on a blade is measured in either (T) - simply meaning total teeth, or (TPI) - teeth per inch.       - Pick a blade with fewer, larger teeth for quicker, rougher cuts.
    - Pick a blade with more, smaller teeth for a slower, finer finish.
  3. Narrow blades vs Wide Blades - Wider blades are best for making longer, straighter cuts, while a narrow blade is fall more useful for cutting curves. You should have at least three or four teeth touching the workpiece at all times during your cuts.
  4. Application specific blades - Many blades are specifically for harder or sorter woods, plastics or metals. Everything from the teeth shape to the material the blade is made from will be customised depending on the intended application.

Working with

Blade Material

Teeth Style

Softwood High carbon steel
Bi-metal
Side - quick, rough cuts
Taper - slower, finer cuts
Hardwood High Speed Steel
Bi-metal
Side - quick, rough cuts
Taper - slower, finer cut
Plastics Various / all materials.
Varies brand to brand.
Varies brand to brand.
Ceramic, stone,
and masonry
Tungsten Carbide Grit (no teeth)
Aluminium High Speed Steel
Bi-metal
Wavy - straight, fine cuts
Side - quick, rough cuts
Taper - slower, finer cut
Steel High Speed Steel
Bi-metal
Wavy - straight, fine cuts
Taper - slower, finer cut
Many specialist blade sets exist. Often they sport unique teeth styles, but these are by far the most common application specific blades available on the market.

How to Make a Cut with your Jigsaw

So you've learned where everything is on your jigsaw, you know how to stay safe when using your jigsaw, and you can even select the perfect blade for the project you have in mind - now on to some actual sawing! This how-to guide is pretty universal, regardless of what material you're cutting or how intricate your design is.

As with anything, practice makes perfect, so if you don't get it right on the first attempt, don't be disheartened! Remember, you can always finish off an untidy edge with some sandpaper and a file if the finish is a little rougher than you hoped.

What you'll need...

- Jigsaw - The right blade - Goggles and mask - Saw horse, workbench or similar - Measuring tools; tape measure, pencil, templates, etc. - Some clamps - Your jigsaw
- The perfect jigsaw blade
- Safety gear; goggles and mask
- Saw horse, workbench or similar
- Measuring tools; tape measure, pencil, templates, etc.
- Some clamps
- A clear workspace

1. Mount the correct blade

After choosing an appropriate blade, mount it in your jigsaw while it’s unplugged (or the battery is removed). Release the blade clamp, hold you blade in place. Secure the saw blade and check that it doesn’t move in the clamp. After choosing an appropriate blade, mount it in your jigsaw while it’s unplugged (or the battery is removed). Release the blade clamp, hold you blade in place. Secure the saw blade and check that it doesn’t move in the clamp.

2. Prepare your workpiece

step two secue your workpiece Measure and mark out your cut line on the workpiece. If you’re cutting out a hole for a specific item like a sink or an electrical socket, you might want to draw round the  object itself. For other shapes you might want to make yourself a template first and draw round that. The more accurate your cut line is, the more potential you have for the perfect cut.

Get your material secured to a worktable or sawhorse and use a couple of clamps to minimise movement during the cut. This will leave you with two hands to navigate your jigsaw around a cut line.

3. Set your saws cutting settings

Setting up your jigsaw If your saw has orbital adjustments and speed settings, now’s the time to set them. Remember, the higher the orbital action and speed setting, the faster and easier the cut will be, but you’ll be left with a rougher cut. For metals and ceramics you’ll want the lower speed and orbital action settings. For wood working, choose the higher settings. You can always refine with sand paper later.

4. Lining up and getting to speed

step four line up your jigsaw Line up your saw with the cut line of your workpiece. Rest the baseplate in a secure position. Slowly pull down the trigger and wait a moment for the jigsaw to get to full speed. The baseplate should stay flat against your workpiece throughout the cut.

5. Follow the cut line

Now you’re up to speed, push your jig saw firmly, but slowly, into your workpiece. Guide the saw blade around its path by gradually twisting the back of he saw in the opposite direction you want the blade to travel. You’ll know you’re pushing too hard because the saw will feel as if it’s straining and you might get a slight kickback. Slow down your forward momentum. Moving too fast is a sure fire way of damaging your saw blade, missing your cut line, splintering the workpiece, or even damaging your jigsaw’s motor. If your cut line starts to be obscured by saw dust, you can always pause your cut, remove the excess material, back up a little and start the cut from where you left off. Never engage a saw while the blade’s touching a material. Make sure you bring the saw to speed before your restart your cut. Now you’re up to speed, push your jig saw firmly, but slowly, into your workpiece. Guide the saw blade around its path by gradually twisting the back of he saw in the opposite direction you want the blade to travel.

You’ll know if you’re pushing too hard because the saw will feel as if it’s straining and you might get a slight kickback. Slow down your forward momentum. Moving too fast is a sure fire way of damaging your saw blade, missing your cut line, splintering the workpiece, or even damaging your jigsaw’s motor.

If your cut line starts to be obscured by saw dust, you can always pause your cut. Remove the excess material, back up a little and start the cut from where you left off. Never engage a saw while the blade’s touching a material. Make sure you bring the saw to speed before your restart your cut.

TOP TIP: If you’re cutting in a straight line, you might find it useful to clamp a guide piece of wood to your workpiece. This is normally a simple length of straight wood clamped parallel to your cutline that the baseplate can rest against as you cut. You can see an example of a guide-piece in use above.

6. Complete your cut

Finishing up Complete the cut by following the cutline to completion. Be careful that any excess material can freely drop away from the workpiece without hitting you, or the saws power cord - or anything else that’s going to cause you problems. Allowing excess material to drop off before you’ve completed a cut will cause the blade to bind and possibly splinter the workpiece.

Now you’ve got your finished piece you can finish it off with a piece of sand paper to get rid of some of those rougher edges.

Top Tips and Trade Secrets for Getting the Most Out of Your Jigsaw

We've got the basics covered in the how-to guide, but if you're wanting some real trade rated secrets, read on. The jigsaw is the sort of power tool you can pick up and start using almost instantly - but these more advanced tips will have you tackling bigger and more complicated DIY tasks in no time at all.

Starter holes jigsaw

Starter holes

Not starting from the edge of a material? No problem - drill yourself a starter hole roughly 5-8mm larger than your jigsaw blade. Now you can start in the centre of a workpiece such as a countertop or a flooring board. No need for difficult plunge cuts with this method!

highly finish materials

Protect laminated or highly finished materials

By using masking tape on top of a laminated surface, you minimise the risk of damaging the protective top layer. Just make sure you mark up on top of the tape so you can clearly see your guide lines. Special down-cutting laminate blades are available for added protection.

turn the speed down jigsaw

Know when to turn the speed down

The variable speed settings aren’t just there for show - they have an important function. Slow down the speed of your jigsaw when your cutting metals. Your cut will take a little longer but your blade will stay in a better condition. This will  save you money in the long run. Ceramics and masonry are prone to chipping or even snapping, so it’s worth bringing the speed down for this sort of task - it’s slow work but it’s how you get the perfect finish. And be careful when sawing plastic; too fast and you risk melting your project.

protecting metal jigsaws

Clamp metals between scrap wood

Clamp sheet metal between two pieces of plywood when you’re working on intricate designs or the finish really counts. This will minimise the risk of you shredding your workpiece as you cut.

cutting curves with a jigsaw

Tight corners and curves

If you’re working on a corner or curve that’s too sharp to move the blade, keep backing up and restarting your cut at ever increasing angles. This will create a progressively larger kerf for the blade to turn into.

cutting slower with a jigsaw

Super smooth cutting

Jigsaws cut on the upward stroke and therefore splintering is not unusual. If you really want to ensure you’re getting best possible finish, choose a slower blade with more teeth or purchase a specialist downward cutting blade.

picking the right jigsaw balde

Choose the right blade!

I know we’re repeating ourselves, but it can’t be said enough. Choose an appropriate blade for your material and application. If you skipped over the “selecting a jigsaw blade” section,go back and have a quick read.

And that’s it - hopefully our guide will have you sawing to your heart’s content in no time at all. If you’ve followed the step by step guide you should be able to successfully cut with a jigsaw. Our trade rated insider tips should give you the confidence to take on ever more ambitious projects in your pursuit for DIY perfection.

Need a new jigsaw to practice your new found skills with? Have a look at the whole SGS range of jigsaws here.