Jig Saws: No need to be puzzledby Curtis Rist
With its tiny blade extending straight downward, the jig saw may look like the weakest member of the saw family. But its ability to cut graceful curves, as well as its portability, make it one of the most sought-after power tools.
Circular saws cut far faster than jig saws but only in a straight line. And while large band saws can turn out graceful curves and loops, they can't exactly be dropped into a toolbox. The jig saw's combination of cutting agility and lightweight size make it ideal for cutting out sink holes in countertops, cutting openings for electrical outlets, making decorative scrolls for cabinets or shelf brackets, and scribing trim to make it conform to an uneven surface such as brick or stone.
And, yes, it can even cut out the puzzles that bear its name.
No matter what the brand, jig saws operate in the same way: a stubby blade that extends downward from the motor housing moves up and down at a rate of up to 3,000 strokes per minute. They're not the fastest saws in the shop, but they're precise and the ability to maneuver them carefully is crucial.
Two types exist:
The Professional Advantage
More expensive, professional-grade models have added features that can make the jig saw easier to use over long periods of time:
The action of the blade can also be upgraded:
Although the overall shapes can vary from 3 to 6 inches long, the biggest difference lies in the number of cutting teeth per inch.
Jig saws can also be fitted with carbide-grit blades that grind, rather than saw, through thin materials such as ceramic tiles. Make sure that whatever blade you use is sharp. Check by inspecting the teeth and making sure the edges look crisp. If they're not, it's time for a new blade.
Beyond the Basics
When a jig saw cuts, the teeth point upward to keep the tool pulled down tightly toward the wood. Unfortunately, this also sends the sawdust upward, which can obscure the cutting line. Most jig saws have a built-in blower to keep the line clear. And to reduce splintering, some come with a plastic insert that surrounds the blade where it enters the shoe. This presses down the wood fibers adjacent to the cut to help keep them intact.
Curtis Rist, a writer for This Old House magazine, parks his power tool collection in New York's Hudson River Valley.