Editor’s note: The following is a short excerpt from Troy Sexton’s article on jigsaws in the October 2006 issue of Popular Woodworking. This issue is available in stores and from our back issues department.
How you hold the jigsaw and approach the work will make a radical difference in your results. First: As you grasp the saw, point your index finger forward (see photo below right). If you have a top-handle saw that position will put your middle finger on the trigger. Pointing with your index finger improves your accuracy with many things. I use the same technique when I’m firing a rifle or a bow when hunting.
Once you get your hand in the right position on the tool, lock your wrist. Next: Your elbow is key. I don’t steer the saw with my wrist , it’s too flexible; I steer with my elbow (and my body) instead.
Whenever I teach someone to use a jigsaw I tell them to tuck their elbow against their torso and to think about their elbow as they make a curve cut. Steer with your elbow and swing your entire body as you make a curve cut.To do this properly, you need the work positioned up pretty high. I like to have the board up by the middle of my chest.I also like to peer over the saw whenever I can to see the teeth making the cut. I generally don’t watch the cut from the side or from behind , though sometimes that is unavoidable.
As I’m making a cut, I am constantly blowing the line clear of sawdust.I place a finger or two of my free hand on the base. Do not use these fingers to steer your cut or push forward into the cut. Their job is to hold the saw steady and down against the work. They also make the base of the saw larger, in a sense, so the tool is more accurate and stable.
When beginners work with a jigsaw, the tendency is to cut shy of the finished line. They generally figure that they can sand to the line and it will be a more accurate result. I have found the opposite to be true.
If you cut shy of the line then you are trying to keep a consistent gap between your blade and the cutline , and eyeballing a gap is tough for anyone to do. I find that the more accurate approach is to attempt to split the pencil line with your blade. It sounds difficult, but with the right body position, it’s easier than cutting shy of the line.
The other thing to keep in mind here is that you should not apply sideways pressure to the tool, which will bend the blade in the kerf (as shown at right). Many beginners will try to use sideways pressure to correct a wayward cut, but it almost always makes things worse.
Instead, just let the saw do the cutting. I like to tell people that it’s like you are following the blade instead of pushing the blade. And, of course, you should always remember that you’re cutÃ?Â¬ting wood. So almost any mistake you make can be fixed with a file and sandpaper.
– Troy Sexton is a contributing editor to Popular Woodworking and builds custom firniture for his company, Sexton Classic American Furniture in Sunbury, Ohio.
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