Master the Jigsaw
Choosing the Best Blade
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 torso.
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. (Some saws come with a built-in blower.)
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.
Using all these techniques together make the saw an extension of your body so you are making the cut as much as the tool is.
The Right Techniq
When beginners use 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. 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 cutting wood. So almost any mistake you make can be fixed with a file and sandpaper.
So what should you do when things go wrong and you stray from the line?
First, stop cutting. Figure out what is causing you to drift. For me, it’s almost always a problem with the tool’s power cord. The plug (which is always plugged into an extension cord) has snagged on something, usually the work itself. So be mindful of your plug and your cord. For example: When I’m cutting a big tabletop, I’ll ask one of my kids to help manage the cord. Or, if I’m alone, I’ll pile the cord in the center of the tabletop, which reduces snags.
Proper cord management makes for cleaner cuts, overall. The less you are stopping and starting the saw during a cut, the cleaner the result will be.
After you’ve made sure your cord moves freely, it’s time to correct the cut. For many woodworkers, the urge is to try to drift back to the line with lateral pressure.
Instead, you should back up to the point where you started to drift and start cutting again. You need to go slower than normal during this kind of cut because the blade wants to deflect. There’s only material on one side of the blade during this operation and so the saw wants to drift.
You can also run into similar drifting problems when you are cutting tight radii and need to make relief cuts.
Relief cuts are generally good, because they allow your blade to make tight turns and help remove chunks of waste material as you are making your cuts.
But relief cuts can also create situations where the blade is cutting on only one side, which will encourage drifting and bending. So take extra care in tight turns.
Advanced Jigsaw Tricks
Jigsaws are capable of some surprising operations. When making cutouts in assembled cabinets for power cords or outlets, I frequently use my jigsaw to make plunge cuts into the work. After you practice this a couple times, you’ll find it pretty easy.
First, snip about 3/4″ to 1″ off of the blade using metal shears. A stubby blade won’t whip around as much and makes a neater starting kerf as the blade hits the wood.
Here’s another useful trick: You can also use a jigsaw to make precise cuts on finished materials or on plywood with the help of some painter’s tape.
Use the tape itself to mark your cutline and then cut right along its edge. The tape offers three distinct advantages:
- One: When you’re cutting material that has a stain and a topcoat finish on it, it’s quite difficult to strike or even see a pencil line on your work. The blue painter’s tape makes it easy.
- Two: The tape protects the finished work from being scratched by the base of your jigsaw (you also can put felt or a couple strips of tape on the base if you like).
- Three: The tape greatly reduces the tendency of the veneer on a piece of plywood to chip out.
One last trick that I like my jigsaw for: coping crown moulding. With a special coping foot from the Collins Tool Co. (collinstool.com or 888-83-8988) I can easily cope crown moulding.
The accessory base (a $29 item) allows me to rotate the tool at odd angles and keep support right up at the kerf. PW
Troy Sexton designs and builds custom furniture for Sexton Classic American Furniture in Sunbury, Ohio, and is a contributing editor to Popular Woodworking magazine.