If a do-it-yourselfer is only going to have one power saw, it’s going to be a circular saw. However, circular saws are limited, intended only for cutting straight lines (although how straight the lines are depends a lot on the skill of the user). They really aren’t intended for use in cutting curves or circles because one were to try to, the blade would bind up in the wood being cut, causing a lot of splintering and not much accurate cutting.
To cut curves, circles and inside openings into plywood, other sheet goods and hardwood boards, a jigsaw is the preferred tool. Jigsaws, sometimes referred to as saber saws, are designed specifically for these types of cuts. The ¼” to ½” blade width along with the narrow blade thickness make these saws ideal for cutting curves.
With the right sorts of blades, jigsaws can also be used for cutting metal sheeting and straps as well. While they aren’t the most efficient way of cutting through metal, they’ll suffice for those who only have to cut metal occasionally.
There are a wide range of options that you can find on jigsaws, some of which are mere niceties, while others are extremely important to make sure the saw will give you the cut you need. Be sure to check out our jigsaw buyer's guide below, before making your selection.
Best Corded Jigsaw:
Jigsaws, or saber saws have come a long way in the last 20 years. Whereas they used to be very inaccurate tools used only for rough cutting curves, modern jigsaws can be held to a much greater accuracy, providing a smoother, splinter-free finish. This difference comes from a combination of small steps made to improve both the saws and the blades used in them.
The cutting blade has always been a weak point for jigsaws. Traditional blades are about 1/4” deep by 1/32” thick, not a very strong piece of steel especially when you’re pushing sideways on it trying to cut a curve. Adding to this inherent weakness is the fact jigsaws only hold the blade on one end with the other being free-floating. The friction of the blade against the wood creates enough heat to soften the blade making it more susceptible to bending and breakage.
Modern blades come in a variety of sizes and shapes and many are hollow ground to reduce friction. Additionally, all these saws are designed to use the T-shaped blade mounting which adds strength while blades are backed up with roller guides. For the inevitable breaks which still happen, the Allen set screws have been replaced with a quick-release blade clamp.
To reduce splintering, most jigsaws have an oscillating motion rather than a straight up and down motion. This pulls the blade’s teeth into the wood on the cut part of the stroke and pulls them away from the wood on the return stroke (Which is when splintering happens.) Depending upon the manufacturer and model, a saw may have as many as five different oscillation settings with some even having vibration dampeners built-in to reduce operator fatigue.
Another difference we find on modern jigsaws and their older cousins is you now have a choice between the standard D handle or a low-profile barrel grip where you’re actually holding onto the motor case itself. While not everyone likes the barrel grip, those who are sold on it say they have much better control of the saw. Just looking at the mechanics of it, I can see how this would be true. Currently most major manufacturers sell the same saws in both a barrel grip and the traditional D handle design.
For this best jigsaw list I’ll be looking at:
- The saw’s power
- Stroke length
- How many oscillating settings it has
- Vibration dampening
- LED headlights
- Foot construction
- Dust management
Which jigsaw works best for you will depend upon your own preferences and cutting style.
Best of class goes to Bosch for a very popular jigsaw. The JS572EL is the most powerful jigsaw on the market with a 7.2 amp motor. All in all, a very well-designed tool. Read Full Review
Although not as well known as other power tool brands, Festool has a great reputation for quality. This saw possibly has the best blade guidance system ever put on a jigsaw, ensuring your cuts go exactly where you want them to. It also has a unique changeable baseplate system, allowing you to make cuts no other jigsaw can do. Read Full Review
As always, Milwaukee provides a quality power tool. This saw has the best speed control I've ever seen on a variable-speed saw, even providing a tachometer so you can check the speed. Read Full Review
Makita's saw is a little smaller than the others on this list, with a 6.3 amp motor. However, it's also the most quiet saw with the least vibration. Read Full Review
Best Budget Corded Jigsaw:
While circular saws are the number one choice for a power saw, hand-held jigsaws (Also known as saber saws) are a close second. These saws are specifically designed for cutting curves, inside corners, and other places where a small blade needs to be inserted. Between a hand-held jigsaw and a circular saw, you can cut just about anything you need for whatever project you’re working on.
A jigsaw’s blade is 1/4” to 3/8” wide and about 3 to 4 inches long and installed in the saw with the teeth pointing forward. The saw then moves the blade up and down, cutting the material. Some jigsaws move the blade in an orbital pattern, pulling the blade back from the line of cut on the down stroke which reduces splintering caused by friction.
More expensive jigsaws have a variety of cutting patterns for use when cutting different materials. Scrolling jigsaws have a blade which can be turned through a 180 degree arc, controlled by a knob at the top of the saw directly above the blade. However, we’re looking at budget units, so we’re not going to consider these options.
We’re also not looking at cordless jigsaws on this list. Unless you use a jigsaw fairly regularly, spending the extra money on a cordless model is probably a waste of money. The biggest problem with cordless tools (Many of which are only used once in a while) is keeping the battery charged. Of course, if a cordless jigsaw comes as part of a set with other cordless tools, grab it. Besides operator comfort, what makes one jigsaw better than another?
There are several important factors to look at when considering a corded jigsaw:
- Motor size – The bigger the motor, the more power the saw has to get through hard woods and knotholes. These units are typically rated by the motor amperage, which gives a relative comparison, without telling us how much power they have in horsepower.
- Stroke length – The longer the stroke, the faster the saw will cut. That’s handy if you’ve got to cut a lot of material. A 5/8” stroke is really good.
- Orbital action – I’ve already mentioned this above but this cutting option is well worth having.
- The foot – Most of these have a foot of stamped sheet steel which works fine, but it isn’t as flat or as good as a cast foot would be.
- Variable speed – Not all jigsaws are variable speed, but most are. While most cutting is done at the high speed, having the ability to slow down for extra-careful cutting is a nice option.
- LED “Headlight” – No matter how good your shop lighting is, it always seems the cutting line is in shadow. Having a LED light built-in helps make sure you can see your reference line.
Since this is supposed to be a list of “budget” jigsaws, I’m sticking to units which can be bought for under $100.00.
If you're looking for a jigsaw packed with features, look no further. This might just be the most impressive jigsaw on the market at any price. It's also a scrolling head saw, something you rarely see anymore. Read Full Review
Here is another feature-loaded machine at a very nice price. It has 6 amp motor, 4 orbit settings, 7 settings on the speed dial, a led light and a cast shoe with a protective cover to protect the work from marring. It also has keyless blade change system and keyless adjustment for the bevel settings. Read Full Review
Makita quality, need I say any more? The counterweight balancing system really reduces vibration, the bane of jigsaw operators. They've also got a through-the-body dust port to keep the cutting area clear. Read Full Review
Black and Decker have taken oscillating blades to a whole new level with this saw. Providing seven pictographs to make your selection from, the saw automatically adjusts to the cutting style you need. Probably the easiest jigsaw around you can work with. Read Full Review
For the price, this saw gives you a lot to work with. A laser guide for cutting is included, as well as a built-in blower to keep the cut line free of sawdust. Read Full Review
Best Cordless Jigsaw:
Cordless jigsaws were a little slower getting off the starting block compared other cordless tools. This may be due to the fact they’re typically for a prolonged period of time which can cause problems for most rechargeable batteries, especially the older units. Today’s Lithium-ion (LI-ion) batteries are better at handling prolonged cordless operation and tool manufacturers are developing new jigsaws to take advantage.
Some people don’t like the LI-ion batteries as they don’t give you any warning they’re about to die, like the Nickel Cadmium (Ni-cad) batteries. Instead of gradually losing speed, LI-ion batteries maintain full performance up until the point they can no longer power the tool. LI-ion batteries also recharge quicker so with two batteries and a charger, you can cut all day long with a cordless jigsaw, only stopping to change workpieces and batteries. By the time one battery is discharged, the other will be ready to go again. Li-ion batteries have no memory, so you can even use a partially recharged battery, without damaging it in any way.
These tools tend to be a little bit heavier than their corded counterparts but the convenience of not having to worry about a cord more than makes up for it. Cordless jigsaws can be used in places where a corded saw just can’t reach. Eliminating the cord also cancels out the problems caused when the cord hangs up somewhere causing the saw to go off the cut line.
Like the newer corded jigsaws, these saws include several different cutting options, including orbital cutting which greatly reduces splintering, a classic problem with jigsaws. You can select the orbital pattern that best matches the material you are cutting and the type of cutting you are doing.
The biggest problem with most jigsaws is keeping the saw right on the cut line. Lack of visibility adds to this problem. Manufacturers deal with this in different ways, such as adding LED headlights and blowers or even having vacuum ports built in so you can attach a shop-vac or dust collection system directly to the saw, keeping the cut line free of debris.
Older jigsaws used a clamping system which tightened the cutting blade by use of a couple of Allen set screws. These newer saws have done away with this system thus making the task of changing blades much easier. Some saws add backup for the blades, helping to keep them aligned straighter, so that they will make a straighter cut.
Festools new Carvex line of jigsaws are clearly the best around. With a replaceable shoe, this saw can do things the competition can only dream about. Read Full Review
What makes this jigsaw so great is the blade changing system. It’s the only one on the market where you can change the blade one-handed, leaving your other hand free to keep your workpiece from falling on the floor. Read Full Review
I’ve always liked DeWalts blade changing system. The large and accessible metal lever makes blade change a snap. Read Full Review
This is a surprisingly good saw at an affordable price. Not that I would expect anything less from Porter-Cable, but then this isn’t the way they normally price their tools. Read Full Review
Hitachi's warranty on their Li-Ion tools alone make them hard to ignore. This saw comes with a 3.0Ah battery, meaning you’ll be doing a lot of cutting before you have to recharge it. Read Full Review
Jigsaw Buyer's Guide
The jigsaw is a handheld power tool, designed specifically to allow cutting of curves. While it’s not limited to cutting curves, it’s the only handheld power saw specifically designed for that purpose. Other saws, like circular saws, are designed for cutting straight. As a saw for cutting curves, the jigsaw is the handheld equivalent to the scroll saw or some uses of the band saw.
A jigsaw works by an oscillating up and down movement, cutting on the upstroke. Modern jigsaws, especially better quality modern jigsaws, offer a variety of oscillation patterns, intended to reduce chipping and splintering in a variety of materials, especially when cutting across the surface grain of plywood. An additional strategy that can be used to avoid this splitting is to cut through the surface veneer, on the cut line, with a utility knife, before cutting with the jigsaw. This is especially useful for Lauan plywood, which has a very thin surface veneer.
Some jigsaws offer “plunge cutting” capability. This means the saw will cut through wooden sheet goods without a starter hole. For plunge cutting to work, one not only needs a saw which can accomplish it, but a blade that can as well.
Jigsaw blades are not rugged, carbide tipped disks, like circular saw blades so they don’t last anywhere near as long. It is always a good idea to have several spare blades when beginning a project, so that they can be replaced as needed.
If you can afford it, the better quality jigsaws are worth buying. The amount of adjustable blade speeds, stroke lengths, and oscillation styles, more than make up for the cost of the saw. The payback will come in increased efficiency, both in faster cuts and in less damage caused by the saw.
Types of Jigsaws on the Market
While all jigsaws are similar in their operation, they vary considerably in their form, size and power supply. They also cover a considerable range in price, with low-dollar units providing only the most basic operations up to the high dollar units which load on considerable options including the different oscillation patterns I already mentioned.
Just because a jigsaw is low-cost, doesn't mean it's a piece of junk. If you’re not concerned about having the ability to adjust the oscillating pattern, you may very well be able to get by with a low-dollar unit. I used an inexpensive jigsaw for something like 20 years before it finally wore out.
We break jigsaws down into three basic categories:
These are the higher quality units that need to be connected to house current for use. Specifically, we're referring to the ones with adjustable oscillation patterns. The cord can be an inconvenience at times, but it allows continual cutting, without having to change batteries. If you are going to be doing a lot of cutting with a jigsaw or you are rarely going to use it, a corded model may be your best choice.
Budget Corded Jigsaws
These are the basic units, without a lot of options. They provide basic cutting, but with only one oscillating pattern so they’re more likely to splinter the workpiece. If you are working in plywood or other situations where you don't have to worry about splintering so much, these will be ideal.
Contractors and others individuals who use their jigsaw regularly would probably be better off with a cordless saw, simply for convenience sake. While the cordless units are more expensive, they can be used without the need to run an extension cord or worrying about that cord getting in the way of your cut. Today's cordless jigsaws are almost exclusively made with Lithium-Ion batteries for greater capacity and quicker recharge time.
There are two basic styles of jigsaws; barrel and D handle. Many manufacturers build the same saw models in both styles. This provides the user with their choice. While the D handle is the more traditional style, users of barrel style jigsaws rave that they are easier to control. Since good control over the blade and the cut is a major consideration when using a jigsaw, these models are well worth your consideration.
There are a few models on the market, like the Craftsman corded model which was chosen as number one for our budget corded jigsaw list, which can be used in either configuration. Simply remove the D handle and grasp the barrel. Power switches for both configurations are included on the saw.
Options to Consider in the Purchase of Your Jigsaw
The biggest consideration in these saws is how well they cut; specifically, how well they cut without splintering. That's why the option of having different stroke patterns is so important. Pretty much all of the more expensive units have this option, as well as most cordless units.
Take a good look at the shoe construction on the saw. Inexpensive saws will often have a stamped sheet-metal shoe. There is no way that a stamped shoe is going to be flat, so if you need accuracy, I'd avoid them. The better ones have cast and then machined shoes. Cast shoes stay much flatter, as well as resisting bending and other damage. Some of you may overlay this with a molded plastic pad for reduced friction.
Power is not as important in a jigsaw as it is in other saws. However, if it comes down to a choice between two saws, and the only difference is power, go for the more powerful one. There may be a time when you have to cut through thicker wood where that extra power will be useful. That more powerful saw will probably also have a longer stroke, which helps the saw to be more efficient.
Some saws offer plunge cutting capability. This means that you can start cutting in the middle of a sheet of plywood, without drilling a starter hole. This is not a common option, but it can be handy. However, when using it, you need to be very careful. Plunge cutting is very likely to mess up the surface of your board if you are not careful.
Variable speed is very handy, especially when you need to do fine cuts in thin or soft material. If you’re cutting with the blade moving at high speed, it is extremely easy to overshoot a cut or go off the line. Slowing down the cut provides greater control.
The thing that makes the blade go off line the most isn't speed, but pressure. As you press on the handle of the tool trying to turn it, you could actually push the tool sideways as well thus causing the blade to cut at an angle. The jigsaw blade is only held on one end making this a very real risk. Some of the better saws offer supports for the blade to prevent it from being able to tilt like this and to prevent the blade from ending up bent. This is very useful, especially for the novice user.
Most of the higher end saws will add other options, such as on-board blade storage and blowers to clean off the line of cut. Some come pre-equipped for connection to a dust-collection system. These conveniences make the saw easier to work with, although they are not necessary. Some of these units come with LED “headlights” or laser guides. These are great options to have, making it easier to cut straight and follow the line you’ve laid out. While I’m strongly in favor of these features, I wouldn’t make them the top priority when choosing a jig saw. However, if it comes down to a choice between two, this could be the deciding factor.