How to Use a Jigsaw

Learn how to use one of the most versatile power tools for your workshop.

A jigsaw is a common power tool primarily used for cutting curved lines, circles, and unique shapes into a range of materials, including thin metal, laminate, plastic, ceramic tile, and wood.

The handle is located at the top of the jigsaw, with a trigger switch to turn it off or on. The motor sits just under the handle, attached to the shoe, which is a flat metal base that extends a few inches past the front, sides, and back of the blade. The jigsaw blade extends down vertically from the body of the saw, through the shoe. When the jigsaw is plugged in and the trigger is squeezed, the blade moves rapidly in an up-and-down sawing motion.

You can cut through various materials by placing the shoe flat against the target material, squeezing the trigger to activate the blade, then applying force to the back of the saw to slowly push the blade through the wood, metal, or plastic. Use this guide to learn how to use a jigsaw for your home improvement projects and how to stay safe while you work.

Close up of a person using a jigsaw cutting a piece of wood
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Before You Begin: Personal Protective Equipment and Safety Considerations

Before starting any DIY project, it's important to take the proper precautions to prepare the area and wear suitable personal protective equipment (PPE). When using a jigsaw, wear closed-toe footwear, long pants, a long-sleeve shirt, safety glasses, gloves, a mask, and earplugs. If you don't like the feel of earplugs, you can find alternative hearing protection products that cover the entire ear instead of sitting inside the ear.

Make sure to work in a well-ventilated space when using a jigsaw, as it creates a lot of sawdust and debris. Working in an open or well-ventilated space prevents sawdust from becoming a hazard. Similarly, an open area reduces the risk of hearing damage because the sound can escape instead of bouncing around an enclosed space, like a small shed.

When cleaning a jigsaw, removing the blade, or replacing the blade, take the time to unplug it from the power outlet or take out the battery to avoid accidental activation. When working, never force the blade through the material. Allow the saw blade to cut at its own speed; forcing it can cause the blade to stick in the material, chip, or break entirely.

How to Use a Jigsaw

It can be nerve-racking to use a new power tool for the first time, especially for inexperienced DIYers. But with focus and a steady hand, you can learn how to use a jigsaw safely and effectively.

What You'll Need

  • Jigsaw
  • Jigsaw blade
  • Allen wrench (optional)
  • Pencil
  • Wood (or alternative material)
  • Workbench or table
  • Clamps
  • Drill (optional)

Step 1: Set Up the Jigsaw

Once you've decided on a project, the first step is to select a blade. If you're cutting through wood, choose a wood-cutting jigsaw blade. If you're working with metal, opt for a metal-cutting jigsaw blade. You can also find masonry blades to handle tiles, plastic blades for PVC or ABS, plexiglass blades, and general-use jigsaw blades. Select the right blade based on your current project.

Make sure the jigsaw is unplugged or the battery is removed before attaching the blade to the jigsaw. The teeth on the blade should face forward. Older jigsaws may have a bolt that needs to be loosened using an Allen wrench to change the blade, though newer models typically have a simple lever to release the blade clamp.

Step 2: Prepare the Material

The target material you'll be cutting with the jigsaw needs to be securely clamped to a workbench, table, or suitable flat surface. Use a pencil to mark where you want to cut the material. Keep in mind that the jigsaw blade will protrude through the bottom of the material, so you will need to ensure that there is clearance for the blade. Consider setting up the material with a portion over the edge of the workbench to allow the blade to move up and down without obstruction. If you are working with a large sheet of wood, metal, or plastic, it might be better to set up two tables or small workbenches on either end, so you can freely cut through the center without worrying about the blade hitting a clamp or the table.

Step 3: Align the Jigsaw and Cut Material

With the material and jigsaw ready to go, plug in the jigsaw or attach the battery. Line up the jigsaw with the mark you made on the material. Position the shoe plate flat against the material, making sure the blade is not touching the material before you pull the trigger. If already touching, the saw can hit the material instead of cutting through it because it's not fully up to speed. This impact can result in the jigsaw jumping against the material, causing accidental damage, or simply jumping out of your hand, which puts you and anyone nearby at risk.

Once the blade is at full speed, slowly move the jigsaw forward, allowing the blade to cut through the material. Apply pressure to the back of the jigsaw to move it through the material, but don't try to force the blade through the material faster than the blade can cut. Keep the blade moving as you cut through the material. If the blade gets caught in a tight curve or wedged while cutting a unique shape, simply let go of the trigger and pull it out. Resume cutting by realigning the blade, squeezing the trigger, and following the cut you made until the blade reaches the uncut portion of the material.

Step 4: Make Additional Cuts as Required

After your first cut through the material, you can line up the jigsaw blade with a new line to make additional cuts. If you are having difficulty cutting curves, consider cutting straight relief lines in from the edge of the material to your cut. This allows the material to fall out in smaller pieces, instead of hanging off the edge of the material. Keep in mind that relief lines should only be cut through the portion of the material that you are not using for your project.

The shoe plate on the bottom of the jigsaw can be adjusted from 0 to 45 degrees to make mitered or angled cuts in your target material. Just loosen the screw on the bottom or back of the shoe, adjust the angle, then tighten the screw to lock into place.

To cut out the middle of your material without cutting in from the edge (like if you need to cut a hole for an outlet, electrical fixture, or vent), use a drill to create a starting point. Drill a hole through the material, then insert the jigsaw blade into the hole, squeeze the trigger, and cut out from the center towards the outline of the area you want cut. Saw along the entire outline, then pop out the piece of wood, metal, or plastic.

Step 5: Turn Off, Unplug, and Store the Jigsaw

When you are done cutting, turn off the jigsaw and unplug it from the power outlet or remove the battery. Wait a few minutes for the jigsaw blade to cool down before removing the blade from the jigsaw. Wipe the blade to remove any debris and store it safely in your toolbox or workbench. Clean the jigsaw and put it away until you need to use it again. Make sure to sweep and vacuum the work area to clean up any sawdust, scraps, or debris.

Selecting the Right Jigsaw Blade

Jigsaws are versatile and can be used with a wide variety of materials, like wood, metal, or plastic. However, not every jigsaw blade is intended for use with every material. Check the product information to determine if the blade is made to cut wood, metal, tile, or any other material. The package will typically state the material it's designed to cut, but if it isn't listed you can check the product on the manufacturer's website for more information. If you aren't sure what you will be working on, you can find general-purpose jigsaw blades that are effective for wood, some thin metals, and some plastics.

The TPI number on the package is a measurement of the teeth per inch. Lower TPI measurements allow you to cut faster, but the material will have a rougher finish. Higher TPI measurements restrict the speed of the cut in order to create smoother finishes. You will also want to factor in the width of the blade. 1/4-inch blades are ideal for cutting tight radius curves, while 3/8-inch blades are better for straight cuts or for cutting more gradual curves.

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