When I started woodworking, I had a lot of tools to acquire. Of course, the table saw was the first big purchase. After a while, I got a really nice sliding miter saw, and then a planer. One of the ‘big’ tools that took me a long time to acquire was a bandsaw. I love a good bandsaw, don’t get me wrong… in fact, my co-operative shop had three! But I never forget how useful a high-quality jigsaw can be in fine woodworking and furniture making, and continue using one in my shop today.
One of the things that makes a jigsaw so versatile is the variety of blades available. Here are five blades specifically made for cutting wood; a short, thin blade that excels at nimble tight curves, a super aggressive blade for demolition work, a traditional up-cut blade for clean cuts, a down-cutting blade for a clean top surface, and lastly, a long, wide blade for cutting thick timbers. Additionally, there are blades specifically for steel, aluminum and composites too.
This slab of red oak is super heavy… maybe 70 or 80 pounds! While a jigsaw is an excellent tool for processing rough timber in general (as opposed to a circular saw which can bind and kick back), it can even cut complex shapes on the end of 3-inch thick slabs like this one. By bringing the tool to my work I save time, and more importantly, my back.
The jigsaw is capable of remarkable precision too. The blade barely wandered while cutting this behemoth plank. Jigsaws made today have a guide bushing that controls the blade as it oscillates up and down, making it much more accurate than models made in years gone by. As with other tools, dull blades and incorrect feed rate dramatically affect tracking.
Another advantage of the jigsaw is the ability to change the blade in a split second. To switch from one blade to another on a bandsaw takes at least 10 minutes. The guides have to be adjusted, and the blade tensioned properly. In contrast, changing the blade in a jigsaw is a flip of the thumb and twist of a finger. Making these two cuts on a bandsaw would have taken 30 minutes!
You may ask, well what about cutting circles; the bandsaw does that really well. I made a simple jig for cutting circles with my jigsaw too. Two pieces of wood ‘clamp’ the base of my jigsaw to an armature with a ruler drawn on it. The work piece has to hang off the edge of a table and rotate as you cut, but that isn’t that big of a deal. Easy!
If I need to cut a curve on a smaller piece, like this arched stretcher, I clamp the stretcher to a sacrificial piece of inexpensive plywood and hang it off my bench. The plywood supports the waste piece, which in turn provides a stable base for my jigsaw to ride on as I make the cut.
These dovetails are an example of how quick and precise a jigsaw can be. It took me about an hour to cut the tails and pins with a jigsaw and clean the cuts with a chisel. Once I apply glue, this box will literally last a lifetime. While I wouldn’t recommend the jigsaw for super-fine dovetails, the jigsaw can certainly make work-a-day dovetails perfect for some projects. If I am only removing waste and then cleaning up with a router, I find the jigsaw gives me a great sightline for cleaning up big planks before I move in with the calipers.
It is true, there are a couple of things that the bandsaw can do that the jigsaw cannot. Most glaringly, the jigsaw in no way can facilitate re-sawing for veneer or maximizing thick boards. This job requires a continuous blade and a fence, neither inherent to the jigsaw. The other is making very small or thin curved parts, where the table of a bandsaw provides a stable and safe surface for cutting. But I would like to be on the record as an advocate of the jigsaw as a fine woodworking tool. If you’ve been avoiding curves in your woodshop because you don’t have a bandsaw yet, put that assumption aside, and go invest in a decent jigsaw ($100.00 will get you a very nice jigsaw these days). Many projects with curves came out of my shop before I had a bandsaw. Now that I have access to a bandsaw, I certainly don’t regret owning a jigsaw… it just makes me faster and more versatile than ever.
Photos By Author