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Woodworking with a Jigsaw

Makers Central Team

Makers Central Team

April 28, 2019

Our top tips for working on projects with one of the most versatile tools for woodworking - the jigsaw.

If your work involves cutting a lot of wooden boards or sheets, one of the most useful tools in your DIY toolkit is the jigsaw. A powered saw is much quicker than a handsaw, but you can also use it to shape curves and more detailed cutouts very easily.

To become adept at using a jigsaw does take a bit of practice, but once you know how the blade makes a cut, holding and using this power tool is easy to learn. The best way to do this is by practising on scrap material.

A good jigsaw can be purchased for as little as £40, and this will be great for most DIY jobs, and there are also a wide variety of blades to choose from, depending on your requirements.

How to Use a Jigsaw

It’s always important to make sure you’re using the correct blade for the material you’re working with when you’re cutting wood with a jigsaw. Generally, a fine-toothed blade will leave a neater finish, but different blades are recommended for different materials – always check the manufacturer’s instructions.

Once you’ve made sure the blade is clamped firmly into the jigsaw, you’ll need to clamp the material you’re cutting to the workbench. You should avoid holding the timber down by hand, as the blade will snag on the material.

Short Straight Cuts

You can make short cuts (e.g. a skirting board or a piece of batten) freehand, without the use of a straight edge or a guide, but the material should still be clamped to a workbench.

  1. As you mark the line you want to cut with a pencil, check that it’s far enough over the edge of the bench. Hold the front edge of the blade against the side of the timber, just to the waste side of the pencil mark.
  2. Press the power button, starting the jigsaw at the slowest speed until the blade bites into the wood on the pencil mark. As you cut, make sure that the jigsaw’s sole plate is flat to the surface of the wood.
  3. Once you’re confident that the blade is cutting, increase the speed of the jigsaw. You can maintain the line you’re cutting using the guide that is built into the sole plate.
  4. As the jigsaw reaches the far side of the wood, you will need to support the weight of the waste piece (making sure your fingers are well clear of the blade). Stop the saw as soon as the blade is completely free of the wood.

Long Straight Cuts

To allow for neat cuts and very little waste, jigsaw blades are narrow. The downside of this is that a narrow blade can result in longer freehand cuts wandering off the straight line. On thicker materials, the blade can even become deformed, which will result in a cut that is not at 90 degrees with the surface of the material. Such problems can be easily avoided in two ways: use a straight edge as a guide, and allow the blade to cut at its own speed – don’t force it.

Side Fence

  1. If the cut you need to make closely follows the straight edge of the wood, you can use the side fence (if included with the jigsaw) as a guide. The side fence projects from the sole plate, and it can be adjusted to approximately 150mm from the edge of the material. It’s best to set the side fence first, then make a cut on a scrap piece wood to check that the cut will be in the right place.
  2. With the side fence flat against the edge of the wood, set the jigsaw blade on the cut mark. Start the jigsaw slowly and allow the blade to bite into the wood. As mentioned earlier, allow the blade to move at its own speed without trying to force it. Make sure that the side fence stays flat to the edge throughout the cut.

Guide Batten

  1. If the cut you’re making doesn’t follow the edge closely, you should use a guide batten or a straight edge. You can make a guide batten from any thin length of straight wood or metal. This can then be clamped to the wood at both ends (and also in the middle, if the material you’re cutting is long enough).
  2. To position the guide batten, first hold the saw blade against the cutting line, then push the batten flush against the edge of the sole plate. Clamp this end in place, then repeat at the other end of the cut line.
  3. When your guide is firmly in place (having made sure that the clamps will not obstruct the jigsaw as it moves along the cutting edge), start to cut. Apply gentle pressure to the power button at first, and cut slowly, always making sure that the sole plate runs against the batten. Once the blade is cutting, increase the speed.

Curved Cuts

Curved cuts, as you might imagine, are more difficult to perfect, requiring much more time and concentration than a straight cut. It’s difficult to start a curved cut from the edge of the material. Instead, drill a hole in the waste area of the material you’re cutting, and start your cut from that point.

  1. Starting your cut from the hole, angle it so that it moves almost parallel to meet the cutting mark. Approaching the cutting mark at a right angle will mean that it will be impossible to then turn the blade to follow the line. To achieve a gentle curve, move the blade slowly, as before, and apply a light pressure to the right or left to follow the line of the curve.
  2. If the curve you are cutting is sharper, move the blade very slowly, but turning the body of the jigsaw with a little more pressure as you follow the cutting mark. Always keep the blade on the waste side of the curve, so that it is easier to tidy up the edge later on with either an orbital sander or abrasive paper.

Internal Cutouts

It’s fairly straightforward to make a cutout in wood, as long as you don’t rush and plan all of the cuts beforehand. Obviously, it is easier to cut out square or rectangular shapes than circles or more irregular shapes. However, the same basic rules apply in all cases.

  1. First mark out the area you want to cut on the material. For a square or a rectangle, draw short lines at 45-degree angles in towards the centre of the waste area. Use a 16mm spade drill bit and place the point at least 8mm along each of the 45-degree lines in turn – once drilled, you will have a hole in each of the four corners of the square. For a circle, again measure 8mm in from the cutting mark at several points and use these marks to place the point of the drill bit. Several holes makes it easier to cut out your shape.
  2. Choose any of the holes you’ve drilled, insert the jigsaw blade, then start to cut along the line. Simply follow the cutting mark along to the next hole you drilled. Stop, reposition the jigsaw blade, then cut the next line, if you’re cutting a square, or continue to cut around the circle. For a square cutout, make sure you’re running the saw blade right into the corner, not just the hole, to ensure you’re not left with rounded internal corners (unless rounded corners are required).
  3. As you reach the end of the last cut, remember that the cutout will fall away. Now the inside of the cutout can be tidied up using a small power sander or abrasive paper.

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