What Is the Difference Between Saw and Jigsaw?

Saws and jigsaws are some of the most common power tools for home and industrial repair jobs. Although they might appear similar, the two have very distinct differences.

The difference between a saw and a jigsaw is the position and movement of the cutting blade. A saw’s blade is located at the tool’s tip and moves back and forth, whereas a jigsaw blade uses an up-and-down motion and is positioned below the machine’s body. 

In this article, I highlight how a saw and a jigsaw work and explore the purposes of each tool. Finally, I provide guidelines on what to consider when choosing between the two. 

Understanding the Functional Difference Between the Tools

Many of the significant differences between a saw and a jigsaw lie in the tools’ functionality. In order to understand these differences, it’s important to understand how each tool works.

How a Saw Works

Let’s start with how an electric saw operates. The tool, also called a reciprocating saw (or simply recipro saw), resembles the classical manual saw. However, electrically powered devices can save time and effort when cutting through more rigid materials.

An electric saw has a motor that turns when the tool is powered. The circular motion of the motor then powers the gearing mechanism, which drives the blade of the saw to move back and forth, following the principle of oscillation in physics.  

A blade clamp holds the blade firmly in place, and its operation perimeter is regulated by an adjustable tool called a saw shoe. This defines how deep and long the blade can cut.

You must understand how the shoe works to adjust it for your intended purpose properly.

Here is a great educational video on YouTube where This Old House contributor Mark Clement explains the basics of using a saw shoe:

Every electric saw has a power switch, and most models out there have a dial for controlling the power you give to the motor when it’s switched on. 

How a Jigsaw Works

The jigsaw differs substantially from the structure of a classical recipro saw. Its design resembles a sewing machine, with the blade being held vertically by the blade clamp mechanism.

The big difference between the two is that a jigsaw has a blade guide platform, which rests on the surface you are cutting and allows the blade to cut through by using an up-and-down motion. 

The tool is designed to be held with one hand so you can easily direct where the blade goes and push down on the material you are cutting with your spare hand. 

Much like its reciprocating saw counterpart, it has a trigger to power the tool and dials to program the blades’ revolutions per minute (RPM) mode.

The jigsaw principle means you can be much more flexible with the blade, making it a fantastic tool if you want to cut out round or curvy shapes. 

How To Choose Between a Saw and a Jigsaw

Now that I covered the basics of how the tools function, let us turn to the burning question: Which is the better tool? 

The answer to this depends on the strength and location of the materials you want to cut and how you want to cut them. Let us dissect what you need to consider when choosing the perfect tool.

Analyze the Nature and Scale of the Job 

Saws are generally more robust, so cutting through wood, metal, plastic, and masonry materials will be easier. However, the position of the blade limits the tool a bit. So, its best purpose is to make fast and long cuts that don’t require a lot of maneuvering.

While that can be great for demolition jobs and effortlessly cutting through the hardest of surfaces, it does not give you very much freedom when you want to do more elaborate work.

This is where the jigsaw comes in.

Its vertical saw and gliding platform make it perfect for going through thin, wooden, metal, and plastic surfaces where you want to cut out shapes and corners. 

The power behind most jigsaws is enough to cut through harder materials as well. However, its up-and-down movement and base are not practical for cutting thick wooden beams or a round plastic or metal pipe, for example. 

So, it is imperative to consider whether you want to do some design work or need a piece of heavy-duty machinery that could cut through stubborn materials faster. 

Find a Balance Between Practical and Comfortable 

You want to feel at ease with your choice, so comfort is essential. However, you also want good practical use of your tool.

A big question is whether you should be going for a cordless or a corded tool. 

Cords get in the way easily and can be a big nuisance. You need to be alert and carefully avoid damaging the cable. However, corded machines give you more torque, so you can cut faster and more efficiently.

This is particularly beneficial when you frequently work at the same location, so you have a designated space for the cord and don’t need to constantly carry it around. 

On the other hand, cordless saw batteries can last for more than an hour of full-throttle work. You can also recharge most of them for the same amount of time.

Consider Your Health and Safety 

A survey conducted by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reports that over 30,000 electric saw injuries require hospitalization each year. 

While the number will probably go down with the constant modernization of safety methods regarding power tools, there is still a big chance you can hurt yourself when working with a saw or a jigsaw. Precautions must be taken, regardless of which tool you decide to use.

Here are a couple of helpful tips that you should follow.

  • Wear protective goggles. Injuries caused by small particles entering your eyes during cutting are one of the most severe and common problems when dealing with power tools. Wearing protective eyewear can significantly lower the risk of getting hurt. 
  • Keep your hands and hair away from the blade. You want to stay in control of the surface you are cutting, but you also need to provide a safe distance between your hands and the blade. Also, if you have long hair, ensure it is tied and cannot cross the blade’s path. 
  • Inspect the status of your tool before starting work. Always check that the blade is locked and set to the power mode you want. The cable should not be in the way. If you are using a cordless saw, make sure you charge it properly before commencing work. 

The Verdict 

As you can see, there are very distinct differences between a saw and a jigsaw, and you should carefully weigh every aspect before deciding to buy these tools.

I hope this article proves helpful. Power tools such as electric saws can be a massive help when doing a large-scale home improvement job. However, do not forget to think about your safety when using them.

Damien Madeira

Damien has been doing woodworking for the last 5 years. He began as a hobbyist with hand tools and slowly worked his way up to own larger machines and mill rough wood into beautiful creations. While still considering himself a hobbyist, he has a passion for woodworking and enjoys working with epoxy as well.

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