Jigsaws and circular saws. Both saws – how different can they be? Although there is some overlap in their capabilities, saying they are the same is like saying dinner at a fine French restaurant is the same as dinner at the golden arches. Both food – how different can they be?
True, they do both cut things. Each of them can swap out blades that allow them to cut more than just wood. Properly equipped, they can both cut plastic, metal, and even tile. They can both do angle and bevel cuts and they can both handle straight (or straight-ish) lines. And both come in corded or cordless varieties.
So, which one is the French restaurant and which is the burger chain?
What is it?
A circular saw is a handheld saw with a round, vertically-oriented spinning blade that varies in size but is usually about 7 inches in diameter. In its most stereotypical use, the user leans over the wood, holding it with one hand while driving the tool across it with the other. Cut pieces fall away to the ground.
A circular saw is fast. The combination of powerful motor and spinning blade will cut through piles of wood in seconds. It does not mess around. If you want to cut 2x4s in half all day, the circular saw will make quick work of them.
A circular saw is powerful. With the proper blade, it can cut through inches of hardwood with little struggle.
A circular saw is precise. The design of a circular saw makes it easy to cut perfectly straight lines.
A circular saw is loud and messy. All that power generates a racket. If you imagine the sound of a saw in a woodshop, you are likely conjuring the sound made by a circular saw – the loud, screechy buzz sound. All that power also sends sawdust flying everywhere. If you are sawing in one bay of a three-car garage, even the stuff sitting in the furthest bay will wind up covered in a fine layer of sawdust, while at your feet you will be kicking up giant puffs of the stuff. If you’re working indoors, you’ll want a shop vac.
A circular saw can’t cut curves. It does great on the straight lines, but if you try to drive in a curved or wavy line, only bad things will happen. The saw might kick back into your face, or get stuck in the wood, or cause massive splintering in the surface of your wood. Don’t even try this at home, folks.
A circular saw is dangerous. Would you let your ten-year-old son use a circular saw? Probably not – because you’d be afraid – and justifiably so – that he’d lop off a limb. A circular saw will let you cut off your own hand in the blink of an eye.
If you’re nervous about losing a limb or a digit, maybe you should consider a jigsaw!
What is it?
A jigsaw is a handheld reciprocating saw with a small, narrow blade anchored at the top, in the tool, but loose at the bottom. Like a circular saw, the stereotypical image of someone using a jigsaw has them leaning over and holding material with one hand while driving the blade across it with the other. In a jigsaw, the blade “sticks out” of the bottom of the tool.
A jigsaw cuts curves and patterns like nobody’s business. If you want to cut out a snowman from a sheet of plywood, the jigsaw is perfect for all those circles. If you need to cut letters or shapes out of a 2×4, reach for a jigsaw. If it’s a crafty, Pinterest-inspired wood project, you can probably pull out the jigsaw.
A jigsaw can do plunge cuts. What’s a plunge cut? It’s what you use to begin cutting out the middle of something without driving the blade through an outside line. If you want a plywood letter B, you need to remove the wood inside the two loops. You can start a jigsaw right in the middle and hollow out that round area. (Good luck making that work with a circular saw.)
A jigsaw is great for small cuts in tight places. Do you need to take an inch off of a PVC pipe that’s in the back of a cabinet? You’re not going to crawl in there with a circular saw. For a one-off task, especially if you’re stuck in a room you’re remodeling, the jigsaw is a great choice. (If you had to do 50 cuts on a freestanding length of PVC, though, that you’d want to take that to the circular saw.)
A jigsaw is not great at perfectly straight lines. If you only need it to be eyeball straight, it can do that. But if you need it to be 100% straight, the jigsaw shouldn’t be your first choice.
On a jigsaw, the blades break more easily. Although there is a blade for every task, the reality is that we are all lazy sometimes. When you ask a jigsaw to cut more than it can handle, don’t be surprised if the blade snaps. Although you will dull the blades on your circular saw, you’re unlikely to break them in half while using them.
A jigsaw is not for big jobs. Although you could, theoretically, use it to help you frame a new room, you’d be making the job much harder than it needed to be and might kill the saw altogether. If you’re doing construction, or building an 8 ft. tall bookshelf, or ripping boards, put the jigsaw away and get a bigger saw. A jigsaw is a little dainty – don’t ask it to do the hefty stuff.
If you need a pile of things cut, and cut fast, and you don’t much care if they look pretty, you want a circular saw. If you’re doing one cut here and there or making holiday crafts with your kids, you’ll want the jigsaw. In the food analogy we started with, the circular saw is your basic, unpretentious burger and fries – fuel for your body – and the jigsaw is the fancy cuisine at the French restaurant – delicate and pretty. Which one is it going to be for your next project?