Sabre Saw vs Jigsaw: Which is Best for Your Needs?

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You want to know the difference between a sabre saw and a jigsaw.  What about the saber saw?  As you will soon see, you can’t answer these questions unless you also talk about the scroll saw and the reciprocating saw.  It’s a whole family of saws, and just like family trees can be messy, so is this story of related saws.

If you don’t have the stomach for family drama, here’s your short answer: the sabre saw and a jigsaw are now all one in the same.  Same tool, different names.

But if you like a good soap opera – and really, how often do tools lend themselves to a comparison to a soap opera? – sit back and read on.

Once upon a time, hundreds of years ago, in a small town in Germany, a humble craftsman invented the first delicate and narrow saw blade.  A French craftsman put this small blade into an anchored setting to help create fine and detailed examples of woodworking.  (Thank you to the website for the history as well as a bevy of inspiration for scroll saw projects.)  Name of this invention: Buhl saw.

Fast forward to the early 1800s, when Great Britain dispenses a patent for a saw with a small and delicate blade that moves in a reciprocating fashion.  And here is where the seeds of future drama are planted.  Some people start calling these devices scroll saws because they are used to carve ornamental designs full of curves, like scrolls.  But other people start calling them jigsaws because the blade moves up and down (one of the now less common definitions of the word “jig”).  Name: Scroll saw AND jigsaw.

old scroll saw

Image credit: Internet Archive Book Images, Flickr

To be clear, at this point in the family timeline, a scroll saw and a jigsaw are both what we now call a scroll saw.

But what if, in the mid-1900s, you took the top off a scroll saw, so the blade is only attached on the bottom?  And what if you put on a heftier blade?  And what if you flip it back over, so it’s now attached only at the top? Congratulations! You’ve just given birth to a sabre (aka saber) saw!

But wait, you’re thinking, isn’t that a modern-day jigsaw?  Or maybe even a reciprocating saw?

Not yet!

For another several decades, a scroll saw and a jigsaw continue to be the same tool, but at the same time, a jigsaw and a sabre (or saber) saw also continue to be the same tool.  But even though a scroll saw is a jigsaw and a jigsaw is a sabre saw, it doesn’t appear that scroll saw and a sabre saw were ever used interchangeably.

As the 20th century came to a close, people stopped calling all these saws by the same names.  Scrolls saws separated from the family and developed their distinct identity as a tabletop saw used for delicate woodworking.  People stopped calling jigsaws sabre saws, and the term sabre saw fell out of use entirely, thus allowing jigsaws to finally be called jigsaws.

Nowadays, if you try to research sabre saws, you’ll come across many photos of tools that you would call a reciprocating saw – large, imprecise saws with forward-facing blades that are good at demo and can cut anything anywhere – so perhaps the sabre saw could be said to have morphed into the recip saw.  But if you try to shop online for a sabre saw, all your results will be jigsaws.  Some family dramas never really resolve themselves, do they?

A reciprocating saw at least looks a little like a saber

Image credit: Max Pixel


All to say that a sabre saw (which is the British spelling) – or saber saw (the American spelling) – is merely an old-fashioned term for what we now call a jigsaw.