Features

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Everybody offers tool-free blade changing these days, but Bosch makes sure that you don't burn your fingers.

Credit: Photo: David Sharpe

Blade Change. All of these jigsaws feature a tool-free blade change. DeWalt and Makita stick with the old-school approach: a knob on the top of the tool that must be rotated three or four turns to remove or install a blade. With the Ryobi, Ridgid, and Bosch models you simply depress a lever to remove the blade. Of these, Bosch's lever is not only the easiest to use, but it actually spits the blade out. This means you don't even have to touch it and you'll never again get burned fingers from removing a hot blade.

Bevel Adjustment. Here the tables are turned: Bosch, Ridgid, and Ryobi require the traditional Allen wrench to loosen the shoe for bevel cuts, like I do to get a nice sharp edge on a cabinet filler or built-in part. Each adjustment provides a secure mounting spot on the shoe, which works fine. Of course, I will immediately lose the wrench.

The DeWalt and Makita jigsaws each have a lever on the back of the shoe that you flip–like a quick-release lever on a bicycle wheel–to unlock the shoe and change the bevel. DeWalt's lever must be adjusted with a screwdriver to get just the right tension and I had to fiddle with it a lot. Makita's lever requires no such adjustment and worked flawlessly every time.

The Ridgid and Ryobi base plates include a series of notches that provide positive stops in 15-degree increments, which is nice. The other tools have stops at 0 and 45 degrees, but must be adjusted manually in between.

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Instead of an easy-to-lose Allen wrench, DeWalt and Makita each have quick-release levers for changing the bevel settings.

Credit: Photo: David Sharpe

Ergonomics. Because of the batteries, these tools are heftier than their corded counterparts, but in all but the most unique applications, that doesn't matter because the tool "rides" the work surface. All of the tools were well-balanced and easy to control with one hand. The DeWalt had the most comfortable handle (for my hands). The Makita's handle was too small in diameter for me and Bosch's was just a smidge too large. But for the limited amount of time that I typically spend operating a jigsaw, all were acceptable.

Variable-Speed Control. Except for the Makita, all of the saws have trigger-operated variable speed, which I like. The Makita has a separate speed-adjusting dial that's mounted on the side of the tool body. The drawback to this setup is that if you want to start a cut slowly, then speed up, you need to use two hands.

Safety Features. Except for the DeWalt, all of the saws shield the exposed blade by means of a stout loop of wire. I liked this a lot. They're almost invisible, but I was glad to know that should my finger ever stray too close to the blade, something might stop it. To add another layer of protection, Makita and Ridgid encircle the wire guard within a plastic chip shield. I might appreciate these devices if I were cutting a lot of sheet metal, but for woodworking they quickly got covered with sawdust, making it more difficult to follow the cut line.

Triggers. All of the saws include a trigger lockout to prevent accidentally starting the saw. Makita, Ridgid, and Ryobi have a trigger release button that must be depressed at the same time as the trigger. Bosch and DeWalt have a manually operated trigger lock. They all work fine.

Extra Features

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The Makita and Ridgid models have plastic shields to protect you from flying chips.

Credit: Photo: David Sharpe

Splinter-Free Cutting. The Makita, Bosch, and Ridgid models provide zero-clearance plastic inserts to prevent tear-out when cutting vulnerable surfaces such as plywood. The Ryobi has a notch in the base that serves a similar function when the base is slid forward. As a class, the plastic inserts were more effective than the Ryobi model's design, but they were something of a hassle to install, and very easy to lose.

Replaceable Non-Marring Shoe. To prevent scratching vulnerable surfaces, such as laminate countertops, Bosch and DeWalt include a snap-on plastic overshoe, which is handy. Makita's unit is equipped with a plastic insert that replaces the standard metal base plate, but you have to remove four screws to make the switch. Neither Ridgid nor Ryobi offer any such accessory, but covering the surface with masking tape still works.

Dust Collection. Makita is the only saw in the group that can be attached to a vacuum to collect dust at the source, which would be nice for some interior cutting projects. You need to purchase an adapter to attach it to the vac.

Blade Storage. Ryobi has a smart onboard blade storage compartment. The other tools have no storage other than the box.

Winners

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To prevent scratches, the metal shoes on the Bosch and DeWalt saws can be easily covered with plastic. The Makita has a plastic no-mar cover that screws on.

Credit: Photo: David Sharpe

The DeWalt, Makita, and Ridgid are all capable performers very much on par with each other. If, like most builders, your jigsaw needs are modest–a little bit of scribing, an occasional sink cutout, or some work in MDF–then any of these three saws would be a fine choice. And, if you already own an 18-volt tool from one of these manufacturers, buying that brand means you'll be able to share batteries and chargers with other tools without compromising quality. But if you want the best–a cordless jigsaw that can hold its own with the finest corded models–the clear choice is Bosch's 52318. Although not significantly more powerful than its competitors, it cuts smoother, has an effective chip blower, and the "burn-free" blade ejector is great.

Despite plenty of well-designed features–including handy blade storage in the tool body–the Ryobi model was severely underpowered compared to the other contenders.

–Tom O'Brien is a carpenter and writer in New Milford, Conn.