By Tom O'Brian
The cordless jigsaw category is open for business. We compared five models for power, performance, and convenience. Eight years ago, I tested one of the first cordless jigsaws to hit the market, and it was awful! It had the power of a dull handsaw and the maneuverability of a concrete block. Needless to say, I kept my faithful old jigsaw–cord and all–on the job for cutting curves, scribing lines, or knocking out a sink hole. But times and tools have changed a lot since then, and after testing this latest group of cordless jigsaws, I seem to have misplaced my old-school corded curve-cutter.
I tested five 18-volt cordless jigsaws: the Bosch 52318, DeWalt DW933K, Makita 4334DWD, Ridgid R843, and Ryobi P520. To establish as level a playing field as possible, I cycled all the batteries through several charges and outfitted all the tools with identical blades before going to work. I used 10 teeth-per-inch (tpi) blades for most applications, but switched to 6-tpi blades for fast cuts in treated 2-by.
In the field, I put all the saws through their paces in common uses to get a general sense of feel and jobsite performance before taking them back to the shop for more careful observations. Back there I used each tool as I would in the field for the various cuts I commonly complete with a jigsaw:
- Plunge-cuts in 3/4-inch MDF
- Tight radius turns in 3/4-inch MDF
- Scribe cuts along a line on a 15-degree bevel in hardwood
- Long scroll cuts in 2x10 PT
- Splinter-free cuts in 3/4-inch AC plywood
Out of the Box
Except for the Ryobi, all of these tools arrived with a carrying case. The DeWalt, Makita, and Ridgid models were packed in the standard-issue hard plastic case that includes room for a few blades as well as the charger and a spare battery. The Bosch came with a heavy-duty canvas bag with side pockets, which I preferred because I didn't have to arrange all the pieces just-so in order to close the case. None of the kits include a spare battery. And because so many Ryobi tools are sold as kits, the Ryobi saw tested here also does not ship with a battery charger as standard equipment.
Power & Performance
To set a reasonable baseline for power and cut speed, I completed every cutting task first with my corded jigsaw. It didn't take long cutting in hardwood, treated 2-by, or MDF to realize that the cordless Bosch, DeWalt, Makita, and Ridgid pack so much power and endurance that they felt just like the corded tool did in action. In fact, I cut more with each saw during this test period than I ever cut on any given day–and the batteries still had plenty of gas left in them. This means that the "missing" second battery was never a problem.
Cutting Ability. In terms of raw power and speed, which I tested scrolling and cross-cutting in ACQ 2x10, the Bosch, Makita, and Ridgid were very close to one another in performance. The DeWalt was a step behind, but only a small step. The Ryobi, on the other hand, was significantly less powerful than the others, often taking more than twice as long to complete a task like cutting to a scribe-line in red oak.
Plunge cuts were no sweat for any of these tools. At full orbit, and without making any shoe adjustments, all of the saws plunged easily into MDF.
Throughout the test, most of the cuts were remarkably square. "Sway-out" only became a problem when I was turning a tight radius. In these instances, no tool was noticeably better or worse than the others. As long as I was careful to turn the corner gradually and not force the tool, even these challenging cuts were usually no more than 1/16 inch out of square.
Orbital Action. Using the orbital action to cut trim surfaces like oak, I found I had to experiment with each tool's orbital setting to cut quickly without causing tear-out, but in most cases that setting was only one click down from full orbit, and all the tools responded well. In demanding cutting applications like cutting a radius in 2x10 framing, Bosch had the best orbital action of the bunch. It always remained smooth and steady while the DeWalt, Makita, and Ridgid were fluid but somewhat harder to control. Ryobi's orbital action did not add much to its cutting performance in 2-by. (A note on blades: I used 10-tpi blades for finer work and 6-tpi blades for rougher cutting. While I expected the less-aggressive blade to be slower in the thicker stock, it wasn't. And, there was less tear-out, so now I'll just buy the higher tooth count when I resupply.)
Dust Blower. Jigsaws often let dust pile up where the blade exits the kerf, which obscures the cut line. The best corded models feature a blower that clears away the sawdust, a feature that is slowly making its way to the cordless world. The Bosch and DeWalt models both have blowers, which really makes working to a line with them easier. Bosch's was particularly effective because I never had to manually blow off the dust. DeWalt's blower was less effective, because the blower seemed misdirected. Dust accumulated on the cut line, but if I backed the saw off some, the air would then hit the dust and remove it. The Makita, Ridgid, and Ryobi do not have dust blowers, which meant leaning over and blowing the dust away every couple of inches.