Photos: David Sharpe
0ver a career building boats, working wood, and remodeling houses, I've learned that great jigsaws are like great boats and great sports cars: tight, precise, and easy to drive through a turn. Like all boat builders, I cut a lot of curves, and the tool I rely on most for that is my jigsaw.
Having owned both wonderful and lousy jigsaws (and sports cars), I know that good design counts more with jigsaws than with many of the other tools in my shop. Luckily, I could tell just taking these tools out of the boxes that the saws in this test are greatly improved compared with the models available even just a few years ago.
I tested eight saws: the Bosch 1590EVSK, Craftsman 27719, DeWalt DW321K, Hitachi CJ120V, Makita 4340FCT, Metabo STEB105 Plus, Milwaukee 6266-22, and Ridgid R3120. I used them for three weeks on boatbuilding and cabinetmaking jobs, and dialing-in finish carpentry. I noted features that made the saws user friendly, like easy blade changes, fast base tilt, and a good dust blower. I also studied each saw's performance by cutting plywood from 1/8 to 3/4 inch, various softwoods, and hardwoods up to 8/4 inch thick. I also cut Lexan, Plexiglas, and aluminum. I timed crosscuts on SPF 2x6s to gauge speed and power. I also scroll-cut details and tight circles to check blade wander or swayout. To keep things fair, I used the same brand and types of blades in all the saws.
We ask a lot from a jigsaw, and high on that list is getting a square cut in tough materials. We also want a smooth-operating, comfortable saw that stays on a thin pencil line and doesn't jump in thin material but also has the power to muscle through 2-by and countertop stock and doesn't pile up sawdust on the cut line.
Craftsman's powerful blower keeps the cut line clear.
Scrolling and Swayout. Swayout, or blade wander, is the tendency for the blade to deflect, particularly when scrolling, which results in out-of-square cuts, particularly in thick materials. All the saws in the test have roller guides near their bases to steady the blades, which functioned satisfactorily. Bosch takes blade control a step further with its unique "precision control" feature; it's an extra guide, activated by a button on the side of the tool, that clamps over the blade to steady it.
I tested for swayout cutting a tight scroll pattern in a section of 6/4-inch maple countertop, a job that will make any blade want to wander (or just run away), then checked each cut's accuracy with a try square. The Bosch's blade deflected about 1/32 inch with the precision control feature engaged and about 1/16 inch without it. The Makita has no such feature, yet exhibited only a hair over 1/32-inch swayout–impressive. The Metabo, Milwaukee, and Ridgid came in with about 1/16-inch swayout, while the Craftsman and Hitachi exhibited about 1/8-inch. The DeWalt's cut was 3/32 inch out of plumb. In softer materials like SPF, PT, and cedar 2-by, all the saws performed much better, with near- perfect cuts.
Smoothness and Feel. Cutting to a line, say for a cabinet filler or notching a laminate countertop blank for wall irregularities, is precision work. I used each saw to cut along a scribe line that followed a slight belly in a plaster wall at the end of an upper cabinet run. I cut in various hard and softwood species and other materials I have in my shop, including mahogany, maple, maple butcher block, teak, marine plywood, white oak, yellow pine, pressure-treated, Lexan, and Plexiglas. I ran the saws through the materials using each of their orbital cutting settings, and they all performed as I expected them to. The Bosch, Craftsman, and DeWalt models, however, were a little smoother when the line curved, especially in tough material.
Handles. During this portion of the test, I found myself noticing the each tools' handle layout. While they all have well-shaped primary handles and each one felt comfortable, I also hold a saw's head for extra control on precision cuts like scribes or countertop penetrations, and I found Hitachi's the most comfortable. The Makita is also a dream following a scribe line. Next I like the DeWalt and Milwaukee, followed up by the Bosch, Metabo, Ridgid, and Craftsman.
Makita's bright halogen light is no gimmick. I liked it the more I used it.
Sight Lines. The wire guards in front of the blades on the Makita, Hitachi, and Ridgid can obscure the cut line from certain angles. This is a very minor problem, but in a tight spot, such as cutting inside a cabinet, it can be annoying. The Metabo and Ridgid blade guards fold up, which is a good solution.
The Makita has a bright light in front of the blade. At first I thought it was gimmicky, but I quickly came to appreciate it; the light makes it much easier to follow a dull pencil line or cut out the back of a base cabinet for plumbing penetrations.
The sight lines on the remaining tools are very good.