I’ve always thought of a jigsaw as a sort of “poor man’s band saw.” During my early woodworking days when I lacked both the funds and space for a band saw, I used the best jigsaw I could find (I borrowed money from a friend to buy it). I used that jigsaw for all my curve cutting tasks, as well as the jobs a band saw couldn’t do: pocket cuts, inside circular cutouts, and all manner of trimming inside built-in cabinets and furniture.
Nearly 35 years later, when it came time to pick a batch of jigsaws to review for Woodoworker's Journal, I was anxious to try out the “top-shelf” models offered by the best known power tool manufacturers. These include the best offerings from Bosch, DeWALT, Festool, Hitachi, Makita, Metabo and Milwaukee. The Porter-Cable 9543 was slated to be part of this group, but was, unfortunately, recently discontinued. I also tried to include a jigsaw made by the Swiss power tool company Hilti, but they chose not to participate in the article.
Instead of discussing each saw individually, I will compare all of their attributes and cutting abilities in two sections: The first contrasts the features and accessories of the seven models. The second section describes the performance tests I put each jigsaw through and reports on how well each model fared.
Features & Accessories
Handle & trigger: A good handle is important on a jigsaw for user comfort and also because a solid grip is essential to controlling the movement of the tool during cutting. All of the saws in this group, save the Festool, have a rubber-like overmold covering their handles. Overmolds are softer to the touch than hard plastic, provide a more secure grip and even dampen tool vibration slightly. Of the seven saws, the handles on the Makita and Hitachi fit my medium-sized hands the best. I also liked the longer handles found on these saws (as well as several others) because their length allows for a varied grip to suit different working positions. The pommel at the front of the DeWALT’s handle allows a two-handed grip — helpful when cutting in awkward positions.
A jigsaw’s most important operational feature is its trigger that switches the tool on and off. I generally prefer a wider tool trigger that allows twofinger operation, to help reduce hand fatigue. Wide triggers also let users place their hands in a variety of positions along the tool’s handle. The Festool was the only saw in the group with a narrow trigger, and I didn’t like its stiff, clunky on/off action. I preferred the comfortable, smooth-operating, wide triggers on the DeWALT and Makita. All the saws have trigger locks, so you don’t have to hold the trigger on during long cuts. The Bosch’s trigger lock is the only one designed for use by left- or right-hand users.
The Bosch, DeWALT and Milwaukee saws feature variable triggers that let you ramp up the speed of the blade gradually, up to the maximum set on its variable-speed dial. This is useful when starting cuts in very hard and/or splintery woods as well as materials prone to chipping, like tile and plastics. The Bosch’s unique trigger works with a two-step action: Pull the trigger lightly, and the saw immediately switches on to a slow speed. Press the trigger a little farther and it fully varies the speed up to the set maximum. Although the Bosch’s trigger works well enough, I prefer the triggers on the DeWALT and Milwaukee, which let you ramp the speed up from zero to the maximum set speed with one continuous pull.
Variable-speed & soft start: All seven saws are variable-speed models with dials that allow you to set the motor speed and, hence, the number of blade strokes per minute. This makes a jigsaw a more versatile cutting machine: Choose slower speeds for fine cuts and when cutting dense materials and plastics and faster speeds for quicker, rougher cuts in lighter woods and porous materials. Interestingly, the saws with the highest maximum speeds didn’t necessarily cut faster than those with slower speeds. I like the position of the speed dials on the Hitachi and Festool saws. These are easier to see and set than the rear-mounted dials on the Bosch, Metabo and Makita. The DeWALT and Milwaukee have trigger-mounted speed dials that I find hard to see and set without tipping or inverting the saw.
The Metabo and Makita both feature “soft-start” motor electronics that ramp up motor speed gradually when the tool’s trigger is pulled. Soft start can prevent the saw from suddenly jerking if you start cutting with the blade in contact with the material. But, overall, I found soft start more of an irritation than an aid; I didn’t like having to wait for the saw to come up to speed each time I started a cut.
Selectable blade orbit: Probably the single most important feature on a topnotch jigsaw is its orbital blade action. This mechanism moves the blade forward slightly during the upstroke cut, resulting in a more aggressive cutting action than if the blade simply reciprocated up and down. The mechanism also moves the saw blade back slightly, so it clears the kerf during the return down stroke and saves wear on the teeth. Adjusting the amount of blade orbit makes the saw cut more or less aggressively. Most saws have four orbit settings: 0 (no orbit) or 1 for cutting metals and plastics; 1 or 2 for fine and curved cuts; and 3 (maximum orbit) for faster, rougher cuts. The Metabo features five orbit selections instead of four, but I didn’t find the greater range of select ability to be particularly necessary or useful. The Milwaukee has a small, somewhat handy blade orbit and speed selection chart mounted on the side of the tool.
Blade guide systems: A unique feature found on the Festool and Bosch saws is a special saw blade guide positioned below the orbit mechanism’s guide wheel. These small metal guides work like the guide blocks on a band saw, to help stabilize the blade and keep it from deflecting during cutting. The Festool’s guide has two small prongs that contact the blade more closely at the back than at the front. They’re user-adjustable via an included Allen wrench. The Bosch’s “Precision Guide Control” has two small parallel blocks that are user-engaged via a small pushbutton. The blocks apply light spring-loaded pressure against the sides of the blade. The guide’s jaws open automatically when the blade release lever is pulled. Both of these innovative systems are very easy to use and significantly improve performance.
Tool-less blade clamps: All seven jigsaws allow tool-less blade changes, employing a lever that opens the blade clamp on the end of the saw’s plunger — the part that moves the blade up and down. Tool-less blade clamps make changing the tang-style saw blades each model uses quick and easy. But each clamp is different, and some are easier to work with than on others.
The Festool, Makita and Bosch blade clamps are among my favorites. The Festool’s “Fast Fix” blade change mechanism has a relatively stiff lever, but its clamp accepts blades without fuss and holds them rock solid. The Makita also has a terrific mechanism with a spring-loaded lever that’s easy to pull open and a clamp that accepts blades easily and positively. As good as these clamps are, the Bosch’s “One Touch” blade change system is my favorite. There’s no clunky mechanism or oversized blade clamp on the end of the plunger, just a simple slot. After pulling back the small, easy-to-use release lever, a spring gently ejects the blade. This can save you from burning your fingers trying to pull a hot blade out of the clamp after a prolonged cutting session. The new blade inserts easily into the Bosch’s plunger slot and latches with a positive feel.
Tilting footplate: Adjusting the angle of a jigsaw’s footplate (a.k.a. “shoe”) allows the saw to make bevel cuts, say for the edge of a picture frame or decorative plaque. While all these jigsaws have tilting footplates, only the Bosch, Milwaukee and DeWALT allow tool-less angle changes. Each of these saws has a lever that releases and locks the footplate easily and quickly. The Bosch’s even includes a separate dial for adjusting locking tightness. I like the Milwaukee’s wide lever the best because it operates smoothly and positively. The other four saws employ an Allen wrench, which conveniently stores on board the tool, for angle changes. Yes, using a wrench does take more time, but then again, how often does the average woodworker take bevel cuts with a jigsaw? Angle detents are very useful for locking in commonly used tilt settings. All the saws have a 0-degree detent for square cuts, and most have detents at 45 degrees and other angles as well. After checking the accuracy of the all-important 90-degree detents, I found that only the Festool and Bosch consistently kept their blades at near perfect square to the footplate. The other saws required a bit of fussing with a try square to get their blades dead on 90 degrees.
Dust collection and sawdust blower: Having written many articles and several books on woodshop dust control, I’m a huge advocate of built-in dust collection on portable power tools. The three most expensive jigsaws in this group — the Festool, Bosch and Metabo — come with a chip extractor fitting for dust collection; it’s an optional accessory for the other four saws. This plastic fitting clips into the back of the saw’s footplate and connects to a small diameter vacuum hose (the Bosch comes with a hose adapter). A clear plastic chip guard snaps in place over the front of the saw to enclose the blade area and enhance chip collection. The guard must be removed for blade changes.
I only tested dust collection with the three saws that came standard with the extractor fitting. Both the Bosch and Festool collected chips effectively, but there was a problem: Their chip guards limited the visibility of the line of cut, and as fine dust built up on the inside of the guard, it became nearly impossible to see. Visibility was considerably better with the Metabo when using dust collection, as its chip guard is much taller and larger and didn’t seem to attract as much fine dust.
An alternative means of clearing sawdust from the line of cut is to simply blow it away. All the saws feature a dust blower that uses air channeled from the motor fan to blow dust away from just in front of the blade. The blowers on all the saws do a pretty good job, save the Makita, whose airflow is rather sluggish. The Bosch has a blower On/Off lever, and the DeWALT and Milwaukee have controls for reducing the amount of blown air. Shutting off or turning down the airflow is desirable when you’re working inside your home and don’t want to launch sawdust everywhere, or when blown dust might end up in your eyes, say when jigsawing plumbing and electrical cutouts inside a kitchen cabinet.
Built-in light: The Hitachi, Makita and Milwaukee all include one of my favorite portable power tool features: a built-in LED light. Interestingly, these are the three lowest-priced saws in the group (I guess toolmakers figure that the folks that buy more expensive saws also have better eyesight!). A built-in light is particularly welcome on a jigsaw, since the overhanging body tends to cast a shadow in the area of the blade. The Hitachi’s light has a small plastic pointer that conducts some of the LED’s light and sticks down in front of the blade. Although its goal is to better visually define the line of cut, I found it actually obscured the work area.
Other features: An accessory plastic shoe cover comes with the Bosch, Makita, Milwaukee and DeWALT jigsaws. This thin, slick plastic cover snaps in place over the tool’s footplate, allowing you to saw delicate materials — decorative veneers, plastics, Corian® countertops — without fear of causing scratches. The Festool doesn’t include a shoe cover, but it doesn’t really need one. Its cast alloy footplate already has a slick plastic covering.
All the jigsaws in the group, except the Hitachi, come with a plastic anti-splinter insert. This small accessory snaps into its footplate to surround the area directly around the blade, like a zero-clearance throat plate in a table saw. These inserts really do help reduce splintering, and I recommend using them when taking fine cuts on splinter-prone woods and plywoods, as well as materials with delicate surfaces, such as melamine.
Except for the economy-priced Hitachi, all the jigsaws in the group come with a plastic tool case. The Bosch and Festool saws have special stackable cases, each part of a system that allows multiple cases to be latched together for storage or transport.
Like all other current Festool portable power tools, the Trion jigsaw features a detachable “Plug It” power cord. This makes it easier to stow, as you don’t have to wrap the cord around the tool. Plus, you can easily replace a damaged cord by simply plugging in a new one.
The back of the Hitachi’s body has a loop molded in, making it easy to connect the tool to a lanyard or other hook — a nice feature if you work on a roof or ladder.
Part 2: Testing
Cutting Fast: An obvious question when comparing the performance of different jigsaws is “which saw cuts the fastest?” I created a speed cutting test to determine the answer. First, I fitted each saw with a new Bosch Progressor blade, designed specifically for fast, rough cutting. With the help of my wife, Ann, I timed how long it took each saw to crosscut a 2x6, as shown in the lead photo on page 44. I took several passes, then averaged the times for each saw. I tried to push each saw as hard as I could without bogging its motor down.
In the final tally, the premium-priced Festool turned in the fastest average time: 2.74 seconds, notable because this saw doesn’t have the highest-amperage motor or fastest blade stroke speed in this group of jigsaws. The next fastest cutting time was clocked by the Makita — less than a tenth of a second slower than the Festool. Posting a slightly slower time than that was the Bosch, followed (in timed order) by the Metabo, Milwaukee and Hitachi. The DeWALT held up the rear of the pack with a rather slow 4.27-second average time.
The second-and-a-half difference between the fastest and slowest saws might not seem like much. But this time can really add up if you have dozens of rafter ends to decoratively jigsaw, or a pile of curved parts to cut out.
Vibration: Regardless of how fast a jigsaw cuts, the less vibration it produces, the better. All jigsaws employ some sort of counterbalance system to reduce the up-and-down shaking created by the reciprocating plunger and blade, and some work better than others.
In truth, I found it quite difficult to accurately compare the vibration of the various saws in the group, as it varied under different circumstances. For example, the DeWALT felt very smooth-running when idling at full speed. However, when I put the saw to wood, it produced noticeably more vibration.
After careful consideration, I found the Bosch and Festool, closely followed by the Milwaukee and Makita, consistently produced the least vibration when cutting a variety of wood types and thicknesses with a variety of blades. That’s not to say that the DeWALT and Hitachi produce unacceptable amounts of vibration, but they just didn’t feel as smooth running as the top saws. At the bottom of the pack, the Metabo jigsaw consistently produced more vibration than any of the other saws.
Cutting cleanly: Getting clean jigsaw cuts with only light splintering, tearout and surface chipping is chiefly a matter of selecting a blade that’s designed for the job. But I still wanted to see just how smooth a cut each saw was capable of producing with a general purpose blade. I fit each saw with a fine-toothed blade and set it to a medium speed with a slight orbit (#1). I then took several cuts with each on a piece of 3/4" melamine — a material notorious for chipping easily.
After experimenting with different rates of feed, I selected the cutoffs that displayed the cleanest edge produced by each saw. The Bosch, aided, I suspect, by its precision control guide, left the cleanest cut edges. With cuts only slightly more ragged than the Bosch were the Makita, Festool and DeWALT, followed by the other saws. It’s worth noting that I was able to get a much cleaner cut with all of these saws by fitting them with a special saw blade designed for laminates, as well as an anti-splinter insert.
Cutting accurately: The major factors that affect the accuracy of jigsaw cuts are: How well you can see the line of cut and how well the saw’s blade stays square to the workpiece (or at a fixed angle during bevel cuts). Generally, a saw with less of its body overhanging the blade is easier to use, especially when you’re working in cramped quarters or trying to follow a curvaceous line, say when cutting out a scrollwork pattern. The open front end configuration of the Bosch and Metabo make it much easier for me to see the blade without having to crane my neck. The Milwaukee and Hitachi have the most blade obscuring body overhangs, but the former’s built-in LED light helps to improve its line-of-cut visibility.
It’s usually true that the thicker, denser (or more variable in density) a workpiece is, the more likely that a jigsaw’s blade will deflect when cutting it. This is especially true when cutting tight curves. To judge this aspect of cutting accuracy, I crosscut 4x4 lumber with each jigsaw. Most models left edges that wavered in squareness and up-and-down straightness over the length of the cut. The exceptions were the Bosch and Festool models, which left nearly dead square and straight cut edges. It’s safe to assume that such superior performance was likely due to the special blade guide systems on these saws, which helped prevent their long saw blades from deflecting.
Picking a Jigsaw Winner
I’ve conducted dozens and dozens of tool reviews in my career, but few were as close as this one: After a couple of weeks of testing and hundreds of cuts, I found a small range of differences between my most and least favorite saws. All seven are truly top quality tools capable of putting in a serious day’s work. Even the relatively bargain-priced Hitachi is a well-built machine that deserves a place in this lineup.
But as capable as these machines are, some models proved to be better performers and more “user-friendly” than others. The three factors that were the most important to me when choosing the best jigsaws included:
1. Solid performance — a blend of aggressive cutting and smooth operation
2. Superior user comfort — a comfy grip and easy to use controls
3. Good value for the money — the balance of features and price.
When I considered the saws independent of price, there was a fairly small point spread between the top models, with the Bosch, Makita and Festool leading the pack. It was a bit easier to choose an alpha saw when price entered the picture. As good as the top-priced Festool Trion proved to be, I don’t think it’s twice as good as the Makita that’s half the price. The Makita 4350 FCT is a very good jigsaw for the price, but the Bosch had a better feature set and overall performance for just under $50 more. Therefore, the Bosch 1590 EVSL earns my choice as the “Best Bet” in this group of impressive top-shelf jigsaws.