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 2×6, 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 4×4 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.