A portable jigsaw is a multipurpose tool that can do the job of many others, enabling it to work as a scroll saw, bandsaw, circular saw and router. Although it doesn't do these jobs as well as those larger tools, a jigsaw is lighter, handier and safer to use. Because it can do so many things, the jigsaw (sometimes called a bayonet saw, compass saw or saber saw) is one of the building blocks of a basic workshop.
We found the best comparison reviews of corded jigsaws in two woodworking magazines, Woodworker's Journal and Fine Homebuilding. Many of the same jigsaw models are covered in both reviews, but Woodworker's Journal tests both barrel-grip and top-handled versions. It also includes a greater number of less-expensive jigsaws. Popular Mechanics also reviews some budget jigsaws, but it doesn't rate or rank the models, nor does it document testing. Consumer Reports usually covers a wide price range when reviewing tools, but it hasn't reviewed jigsaws for more than 10 years.
Reviews say jigsaws have improved tremendously, led by Bosch and close competitors such as Makita and DeWalt. Tests show that the best jigsaws can now cut even tight curves at a true 90-degree angle, and some jigsaws can do this on wood more than 5 inches thick. Rob Johnstone, an experienced tool reviewer, says he uses his own jigsaw as a "poor man's band saw" now that technology has improved jigsaw comfort and accuracy. It's much easier to make precise cuts than it used to be, thanks to improved blade control rollers. Blade changing is also much easier, and some jigsaws can plunge cut without drilling a starter hole. Adjusting the baseplate to make beveled cuts can often be done with a lever instead of a wrench.
The best news is that cordless jigsaws have improved so much that they can now replace corded saws, with price being the main drawback. We found excellent comparison tests of cordless jigsaws at Tools of the Trade Online and in the Journal of Light Construction. A cordless jigsaw makes intricate cuts easier and offers the ultimate in convenience, especially if you have other cordless tools that use the same battery pack and charger. Fast "smart" chargers can recharge a battery so quickly that as long as you have two batteries, you can keep sawing without interruption. The newest cordless jigsaws use lithium-ion batteries that keep their charge well during storage - an advantage when you don't need a jigsaw every day.
Laser guides are also recent improvements, but reviews warn that they're not useful in bright light. Owners complain about laser guides that turn on automatically because they make it harder to follow a curve - so the best laser guides have a separate switch. Experts say that tool-free blade changing and bevel adjustment are conveniences that matter much more. An LED light and/or adjustable dust blower help keep the cutting line visible. Dust control is still a weak point on most jigsaws; the top-ranked Festool Trion PSB300 EQ (*Est. $295) is a notable exception.
Though jigsaws vary greatly in performance and convenience, no safety recalls have directly involved jigsaws for more than 10 years. Jigsaws have a good safety record, and far fewer accidents are reported involving jigsaws than with table saws or circular saws. Most jigsaws have a metal guard in front of the blade's cutting edge.