Most jigsaws now offer variable speed, as well as both straight and orbital action, which enable the user to adjust the jigsaw for cutting various woods, plastics and metals. Orbital action means the blade moves back out of the way on the downward stroke, letting the saw use its power for the upward cutting motion. Blade changing is now done with a knob or lever instead of an Allen wrench. Baseplates adjust from zero to 45 degrees to allow for beveled cuts, and quite a few jigsaws make this adjustment tool-less as well. Circle guides and straight fences are available for some models. Some jigsaws incorporate a "scrolling" knob that turns just the blade to follow a curving line, which is easier on the wrist than turning the whole tool.
For relatively rough cuts or occasional use, reviews say a jigsaw that costs about $100 or less will get the job done. More expensive jigsaws vibrate less, are more comfortable and convenient to use, and can make far more accurate cuts - including true perpendicular cuts, even on tight curves. Older and inexpensive jigsaws often let the blade deflect a bit as it goes around a curve, causing an unintentionally beveled cut. Jigsaws vary in power and thickness-capacity too, especially when cutting metals or hardwood.
The best jigsaws provide adjustable blowers to keep the cutting line from getting obscured with sawdust. Reviews say LED "headlights" are also a big plus. A few jigsaws come with dust ports that connect with shop vacs. Tool-triggered shop vacs provide an electrical outlet for the jigsaw, so vacuuming starts as soon as the jigsaw is turned on.
Corded jigsaws provide the most features and performance for the money. However, if you can afford one of the better-rated cordless jigsaws, reviews say they add a lot of convenience and perform just as well. Lithium-ion batteries are the preferred type. They hold their charge longer between uses, an especially nice feature for nonprofessionals who need a jigsaw only occasionally.
Owners and reviews are divided concerning the best jigsaw handle style. Europeans favor jigsaws without handles, so the user's hand grips the barrel of the tool. This style is now becoming more popular in the United States because it offers more control and precision, especially on curves. Because there's no trigger, there's no risk of "trigger finger fatigue," but heat and vibration are felt more, and the barrel grip can be uncomfortable for small hands. Because both hands are needed to operate a barrel-grip jigsaw (one hand around the barrel and the other pushing from the back), the work piece has to be fixed in place. Although the top-ranked Festool Trion PSB300 EQ jigsaw (*Est. $295) offers excellent dust collection, most barrel-grip jigsaws do not.
The D-shaped top handle is still more popular in the United States. Heat from the motor is not a problem, and some handles can be gripped comfortably in more than one position. Variable-speed triggers are popular, but some experts favor a speed dial instead. This allows the trigger to be locked in the on position to minimize "trigger-finger fatigue." Many D-handled jigsaws come with dust-collection ports, but reviews say dust collection actually works well on just a few models.
If you've never owned a jigsaw, you might want to test-drive each kind to see which feels better. Those with smaller hands will probably prefer a D-handled jigsaw. If you want a dust collection port, a D-handled jigsaw is more likely to have this. However, a lot of people like the feeling of control with a barrel-handled jigsaw, especially on intricate cuts. Cordless jigsaws, however, use only a D-handle.