How to Use a Jigsaw to Cut Curves

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Using a new tool for a specific project can be pretty daunting. If you’ve never used a jigsaw, there’s no need to panic. The tool is super simple to use. If you want to know how to use a jigsaw to cut curves, you came to the right place. We’ll tell you all about it and give you plenty of pointers to help you along the way.

Why Use a Jigsaw for Curves?

You always want to use the right tool for the job. In this case, cutting curves with a jigsaw is so much easier than using a Sawzall, for example.

Jigsaws are specifically made to cut out complex geometries, odd shapes, and curves. The blades are thin and flexible so you can move the tool around with ease.

Using a Tabletop or Handheld Jigsaw

You have two options when it comes to jigsaws: a tabletop version and a handheld version. In either case, the process is about the same.

The major difference is how you make the cuts and the space limitations. With a tabletop unit, you’ll be moving the material through the blade. As long as you have enough space in the immediate area to swing around the wood, then you’ll be fine.

With a handheld jigsaw, you’ll be moving the tool around the wood. You can clamp down the material on your workspace before getting started. This allows you to work with larger pieces of raw material without using so much of a footprint in your workshop.

How to Use a Jigsaw to Cut Curves

There can be a lot of differences from one project to the next. Particularly with jigsaws, it matters whether the curve is an interior or edge cut. We’ll cover the specific processes for either of those cases in a second, but first, we should explain some general ideas about using a jigsaw to cut curves.

Mark the Curve

Whenever we talk about a woodworking project, we always stress how important the setup is. Carefully marking the curve can save you a lot of headaches down the road.

There’s an ability to “freehand” a shape. That is, you can simply run the jigsaw on a blank sheet of wood and use your eyes to make the general shape.

In a lot of cases, it helps to pick up a pencil and protractor before making a cut. By marking the curve, you have something to aim for while running your machine. A jigsaw has a lot of flexibility which means there’s no way to automatically set up a curve with the tool. It’s all about making the right motions to get the right outcome.

You can use circular objects or a protractor to get the perfect shape. Also, try to use a thinner pencil while marking the curve. This makes it easier to get the right curve without cutting too much material.

Double-Check Your Setup

This pertains to everything that goes into cutting a curve – your workspace, jigsaw, material, and the floor around you. You should be able to make this cut without tripping or bumping into anything. Your jigsaw should be correctly set up and the blade should be seated properly.

The workspace should be clear and the material should be clamped directly to the table without anything underneath.

For thinner material, you can get away with using a scrolling blade. These blades are smaller and thinner, allowing you to make tighter turns and more complicated shapes. Standard blades are better at cutting thicker and more stubborn material (namely, not sheets of wood).

Make sure you’re using the right blade for your project.


 

Mark the Scrap Side

It might seem silly, but you should indicate which side of the piece is the scrap side. If you’re cutting a specific curve or geometry, you’ll keep one side and scrap the other. If you intend to keep the left side after completing the cut, put a giant “X” on the right side of the material. This saves you some embarrassment after the fact.

Use Low Speed

For curves, you’ll almost always want to use a low speed on your tool. Fast speeds are more likely to chew up the material, go crazy on tight turns, and force you to move too quickly.

Some jigsaw speed dials have little images to help you understand this idea. The fastest setting might be marked with a straight line, and the slowest setting will have a smoothly curved line.

Do a Test Run First

Getting to know your tool first is always a good idea. If you can get your hand on scrap material that’s comparable to what the final product will use, that’s great news.

Set everything up and make some test cuts. Try to challenge yourself and the tool to learn the limitations on a piece of scrap before jumping to the real deal. This is like the practice swing you take in golf before smacking the ball.

Slow and Steady

You should never feel rushed when you’re working with a jigsaw. Cutting slowly and deliberately will result in the best final product. It also helps you avoid mistakes along the way. You can also take breaks and triple-check the curve before finishing.

Start with the Blade Touching the Material

Woodworkers often have different opinions when it comes to tool placement when you start a cut. Some suggest starting the jigsaw in the air before making contact with the wood.

In our experience, it’s typically better to start with the blade touching the material. When you power up the jigsaw, you get an immediate bite onto the board which creates a smoother initial cut. Waiting for the material to speed up before making contact with the board can result in slippage.

Try doing this technique both ways and determine which is right for you – again, it’s all up to personal preference.

Mind Your Fingers

There are a lot of safety concerns that you should remember when using a jigsaw. These blades are very sharp and they move fairly quickly. With some jigsaws, you can barely tell the blade is moving, that’s how fast it’s going.

This idea coupled with the fact that the blade has no guard and is pointing perpendicularly to the work plane results in a potentially unsafe situation. Please respect your tool when you use it and understand that it’s your responsibility to stay safe.

Always keep your safety glasses on and mind your fingers while using a jigsaw. The blade can’t tell the difference between a finger and a plank of wood.

Use a Template When You Can

If you have an option to use a template for your cut, we highly suggest it. Not only does it ensure you get the right geometry, but it ensures you repeatedly make the same cut.

Unlike a circular saw, you can’t set up a jigsaw and cut an identical piece over and over with ease. This is a handfed process. Even skilled and experienced woodworkers can make multiple parts that are slightly different.

A template might be a small piece that’s cut to the correct geometry. You’ll often see guides used for simple radiused corners. Clamp it to the top surface of your material in the correct location then make your cut by following the guide.

Making Edge Cuts with a Jigsaw

Make sure the saw shoe and base of the blade are correctly placed on the top of your material. With a template or scribed line, start slowly making your cut.

With an edge cut, make sure the blade is cutting on the scrap side of the material. If you’re scrapping the right side, then the tool should be cutting along the right side of the scribed line. The left side of the blade should come in contact with the line to ensure you’re not overcutting.

If you’re making an intricate shape, then you might want to work in sections. Complete the first major part of the shape then cut that section out of the board before continuing the shape. This gets rid of the excess material that could get in your way.

Making Interior Cuts with a Jigsaw

Interior cuts need to start with a hand drill or drill press. Use an appropriately sized bit that’s large enough for your jigsaw blade to fit in and make a 360-degree turn.

Line up the hole so the outermost part of the bit makes contact with the interior cut. If your interior cut is a circle, this means making the bit tangent to the interior circle as best you can.

For right-handed woodworkers, starting the interior cut from the top and working counter-clockwise is typically more comfortable.

Keep the tool within the interior cut. The righthand side of the jigsaw blade should come in contact with the marked interior geometry.

You might also opt to make a second drilled hole around the halfway point of the interior geometry. This is another way to mitigate some potential to mess up your cut.

Conclusion

As you just saw, using a jigsaw to cut curves is really easy. We outlined some general tips and even talked about project-specific methods to get the best results. With this information, you should be able to make some impressive curves with your jigsaw. Check out the rest of our blog for more tooling guides and information.

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