Jigsaw Vs Circular Saw: Which Is Better for You?

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If you are an experienced woodworker, whether professional or hobbyist, you know about these two power saws.  Each comes as a corded tool and a cordless model, and each has a place in every woodworking shop.

For the beginner woodworker, though, you might not be as familiar with them. We wrote an article a while back on the tools a beginner should have in their woodworking shop, and guess which power saws were the first ones we recommended for the beginner?  Correct:  a circular saw and a jigsaw.

Each has its place not only in a beginner’s woodworking shop but also in a skilled woodworker’s shop.  Each performs different tasks and performs them well, and if you understand the right tool for the right job, using them is easy.

Jigsaws In The Workshop

Jigsaw

Jigsaws were first made back in the 1940s.  Albert Kaufman, an Austrian engineer, replaced the needle on his wife’s sewing machine with a saw blade.  

It’s nearly 80 years since and we have jigsaws that have evolved into an indispensable power tool in the shop.  As in that sewing machine where the exposed needle moves up and down (reciprocating), jigsaw blades, also exposed, move up and down to make their cuts.  

They are capable of making straight cuts, circular cuts, and snake-like cuts that you are likely to find in jigsaw puzzles.  The name is not a coincidence, either, as the shapes of the pieces in the puzzle are the types a jigsaw is capable of making.

Jigsaws are easily operated and managed by one hand, and their blades come in a variety of tooth configurations and tooth counts, and the blade you use will depend on the piece of wood being cut and the type of cut (curved, puzzle-piece like, etc.).  They are also very handy when making an internal cut – in the middle of a piece of wood – simply by drilling a hole in the wood and inserting the blade in the hole to begin the cut.

If you are familiar with reciprocating saws, exposed blades, aggressive teeth configurations and counts, great power to cut just about anything, and used especially in demolition work, you can view a jigsaw as a less aggressive and much less powerful mini-version of one.  

Jigsaws can cut not only wood but also metals, plastics, and ceramic tiles.  You’d simply use a jigsaw blade that was made for the purpose, depending on what it’s cutting.  Jigsaws can even make bevel cuts; adjusting the plate to the desired bevel angle will make it easy and smooth.

Some jigsaws will come with neat features like LED lights and laser guides for an accurate cut.  Jigsaws are relatively small power saws, and the typical motor is not especially powerful in comparison to other power saws.  You would not push the blade through a cut with any great force; like the chef who lets the knife make the cut, you would want to let the saw make the cut, not the force of your push.

Some jigsaw models also include a pendulum-like blade motion:  in addition to moving up and down (reciprocating), the blades in these models also move back and forth.  This into-the-cut motion can speed along the progress of a cut and add a little oomph to the task.

While not especially powerful, they are a good choice when used for the right task.  If they have an inherent weakness beyond a less-powerful motor, it is the jigsaw blade.  Their thin blades, compared to those of other power saws, can break if the jigsaw is not used properly and smartly.  However, they also happen to be much less expensive than the blades of other power saws, and replacements will not break the budget.

This means jigsaws are not the right power saw for making fast, long, straight cuts.  They are better suited for circular, curved, and internal cuts.  There is another power saw much better suited for those long, straight cuts.  Curved cuts, intricate pattern cuts from stencils, and internal cuts are the jigsaw’s strengths, and when using a power saw, playing to their strengths is both smart and safe.

That brings us to the next power saw on the list of tools for the beginner woodworker.

Circular Saws In The Workshop

Circular Saw

We consider the circular saw as another indispensable tool in a woodworking shop.  

As the name implies, the blades for circular saws are circular and turn in a circular motion, a spinning blade rather than the reciprocating blade of the jigsaw.  Even smaller circular saws have blades that turn very fast.  

Their blades come in a wide variety of tooth configurations and count, just as the blades of jigsaws do, but because of their size, whether 7 ½ “, 10”, or larger, and their rapid spin, they can do a lot of cutting.

Circular saws are well-suited for quick, long, and straight cuts, whether freehand or with a guide.  A guide will give you better results if results matter, but if you are simply breaking down a 2 x 4 freehand on such a short cut in the hands of an experienced woodworker, freehand works just fine.

Circular saws come in both corded and cordless models.  However, the difference in power is noticeable, and corded versions will have a greater RPM (revolutions per minute and make a faster cut.  As with the jigsaw, letting the saw do the work, rather than pushing it through the cut, will result in a better cut and reduce the chance of burn or blade damage.

Circular saws can also cut more than wood:  metals and masonry blades have no teeth and rely on spin and, on occasion, a lubricant; blades for cutting plastics have a high tooth count.  Circular saw blades also have these characteristics, depending on the task they are performing:

  • For ripping lumber (with the grain), the blades have a lower tooth count but large teeth;
  • For crosscutting (against the grain), higher tooth count, smaller teeth, and,
  • Blades with carbide tips on the teeth will last longer.

Circular saws are not very heavy, although heavier than a jigsaw.  The weight, though, is relatively unimportant because they move in a straight line and are supported by the material being cut.  Their grip handles are situated at the circular saw’s center of gravity, making moving them through the cut easy.

Like a jigsaw, some circular saw models also come with LED lights to brighten the cut line and laser guides to be used in the absence of a straight-edge cutting guide or jig.

Jigsaws and Circular Saws Together In Your Workshop

Now that you know a bit about each type of power saw, the differences, strengths, and weaknesses should be a bit clearer.  Each has a role to play in the woodworking shop, and each should be among your power tool inventory.  

The difference between them comes down to a basic aspect of their operation.  If you are looking for curves, finesse, and complexity of use, go with the jigsaw.  If you are looking for, among other things, brute strength and fast, long, and straight cuts, go with the circular saw.

Straight Cuts With Jigsaws and Circular Saws

Each of these saws is capable of making straight cuts.  Jigsaws are not as well-suited for quick and long straight cuts.  They’re not as robust as a circular saw, and the smaller and slower blade is not made for those purposes.  This is the domain of the circular saw.

Curve Cuts With Jigsaws and Circular Saws

Just the opposite is true when it comes to curve cuts or any cuts needing finesse or have some intricacy to them.  Jigsaws are the go-to for these tasks.  The circular saw is too brutish for them and is not made for those tasks.

Bevel Cuts With Jigsaws and Circular Saws

Each is capable of making bevel cuts.  The plates upon which the saws ride as you move them through a cut can be angled, to an extent, for bevel cuts.  While a compound miter saw may be the better choice, in its absence, a jigsaw (for a small cut) and a circular saw (for a larger cut) can do the job for you.

Depth of Cuts With Jigsaws and Circular Saws

The advantage goes to the circular saw when it comes to depth.  It’s an adjustable setting on all circular saws, whereas the blade length is the blade length on a jigsaw and can not be adjusted.  

On a related point, a circular saw can be plunged into a workpiece, whereas a jigsaw can not; a hole in the workpiece must first be drilled and the blade inserted to begin the cut.  The other side of that is that circular saws can not make internal cuts as the jigsaw can.

Telling is one thing, and showing is another.  Here’s a very basic video that demonstrates each saw and distinguishes between them and their best uses.

Jigsaws can be found for as little as $30, and as high as $350, depending on the brand and model.  Circular saw prices range from around $35 to around $200, again depending on the brand and model.  Which of the models and brands of each will depend on the projects you will be taking on, as well as your skill level.  

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Hammerhead 4.8-Amp 3/4 Inch Jig Saw with 2pcs Wood Cutting Blades, Variable...
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4-Stage Orbital – Tackle smooth or aggressive cuts with the 4-stage orbital function; Bevel Cut – Sturdy metal base plate can be adjusted up to 45°for bevel cutting
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SKIL 15 Amp 7-1/4 Inch Circular Saw with Single Beam Laser Guide - 5280-01
SKIL 15 Amp 7-1/4 Inch Circular Saw with Single Beam Laser Guide – 5280-01
Powerful 15-amp motor delivers 5 300-RPM for greater speed and faster cuts; 7-1 4-inch carbide-tipped blade included. Spindle lock for easy blade changes.
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However, if you are serious about advancing your skills and taking on more complex projects, let that influence your choice.  Perhaps you might want to choose tools you can use right now but also grow into as your skills advance.

Power and brutish strength versus finesse and the complexity of cuts.  This is what it comes down to, and you will have projects in your shop that will require both.  This is why we recommend having both saws in your power tool inventory.

Last update on 2024-02-27 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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