Tool terminology is a funny thing.
I had an old friend a long time ago call me up to tell me about this awesome ‘saber saw’ he had picked up for a few bucks at a garage sale, and asked me if I knew anything about the manufacturer.
“Saber saw”, I asked?
I’d never heard of such a thing.
He described it to me, and as soon as I realized what he was talking about I interrupted him and said “ohh, you mean a jigsaw.” (I didn’t find out until later that saber saws and jigsaws are virtually the same thing.
Check out our article here for an in-depth history lesson on the two).
Point is, people will call stuff whatever they learn to call it growing up.
If my dad had told me that a table saw was a ‘gopher rip’, I wouldn’t have batted an eye. However, there’s a fine line in tool terminology that separates harmless ambiguities from downright inaccuracies.
For example, don’t ever let anyone tell you that a scroll saw and a jigsaw are the same thing – they might be pretty similar and have related functions, but they’re two totally different tools.
In this article, we’ll go over exactly what these differences are between the scroll saw and the jigsaw – next time you hear someone try and say that they’re the same thing, don’t hesitate to school them on the matter.
General overview: Scroll saw vs. jigsaw
Like we said, scroll saws and jigsaws share a similar function; they’re both used for cutting ‘scrolls’ (non-straight lines). (Band saws can also cut scrolls, but that’s a whole other thing altogether. Check out our article here on scroll saws vs. band saws).
Scroll saws are big, stationary tools where you lie the material on the table and feed it into the delicate little blade. Jigsaws on the other hand, are handheld – you bring the saw to the work, rather than bringing the work to the saw.
Overall, jigsaws are much more common, practical, and efficient than scroll saws – you can do a heck of a lot more things with a jigsaw than you can with a scroll saw. However, scroll saws absolutely have their place in any respectable woodworking shop; they have their advantages and they can do things that no other tool can do.
Scroll saws vs. Jigsaws: What do they do?
Scroll saws are specialized tools used for cutting ornate, delicate, highly intricate designs in material usually no more than 2” thick; their thin, tiny blades allow you to turn the piece you’re working on on a dime. 90-degree cuts, waves, loopdie-loos, and sharp angles are all a relative breeze with the scroll saw.
Scroll saws are great because they’re quiet (almost relaxing), they don’t produce a lot of dust, they’re (relatively) safe, and they’re just flat out fun to work with.
Some of the things you can do with a scroll saw that you can’t really do with a jigsaw are 3-D fractals and pierce cuts (cutting from the inside out), intarsia (cool collage-type artwork), and marquetry. All of these require super-delicate, intricate cutting and leave an infinite amount of room for artistry and creativity.
Here’s a great video from the Woodworkers Guild of America showing some basic uses of the scroll saw.
The downside to scroll saws is that they take up a lot of space, and they don’t really have many practical applications for DIY or around-the-house type use; they’re more or less a specialty tool used for making crafts.
We’ve known plenty of people who have had a scroll saw sitting in their garage for 5 or 10 or 15 or so years, and have used it maybe a handful of times.
The jigsaw, on the other hand, is a complete jack-of-all trades – in our garage it’s right up there with the table saw, circular saw, and cordless drill as one of the most-used tools in the workshop.
If you need something cut, chances are the jigsaw can get the job done. The downside (if you want to call it that) of the jigsaw is that it’s a fairly crude tool – it’s typically used freehand, and the cut is not nearly as fine as the scroll saw’s.
Jigsaws can cut metal, wood, plastic, PVC, foam – you name it. Not to mention curves, odd shapes, and circles – jobs that are completely undoable for the table and circular saw.
Which one should you get?
If you’re a typical DIY’er looking to add one or the other to your tool collection, by all means go with the jigsaw – it’s an infinitely more practical tool, and 99 times out of 100 you’ll use it over the scroll saw.
If you’re an artistic/creative person though, and you think you could really get into the crafts/hobbyist side of things and make cool gifts or artwork, you might really enjoy working with a scroll saw. Just keep in mind that they’re pretty big, stationary tools, so make sure you have ample space in your garage for one.
Looking to buy?
Here’s a quick run-down of several of our favorite jigsaws and scroll saws – not the most expensive or prestigious tools on the planet, but good, quality, value buys that are great choices for the average DIY’er.
*(Here’s our in-depth article on the best jigsaws for the money).
Nothing but top-notch reviews across the board. A reasonable price tag, incredibly simple and user-friendly blade-changing system, and variable speed operation make this jigsaw our top choice.
Black and Decker JS660 w/ Smart Select Dial
A super-budget option, this no-frills jigsaw has a variable speed dial with 7 operating speeds, ‘Smart Select’ technology with optimized settings for specific materials, and user-friendly tool-free blade changing.
DeWalt DCS331M1 20V MAX Cordless
This sucker is expensive compared to the other ones, but man is it a great tool. Also, jigsaws are all about convenience and portability, so it only makes sense to have a cordless one. The 20V MAX battery platform is great, and you’ll be left with hours of use on a single charge. Three bevel degree options (15, 30, 45), 4 speeds, and a dust blower that keeps your line of sight clear while cutting.
DeWalt DW788 20” Variable Speed
Our top pick. It’s got a beefy price tag, but if you’re going to invest in one quality thing, it oughta be your power tools. Incredibly clean and simple lines, elegant design, rock-solid construction, and a second-to-none cut quality.
WEN 3920 16” Variable Speed w/ LED Light
A great value buy – one of the cheapest scroll saws you’ll find that’s worth anything at all. It’s 16” throat depth will allow you to cut up to 2” thick wood, and its variable speed motor from 400 to 1600 strokes per minute will be suitable for any material you’re working on. Comes with two blades.
Delta Power Tools 40-694 20” Scroll Saw
Another good budget option that’s just slightly more expensive than the WEN. Delta Tools are renowned for being super simple, user-friendly, and no-frills. They don’t spend a lot of time or money marketing themselves or advertising to the masses; they simply make quality, well-designed products that amateurs and non-professionals can both afford and enjoy using.
To quickly summarize, jigsaws and scroll saws are similar in that they’re both primarily used to cut curves. However, the jigsaw is the much more practical option of the two – if you’ve been considering between one or the other for your newest workshop addition, go with the jigsaw, hands down. It has a lot more general uses than the scroll saw.
If you want to get super intricate, though, and see yourself getting into the arts/design side of things, you may really enjoy the ease and relaxation of working with a quality scroll saw.