several woodworking projects created by cutting shapes with a jigsaw

How to Cut Shapes with a Jigsaw

Back when I ran a small Etsy shop I spent a lot of time cutting shapes with my jigsaw. Many of the items I sold were decorative pieces with shapes cut out of the wood. I did animals, hearts, stars, a little bit of everything.

leaf cut out of the center of a piece of wood

A jigsaw is not the best tool for cutting shapes out of wood, but it can totally be done! My dream tool for quite some time has been a scroll saw because it is the ideal tool for cutting intricate shapes – the possibilities are seriously endless with this thing! But, I’m a lady on a budget and I’m holding out for a second hand scroll saw to show up on Craigslist to make my DIY dreams come true.

Since I don’t have access to a scroll saw right now, I learned how to effectively use my jigsaw to create some of the scroll saw projects I’d been dreaming up. If you’re in the same boat as me, here are some things I have learned along the way to cut shapes with a jigsaw.

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The Perfect Beginner Power Tool

My jigsaw was the first saw I felt comfortable using by myself. It is the perfect beginner power tool if you are just starting your DIY journey and gaining confidence with saws and other power tools. Jigsaws are simple to use and the blade is much smaller than other saws that are typically used in woodworking. The blade is easy to control and you can quickly stop and start.

Pin for later!

how to cut shapes with a jigsaw, multiple pictures of woodworking projects made with a jigsaw

All power tools come with some risk. Be sure you are using proper safety equipment like eye protection and hearing protection. Avoid wearing gloves when using saws as the material could get caught on the blade and cause serious injury. Read all about safety precautions here.

Types of Jigsaws

I started with the most basic jigsaw available – a $25 corded Black and Decker Jigsaw. It definitely gets the job done, but you’re in the market to spend a little more money I recommend buying a nicer version. 

Here a few jigsaws that I recommend at a few different price points:

Some features to consider when purchasing are: 

Corded v. Cordless

There are pros and cons to both corded and cordless jigsaws. Cordless jigsaws cost quite a bit more than the corded versions. You will also have the cost of batteries and a battery charger in addition to the saw. They are convenient because they are more mobile than corded jigsaws and you don’t have to worry about cord placement when you’re sawing. 

Corded jigsaws are less expensive than the battery-operated cordless versions. They also generally weigh less than cordless jigsaws because you don’t have the weight of the battery. This is  important if you plan on using the jigsaw for a big project – your arm will definitely get tired. The downside is that they are less mobile – you always need to be near an outlet or extension cord. You also need to be aware of cord placement as your working to avoid cutting through the cord.

Voltage/Amps

The higher voltage or amperage the most power your jigsaw will have. A more powerful saw will lead to easier cutting. I have used a small 4.5 amp jig saw for a long time, and I would recommend purchasing a higher amperage. 

Speed Control

Some jigsaws come with speed control dials that allow you to adjust the speed of the blade based on the types of cuts you are making. You can select slower speeds for cutting around curves and higher speeds for straight cuts. Speed control is important when cutting shapes with a jigsaw.

A note about Jigsaw Blades

When purchasing blades for your jigsaw be sure to pay attention to the type of blade you are purchasing. Different blades are created for use on different types of material. Replace your blade often. Some signs that you need to replace your blade are: your material is splintering when you’re cutting (your blade might be dull) or your blade is bent.

large wood USA map with heart banner

This DIY Wood USA Map is a great beginner jigsaw project!

How to Cut Shapes with a Jigsaw

Getting Started

Start your project by drawing the outline of the shape you want to onto your wood with a pencil. 

Then, clamp the wood to a flat, stable surface using wood clamps. The area that you need to cut should be hanging over the edge of the surface. You may need to cut your shape out in sections, stopping to adjust the placement of the wood as you go. Make sure the area you will be cutting is far enough away from the surface you have clamped it to that you will not accidentally cut through the surface.

Hold your jigsaw at the edge of the piece of wood with the metal plate flat against the wood. The blade should not be touching the wood before you start the saw. Start your jigsaw and then move it forward to begin cutting into the wood.

using a jigsaw to cut around curves

Follow your pre-drawn lines to cut your shape with the jigsaw. On most metal plates there will be a little notch that lines up with the placement of the saw blade. Use that little notch as a guide for your blade.

cutting out a shape with a jigsaw, close up of blade

As you’re cutting your shape with the jigsaw, keep the metal plate flat against your wood. If the metal plate is not flat against the wood you will experience extra vibrations that could crack the wood. Additionally, keeping the metal plate flat against the wood will give you straight cuts.

Vibrations & Clamp Placement

One downside of using a jigsaw (especially a cheap one) is the vibrations that the saw puts off. Vibrations can lead to some pretty serious hand and arm cramping. Additionally, extreme vibrations can put extra stress on the wood you are cutting and lead to cracks in the wood. 

clamped wood, cutting out outline with a jigsaw

You can lessen the vibrations with smart clamp placement. I’ve found that placing my wood clamps as close as possible to where I will be cutting lessens the vibrations tremendously. Also, make sure the clamps are very tight. 

(bonus tip: you can avoid indents in your wood from the wood clamps by placing a little piece of scrap wood between the clamp and the piece of wood you’re cutting. This spreads out the pressure of the clamp.)

diy woodworking tutorial for a toddler raised bed garden

This Toddler Rainbow Garden uses a jigsaw to cut the curves of the cloud-inspired flower box and rainbow.

Speed

Speed is super important when using a jig saw. If you’re speed is too high you can actually burn the wood instead of cutting it. (Ask me how I know – hah!) You can use a higher blade speed when doing straight cuts. If you are cutting around a curve I recommend a slower blade speed. 

Relief Cuts

The key to using a jigsaw to cut shapes with curves is to make several relief cuts. Relief cuts help to relieve pressure from the blade as you are cutting and can serve as exit points for your blade.

relief cuts for curved jigsaw cutting

To create relief cuts, use your jigsaw make a few cuts within the discard area of your project that go from the outline of your project to the edge of your board. You can do this before or after you start cutting the outline of your shape. I prefer to make a few relief cuts before I begin cutting my shape with the jigsaw and then adding more as needed.

As you cut along the outline of your shape each time you reach a relief cut wood in your discard area will fall away. This will take pressure off of the jigsaw blade and allow for easier turning.

cutting around heart shape with jigsaw, relief cuts in the wood

If you find your blade stuck or you are unable to make turns, stop cutting your shape outline and make a relief cut to get rid of some of the extra wood.

How to Cut Out the Shape Center

Most of the jigsaw projects I created for my Etsy shop were shapes cut out of the center of a piece of wood. Getting the blade into the center of a piece of wood is pretty simple. Use a large drill bit to drill a few holes into the area you want to cut. I use the largest drill bit in this set

drill holes in wood to cut out the center of a shape with a jigsaw

After drilling your hole, place the jigsaw blade into the hole and get to work. Be sure the blade isn’t touching the wood when you turn your jigsaw on to start cutting.

Related: How to Cut Straight Lines with a Circular Saw

Cut Shapes with a Jigsaw

After many, many projects with my jigsaw I learned a few tricks to getting the most of this handy little tools. I hope these tricks help you on your next project! If you’re looking for a project to tackle, be sure to check out all of my free tutorials and printable woodworking plans.

14 Comments

  1. Thank you! I have an idea I’ve been dreaming up for a christmas nativity and I think that I can now make it a reality!

  2. Great article! Thank you! Since you mentioned wanting a scroll saw, I wanted to comment based on my experience. When selecting the right scroll saw I’d recommend looking for one with some sort of vibration/bouncing prevention/reduction which is usually a fixture very near the blade. Second, you should look into, buy a variety, and test out different blades. The typical blade is flat like a jigsaw blade but corners or great detail precision sawing becomes a challenge with blade bending. I’d suggest looking into a spiral cut or it might be called reverse cut blades which allow easy cutting in all directions. Just my two cents!

  3. Thank you so much for posting this. I’m a stay-at-home mom and will try using my jigsaw for wood cutouts for my kids to paint tomorrow. I’ve always thought this would be neat to try but seeing you break it down makes it feel accessible enough to finally jump in. Thank you!

  4. Great tutorial! Here is my question – I am not a good freehander at all. How do you draw such nice lines and shapes? Is there a projector or something similar which can outline a shape before cutting?
    Thank
    You

    1. Hi Niki! I’m not a great at freehanding either. I usually print out an outline on regular printer paper, cut it out and then trace it onto the wood. A projector would be great for big projects!

  5. Thank you for this tutorial! I have a project in mind and didn’t realize I already had (or my husband had) the tools I needed. I ended up here when looking for how to properly secure the wood to something. Thanks for the extra detail on that. It was one of my biggest concerns. Lots of posts show you how to use the jogsaw but not how to prep the wood. Thanks!!

    1. I’m so glad you found it helpful! I tried to include answers to all of the questions that I had in the beginning.

    1. Hi Shar,

      It depends on the project. For most of the larger projects I’ve done I have cut each piece of wood first and then assembled after cutting. For assembly I usually use wood glue and wood screws.

  6. Just a few more safety tips to make you jig saw experience more enjoyable and safe, check that the intended path of the blade is clear below the work, that means looking under the piece, I have ruined many a work bench this way.

  7. Hello
    In my trying to cut snowflakes Paterson I made and it’s not totally easy. First time with a jigsaw.
    Any ideas?
    Thank you
    Lise S.

    1. Hi Lise,

      If your pattern is small it can be difficult to do with a jigsaw. If your jigsaw has any settings for blade flexibility or speed I recommend testing out using those. Mine has a knob on the side that can be adjusted for more/less side-to-side blade movement and it has been really helpful for cutting around curves! If yours doesn’t have those settings I recommend going slowly and doing lots of relief cuts. Good luck!

  8. Thanks for the tips! I’ve always wondered what the possibilities were for my jigsaw but just assumed I always needed something more to cut special designs. What kind of wood would you suggest using for best results?

    1. Hi Sarah,
      The majority of my projects have been completed using pine or cedar – I’ve had great results with both of these types!

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