The Saber Saw

Even though the blade is small, the saber saw packs a versatile punch.

By Bob Vila | Updated Nov 10, 2013 8:07 PM

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Photo: Flickr

A rule of thumb in the tool world is that the smaller the blade, the greater the variety of cuts. One tool that demonstrates the truth of the axiom is the saber saw.

This versatile power tool, which is also called a power jigsaw or power scroll saw, is used most often with short thin blades to cut curves and openings in boards or panels. The hand-held saber saw has only limited power, however, so using it to cut through heavy lumber or to make long cuts is very time-consuming. While saber saws can be purchased in a range of sizes and power ratings, a one-quarter horsepower saw with a three-quarter-inch stroke will suffice for most jobs. Saber saws with variable speed controls are handy for some kinds of cuts.

The saber saw can be fitted with a variety of blades for different purposes. Varying in length from about three to six inches, saber-saw blades are manufactured with a smooth knife edge (for cutting materials like linoleum and leather), as well as with teeth. Blades with as few as six or seven teeth per inch can be purchased for quick and dirty cuts on wood; an eight-teeth-per-inch blade is often used for plaster or wallboard. Those with ten or more teeth per inch are suited to cutting certain metals and more exacting woodworking. Blades with even finer teeth are used to cut some metals (twenty-four per inch) or for finish scrollwork (twenty per inch). Carbide- and tungsten-carbide tipped blades are also available and last longer.

A trigger switch in the handle of the saber saw controls the action of the saw; in variable-speed models, the range is from a slow starter speed to a high speed for cutting soft materials. As with other saws, use a slow to medium rate of speed when cutting metals.

In comparison to the hand­held circular saw, the saber saw is simpler and safer. Still, care and caution in its use are appropriate.

To make a simple cut from the edge of a board, position the saw with the front of its shoe aligned with the line to be cut. The saw cuts on the upstroke, so the board being cut should be face down. Make sure the workpiece is balanced or fastened so that it will not slide about while you’re cutting – and so that the saw line isn’t on top of any surface you don’t want to cut. The saw can be used freehand or with a guide.

Most saber saws can be tilted on their bases, allowing for miter cuts. Making a miter cut is much the same, though keep in mind that a miter cut involves cutting through more stock, so it will take longer. Allow the saw to set the pace, and don’t force the blade.

If you are cutting into the middle of a piece, you may wish to drill a starter hole (as with the saber saw’s hand-powered brother, the keyhole saw). However, a bit of practice – and a nearly new short, stiff blade – can save a step by making a plunge cut using the saber saw itself.

Tip the saber saw forward on the tip of its base, positioning the blade over the hole to be cut. Depress the trigger of the saw, and gradually tip the base of the saw (and the blade) downward to the surface to be cut.

When the blade strikes the surface, it will jump, but a steady hand, a little patience, and some gentle pressure will eventually plunge the blade through the workpiece.