October 24, 2020

Are Jigsaw Blades Universal? Find Out How to Get It Right

You just bought a jigsaw and you are ready to use it on your DIY project. But first, you need to make sure that you are using the right blade for the job. Usually, jigsaw blades are promoted by the material they can work on. However, there are a lot of other things to consider: the shank shape, the blade material itself, the teeth count, just to name a few. All these things will influence the cutting speed and the appearance of the final cut. That’s a lot of things to wrap your head around, and it’s surely a daunting task for a beginner.

In this article, I’m going to give you some quick tips so that you can get it right on the first try. The first thing I want to do is answering the question in the title. Then I’m going to give you some useful information about the main characteristics of jigsaw’s blades.

Are Jigsaw Blades Universal?

are jigsaw blades universal
Photo Credit: Thijs van der Weide (Pexels)

This is a common misconception. Jigsaw blades are not universal. As we will learn in the following paragraph, there are two possible blade styles, T-shank and U-shank. The shank is basically the section of the blade that directly attaches to the jigsaw. The “U-shank” is also called “Universal shank” sometimes. But that doesn’t mean that a U-shank blade is good for all jigsaws. That’s where the misunderstanding comes from.

Although some jigsaws can take both types of shanks, most of them only accept one kind of blade. Make sure to check the owner’s manual so that you can get the right shank for your saw.

Shank Configuration

Photo Credit: woodworkingtoolkit.com

The first thing to consider is the shank shape, which is basically the blade’s end that needs to be inserted into the jigsaw. As we said before, there are two alternatives here. Your tool might accept a U-shank or a T-shank blade. The latter is the most common and accepted one. Basically, all jigsaws accept T-shank blades. It was introduced after the U-shank, to guarantee a quicker changing time. With T-shank blades, all you need to do is pushing the blade into the jigsaw to install it.

On the other hand, U-shank is an older type that is not as used as it was in the past, the reason being the quick growth of T-shanks popularity. In fact, this older type of blades needs to be attached with a key or screw to the tool, making the changing process slower. They are still available on the market since a lot of older jigsaws only accept this kind of blade (some of them even require an additional hole to be installed).

An additional thing to notice is the “all-purpose jigsaw kit” that Ryobi put out. These blades are truly universal since they include both the shanks in them. If you have an old jigsaw and you are not sure whether you should get one type over the other, this is for sure a good place to start.

Blade Material

As you might already know, jigsaws can cut a variety of material, as long as you use the right blade for it. Mostly, this is going to depend on the blade material itself. It’s a pretty straightforward matter: the harder the material you are working on, the harder the blade’s material should be. There are four possible choices you can make:

  • HCS: High-carbon steel blades. These are the most common ones: they are a good compromise between quality and price. They are especially good for woodworking projects, although they also work well on other soft materials like PVC. If used on harder materials, they are going to wear out fast.
  • HSS: High-speed steel blades. These are primarily used for metal cutting. They are harder than HCS blades, but they are also stiffer, so don’t expect to be able to cut curves as well as you would do with HCS blades.
  • BIM: Bi-Metal blades. These are made of the two precedent materials: HSS for the teeth and HCS for the rest of the blade. It’s like the best characteristics of the other two blades have been taken and put together. In fact, BIM blades are flexible (like HCS blades), but they are also good on hard materials (like HSS blades). Obviously, they are more expensive than HSS blades. But if you are planning on using your jigsaw a lot, they are definitely a good investment.
  • TC: Tungsten carbide blades. They are very specific blades that are used only for certain applications. The most common uses are cutting through tiles or cement. They are the most expensive ones out of the four.  It’s not unusual for these blades to be toothless. More often than not, there’s a thin layer of tungsten carbide applied on the cutting edge instead of a set of teeth.

Blade Length

Another thing to consider when getting a jigsaw blade is its length. You surely don’t want to buy a set of blades just to find out later that they are too short for the project you have in mind.

Different lengths serve different purposes: smaller blades (starting at around 4 inches) are commonly used on laminates, while longer blades (up to 10 inches) are mostly used on wood for straight and fast cuts. For curved cuts, it’s better to go somewhere in the middle, because longer blades tend to be difficult to control along a curved line. Also, keep in mind that longer blades have a lower teeth count, and this will result in a faster, but less clean cut.

Now, how do you choose the right length? A good rule of thumb here is to use a blade that is at least 1 inch longer than your workpiece. Make sure that you are considering the cutting length of the blade here, and not the total length, which also includes the section of the blade that goes into the jigsaw.

Another thing to keep in mind is that due to the reciprocating nature of the jigsaw (the blade goes in an upward and downward movement) you will need to leave some additional clearance for it to work appropriately.

Teeth (Shape and Count)

jigsaw blades
Photo Credit: amazon.com

The last thing you need to take into account is the blade’s teeth. There are two factors involved here: the TPI (Teeth Per Inch) and the shape of the teeth themselves.

When it comes to the TPI, a good rule of thumb is the following: a higher TPI blade will make a cleaner cut, but it will take longer to get it done; on the other hand, a lower TPI blade will go through your workpiece faster, but it will leave behind a rougher surface.

Generally, TPI ranges from 6 to 24 teeth per inch. Lower TPI is applied to softer materials like wood, while higher TPI can be found in blades designed for metal cutting. Typically, you want a TPI of 6 to 10 for wood, while higher TPI is required for metal and abrasive materials.

Finally, two words about shape. There are two main possibilities here: the blade could either have milled teeth or ground teeth.

Milled teeth are easily recognizable because they are bent alternatively to both sides of the blade. This has some pros and cons: it helps the blade cut faster and it reduces the blade’s wear. The downside is that the resulting cut will be quite rough.

On the other hand, ground teeth are aligned with the blade itself. This will result in cleaner cuts, but the blade will move slower and it will wear out faster.

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

How long do jigsaw blades last?

It’s difficult to give a unique answer since there are many variables involved. Generally speaking, harder blades tend to last longer and ground teeth blades wear out faster. To make your blades last longer, make sure to use the appropriate blade for each material. When the teeth start to look round, and you find yourself pushing harder to get through the workpiece, then it’s time to change it.

What is a reverse jigsaw blade?

Reverse jigsaw blades are named like that due to the position of their teeth. Instead of being pointed towards the tool, they push the material away from it. This way, you will get a much better finish on the surface in touch with the base of the jigsaw. Reverse blades are particularly useful when you need a better finish on one side of your workpiece and it would be difficult to work from the underside with a normal blade.

What is the best jigsaw blade for MDF?

If you want to work on MDF (medium-density fiberboard) with a jigsaw, you need to be careful about chipping. To avoid that, you should use a higher TPI, grounded teeth blade. It will be slower, but the finish will also be better.

What is the best jigsaw blade for plywood?

Same thing here as what we said about MDF. Go for a high TPI blade. Metal cutting blades are also fine. Keep in mind that it will take some time to go the workpiece with a finer teeth count.

What is the best jigsaw blade for scrolling?

If you want to perform scrolling cuts with a jigsaw, you need a flexible blade that can curve easily and that has a high TPI to guarantee a neat finish. There are specifically designed blades for it: this one on Amazon is a common choice.

Final Thoughts

After this quick article, you should have a much clearer idea about jigsaw blades. As we saw, there are a lot of different things to keep in mind: workpiece material, blade material and length, shank type, and teeth count. And there’s no such thing as universal jigsaw blades.

Choosing the right blade for your application shouldn’t be that difficult, after all. Most of the time the blades come with a detailed description, with simple instructions about proper use.

After identifying the workpiece material, you have done most of the job already. Narrow down your choices based on that, and define your other options (mainly TPI) based on the type of finish you are after.

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