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I just bought a cheap jigsaw power tool. I'd like to have a go at making a jigsaw puzzle with it, but all of the videos etc I've seen involve using a scroll saw instead.

I know that I could just get some cheap plywood and do some experiments, but I wondered if anyone else had tried this or had any advice?

One thing is that the pieces would be really big - it would probably be like a 1 foot by two foot rectangle cut into 12 pieces - so the contours shouldn't have to be very "tight".

One thing I was considering was to use clamps to hold the jigsaw tool in place on my workmate, with the blade going through the gap between the top parts, so I could then hold the thing i'm cutting and push it through the blade, rather than trying to manoeuvre the jigsaw tool around the contours that I want to cut. Is this an insanely dangerous idea (or if you prefer, a really good way to cut my fingers off?). I've got some welders gloves I could wear for a bit of protection.

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    How crude do you want it to be, or are you willing to accept it being? Because you are not going to get the fit you expect for a jigsaw puzzle with the misnomered power tool... Also - gloves around saws are generally NOT a safety enhancement.
    – Ecnerwal
    Oct 18 at 14:32
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    Note that modern "jigsaw" puzzles (the common ones with cardboard pieces) are not made with a jigsaw. No saw that I know of can cut with enough precision without losing material in between the pieces and making them fit very loosely. They're more likely using a die cutting process, which slices through without any loss of material. Wooden and plastic ones are more likely done using a computer-controlled laser cutter. Oct 19 at 15:11
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    I've made a few acrylic puzzles with a laser cutter and even then the kerf seems a bit large for "normal" sized pieces, making the fit very loose. And that kerf is on the sub-millimeter scale, so a 1/16"-1/32" of a jigsaw blade is massive. I'm not sure how that would work for even large pieces. As for gloves, they will likely catch on the blade and draw the fingers in, rather than protect them. Oct 19 at 17:09
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    @computercarguy Yeah, I think most quality laser-cut pieces are usually cut separately in order to get a snug fit, not from a single connected piece. Harder to do accurately (probably impossible by hand), but there are techniques. Oct 19 at 20:46
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    When I was 12, I got a jigsaw for Christmas. And I did exactly this. I would take magazine pictures, glue then to pieces of wood (simple pine boards in my case) and cut away. Edges were rough, picture tore a bit, and you can only get so tight. But there are narrow jigsaw blades, you can make some decent curves. The hardest part is holding the material down properly. But it was a bit of summer fun for me. Oct 20 at 15:02
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Can I?

Sure, why the heck not?

Will you like the results?

Maybe, maybe not.

As you've noted, if you're going to DIY a jigsaw puzzle, you'd usually cut it with a scroll saw. That's because the blade of a scroll saw is much more fine than that of a jigsaw. It will give you much smoother cuts in addition to being able to make tighter curves. The tight curves may not be that important to you, but you may not be happy with the rough cuts you get from the jigsaw.

You'd probably have to sand not only the top/bottom of the plywood to round over the corners to avoid the possibility of splinters/cuts, but you'd probably also want to sand the cut surfaces themselves to make a nicer finish. When you've finished with the sanding, you probably won't have tight fitting pieces anymore. Actually, since the jigsaw blade is very thick (in comparison to a scroll saw blade), you won't even start with tight fitting pieces.

IF, however, your goal is primarily to gain experience with the tool and you don't care that much about the final result (i.e. you'll be happy even if it's a fairly sloppy fitting puzzle), then by all means go ahead and do it! You're gaining experience and learning, and there's nothing wrong with that!

use clamps to hold the jigsaw tool in place on my workmate, with the blade going through the gap between the top parts

Generally a bad idea, though I've seen it proposed on many YT videos. You'll have to reach under the bench to turn the jigsaw on and lock the motor on. Does yours even have a trigger lock? Once it's locked on, you have to reach back under the bench, reaching more or less blindly, for the trigger to unlock it. It's possible to get your hand into the area where the blade is moving and cut yourself.

If you have to turn the saw off in a hurry because the blade is jamming, or the wood is moving out of control, then you don't have a quick, safe way to reach the power to prevent blood loss. Never a good plan.

I've got some welders gloves I could wear for a bit of protection.

Welding gloves won't offer much in the way of protection against a jigsaw blade. It'll cut through even thick leather pretty darn quickly. It will give you an extra fraction of a second before the blade reaches flesh, but not much.

In general, it is recommended to not wear gloves when using power tools (with the possible exception of cut-proof, chain mail gloves like meat cutters wear). The material in the gloves doesn't offer much protection against the sharp bits (noted above), and they have the added bonus of tending to get caught up by the sharp bit and pull your hand in toward the sharp parts. Avoid gloves when working with power tools.

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    I've done this before in a shop class, and this answer pretty much sums up my experience. Definitely possible, but after cleaning everything up you have big gaps between the pieces. Not good if you want a workable puzzle, but perfectly fine for arts-and-crafts purposes.
    – bta
    Oct 19 at 0:43
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    Well, @nick012000, it's quite true that you can look underneath to see where the trigger is and carefully reach for it. However, if the blade is still in the middle of the wood, there is a distinct chance that you'll move it when you're looking for the switch, potentially making a cut where you didn't want one. Also, I specifically made the point that you cannot turn it off quickly in case of emergency. So your point is valid in certain, limited situations, but mine still stands, especially when time is of the essence.
    – FreeMan
    Oct 19 at 15:05
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    It's not just how thick the blade is but also the width it is from tip of tooth to the back edge. That is a major factor on your turning radius of the cut. Wider blades for stronger or thick materials will cause the blade to bind on small curves. And narrow blades will deflect, twist, or warp on thicker materials, causing a non-vertical cut and not staying on the cut line, or breaking or slowing down the cut significantly. Oct 19 at 17:19
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    Mounting a jigsaw under a table is no different than mounting a router: you need a suitable switch, on the power cord, mounted at the side of the table, preferably with a pull-on/slap-off mechanism. Basically, the same switch sold for router tables.
    – JDługosz
    Oct 19 at 23:34
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    All really good advice, thanks. I had already abandoned the idea of clamping the jigsaw under a workbench, for the reasons you state here. It's good to know about the gloves. I think it's likely that I will end up with a very loose fitting jigsaw but I think that might be ok. Oct 20 at 9:36
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You can do this, but there are a few things to be aware of. First, you need to use a blade made for scrolling, tight cuts. This blade is about half the thickness (from the teeth to the back of the blades) so it can make tighter curves. The tooth pattern is also designed for clean cuts.

jigsaw blade

Second, you have to make sure the jigsaw is very secure. They sell attachments to do exactly what you want, and they are designed to hold the jigsaw tightly. You can make your own, but spend some time on it to make it precise and strong. Realize that a scroll saw supports both ends of the blade. If you push too hard on this jigsaw attachment, or use too hard of a wood, the blade could catch and break. Wear safety glasses, of course.

jigsaw table mount

(Not a product recommendation, just using to illustrate the idea)

Third is safety, and you have to realize that a super sharp blade poking up through a table with no guard is pretty dangerous. A scroll saw has an arm on the top so there it's at least a little harder to catch your hand on. You want to be careful with this and not wear gloves. When working with saws, its better to get a clean cut than to have a glove catch on a blade and pull your hand in (in the case of rotating tools) or to just get stuck.

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  • That's all really useful, thanks. Regarding the workbench, I was planning on clamping it so that the blade was poking down and the tool was on top, but thinking about this more, I don't think it's actually physically possible as how can I slide the wood under it? So, i think i would instead go down the traditional route of clamping the wood and moving the tool about. I will definitely buy that blade, thanks. Oct 18 at 15:08
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    TBH, I fail to see the advantage to this particular setup. Why not put the fence mounting knobs on the other side of the base plate and use the saw upright as it was intended? It seems to me that it would be almost as quick (you may need to clamp the wood you're cutting, so it would take a few extra moments), but it seems much more safe to use the tool as designed.
    – FreeMan
    Oct 18 at 15:08
  • With that blade, I notice that there's no direction on the teeth (ie they are symmetrical top to bottom), is that part of what allows a tighter corner, or a thinner cut? Oct 18 at 15:11
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    @MaxWilliams, yes, and also when you are cutting a curve, a directional blade would cause quite a bit of tearout on the stroke opposite of the tooth direction.
    – JPhi1618
    Oct 18 at 16:33
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    @MaxWilliams Symmetrical teeth are slower but make nicer, smoother cuts.
    – yo'
    Oct 20 at 13:37
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As said, the two problems are the Kerf width (the wood wasted to the blade width) and doing tight turns nicely.

Change your plan. Instead of "cut one sheet into a jigsaw puzzle" consider that you're making and fitting a number of parts together.

Print two copies of your cut-pattern, and glue them to alternate pieces of wood. Colour them alternately like a chess board, but opposite on the second piece.

Then use your saw to cut every other piece out by staying strictly outside the line. Yes, that means every second puzzle piece will be scrap, but you'll end up with a grid of pieces to hand-file to a perfect match. You will want to drill entry holes for the jigsaw blade, rather than driving through the corners.

To get those tight inside corners, just nibble away at them. The interlocking piece will come from the other set of blocks.

If hand-filing gets too much, you might find a die-filer a useful tool. I've made one out of an old sewing machine, so it is already variable-speed from a foot pedal, leaving both hands free to move the work piece around.

If the material wastage feels excessive then another option is to cut all the internal pieces identically so they tessellate, and they could all go anywhere. Once the puzzle is assembled, you could cut the sides straight or make custom pieces for the sides and corners.

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    This. Use templates and make 'parts' leaving you with a x3 pile of scrap. You don't have to clamp anything when you're cutting it out of an 8'x4'. And gloves are not part of the equation.
    – Mazura
    Oct 19 at 22:59
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    Great idea, thanks. Oct 20 at 9:37
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There's a couple of things to keep in mind

  1. Jigsaws are harder to control for that kind of precise cut. You have one hand on the saw and one on the material. A scroll saw (or even a small band saw) affords you the use of both hands
  2. While a clamped saw can help, you'll still do better on a tool that has a table built-in (where you can freely move the material around the blade)

Beyond that, you can do this using a narrow small-toothed blade. If precision is something you seek (and for a jigsaw puzzle that will be important), and you have the time, buy yourself a coping saw and do it by hand.

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    If the work piece is clamped, you could use both hands to control the saw. This is my normal setup. One hand on the handle/trigger, the other with two fingers on the saw base, helping to precisely guide it. Of course, blade bending can/will reduce the precision, but at least the top is pretty accurate this way.
    – FreeMan
    Oct 18 at 16:05
  • @FreeMan yes, i'd decided to clamp the wood to the workbench as you say. Oct 20 at 9:38

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