Last Updated on September 5, 2023 by Barry Gray
Whether you’re deciding which saw to purchase or how to use two saws you already have, it’s important to know the differences between scroll saws and jigsaws.
Scroll saws and jigsaws are both nimble, easy-to-use saws with thin blades. But the biggest difference between them is that jigsaws are handheld, but scroll saws are built into their tables.
Jigsaws can be corded or cordless but are always meant to be used by moving the saw blade through the wood by hand. While it’s usually used on a tabletop, the table isn’t a part of the saw itself.
On the other hand, scroll saws are built into their tables. To use one, you move the wood into the saw blade, instead of moving the saw around like a jigsaw. In that way, there are a lot of similarities between scroll saws and band saws. But scroll saws are the best tool for making careful, fine cuts.
There are a few ways to tell scroll saws and jigsaws apart. Those include:
- Blade type
- Cutting capacity
Each of those factors affects the type of work you can do and the types of materials you can cut with these kinds of saws.
Jigsaw and scroll saw blades have some similarities, but their key differences make them suited to distinct kinds of projects. Jigsaws tend to have larger, tougher blades, while scroll saws use smaller ones.
Jigsaws’ larger blades mean that they can make more powerful cuts. Jigsaws can typically cut through tougher materials and cut more quickly than scroll saws.
On the other hand, scroll saws’ thinner and lighter blades make them more suitable for fine, detailed cuts. If you’re cutting a puzzle or making a carving, where precise measurements are important, you might prefer the precision of a scroll saw’s thinner blade.
Jigsaw blades also have some distinct downsides. Because they are larger and more powerful, they also tend to make messier cuts. That can make them unsuitable for cutting outward-facing finished edges, or delicate works that you can’t sand to smoothness.
Scroll saw blades also have their disadvantages. Their lack of power can make using scroll saws frustratingly slow. This is especially true when you consider that they can only cut wood up to two inches deep, meaning that cutting multiple pieces at a time is largely impractical with scroll saws.
Scroll saws are built into their tables, while jigsaws are hand-held. While that offers obvious advantages for jigsaws, scroll saws are actually much easier to move than most other table-mounted saws.
Jigsaws’ handheld format makes them a breeze to move from place to place. It also makes them more maneuverable, able to make cuts on-site in difficult-to-access areas. While some jigsaws need power cords, cordless jigsaws are still relatively inexpensive, and you can take them anywhere as long as you have enough batteries.
There aren’t any cordless scroll saws, and their table mounting makes them more difficult to move from place to place. Compared to jigsaws, scroll saws are much less mobile and difficult to bring onsite.
However, scroll saws are actually very easy to move when compared to other saws. They’re small and light, so even though you need to move a much larger device than a jigsaw, it’s still completely possible to move them where you need with a car.
But at the end of the day, it’s hard to beat a jigsaw’s portability. You can carry one with you wherever you go, from around the house to across the country.
Given their compact size, jigsaws offer surprising power. Scroll saws’ focus on delicate, fine cuts means that they’re less powerful than other saws of their type, but they have more space for a powerful motor than a jigsaw.
It would be easy to think that jigsaws wouldn’t be able to put out as much power because they are small, portable tools. But because they’re equipped with powerful motors and larger blades, they can handle almost anything a scroll saw can. Jigsaws can cut through wood up to 1½” thick, although at that depth you should make sure it isn’t an especially hard wood.
Scroll saws have much more space for a large motor, but their fine blades aren’t meant for powerful cutting. While their cousins the band saws can cut through large pieces of hardwood, scroll saws have a maximum depth of 2”. This is more than jigsaws, but not by much.
Both scroll saws and jigsaws are meant for fine, detailed cutting, not power. But scroll saws can cut through thicker and harder materials than jigsaws, despite their smaller blades.
Because both jigsaws and scroll saws are meant for people who want to make fine cuts and intricate designs, their accuracy is the most important differentiator between the two. It’s also where scroll saws get a clear edge above jigsaws.
Scroll saws are specialized, professional tools built to make the most accurate cuts possible. Because they’re designed for that task, it’s no wonder they do it better than all the others!
Specifically, scroll saws use extremely fine blades, table mounting, and accessories like dust blowers to make cuts as accurate as possible. Their fine blades don’t deliver as much power as some other table-mounted saws, but they do create smooth, thin cuts. They’re also easy to maneuver in tight corners and even round cuts.
Scroll saw’s table-mounted platforms make cutting with them more accurate as well. The blade is much more stable when mounted instead of held by hand, and maneuvering the wood instead of the blade allows for more controlled and consistent results.
Being mounted on a table also makes it possible to add more accessories to scroll saws. Dust blowers are the most common scroll saw accessories, letting the user blow sawdust out of the area where they’re working. This improved visibility makes accurate cutting even easier.
On the other hand, jigsaws allow for less accuracy than scroll saws. Their hand-held format and more powerful blades both decrease the amount of detail with which users can cut.
Obviously, holding powerful, shaking saw to a narrow cutting line is difficult. But that’s a fact that many people don’t fully understand until they start using a jigsaw for themselves. Accurately cutting with a jigsaw requires a strong and steady hand, and usually still results in less precise cutting than scroll saws.
Jigsaw users have another challenge to overcome: the saw’s larger, more powerful blade. Although the larger blade allows jigsaws to almost match scroll saws in power, it also limits the kind of detailed cutting you can do with a jigsaw. Its size prevents narrow, detailed cuts and sharp curves.
One of the most important things to know about scroll saws is that they are limited by their throat size. Throat size refers to the space between the saw’s blade and the back of its table. Obviously, because jigsaws aren’t built into tables, they don’t have a throat size to worry about.
A scroll saw’s throat size limits the size of wood they can cut. Typical scroll saw throat sizes are 16” and 20”, although you can find models outside that range if you’re willing to pay for unusual sizing.
Jigsaws don’t have throat sizes because they’re handheld. While they’re limited in the depth of wood they can cut, they can cut to whatever length you need. That gives them a type of versatility that table-mounted saws just can’t have.
However, a typical scroll saw’s throat size is plenty for cutting most sizes of wood. While you can’t carve large, square plywood planks with them, the typically long and narrow dimensions of lumber will fit just fine on a scroll saw’s table.
Cutting capacity is only a limiting factor if you’re looking to cut especially large pieces of wood. For most woodworking, scroll saws do the job just fine.
As the lighter, smaller option, it’s no wonder that jigsaws are cheaper than scroll saws. While scroll saws are affordable as far as professional woodworking tools go, jigsaws are in an almost completely different price range.
Scroll saws are known for being cheaper than most other woodworking tools. The least expensive scroll saws can go as low as $100, which is considered very inexpensive for professional power tools. The highest-end scroll saws can be as much as $4,000, although that’s rarely necessary, especially for amateurs and hobbyists.
Even though scroll saws have a reputation for being affordable, jigsaws are in a separate price range entirely. It’s easy to find a jigsaw for less than $50, and even the most expensive models are only $300. For someone who doesn’t want to make a serious investment in a power tool, it’s hard to get more reasonable than the price of a jigsaw.
Both jigsaws and scroll saws are safe to use and easy for beginners to learn. A scroll saw stops cutting when you take your foot off the pedal, the same way a jigsaw stops when you let go of its trigger (if you don’t use a trigger lock).
Because scroll saws are table-mounted saws, they’re easy to control and move away from. They aren’t especially powerful, which stops them from rapidly cutting through wood and putting your fingers at risk. If you do have an issue, you can stop the saw as quickly as you can raise your foot.
Jigsaws are similarly safe. While their trigger lock can mean that a jig saw keeps running when you let go of it, it’s still easy to let go of and get away from. One potential issue with jigsaws is that they’re controlled by hand instead of table-mounted, which can lead to more human error. But they aren’t especially powerful saws either, and pose minimal risk even to beginners.
Both scroll saws and jigsaws are built for similar tasks. People using a scroll saw or jigsaw want to easily make small, detailed cuts in wood or other soft materials. For that purpose, scroll saws are clearly better.
Scroll saws have a clear advantage over jigsaws in the most important factor for small, maneuverable saws: cutting accuracy. You can’t beat a scroll saw for its stability and fine cutting blade, both of which make detailed cuts easy. Scroll saws are also more stable, more powerful, and accessibly priced.
Jigsaws are still great tools, especially for beginners and amateurs. Their portability and low prices make them easy to pick up and start using, and they have significant versatility that scroll saws may lack.