Many jigsaws today have orbital modes you can use to adjust the aggressiveness of the cut. But why do you need 3 or more modes? Even some of the best reciprocating saws are usually content to have an on and off. An orbital jigsaw isn’t a demolition tool, of course. However, knowing how and when to use orbital action on your jigsaw can help you get the best performance and finish in your work.
Editor’s Note: Check out our best cordless jigsaw reviews article for our top recommendations.
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What is an Orbital Jigsaw?
An orbital jigsaw is simply a jigsaw that has at least one orbital setting, though most have three. You can find orbital modes on both corded and cordless models and it’s a feature that lets you make very fast cuts in wood.
What Does Jigsaw Orbital Action Do?
Jigsaw orbital action takes the blade’s straight sawing movement and adds increasing levels of elliptical motion to it. That motion creates a faster, more aggressive cut exactly the same way it does for a reciprocating saw.
With the elliptical motion, sawdust and material chips can clear the teeth more easily and cut through the material faster. The trade-off is that you experience more tear-out, higher vibration, and less control during the cut. Managing those trade-offs is how you decide when to use it and at what level.
How to Use Jigsaw Orbital Action
Using orbital action on a jigsaw is pretty straightforward. Most saws have a dial on the side of the saw marked 0 – 3 (0 – 2 or on/off if it has fewer modes). Just flip the dial to the setting you want and pull the trigger.
When to Use the Orbital Jigsaw Settings
The key to pulling all of this together is knowing when you use the orbital jigsaw settings. There are a few guidelines to go by depending on the material you’re cutting and the type of cut you’re making.
In general, orbital jigsaw modes are best in wood, while turning them off is best in metal. There’s a wide range of qualifiers, though.
Metal cutting is the easy one. Keep the orbital action off and pay attention to your speed. A slower blade speed often cuts faster in metal. Feel free to experiment on scrap material, though. Several of our Pros like a light orbital on thicker metal and aluminum.
When cutting wood, keep orbital action off when you need the cleanest finish or you’re making scroll cuts. The orbital action can really work against your control, especially when you’re trying to make tight curved cuts.
If you’re making a rough, straight cut, go ahead and kick it all the way to the most aggressive orbital action setting.
When you’re making sweeping, gentle curved cuts, that’s when you want to use one of the middle settings to balance your speed and control.
Pro Tip: For those relatively new to jigsawing, faster cutting speeds can quickly turn to a loss of control. Quality results trump fast cuts, especially if it means wasting material. Slow down and turn that orbital mode off if you feel like you’re not able to follow your cutline well.
The exception to using your jigsaw’s orbital action in wood is when you’re making a plunge cut. You need the tip of the blade to stay engaged against the material as you push down, and even light orbital action is tough.
When it comes to plastics, we usually leave the orbital action off. The same goes for fiberglass. Jigsaws are plenty fast enough to make those cuts quickly with a straight cutting action. There’s some disagreement in our ranks, and a few of our guys will use light or even medium orbital action in plastic.
Laminates such as countertops can handle a medium or high orbital setting.
You can use the most aggressive orbital action on drywall. Most of those cuts happen on hung drywall and cutting out a gang box with a plunge cut start is easiest without it.
Today’s orbital jigsaw options include models that are well within reach of a DIY budget. It’s an incredibly helpful feature to help speed up your cuts in the appropriate materials and types of cuts. We highly recommend you buy a jigsaw with orbital action and take some time working with scrap material to master how and when to use it.
Questions? Comments? We’d love to hear from you! Feel free to leave them in the comments section below.