If you are new to the world of woodworking, you are probably wondering what tools and machines you will need. If you are operating on a limited budget, you might need to prioritize which tools you buy now and which ones you buy later.
Two very important tools for woodworking are routers and jigsaws. So, what are they, what are the main differences between them, and if you had to choose just one, which should it be?
Wood Routers and Jigsaw: The Basics
Before we get into talking about the differences between routers and jigsaws, let’s take a quick look at what exactly each of these tools is.
What Is a Wood Router?
A router can be a hand tool or power tool, and it can be handheld or come in the form of a router table. Routers feature bits instead of blades, bits that have very small cutting knives on them, and they rotate.
This spinning cutter, or bit, is used to cut grooves, slots, and hollows into wood and to round wood edges.
What Is a Jigsaw?
Jigsaws are small handheld power tools.
Router vs Jigsaw: What Are the Differences?
The fact of the matter is that wood routers and jigsaws are indeed two totally different tools. Yes, both are woodworking tools, but they serve different purposes, have different functions, and they both have their own strengths and weaknesses.
Jigsaws Are Made for Cutting
The first main difference between the router and the jigsaw that you need to be aware of is that they are fundamentally different tools with different purposes.
A jigsaw’s purpose is to saw wood (and some other materials), plain and simple. Jigsaws have long serrated blades that are ideal for making straight cuts and curved cuts. They can be used to make cross-cuts, rip cuts, angled cuts, and bevel cuts.
On the other hand, the purpose of a router is much different, and unlike a jigsaw, a router is really not a saw at all. The purpose of a router is to round edges and trim down wood. Routers are designed to round off both interior and exterior edges, as well as to create hollows inside of wood. Or, in other words, for purposes such as making bowls, something that a jigsaw cannot do.
Jigsaws Can Cut Deeper
While routers can technically be used as a saw, or in other words, to cut wood apart, this is not their intended purpose. Routers use bits that are designed to cut hollows and grooves into wood. These bits are generally quite short, usually no longer than a couple of inches at most.
Therefore, a router is not ideal or useful for cutting thick pieces of wood.
On the other hand, jigsaws have much longer blades, ones designed to cut apart wood, and they can be up to a few inches in length. Therefore, if you need to saw apart wood, especially thick pieces, then the jigsaw is really the only viable option to go with.
Jigsaws Are Easier to Use
Something that you may not know about jigsaws is that they are actually very easy to use. When making a cut with a jigsaw, you just have to take a pencil or some other marking utensil, make a line, and then follow it.
Due to the straight design of jigsaw blades, as well as the special base they feature, it is very easy to make cuts while following straight lines. In fact, staying on course with a jigsaw is almost easier than making a mistake. Generally speaking, you don’t even really need a guide for jigsaw cuts.
However, router cuts are much harder to make. The reason for this is because routers have rounded bits that spin around their axes, as opposed to jigsaws that have reciprocating blades. Due to the fact that they can spin at up to 24,000 RPM, it is much harder to follow a line and to make a straight cut.
Using a router without some sort of physical guide is not easy and definitely not recommended, particularly if you are a newbie.
Jigsaws Use Blades, Routers Use Bits
Yet another difference between jigsaws and routers, as you might have figured out by now, is that routers have circular bits that rotate around their axes. These can be almost like little sanding bits, or they may also have special cutting blades.
Yes, routers do usually cut away at wood, although the purpose is more to skim the surface than it is to saw. This is unlike a jigsaw that has a long and serrated blade that moves in a reciprocating manner.
As you can see, these really are two fundamentally different tools that function in completely different ways.
Changing Router Bits Is More Complicated
Yet another difference between jigsaws and routers not only has to do with the blades or bits they use but also with how they are changed.
Generally speaking, jigsaw blades are much easier to change than router bits. For jigsaws, all you really need is an Allen screwdriver to loosen the screw holding the blade in place, then you pull the old blade out, put the new one in, and then tighten the screw.
However, when it comes to a router before you can start changing the bit, you first have to lock the bit in place, and this will usually require a wrench. The hardest part here is that when you put the new router bit in, you will need to adjust the depth so that it’s the same as it was before.
Simply put, jigsaw blades are much easier to change than router bits.
It’s Easier to Use Jigsaws Free Hand
We did already mention this in one of the above points, but to expand on it, jigsaws can easily be used freehand without any sort of guide. You can turn a jigsaw on and cut a straight line without much trouble.
However, with a router, you absolutely need some sort of guide to make a cut, or else it will never end up looking good. The only exception is if you are rounding wood edges in which case the board itself serves as a guide.
Routers are Far More Dangerous
Yet another difference between these two tools is how dangerous they are to use. You might think that because a router does not have a saw blade like a jigsaw does, that it is much safer to use, but this is actually not the case. Router bits actually move at a far greater speed than jigsaw blades, which is one reason why they are more dangerous.
Second, due to the fact that jigsaws are much easier to handle, they are also safer because the chances of you slipping and cutting yourself are very minimal. Slipping and cutting yourself with a router is much easier. Routers can also cause wood to crack and shoot out at you, a problem that a jigsaw really doesn’t suffer from.
Routers Can Be Electric or Manual
Jigsaws are always electric. This is the way it is. You won’t ever find a manually powered jigsaw.
Now, although routers are also usually electric, there are manually powered ones out there, or in other words, routers that do not have motors. Although this is rare, motorless hand routers do exist.
Routers Can Be Attached to a Table
Yet another major difference between routers and jigsaws is that some routers come with their own worktables. These are generally referred to as router tables.
Router tables are very convenient because you get both a router and the surface to work on, and they usually come complete with fences, guides, and other cool features. These are almost like a combination between a router and a table saw.
On the other hand, jigsaws only come in that one variety, and they never come with their own bases or tables attached. When using a jigsaw, you also need to have a worktable or a sawhorse.
Routers Make Smoother Cuts
Due to the nature of router bits, although you may need to make several passes to remove as much material as you need, they result in a very smooth texture. Routers can be used to make perfectly rounded edges that barely need to be sanded afterward.
Although routers may take longer to make the same cut, the result is always prettier and smoother.
However, when it comes to a jigsaw, due to that reciprocating blade, they tend to tear wood up, especially things like plywood, and this will then require lots of sanding in the end. Jigsaws may be able to make bigger and faster cuts, but the result is never as smooth as with a router.
Routers Are Better for Curves
The next difference between jigsaws and routers is that while jigsaws are ideal for straight cuts, and while they can be used for curves, due to the rounded shape of router bits, it is much easier to cut curves with them.
If you need to cut curves, a router is often the better way to go.
Router Bits Can Char Wood
Something interesting to note about router bits is that they can char wood.
Router bits move at such high speeds that they generate so much heat, that they can end up literally charring wood. Jigsaw blades move at much slower speeds than router bits, and therefore they usually never char wood.
Jigsaws Can Cut More Types of Materials
Another major difference between these two tools is that routers are really only designed for wood.
Jigsaws, on the other hand, can cut plexiglass, metal, ceramic tile, carpet, and more.
Routers Can Make Cuts That Jigsaws Cannot
Routers can be used to make special cuts such as rabbets, rounded cuts, dadoes, dovetails, and chamfer cuts, none of which can be made with a jigsaw.
They are much more useful when doing wood joinery.
Which of the Two Should You Use?
Making a choice between these two tools should not be hard, mainly because they serve completely different purposes.
If you need a versatile saw that is easy to work with and is ideal for cutting straight lines and curves through a variety of materials, then a jigsaw is the way to go. For recommendations, check this article.
However, if you need a tool that can round wooden edges, hollow out wood, and make grooves, slots, and more, then the router is really the only viable choice.
At the end of the day, what is important to take note of here is that routers and jigsaws are just two fundamentally different tools that serve totally different purposes.
Therefore, which of the two you choose depends on what your needs are and what kind of projects you are looking to tackle.
Eventually, if you are serious about woodworking, you will likely need both.