Why is it that every time I use this jigsaw, the blade breaks right before I finish the project?" complained my father. My parents were visiting and Dad was spending a lot of time in the garage creating wooden toys for our kids. My hubby Patrick was a bit embarrassed. Dad knows how to use a jigsaw, so Patrick knew that the $30 Black and Decker jigsaw he bought ten years ago was probably to blame. "Every year," he told me after my parents had flown home, "I'm embarrassed by the cheapness of my jigsaw when your dad comes here. When I bought that thing, I went for the bottom of the line. But I can't seem to make a straight cut with it. I thought since I wasn't going to use it very often, I didn't need to buy a durable, contractor-grade saw. But maybe there is more to it than durability." I decided to research and buy a quality jigsaw to spare my hubby more embarrassment and to relieve Dad's blade-breaking frustration. I spoke with a salesman at White Cap tool store to get some hints on what to buy. "You get what you pay for in any power tool that you buy," he explained. "If you buy an off-brand jigsaw, it is not going to perform as well. The tools we sell here are more for the contractor, the guys that are going to be depending on them to make money."

How much should you expect to pay?

"I would say between $150 and $200 ," he said. "I wouldn't spend more than $200 if you are a homeowner. First, you want to look at how often you are going to be using the saw; what you are doing with it, how well you want your product to turn out, and how dependable you want it to be. If you are going to use it one time and probably never again, save yourself some money, go with a less expensive one. But if you will be using the tool for a hobby, buy a really good saw, buy dependability."

White Cap sells Bosch and DeWalt jigsaws. "With any tool there are going to be little characteristics for each one," he said. "Some highlights of the Bosch are one-touch blade change. You use one hand to get the blade into it, so it is really simple. The bevel, which is the plate on the bottom, is real easy to adjust, so you can adjust the angle that you are cutting. Some of the saws have dials for the trigger so that you can dial in your speed; you can set an adjustable speed.

"There are top-handled jigsaws and there are also fine-cut power hand saws, which are similar," he continued. "There are different SPMs, strokes-per-minute. There is one that has a five-amp motor, and it is a variable speed from 500 SPM to 3100 SPM. Having the variable speed is important so that you can fine-guide yourself around the material. Because, normally, when you are using a jigsaw, you are cutting designs. So having that maneuverability, that variable speed, is very important with a jigsaw. Most jigsaws are from 500 to 3100 [SPM]. There is also different amperage for the different saws. Some saws have 5 amps, others 6.4 amps. More amps mean more power."

Patrick's old Black and Decker jigsaw is 2.5 amps. My man deserves more power. But the White Cap salesman, who asked not to be named, explained that there's more to look for than power. "When you are working with jigsaws, what wears out is the blade. So you want to be able to change the blade easily."

Patrick has to use a screwdriver to replace the blade on his jigsaw -- always a source of grumbling (or worse), especially if he and the saw are at one end of the house and the screwdriver is in the garage at the other end.

"Also," the salesman continued, "You have to use the proper blade. Don't use a woodcutting blade to cut metal. Bosch sells a set of five blades for $17 , contractor-grade, for metal and wood with nails."

What size boards can you cut with a jigsaw? I asked him.

"It depends on what kind of blade," he replied. "Cutting capacity for aluminum is three-quarters of an inch thick. Plastics you can go an inch and a quarter; steel, three-eighths; stainless steel, one-eighth of an inch; and the cutting capacity for wood is three and three-eighths inches."

I've seen both Patrick and Dad get frustrated with tangled extension cords. I asked the salesman if White Cap sells any cordless jigsaws and if he'd recommend them.

"We sell a DeWalt cordless jigsaw ( $121 )," he answered. "It is a little bit more compact and easier to use. It has 5.5 amps, so it is going to give you a lot of power. But, for use around the house, normally you have access to power, and it is not a big hassle to plug one in. You can set up in your garage or home shop and use a powered [corded] saw."

That night, I told Patrick I wanted him to buy himself a new jigsaw on me. I gave him all the information the White Cap man gave me, and I expected him to spend around $150 . He came home from Home Depot with a Ryobi jigsaw, which he described as not contractor-grade, but good do-it-yourself quality. The 5.5-amp saw featured a laser guide and a quick-release blade change for $69 .

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