On my current boat project, building a new cabin for my Lavro Dory, I am cutting up a bunch of marine plywood. And I started to wonder what the best jigsaw blade for Okoume plywood was? Because the standard type of wood blades tend to cause a lot of cross-grain tearout.
Sure, there are many methods to help stop tearout, some mentioned at the end of this article. But after testing seven different jigsaw blades, with two different saws, I am convinced that for all but the most critical work, the right blade can save you those extra work steps, particularly for plywood edges that will be covered with epoxy fillets.
These tests were not scientific, by any means. And the selection of blades was not exhaustive. I just chose a few that were recommended on woodworking websites, and from some friends who are woodworkers and boat builders.
For the tests I did use the same motor speeds, hand speed, and had the orbit function turned off.
The Jigsaw Matters
In the process of this, my dislike for my current jigsaw reached peak levels. It is a reconditioned Dewalt, which I have owned for probably 25 years. It does not seem to hold a line well, blows dust straight up into my eyes out of the side fan vent, and the trigger has been getting sticky. And blade changes are slow. Given all of that, I am surprised just how much wood I have cut with this.
So I pulled the trigger and bought an expensive Bosch JS572EBK, which has a barrel grip. It was highly recommended, often over the more expensive Festool. The saw is fantastic. It runs like an industrial sewing machine, has a unique new double roller guide system for the blade, and has an LED light.
But something weird happened with that new saw. When I used a Makita BR-13 blade, which would cut very cleanly on my old Dewalt, the same blade on the Bosch was absolute crap, and was shredding the wood. As shown in the picture, the two cuts on the left were from the Bosch, and the clean cut on the right with the Dewalt, using the same blade and settings.
And it was not just that blade. It cut worse with all types of blades, and it was confusing the hell out of me. I just about returned it, and was considering spending even more for a cordless Makita. The only thing I could figure was that the blade was not being held firm enough.
And then, when watching a video review of different jigsaws, I had a thought. I noticed that in the video, when installing blades, they often just pushed the blade in, without first pulling back the quick release lever. Now in the Bosch manual, you are directed to manually open the lever first, before inserting the blade. So tried to just push the blade in without opening the lever, and it worked. Not only did it receive the blade, but it also snapped smartly shut on it, and it held the blade more firmly this way. This improved the cutting performance by about 90%.
It still does not cut as cleanly as my old saw, which is irksome. The old saw has a screw clamp method of holding the blade, which is probably just a touch more secure, allowing less vibrational twist in the blade. But I decided to keep the Bosch. It is certainly good enough, and has many other advantages over the old saw. That decision was cemented by the fact that my old Dewalt actually broke during these tests, so the timing of getting the new saw was perfect.
I also discovered something else. Even after figuring out the better way to install the blades, the Makita BR-13 blade, which cut great on the Dewalt, still did not cut nearly as well on the Bosch, which shows that blade performance will vary depending on the machine.
Best Jigsaw Blade For Okoume Plywood? Test Cuts
I created the picture below just to show the results. I made many more cuts than these during actual testing.
The left three blades are fast cut blades. I included them to illustrate the how much cleaner the other four blades cut.
Winner – Bosch T308BP
This was a surprise. The cleanest cutting blade on my new saw was the Bosch T308BP (far right). It was not on my radar for testing, but it came with my new saw. Besides clean cuts, it is also the longest blade of the bunch, and a standard thickness, compared to the blade below. So it is more versatile, and therefore my top choice.
Second – Bosch T101AO
The second best blade overall, is the Bosch T101AO (fourth in). With both saws it cut very cleanly on Okoume plywood. It is also thinner and shorter, removing about 1/2 the kurf of the other blades. This is the go-to blade for kayak builders who are cutting thin plywood or thin lumber strips. You probably would not use this blade on thicker stock.
Side Rant: Hey Bosch, look at how Makita names their blades, and wise up. Their names are easy to remember for re-ordering.
Third – Makita B-10
The Makita B-10 (third from right) was recommended by boat designer and builder John Welsford. He likes it because it cuts plywood fairly clean, but also handles other solid lumber cuts well, which saves him from having to switch blades (or remember silly blade names). My tests confirmed his findings. It would be my third choice for the cleanest cutting of the blades I tested.
Fourth – Makita BR-13
The Makita BR-13 (second from right) was a very clean cutting blade on the Dewalt, but less so on the Bosch. Weird, but interesting. It would be my fourth choice with my Bosch saw. Notice that the top four teeth have a different orientation from the rest of the teeth, which helps prevent tearout. I bet the Bosch has a slightly longer stroke than the Dewalt saw, and those lower teeth get more involved in the surface cuts with this blade, and hence the increased tearout.
Friends also recommended some Festool blades as being excellent. There are also down cutting blades available, specifically for this purpose, although depending on surface grain direction, you may get tearout on the other side with those blades.
Here Are Some Other Methods Of Preventing Jigsaw Blade Tearout
- Scribe the line with a sharp knife before cutting.
- In some limited applications, run the saw upside down under the material. Apparently this is a popular method in Europe, and it also provides an unobstructed view of the cut line. It requires a barrel grip saw. Related to this, I was annoyed my new Bosch requires me to turn the light on and off with a separate button. Why not just have it come on every time the saw is on? And the reason is because if you use it upside down, it will shine in your eyes.
- Cover the cut line with clear packing tape, before cutting, which prevents tear out, and protects prefinished surfaces from saw pad marks.
- Clamp a sacrificial piece of thin wood over the area before cutting.
- Finally, make sure your saw is tuned, carefully regulate forward pressure, and turn off the orbit function.
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