What Is an Orbital Jigsaw and When to Use It (A Clear Answer)

Jigsaws come in different shapes, sizes, and colors, and you’ve probably heard about an orbital jigsaw. But you want to know, what is an orbital jigsaw? Well, that is what you will discover in this article, as well as how you can use it for materials such as wood metal and so many other applications.

What Is an Orbital Jigsaw?

An orbital jigsaw has a swinging action of the saw blade, where the blade tilts forward with each stroke. This feature will help you move through the material easier and faster.

An orbital jigsaw, like a regular jigsaw, comes with a motor, a handle, and a straight, narrow blade mounted perpendicular to the tool. The only difference is that the orbital jigsaw has an extra button on the side.

When you buy an orbital jigsaw you can choose from models that have a cord, but there are also models with cordless batteries and lithium-ion batteries, which are proving to be increasingly popular due to their cordless convenience. Discover all about the differences in my article The Great Debate: Corded Vs Cordless Jigsaw – Which One To Buy?

What Is an Orbital Jigsaw and When to Use It - The extra button on the orbital jigsaw
What Is an Orbital Jigsaw and When to Use It – The extra button on the orbital jigsaw

Pro Tip

A jigsaw may look like a harmless tool, but it can seriously injure you if you handle it carelessly. So read the useful safety tips in my article Jigsaw Safety Tips: How to Use Your Jigsaw Without Injury

Disclosure: At zero cost to you, I may get commissions for purchases made through links in this post. I earn from qualifying purchases as an Amazon associate. Products featured are selected based on quality, performance, and reputation, regardless of affiliate relationships.

Orbital Jigsaw Vs Jigsaw, What’s the Difference?

In this section, I will introduce you to the differences between the orbital jigsaw vs jigsaw. This will give you a better idea of ​​what to look for when you want to buy a jigsaw that is adapted to your workshop.

A standard jigsaw.

A standard action jigsaw moves the jigsaw blades in a straight up-and-down motion, with each stroke perfectly perpendicular to the length of the tool.
This standard action will cut slightly slower than the orbital action, but there will be less tearing and splintering.

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An orbital jigsaw.

So, what is an orbital jigsaw, that is the big question of this article. Well, an orbital jigsaw is just like the standard jigsaw, only it has the orbital action added. With each stroke, the blade is tilted slightly forward into the workpiece as it is pulled up.

On the down stroke, the blade is tilted back slightly, and at the longest point of the stroke, it is tilted back again, just in time for the next pull.

If you were to follow these movements of the blade of an orbital jigsaw in full action , you will see that it follows an elliptical path.

Many jigsaws also come with an orbital action setting, which allows you to convert your jigsaw into an orbital jigsaw with a dial or switch.

Because of the blade tilt, an orbital jigsaw has a more aggressive cutting action than a standard action jigsaw. As a result, this action will require more power from the motor, but you will be able to use the jigsaw more efficiently for a variety of applications. This tool, for example, is better suited for sawing along the grain of thick pieces of wood or working with harder materials such as laminate worktop boards.

One disadvantage of orbital jigsaws is that their aggressive cutting action causes them to vibrate more, and the cut they make is also rougher and coarser.

What Is the Advantage of an Orbital Jigsaw?

The primary benefit of an orbital jigsaw over a standard action jigsaw is the speed and efficiency with which it can make cuts. An orbital jigsaw or a jigsaw with the orbital action setting activated can cut through thicker or harder materials more quickly.

An orbital jigsaw’s swinging motion makes the jigsaw blade less likely to bind and become pinched by the material. In addition to driving the jigsaw blade’s teeth into the material, the pendulum action clears sawdust and chips from the cut, keeping the blade’s path clear of debris and excess material.

This also results in less friction during the cutting process. The less friction there is along the blade, the cooler it becomes and the longer you can use the orbital jigsaw before stopping. The blade’s sharpness and cutting life are also improved because there is less debris and sawdust to contend with each strike.

More info about finding the right jigsaw blade for the project you are working on, I recommend you to read my article, Choosing the perfect jigsaw blades in 3 simple steps

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What Is the Disadvantage of an Orbital Jigsaw?

However an orbital jigsaw has many advantages, an orbital jigsaw is less effective when cutting thin pieces or when working on hard materials such as metal or ceramic.
You could also read earlier that with some types of wood or some cuts, the wood will tear or splinter more easily. More tips on how to avoid splintering with a jigsaw can be found in this article here.
Also, when starting plunge cuts, it is impossible to do this while the orbital action is enabled.

How to Use Jigsaw Orbital Action

Using orbital action on a jigsaw is really, really simple. When you look at the jigsaw, you will see that they have an extra button in contrast to the standard jigsaw . This dial on the side of the saw is marked with numbers depending on the number of positions available.

Usually this will range from 0 to 3 where the zero position stands for completely switched off and the 3 for the greatest tilt in the saw blade and therefore the most aggressive cut. Simply turn the dial to the desired setting and pull the trigger.

What Is an Orbital Jigsaw and When to Use It - The orbital action range from 0 to 3 on my jigsaw
What Is an Orbital Jigsaw and When to Use It – The orbital action range from 0 to 3 on my jigsaw

When To Use the jigsaw Orbital Settings

The jigsaw orbital action is not desired in every situation. So it comes down to knowing when to use the orbital jigsaw settings. There are a few guidelines to follow depending on the material you are cutting and the type of cut you are making.

In general, orbital jigsaw modes are best in wood, while turning them off is best in metal. However, there is a wide range of qualifications.


If you want a smooth finish with little tear out or splinters, keep the orbital action off when cutting wood. It is also better to switch off the orbital action when you want to cut a lot of turns. this one can really work against your control, especially when trying to make tight curved cuts.

Never use the orbital action of your jigsaw in wood when making a plunge cut. You need the tip of the blade to hold against the material as you push down, and even in light orbital action this is an impossible task.

You can put the orbital action all the way to the highest setting if you’re making a rough, straight cut. Be careful because higher cutting speeds can quickly lead to loss of control. Slow down and turn off that orbital mode if you feel like you can’t follow your cut line very well. more tips on how to cut straight with a jigsaw can be found in this article.

However, if you’re making smooth, gently curved cuts , you can use one of the medium settings to balance your speed and control.


Cutting metal with the jigsaw is easy. Always hold out orbital action and slow down your speed. A lower blade speed often cuts faster in metal.

Other materials

The most aggressive orbital action can be used on drywall.

Laminates such as worktops, on the other hand, can be cut with a medium or high orbital setting.

For cutting plastics it is better to switch off the orbital action in most cases. Jigsaws are plenty fast enough to make those cuts quickly with a straight sawing motion.

Pro Tip

Jigsaws are great tools, but in some situations jigsaw alternatives may give better results or be easier to use for the project you are working on. Check out the different options in my article Jigsaw Who? 7 Innovative Jigsaw Alternative Tools That Will Amaze You, and expand your knowledge.


Although orbital action is present in the majority of jigsaws available today. Many brands like Festool, Makita, Dewalt and so many others will offer these options. It is still important to check to see if it is present. In my opinion, it is preferable to purchase a jigsaw with this feature because you can turn it off when not in use.

For more information on what to look for when purchasing a jigsaw , I recommend reading my article How To Choose A Jigsaw – The Best Jig Saw Buying Guide. That article is jam-packed with advice that will undoubtedly help you find the best jigsaw for your workshop.

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