It's been awhile since I switched from a Yankee screwdriver to
a cordless drill, but I still remember how it revolutionized
the way I installed door hardware. Like a lot of other
carpenters, my first cordless tool was a Makita 9.6-volt pistol
grip. About ten years ago, I went cordless with a second tool,
a 14.4-volt DeWalt 5 3/8-inch circular saw. Although it looked
a little like a toy when I first saw it, it turned out to be a
sturdy and productive tool that changed the way our finish
carpentry crew did business. As we continued to add cordless
tools, we noticed we were accumulating many different kinds of
chargers and batteries. The different voltages and
manufacturers meant a lot of redundancy and additional expense,
so we ultimately standardized by going to DeWalt's 18-volt
cordless tools. Although most of DeWalt's cordless tools have
performed well over the years, the jigsaw's reliability has
been disappointing, so I recently went looking for a new
cordless jigsaw, despite our commitment to a single 18-volt
We tested 18-volt saws from Bosch, DeWalt, and Makita, along
with a 19.2-volt Porter-Cable saw and a 12-volt Milwaukee saw.
We put the saws out in the field for more than four months.
Although our needs are fairly simple (tasks like notching
window stools and cutting curves in wall caps for bull-nosed
corners), the tools got a daily workout. I also did some
side-by-side testing in the shop.
Bosch 52318, 18-volt
At just under 7 pounds, this top-handle saw is relatively
light and small for an 18-volt model. It features a
smooth-operating variable-speed trigger and a sliding safety
lock that you can turn off. The handle has indentations for
your thumb and index finger, so you can slide your hand forward
and pull the trigger with your middle or ring finger. That
combined with padding on top makes for a very comfortable
handle. The blade changing system is the best of the bunch.
When you push the lever, the blade is ejected and falls into
your hand — especially fun when the blade is
The shoe has one positive stop at 90 degrees. Unfortunately,
it doesn't slide back for close-in cutting, and for adjustments
you need a hex wrench, which isn't carried on board. The
four-position orbital adjustment lever is easily accessible and
operates smoothly. The air blower adjuster is small and hard to
reach, but it works. Although this saw exhibits a moderate
amount of vibration, I give it high marks because everything
else is very good.
DeWalt DW933, 18-volt
This saw weighs in at 7 1/2 pounds. It has a nice top-handle
design that's easy to use because it has a well-designed safety
that you can turn off, similar to Bosch's design. Padding
enhances the handle's comfortable shape, and the variable-speed
trigger operates smoothly. Although blade changing isn't as
fast as on other models, using the top-mounted lever is fairly
Both orbit and blower selectors have three positions and are
easily accessed and operated. The shoe doesn't slide back for
close-in cutting, but tilting is easily accomplished by moving
a lever under the shoe. You can adjust how firmly it holds the
Because we've used the DeWalt 18-volt battery platform for
many years, this jigsaw has been our standard issue, receiving
a lot of use. We went looking for another saw because we've had
repeated failure of the orbital action, occasional failure of
the blade-holding system, and an occasional misaligned
reciprocating shaft on new saws. Comparing its reliability to
the other saws is somewhat unfair, because its weaknesses have
been revealed over time, and the other saws haven't been tested
for an equal duration. Its strong points are the nice handle
Makita 4334D, 18-volt
This top-handle saw has a trigger underneath and a safety
button on top. It weighs just over 7 1/2 pounds. You have to
depress the safety to start the saw, but once it's running, you
can change hand positions without holding it. This is the only
saw we tested with a speed control dial, and it's located close
to the trigger. The Makita accepts both types of jigsaw blades.
Blade changing is not fast but works well enough. The shoe
slides back to allow close-in cutting, and it includes a
removable protective cover. The blade tilt works easily via a
lever, but there's only one positive stop, at 90 degrees. The
four- position orbital selector is a little stiff to operate,
but it's easily accessible. This saw automatically blows air to
clear sawdust, but it can't be regulated.
Overall this is a powerful, sturdy, and low-vibration saw.
Weak points include the blade change system and the safety you
have to engage every time you start the motor.
Milwaukee 6267-20, 12-volt
At 5 pounds 10 ounces, this barrel-grip model is the lightest,
longest, and lowest of the group. This tool uses T-shank
blades, and changes are easy. You lift a large lever on the
front of the saw, insert a blade, and release the lever.
Although this tool has no blower to clear the cut line, it does
have a vacuum attachment under the grip. With the hose
attached, your hand positions are limited, and, although the
removable, transparent blade guard helps with vacuum
efficiency, it also restricts the view of the cut.
The shoe tilts from 0 to 45 degrees with positive stops at 15,
30, and 45 degrees. The hex wrench that's needed for
adjustments is carried on board. The shoe slides back for
close- quarters pocket cuts and includes a protective sub
The motor switch, which is mounted on the left side, requires
more effort than a trigger. As a right-hander, I had no trouble
using it, but a left-handed crew member had difficulty sliding
the switch with his index finger. A four-position selector
controls orbital action. This saw operates smoothly, but at 12
volts it lacks power compared with the other saws.
Porter-Cable 643, 19.2-volt
At over 8 pounds, and with a sizable housing, this saw is the
biggest and most powerful of the bunch. The top- handle design
features a safety lock that you can leave off, so it allows a
lot of freedom in hand position during operation.
Grip-enhancing padding on the side of the handle makes it
comfortable to use. The trigger has very smooth variable-speed
action, but the tool vibrates more than the others. Changing
blades took a little practice. Although it's a tool-less
procedure, it requires the use of two small levers, plus the
blade has to be at the bottom of its stroke. In addition, it
takes some fiddling and turning to free the blade.
The shoe tilts easily by means of a slide-out lever. Positive
detents at 15, 30, and 45 degrees help with common angles. But
you need a screwdriver to slide the shoe back for close-in
cuts. The four-position orbit selector operates smoothly, but
the blower selector is small and difficult to operate. It blows
just enough air to be useful, however.
My overall favorite is the Bosch because of the combination of
features in a relatively light and small package. The blade
change feature is especially nice, as is the handle. The
19.2-volt Porter-Cable is also a good tool with plenty of
power, but it's bigger than the others, and changing blades
takes some getting used to.Ross Welshis a finish carpentry subcontractor in