From what I was taught, a scroll saw is a table top saw, with a thin blade used for scrolling work. Though I've also heard these tools referred to as jigsaws.

scroll saw

Manufacturers also offer portable saws, which are designed for making similar intricate cuts. These tools seem to be know as either jigsaws, or sabre (saber) saws.

sabre/jig saw

To muddy the waters further, scrolling sabre saws are also available.

scrolling sabre saw

Are there any differences between sabre and jig saws, or are they all the same? Does the blade being used in the tool make a difference?


5 Answers 5


As discussed in some of the answers to What is the difference between a sabre saw and a jig saw, the terminology has been used differently over time. What we call a scroll saw today (a stationary/benchtop tool with the blade fixed at both ends) was commonly called a jigsaw many years ago.

scroll saw labeled as orbital jigsaw 1 scroll saw labeled as orbital jigsaw 2

(Source: craigslist)

Today's handheld jigsaw (with the blade fixed at only one end) was also commonly called a sabre saw, and some manufacturers still do use this name (more on this later).

Further adding to the confusion is the Rockwell BladeRunner, which is neither called a scroll saw nor a jigsaw. It looks like a scroll saw but uses jigsaw blades that are installed upside-down (compared to a handheld jigsaw).

Rockwell BladeRunner


The term "scroll cut" or "scrolling cut" is used generally to refer to a curved cut. Curved cuts made on a scroll saw, jigsaw/sabre saw, or even a bandsaw can all be referred to as scroll cuts. Thinner blades (front to back) allow you to cut tighter curves, and some such jigsaw blades are advertised as scroll blades.

That said, the "scrolling" feature of the pictured scrolling sabre saw appears to be the knob that lets you rotate the blade. Old advertisements for sabre saws/jigsaws also picture this knob, but this feature seems to be somewhat less common on modern-day jigsaws.

vintage sabre saw ad


There is a somewhat dubious about.com article which claims handheld jigsaws with this blade-rotating feature were named sabre saws and those without the feature were called jigsaws. Although this seems plausible, the article does not cite any references and the author, who seems to be a hobbyist woodworker and self-proclaimed "woodworking expert," does not appear to have any credentials which would suggest he is any more a definitive authority on the subject than any other hobbyist.

As noted in some of the answers on the previously-linked question, some people also use the term "sabre saw" to refer to a reciprocating saw, but until someone digs up some literature in which a tool manufacturer labels or calls a reciprocating saw a sabre saw, I think the only reasonable conclusion is that it is incorrect to call a reciprocating saw a sabre saw.

reciprocating saw


  • Does the knob rotate the blade? My dad had a jigsaw that had a free spinning knob that did not rotate the blade, but was on axis with the blade, allowing you to hold it and steer the saw like a shopping cart (as in it pivots around the front "wheels".
    – Phil
    Jul 1, 2015 at 17:11
  • 1
    @Phil Some do seem to allow you to rotate the blade, such as the one in the vintage ad I've added and the newer Craftsman model which is pictured in the original question.
    – rob
    Jul 1, 2015 at 20:09
  • That Bladerunner is an odd beast. I can't imagine what use I would have for it ... I guess it might function something like a portable bandsaw?
    – Daniel B.
    Jul 1, 2015 at 20:42
  • @DanielB. It functions like a scroll saw with a wide blade, but really it's just an upside-down, table-mounted jigsaw with an overarm hold-down. It might be similar to a bandsaw in terms of the blade width, but a bandsaw blade revolves in a circular motion so the blade is always pushing the workpiece into the table. Bandsaw and scroll saw blades can also be thinner (in terms of kerf) since they are always under tension when cutting, vs. a jigsaw/sabre saw blade which is only under tension on the upstroke (or downstroke, in the case of the BladeRunner).
    – rob
    Jul 1, 2015 at 21:15
  • Do you think that sabre saws might be so named because the blade is secured on one end and free on the other much like a horseman might wield a sabre? In addition the last three saws that you picture share the fact that they are reciprocating saws regardless of whether they are called such. Maybe because one of my first power tools was a jigsaw similar to that depicted in your first image, I have trouble referring to a hand-held reciprocating saw as a jig-saw even though I usually know what others are talking about when they do so.
    – Ast Pace
    Feb 4, 2016 at 5:15

rob does a good job of covering the overall use of the tools. I find these discussions interesting since it is possible to be right but have different answers. All of these types of saws function in the same way. Some are better at dealing with intricate work and some are designed for rough jobs. It does not help that the names of these tools could be interchangeable (reciprocating saw being the worst offender of vague tool name).

Scroll Saw

I have always understood the first tool you show as a scroll saw. It is known to have a blade fixed on both ends and is, typically, used for intricate work. The unit is fixed (not hand held or particularity mobile) and you move your work piece around the table. Similar to a band-saw, the blade and work piece are in cleaner view than a hand held jigsaw. I have always understood these to cut at 90 degrees given how the tool is constructed. This is by design since the arm does not rotate. Some have tilting tables to make up for this.


I consider the jigsaw to be the middle ground between a reciprocating saw and a scroll saw. The jigsaw is represented by the other pictures you have shown. It's a smaller reciprocating saw and not fixed like a scroll saw. You can use a variety of blades of varying sizes and material designates. The base on many modern jigsaws pivot to allow angles to be cut. The mobility is arguably its greatest asset.

As I tried to cover the grey area between sabre saws and jigsaws, I'm with rob in that I do not think reciprocating saws fall into this category. In short sabre saw was a common term to describe a jigsaw and appears to have evolved in name. Older woodworkers still refer to jigsaws as sabre saws.

Reciprocating saws are meant for rough work to get the job done quickly. I have used them in demolition for studs and nails. I own one today for help with pallets. They don't generally have a place in fine woodworking.


The real reason I wanted to post this is I found more old ads that might explain the evolution of tools and terms. The first I found interesting since it is for a scroll saw from 1880's. Besides being foot pedaled it looks much the same as its powered modern descendant. I have not found any conflicting information as to this tool's name over time.

Scroll Saw

Image From AtticPaper

More on the sabre saw/jigsaw mix up

Jig/Sabre Saw tool label

Images from Kijiji

I found this on sale at Kijiji. The great thing about it is that it is labelled as both a jigsaw and sabre saw. I could see this as an attempt to remove the potential confusion between tools' names but that is just speculation. I still think the fight is over and both side are right for this one!

Recipro Saw

One of the earlier models I was able to locate of a "Recipro Saw". Specifically the "Skil Model 577 Recipro Saw". Very similar design to the modern reciprocating saws we see now. Hand placement is relatively the same as well.

Recipro Saw

Image Source: eBay

In conclusion

These tools all function similarly. Each is better suited for certain work and woodworkers can easily have a bias towards one over the other. As I have seen here at WW countless times is that people will recognize the same tool under a different name but they are not necessarily wrong.

While I didn't really cover it, the blades are what can make the biggest difference when it comes to how tight the angles are that you can make, how clean the cut is and in some cases depth of cut.

  • I think i may have inherited one of those Skil recipro saws. Never figured out what it was intended to be. Thanks!
    – keshlam
    Jul 6, 2015 at 6:27
  • It's neat that the manual scroll saw has a little blower near the blade. It would be neat to see one of those in a maintained or restored state :)
    – Daniel B.
    Jul 6, 2015 at 15:27

As many posts have mentioned for a number of tools and techniques, the woodworking terminology waters are muddy.

Your first image is what I would refer to as a scroll saw; however, in the past these were referred to as jig saws.

The second two are what I would refer to as jig saws; however, they have also been referred to as saber saws. My understanding is that at some point, the blade of some models of jig saw was made to turn at an angle to the body and that the models with this functionality were referred to as "saber saws." I'm not sure if there's any merit to that.

Finally, a saber saw, while being used interchangeably for a jig saw (the modern handheld meaning) may also be used refer to a reciprocating saw, sometimes called a "Sawzall," which is actually a trademark; it's like calling adhesive bandages band-aids. This is most likely a misuse of the term and I don't recommend calling a reciprocating saw a saber saw. As Rob mentions, I would be surprised to see one labeled as such by a manufacturer.

In short: there is ambiguity, but in my opinion the surest way to ensure people know which you're referring to would be to call your first image a scroll saw, the second two jig saws, and the following image a reciprocating saw.

enter image description here

  • 1
    I've never heard a reciprocating saw referred to as a sabre saw, that's a new one to me.
    – Tester101
    Jul 1, 2015 at 18:49
  • I've always heard "reciprocating saw" as the general term for the Sawzall brand. Jul 1, 2015 at 19:23
  • Looked at the linked post. Both of these points are covered there
    – Matt
    Jul 1, 2015 at 19:24
  • @Tester101 Like much of our terminology, it's likely a matter of the age of the woodworker and the region they're in. The image I linked is from a wikipedia page: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sabre_saw I think the safe thing would be to eschew the term "saber saw" and be (somewhat) clear with "jig saw" or "reciprocating saw" to distinguish the two.
    – Daniel B.
    Jul 1, 2015 at 20:03
  • @Matt Apparently being gone for a few weeks means I haven't seen some new posts. It's nice that the place is hopping now!
    – Daniel B.
    Jul 1, 2015 at 20:04

I have a couple of examples of manufacturer terminology to present, which frankly only serve to reinforce the idea that these terms have had their meaning folded, spindled and mutilated by various marketing departments.

At least in the late 1960s, Black & Decker was calling this thing a jigsaw: Black & Decker Jigsaw late 1960s

More recently we have a Craftsman Sabre saw: Craftsman Sabre saw

And a Sears Craftsman Auto Scroller saw: enter image description here


Since this popped to the top of the list today:

I think that the term "saber saw" is a generic reference to the saber - a single edged sword for cutting and thrusting. All of the tools that have been referenced in the question and answers have some variation of a single-edged cutting and thrusting blade.

If one eliminates the word "saber" (or "sabre" if you prefer the Queen's English) from the discussion, there seem to be a pretty strong consensus that:

  • A scroll saw is a table top saw with the blade held at both ends designed for intricate cuts
  • A jig saw is a hand-held saw with the blade held at one end, the motor in a perpendicular alignment to the blade, and a large base designed for stability on the work piece allowing for free-flowing cuts, generally of less precision than those of the scroll saw
  • A reciprocating saw is a hand-held saw with the blade held at one end with the motor (generally) in-line with the cutting blade that is designed for generally rough work (though one can be quite precise with one with practice).

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