The illusion was developed in the late 1960s or early 1970s as a further development of Robert Harbin's Bow Saw illusion.
The illusion uses an arched frame that fits over the waist of the audience volunteer. The frame is attached to a flat board by a hinge at one end. This board passes below the volunteer's waist, and is then locked in place by a catch at the other end, securing the frame in place around the assistant's body. In some versions, the frame does not have the hinged board attached, and simply rests in place above the volunteer's waist. In both versions, the frame is made up from two side pieces, which have a narrow slot between them. Some versions of the illusion include a narrow slot positioned just below the top of the frame, right above the middle of the volunteer's waist. This is used to hold a flat piece of wood, which the saw cuts through to prove that it has passed right through the volunteer's body.
The other piece of equipment used in the illusion is an electric jig saw, of the kind used for home DIY, adapted with a longer blade. The frame has a guide along the top edge into which the saw fits, and which guides the saw along the length of the frame so that it passes across the volunteer's body.
PerformanceThe performance begins with the magician showing the audience volunteer the frame and saw. He then gets them to sit down, either on the floor, a table or on a board supported by two chairs or frames. The magician then places the frame behind the volunteer, hinges it open, and asks them to recline so that they are laying over the board. The frame is then closed over them and locked shut by the retaining catch. As the hole in the frame is larger than most women's waists, a gap will exist between the volunteer's waist and the frame. To plug this gap, the magician uses a large silk cloth. Many magicians will start with a white cloth and then, having inserted it, will pretend to have second thoughts and replace it with a red one "just in case". With the frame in place over the volunteer's waist and the cloth inserted, the magician then inserts a flat piece of wood into the slot above their waist (if present).
Picking up the saw, the magician turns it on to demonstrate that it is real. Some magicians will also use it to cut a piece of wood to show that the blade is real and capable of cutting. Having demonstrated the saw, the magician then turns the saw off again and inserts the blade into the slot between the frame halves on one side of the volunteer's waist. Switching the saw back on, the magician then pushes it forwards, running it across the top of the frame. As the saw moves along the top of the frame, the blade cuts through the volunteer's waist, and also through the wood above, eventually emerging from the other side of the frame having passed completely through the volunteer's body. The magician then turns off the saw and releases the volunteer from the frame.
Like the Bow Saw, the simplicity of this illusion and the fact that it can be performed on an unprepared volunteer has made it a popular choice for magicians performing with guest celebrity assistants.
- In the 1970s, an unknown magician performed the Jig Saw on The Golden Shot hostess Anne Aston.
- Blue Peter presenter Konnie Huq was Jig-Sawed by a young magician during the show's Halloween edition in 2003.
- The 2013 movie Desperate Acts of Magic contains a scene where the character of Trixie, played by actress Allison Volk, is Jig-Sawed by magician Geoff, played by real-life magician Rob Zabrecky.