Top 10 Scroll Saw Tips and Tricks

 

The scroll saw is an invaluable tool for woodworkers. It makes detailed crafts and crisp fretwork in a way that no other machine can. You might have already learned the basics on how to use a scroll saw such as turning it on, setting it on the bench and how to start cutting. However, there is so much more important information you need to have at your fingertips that might not be present in the saw’s manual. Here are some scroll saw tips and tricks that will make your projects easier, more fun and more successful.

scroll saw cutting plywood

1. Lighting

It will be difficult for you to get a clean cut when using a scroll saw if you can’t see the pattern line properly. You may also experience a perception problem whereby the black blade and the black line visually merge, making it hard for you to tell the exact position of the blade along the line. It is therefore advisable to purchase lights that can be mounted onto the scroll saw.  Alternatively, you can place a lamp next to the saw in such a manner that the blade casts a right-angle shadow on the workpiece. The point of the angle formed by the blade and its shadow will make a good visual reference. For more precision, you can use a magnifier.

2. Blade tension

Blade tension should not be too much or too little. Blades will often break in both cases. Set the tension at that point where you hear a ping when you pluck the blade. At this point it should flex no more than 1/8″ from side to side. If the blade breaks right after you start using it, the tension may be too much. If it wanders, the tension may be too little.

3. Blade retrieval

For you to be an expert scrollsawer, one of the things you’ll need to learn is how to minimize time wastage when changing blades. Most blades become dull or break after about half an hour. You’ll therefore need easy access to an extra supply of blades. One tip you can follow for quick retrieval of blades is to place them on a magnetic strip. The strip should then be attached to the scroll saw stand. Alternatively, you can adhere about 18″ strip of hook-and-loop tape to the side of the saw with epoxy. Next, press containers in which you’ll store the blades against the strip.

4. Warping

Plywood, especially thin plywood, runs the risk of warping. You can prevent it from warping by storing it in a dry, flat surface and placing a heavy piece of wood on top of it. However, this does not imply that you should get rid of warped plywood and go purchase new wood. Dampen the surface of the warped wood and then place it on a flat surface. Place a heavy piece of wood on top of it and leave it for a week or so. Most of the times, a pattern cut out from warped wood straightens out when assembled with other pieces into a project.

drilling wood with drillpress

5. Successful drill pressing

If drilling a hole through a thin piece of wood, you can prevent splitting by placing a scrap piece below your workpiece. If you are drilling through thick wood, you should drill down till that point where you just break through the bottom surface. Stop drilling the wood, turn it over so that the bottom surface is now facing upwards and finish drilling from this side.

6. Keeping stacked parts together

When sawing several identical parts, they should be stacked together and joined using cyanoacrylate glue. The stack will be held firmly by the glue and the project will fall out effortlessly when you’re done with sawing. Make sure you use the glue in moderation, otherwise it may spread to parts that were to be separated after cutting. Clear packing tape can also be used in place of glue. Tape around the stack to hold the pieces in place.

7. Check the teeth

Before you start the saw, always check the direction of the teeth. Make sure they are to the front of the saw and are pointing down. A blade installed backwards will not cut wood. If it is installed upside down, it will pick wood off the table and slap it back down again.  Smaller blades can sometimes rotate while you are tensioning the blade, so be sure to verify the blade is pointing in the right direction.

8. Preventing burning

Put clear packaging tape on top of your hardwood pattern to prevent it from burning. It prevents sawdust from accumulating beneath it and lubricates the blade.  When using thicker and harder material set the saw at a higher speed and conversely a lower speed for softer and thinner woods.

9. Scrolling position

You can operate a scroll saw while standing or sitting. If you are an amateur, it is advisable to always stand in front of the saw so as to easily feed the work into the blade and operate the saw without much effort. Whether sitting or standing, make sure you are always comfortable. Scrollsawing can go on for hours and in the process, fatigue and stiff neck and shoulders can creep in. If you saw while sitting, a swivel chair can come in handy because you can raise it higher and tilt the scroll saw by tipping its back with a piece of wood so that it sits at an angle of about 10 degrees. You’ll be able to work comfortably without leaning over or straining your joints and muscles.  Whenever possible, use a Pedal Foot Switch which allows you to keep both hands on your work for a safer and more exacting experience.

10. Taking care of scroll saw blades

Blades are vulnerable to rust when stored over a long period of time. You can protect them from rust by spraying a thin coat of WD40 or oil on them.  Check out our article on scroll saw blade selection here

Final thoughts

Scroll saw techniques require practice and lots of patience. Just relax and allow the blade to do its work according to its capability. The above scroll saw tips and tricks will help you enhance your skills and derive more self-satisfaction from your woodworking projects.  For some other great reading material to beef up your scrollsawing skills check out these helpful books.

How to Use a Scroll Saw

A scroll saw is a convenient and versatile tool that does fine cutting work using fine blades under tension. It is actually the best saw for making precision cuts in wood, metal and plastic. You may find the saw to be a bit complicated to use at first. However, by following a few simple instructions, you can use it quite simply. Read on to find out how to use a scroll saw.

1. Safety first
Although scroll saws are one of the safest cutting tools available, it is important to always observe some basic safety procedures. Wear safety goggles to prevent eye injuries which may occur from sawdust and broken blades. Wear a dust mask and a hat to cover or hold back long hair.
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2. Prepare the workpiece
Cut the wood, plastic or metal to the required size. Next, draw your own design onto the material or transfer the patterns you want to cut onto it. Ensure the marked lines are clearly visible.

3. Prepare the scroll saw
Before use, the scroll saw should be firmly bolted to the working surface. Install the right blade for the pattern and material to be cut and make sure it firmly fits onto the saw. Make sure to tension the blade properly,  a properly tensioned blade will not deflect more than 1/8 inch from front to back under moderate pressure from your finger at the midpoint.  If the blade is not tensioned properly, it will decrease performance of the saw.  Turn the saw on. If the scroll saw comes with a light, turn it on as well. If it doesn’t, you’ll need to look for a source of strong light and position it near the table so as to see any fine detail clearly. If the saw has a dust blower, turn it on so as to blow away dust and keep a fine line for you to follow as you cut the pattern out. To test the saw to see if it is working properly, take a piece of scrap wood and make a short cut in it.
Woodwork
4. Start cutting
Set the speed of the scroll saw for the material you want to cut. The harder and thinner the material, the slower the speed you should use. Hardwoods for instance need a slower speed than softwoods. Metals require the slowest possible speeds. After adjusting the speed, direct the blade toward the first line to be cut. Use both hands to guide the workpiece into the blade. Move the work through the blade using forefingers of both hands and one thumb. The other fingers should be kept away from the cut line. Make sure you don’t remove both forefingers or one hand as this may cause the piece to jump or create a jagged cut. You should also not rush the piece through the blade as this may make your fingers slip and come into contact with the blade or may create crooked patterns.

When you reach a turning point and have to make a 90 degree turn, move the blade back through the cut line and remove the work from the saw. Insert the work from the beginning of the adjacent line and saw until you reach the point where it meets the first line at the angle. You can now move to the next line.

5. Finishing up
Turn off the saw after you’ve successfully completed cutting out the pattern. Remove the blade and unclamp the saw from the working surface.

Conclusion
The above instructions will help you find scroll saw projects to be fun and easy. Remember, practice makes perfect so keep on practicing and you’ll master the craft before you know it.  If you are new to woodworking and wanting additional resources to help you become a better scroller, check out our post here on informative books to add to your workshop library.

10 Things You Didn’t Know About Scroll Saws

foot powered saw

  1. Two countries were involved in the earliest scroll saws—Germany and France.
  2. Scroll sawing evolved out of European fretworkers and clock makers.
  3. Original “scrollers” (i.e., fretworkers) practiced in Sorrento, Italy which is why most fretwork was called “Sorrento” in the mid-1700s.
  4. Foot-powered scroll saws became extremely popular in Europe and the US in the 1800s.
  5. The original scroll saw was invented by the “father of inlays,” André Charles Boulle.
  6. Hobbies Limited, a British company, was the first company to mass produce the hand-held scroll saw.
  7. Scroll saws as we know them were not manufactured until the mid twentieth century.
  8. Electrical scroll saws differ in designs by the number of pivot points making the saw function.
  9. Rigid arm scroll saws are rare these days because their cast bodies were just too heavy for common use.
  10. The parallel link system is still the most popular saw design, and can have either two pivots or four.

What Came First?

The scroll saw is thought to have developed in Germany during the 1500s with the growing popularity of fretwork—a method of producing complex and precise woodcuts. Before the development of the scroll saw, intricate cuts are believed to have been made with handheld devices (e.g., knife).

Some of the most complex woodworking in Europe in the 1500s came from clock makers. As demand for attractive wooden clocks grew so did an interest in variously designed wood cases for the clocks. It’s believed that for this purpose, a clock-maker in Germany (1500s) invented a design for thin blades capable of making the more popular, intricate designs.

But, that was just the blade.

What Came Next?

The development of the scroll saw from this single blade to the complex table saws we use today wasn’t really a straight line. (Unless you draw a straight line from Germany to France, I guess.)

A craftsman in Paris, André Charles Boulle (1642-1732), was one of the premier woodworkers in Europe at the time. He’s also known as the “father of inlays”—using multi-colored pieces within one whole piece. Boulle designed a U-shaped frame for the German early scroll saw blade. The combination of frame and blade was first called a fretsaw at that time, and the name is still in use today for many handhelds.

The German’s called the new saw Buhl saw (their spelling of the French name). The saw increased in popularity across Europe as more and more craftspeople were able to fashion intricate designs in the Boulle style. The first hand-held fretsaw that later evolved into the scroll saw was mass produced with steel by the British company, Hobbies Limited.

What about the machine?

The scroll saw really started taking on its modern shape in the late 1700s with foot-powered saws being found in Europe and the United States. The saw was literally “larger-than-life.” These saws could be found up to 10 feet in height and used a foot-lever to operate the vertical blade. Many historians cite this foot-powered saw as the earliest version of the jig and scroll saws.

By 1860, many foot-powered and hand-cranked jigsaws were available in the US. In Patrick Spielman’s book, The New Scroll Saw Handbook, he states that historians have “documented over 300 home and industrial jig or scroll-saw machines that appeared in the United States between 1800 and 1960.”

The popularity of the mechanical scroll saw was unprecedented. By 1920s term “scroll saw” was in common use. Multiple brands offered mechanical scroll saws to the public in Europe and the United States. Brands like: W.F. & John Barnes, New Rogers, Star and Lester all produced treadle scroll saws.

1900 scroll saw

 Photo Credit: Dr Junge

How Did We Get Here?

The general idea of the scroll saw, from its earliest invention to now, is a vertical blade that moves up and down to saw materials. Scroll saws began changing quickly in the 20th century.

What made them so popular was that craftspeople could cut a number of materials in a number of ways with a broad range of control. Scroll saws were used for rip cuts, cross cuts, duplicates, compound cuts, and even joints.

Woods being used were as thin as veneer and as thick as 2 inches. Materials spanned thin, thick, soft and hard woods; and even some metals and plastic. Suddenly, woodworkers were able to deliver a higher level of skill and quality with a simple, versatile machine.

One of the key functions of the scroll saw was the pierce cut. A pierce cut is an internal cut (e.g., in the center of a piece of wood) that can be made without cutting through the sides or edges. This simple saw was capable of some advanced and highly desirable woodworking techniques and accounts for its popularity among woodworkers.

By 1970, our modern saws began being produced. There have been two major categories of scroll saws manufactured since that time. The first is the “rigid arm” and the second is the constant tension which includes all parallel link systems.

One of the earliest motorized scroll saws was the rigid arm saw. It was a rigid arm saw because the blade was fixed to a single, “rigid” frame. The fixed arms of the saw looked much like scroll saws do today. The difference is that they did not move. Typically, these saws were made of a cast material which was extremely heavy, but the weight helped reduce the vibration. The blade was held in place by a spring in the upper arm. The bottom of the blade was attached to a rotor in the lower arm that rotated and moved the blade vertically.

The rigid arm blade was an extreme advancement in scroll saws, but the blades were broken easily due to the lack of flexibility in the cut.

The next iteration of the scroll saw was the constant tension saw. These were also called C-arm saws, and really began to resemble our modern saws and their curved shape. The arms pivoted at a single point at the back of the frame. While the cutting action of the C-arm was much easier and effective, the single pivot could keep the cut from being truly vertical. As a result, these saws were used more for production work than fretwork.

It wasn’t until the 1980s that we started to see parallel arm scroll saws. Instead of the single pivot at the back of the saw frame, the parallel link scroll saw had two pivot points at the back—one for the lower arm and one for the upper arm. The design optimized the vertical cut and offered multiple tensioning points. The arms moved by a drive link attached to a motor pushing them up and down. Of course, the improvement to the design was enormous and parallel arm scroll saws are perhaps the most common in the market, but there was one more version on the way.

The fourth type of saw is the double parallel link saw. This design makes use of four pivot points and instead of using a drive link to connect to the arms the rotor connects to a rocker and connecting rod attached to the top and bottom arms. The rocker assemblies at the front of the saw cause the blade to move up and down.

The double parallel link saws offer the most controlled and effective cuts available today, but they are also the most expensive on the market.

Cutting it Down to Size

The history of the scroll saw is one to be appreciated. From a single blade invented in the 1500s, to Boulle’s invention of the bracket and handle, to the foot-powered scrolls, and all the way through the multiple designs of the electric scroll saw, the history is complex and interesting.

Most innovations today are feature-adding like LEDs to light the work, air ports for clearing the workspace, and electrical dials to control the strokes-per-minute.

It’s a history worth knowing, and can help woodworkers think about the tools they use, where they come from and how the saws have improved the craft.

Take a look around the site and see how these designs have transformed woodworking, and your own craft!

Thanks for reading, and happy scrolling.

Top Ten Books to Make You A Better Scroller!

1. Scroll Saw Workbook

by John Nelson

A step-by-step workbook that turns beginners into experts–the Scroll Saw Workbook includes 25 chapters teaching different cuts, patterns and materials. This book is great if you like to approach your learning methodically. The author boasts that you will be able to perform any scroll saw task when you finish the book. Note: The author recommends a plain-end blade, but all projects contained in the book can be done with a pin-end blades as well.

Stars (out of 5)ReviewsPrice RangeLevel
4.756$145-$500Beginner

 

2. The New Scroll Saw Handbook

by Patrick E. Spielman

The New Scroll Saw Handbook is an updated classic woodworking text. Spielman has authored over 20 books on working with scroll saws, and this one is considered his best. It covers saw and blade selection, performing basic techniques with a number of materials, and how to work with different thicknesses.

Stars (out of 5)ReviewsPrice RangeLevel
4.917$9.71-$220Beginner

 

3. Big Book of Scroll Saw Woodworking

by Editors of Scroll Saw Woodworking & Crafts

The value of the “Big Book” is that it assembles some of the craft’s top artists into one book–teaching fretwork, intarsia, and lots of other styles. Other books are introductory to woodworking, or scroll saws; but the Big Book is a reference guide that you can always come back to for answer as you add more skills to your scroll saw mastery.

Stars (out of 5)ReviewsPrice RangeLevel
4.532$17.95-83.44Intermediate

 

4. Popular Mechanics Workshop: Scroll Saw Fundamentals: The Complete Guide

by Rick Peters

If you like having confidence in your publisher, or are just a loyal fan of Popular Mechanics, then this book is for you. This book seems to cover everything! From basic operations of the saws, to simple techniques, materials and even projects you can do in your own shop–the Popular Mechanics manual is a multi-purpose guide to learning the craft.

Stars (out of 5)ReviewsPrice RangeLevel
4.713$6.30-$93.34Beginner-Intermediate

 

5. 128 Compound Scroll Saw Patterns: Original “2-in-1” Designs for 3D Animals and People

by Sam Keener

If you are the learn-by-doing type, then this compilation of 3-D sculpture patterns by Sam Keener is a great place to start practicing your advanced techniques. Keener lays out 128 patterns, each with something new to teach. The book has color photos and easy-to-understand instructions to follow, and you will no doubt come away with a collection of beautiful art made by you!

Stars (out of 5)ReviewsPrice RangeLevel
412$6-$984.37Intermediate-Expert

 

6. Scroll Saw for the First Time

by Dirk Boelman

Part of the “For the First Time” series, this book is full of ideas and patterns to help beginner scrollers get acquainted with some of the easier techniques in the craft; and from there, explore more patterns. The book is illustrated and covers a wide range of fun and attractive projects. Many of the beginners questions about the craft are answered throughout this easy-to-read book.

Stars (out of 5)ReviewsPrice RangeLevel
4.611$3.63-$83.91Beginner

 

7. Scroll Saw Pattern Book

by Patrick Spielman & Patricia Spielman

The more patterns, the better. Patrick and Patricia Spielman have their own book of patterns. The designs vary from lamps, shelves, boxes, lettering, toys, and much more. The instructions are clear and easy to understand. It’s possible that an intermediate to advanced scroll sawer would “outgrow” these simple pattern pretty quickly, but beginners will enjoy having a range of patterns and projects to choose from as they get acquainted with the craft.

Stars (out of 5)ReviewsPrice RangeLevel
4.18$7.95-$15.99Beginner

 

8. The Complete Manual of Woodworking

by A. Jackson

If you want to expand your knowledge on woodworking in general–maybe learn how scroll sawing fits into the larger world, then this book is a great place to start. It covers an exhaustive range of topics from all woodworking techniques, multiple wood types (hard and soft), how to choose your tools, how to use your tools; and it also includes thousands of pictures and diagrams so you can visualize while you learn. This book is a must for the woodworking scholar.

Stars (out of 5)ReviewsPrice RangeLevel
4.590$15.75-$140.08Beginner-Expert

 

9. Intarsia Woodworking for Beginners: Skill-Building Lessons for Creating Beautiful Wood Mosaics: 25 Skill-Building Projects

by Kathy Wise

This book is for those of you who want to dive a little deeper into the technique of intarsia. Kathy Wise has produced a skill-building book with exercises and projects that will help you hone your intarsia skill. The book includes some introductory information to intarsia, and then starts right away with the techniques. The exercises are clear, simple, and build on each other as you explore one of the craft’s most beautiful niches.

Stars (out of 5)ReviewsPrice RangeLevel
4.740$10.76-$333.65Beginner

 

10. Wooden Bowls from the Scroll Saw: 28 Useful and Surprisingly Easy-to-Make Projects

by Carole Rothman

When you’ve learned the basics of scrolling–built a repertoire of techniques and patterns–you can then specialize. (And in this case, break all the rules!) Wooden Bowls from the Scroll Saw teaches scrollers how to apply their skills to make rounded pieces without the use of a lathe. The beautiful patterns and clear explanations make this book a great purchase for anyone ready to take their skills to the next level. The book includes 33 projects, and an appendix for advanced scrollers with advice for creating their own designs.

Stars (out of 5)ReviewsPrice RangeLevel
540$14.50-$984.37Beginner-Expert

Scroll Saw Basics: The complete toolkit [infographic]

With this post, we wanted to go ahead and share with everyone a few new things to help you make the most of your scroll saw. If you’ve recently purchased (or plan to purchase) a new scroll saw, you’re probably curious about a couple of things:

Where do I start?

What else will I need in order to craft better items?

First of all, I want to congratulate you for making the decision to get into this rewarding, fun hobby! It’s a great way to pass the time, inspires us to better our work, keeps us busy, allows us to make our very own decorations and custom gifts for friends… the list just goes on.

Now, we wanted to show you what most projects will require, so that you can dive right in, without having to worry about missing something. To make things nice and easy, we compressed that information into the following infographic:

(click to enlarge)

scroll saw toolkit infographic

Beyond that, you will (of course) need a pattern to follow along. I didn’t include that in the infographic, because it’s not mandatory in the sense that you could technically just design your own (if  you prefer doing that). At some point, however, I do think most people will look at other patterns, at least for inspiration. There are plenty you can find online (both free and paid), so you’ll have a lot to explore with before and after you get into the real work :)

If you want more extensive info, have a look at our hub, here: Scroll Sawing for beginners  – what you need to know. We talk about a few things that will  help you get started, such as:

– How to choose your scroll saw;

– What you need to know about scroll sawing;

– Where to look for patterns and inspiration;

– Where to learn more advanced scroll sawing techniques;

– And finally, watch a set of useful scroll sawing videos to get you started.

Happy crafting!