What is a scroll saw and what is it used for? Who should get one and what to look for when buying a new scroll saw? How to use a scroll saw and what are the tips and tricks to get the best results. These are questions I am going to answer today.
Scroll Saw Basics
What is a Scroll Saw?
A scroll saw is a useful power saw that is meant for making ultra-intricate cuts on pieces of wood. If you have ever seen a finely carved of wood art or wooden patterns and sculpture that made you say “wow,” then chances are that it was created using a scroll saw.
Working Principle: Scroll saw works similar to a band saw where you will move the work against the saw blade to make the cut. However, the key difference is that in case of a band saw the saw blade is a continuous loop whereas a reciprocating blade is used in scroll saw.
This makes it very easy for a scroll saw to cut internal profiles. All you need to do is drill a hole in your work piece and insert the scroll saw blade through it and mount the blade on the arm.
Uses of Scroll Saw
A woodworker will find quite a few uses of a scroll saw that other types saw cannot perform.
- Scroll saw is mainly used for woodworkers, craftsmen, and artisans.
- The main purpose of a scroll saw is to cut intricate profiles, patterns and joints on wood, plastic, and metal.
- Commonly used to produce wood carvings, create art work, scrolls, carving on ivory etc.
- You can make intarsia, marquetry, lettered signs and templates.
- Another use of scroll saw is to make wooden toys, jigsaw puzzles etc.
- Carpenters will find the scroll saw useful to cut dovetail joints when manufacturing small furniture, jewelry box etc.
Advantages of Scroll Saw
- The primary advantage of a scroll saw is its ability to cut intricate contours.
- While a band saw may be more versatile, a scroll saw when compared to a band saw is a much more precise cutting machine.
- The resulting edge of a scroll saw cut has a better finish than others sawing processes. Most of the time, you only need very little sanding to achieve the final finish.
- You can control the motion of the saw blade using a foot pedal. This means you can use both your hands to accurately move the workpiece to cut along the desired path.
- Finally, this type of power saw occupies less floor space.
Scroll Saw Buying Guide: What to look for?
Because of its ability to make complex profiles and precise cuts, you may be tempted to buy a scroll saw of your own. But what should you look for when buying one? To help you make an informed purchase I am going to tell you what you should be looking for when buying a scroll saw.
The size of the saw
The size of a scroll saw is often referred to as its “throat size.” Why exactly? Well, the size of a scroll saw is often determined by measuring the area from the very back of the blade to the back of the scroll saw, which is referred to as the “throat.”
Why is this particular measurement important? Well, the throat size of a saw determines what kind of size wood you can cut. A good rule of thumb is to take whatever the throat size is and double it. So, say the throat size of a saw is roughly 15-inches, that means that your scroll saw can cut a roughly 30-inch piece of wood. This scales as well. So, a 30-inch saw can cut a roughly 60-inch piece of wood, and so on.
Obviously, what size you should look for depends on the types of projects that you use your saw for. Bigger saws will cost more, so if you rarely cut big pieces of wood, then you can save some money by purchasing a scroll saw with a smaller throat size.
Personally, I recommend a balanced approach. Get a slightly bigger scroll saw then you actually need, this way you have a bit of versatility if you ever need to do a project or job that requires you to cut a bigger piece of wood than usual.
Blade tensioning mechanism
An important part of using a scroll saw is ensuring that the blade is at the correct tension for the job. It is not uncommon for you to have to change the tension on the fly. Many times, I have been using my scroll saw and found that I needed to adjust the tension of the blade very quickly.
There are a couple of different mechanisms out there for changing the tension on a blade. Some have simple levers that you can move into the desired position, whereas others use knobs. The most important thing, in my opinion, is positioning. On scroll saws, the tensioning system will be located at one of two places, either on the front of the scroll saw or on the back of it.
I can’t stress enough how important it is to get a scroll saw that has the tensioning system on the front of the scroll saw. It will make your life a lot easier if you can adjust the blade’s tension on the fly, which is only possible if the tensioning system is located at the front of the scroll saw.
Different blade types
Scroll saws come with different varieties of blades. In particular, there are two main kinds of blades that you need to be aware of. Firstly, there are pinned blades (also known as pin-end blades). These blades are thicker and thus capable of cutting through thicker pieces of wood; they are also more suited for cutting through tougher pieces of wood.
Unpinned blades or flat blades are the other main variety of scroll saw blade. The flat end blades require you to carefully clamp and set the blade tension.
There are advantages and disadvantages for pinned blades and regular flat blades.
Pros: Easy to lock the blade in position. Once you lock it, the blade is set to the correct tension. They can take heavy loads and is a good choice for cutting thicker work-piece and hardwood.
Cons: The pin-hole design require the blade size to be relatively thicker and wider. As a result, you cannot insert the pinned blades into very small holes. This also means that you have less variety of scroll saw blades to choose from.
Flat Blades (No pin hole)
Pros: Flat unpinned blades come in various sizes including fine blades that can deliver more accurate, intricate cuts. The “nought blades” which are the smallest scroll saw blades, are commonly available without pin-hole.
Cons: You will have to spend extra time to lock the blade and adjust the blade tension correctly.
If you need to make some very difficult cuts on a piece of wood, then an unpinned flat blade is your best option.
Each of these blade types comes with its own subcategories, but the descriptions I gave you above, while general, give you all the information that you really need. Also keep in mind that a thicker wood requires you to use a coarse blade with less TPI, whereas a fine blade works best for thin and hard work-pieces.
Personally, I would suggest you to get a blade that can accept flat blades since you will have plenty of blades to choose for your job, however complex it is.
Blade changing system
One of the things that make power saws such great tools is the ability to change the blade to fit the job. If you need a more precise blade or a more powerful one, then you can swap out your current blade. Scroll saws are no exception to this. You can and should regularly change the blade on your scroll saw to do different kinds of cuts. However, scroll saws generally have two different kinds of blade changing systems. One kind requires you to use tools to swap the blades out. This is obviously a pretty big hassle.
The other kind (and the kind I would recommend getting) allows you to swap out the blade without using any tools. The only downside to the no-tool blade changing system is that the mechanism for swapping the blades can break quite easily; so, make sure you are careful when swapping out blades.
Maximum Angle of Tile
Many scroll saws allow you to tilt the bed to cut bevels or cut at an angle along the thickness of the work-piece. Depending on the type of work you are planning to cut, you may or may not need a blade tilt. If this is important for you, then check the maximum angle at which the work can be titled in relation to the blade.
The choice reciprocating speed of the scroll saw blade depends on the thickness of the wood and hardness of the work-piece you are cutting. While you can cut softwood, plastic, and other softer materials at higher speed, you should reduce the speed to cut hardwood and metal.
Most modern scroll saws have a variable speed option. If you are a scroll saw beginner, I strongly suggest you to start at a lower speed. Cutting at lower speed is much forgiving and safer.
Scroll saws come with various different mechanisms for catching sawdust. Most saws are equipped with a dust blower. Make sure that the size of the bellow and nozzle is adequate and the position of the blower nozzle can be adjusted easily.
One of the worst parts about using a saw is, having to clean up dust after you are done. Some of the scroll saw models have the ability to connect shop vacuum. Getting a saw with a good sawdust catcher can help you avoid the tedious job of cleaning up after you are done with the sawing.
Other, less important factors to consider
What I described above are the key factors that I would advise you to consider when shopping for a scroll saw. However, there are some other, minor factors that you may want to also consider when getting a new saw. For example, the type of blade rocker arm. If you are planning to do lot of fret work, then get one with top lifting arm.
Scroll Saw Table: Another factor that you may want to consider is the saw stand/table that it comes with. Look at both its material and size. Consider if the size is big enough for you. Also, consider if the material used in the table is good.
Lamp: Built-in light is another factor to consider. This may not sound like a big deal since you can always fix an external light. However, keep in mind that you will need adequate light falling on the work-piece especially close to the blade where all the action is taking place.
Brand: This is purely a personal choice. Personally, I prefer Dewalt, Excalibur, and Craftsman brands.
A scroll saw is a great tool to have in a workshop, especially if you enjoy making intricate things like furniture or wooden decorative items.
When buying a scroll saw look for the following:
- The throat size of the saw
- Type of blade; Pin end blade vs regular flat blade.
- Available speed
- Noise and vibration at various speeds.
- Are the control knobs at easily accessible locations?
- The maximum angle of tilt.
- Proper dust removal.
With this buyer’s guide, you now have all the information you need to purchase a scroll saw that fits your needs perfectly.