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How to Use a Scroll Saw

Get intricate detail with a scroll saw.

Scroll saws are the ultimate fine-detail tool for woodworkers, hobbyists and crafters. The thin blade makes it possible to create intricate and complicated designs in wood and other material. But, there is a technique to using a scroll saw, and it could be the difference between success and failure.

We show you how to use a scroll saw in an easy step-by-step guide to help you get the most out of your tool.

Scroll Saw Techniques

Prepare your design. Using a printer and gluing it to the surface of your wood is an easy technique. Choose the right blade. Shorter, slimmer blades are better for thinner stock. Thicker blades suit thicker wood. Always wear safety goggles and a face mask.

What You Can Make with a Scroll Saw

Because scroll saws make fine and intricate cuts, they are better suited to detailed work. The thin blade enables you to turn at tight angles and cut curves. This makes them the ideal tool for cutting dovetail joints, inlay work, intarsia work as well as making musical instruments.

You can even make decorations, children’s toys and jigsaw puzzles.

To achieve this, you need to learn the various cuts and designs you can make with a scroll saw.

Scroll Cutting

This is a general-purpose cut that follows a pattern or template while pushing the workpiece at the same time.

Top Tip

Never force the stock through the saw. It causes the blade to snap or the wood to bind.

Interior Scroll Cutting

This technique involves making curved cuts on the interior of a piece of wood without breaking through to the perimeter of the board.

Stack Cutting

Learning how to stack cut comes with experience and skill. Sometimes you need multiple pieces that have the same designs and dimensions. Stack cutting is the easiest and most effective way to do this.

Parts of a Scroll Saw

Parts of a Scroll Saw

Many elements make up an effective scroll saw. Here are a few key features that leap to mind.

Sawdust Blower

When working in fine detail, you need to see what you are doing. A sawdust blower keeps the workpiece free of debris and gives you a clear line of sight to cut intricate shapes.

Blade Tension Knob

You can adjust the scroll saw blade so that it has more tension. The way to check the tension of the blade is to pluck it like a guitar string to see what noise it makes. It should make a pinging sound. Too loose and the blade will buckle when cutting, and too taught, and the blade is likely to snap.

Bevel Lock Knob

When cutting angles, a bevel knob adjuster is located at the base of the saw, directly under the table for convenience. Adjusting the bevel angle increases the versatility of the scroll saw.

Top Tip

Make a few practice cuts on scrap material before committing to your project, and to check the angle is correct.

Drop Foot

The drop foot prevents the workpiece from moving while the saw is in operation. It holds it in place and stops it from lifting. It should be tight enough to lock it down but have enough slack, so the wood doesn’t drag.

Speed Adjustment Knob

Turning the speed adjustment knob changes the saw’s running rate, increasing or decreasing the strokes per minute (SPM). The speed is directly related to the thickness of the material and the number of teeth on the blade.

How to Use a Scroll Saw Safely

Before embarking on any project, make sure that you have the correct safety equipment. For this task, you will need an N95 face mask and eye goggles.

1. Prepare the Design

Once you have drawn your pattern on the workpiece, you will need to set up your saw. Make sure your design has bridges with patterns to denote the positive and negative spaces. Positive is where the wood stays intact, and negative areas are where the wood is to be removed. For beginners, it is best to stick to simple designs.

2. Safety Gear

We always promote safe practices, and safety equipment is always top of the list. Put on your face mask and goggles. Keep these on for the duration of the project.

3. Check the Saw

Make sure you secure the saw to a flat and stable surface.

4. Choose the Right Blade

Depending on the material thickness, the blade needs to be adequate for the task. Thin wood requires a smaller blade, whereas thicker stock requires a larger blade. If you intend to make stack cuts, a larger blade is the correct choice.

Smaller blades give a finer finish and greater detail.

5. Set the Blade Tension

Once you have chosen the correct blade for the task, make sure that it is tensioned correctly. There is no gauge or blueprint showing how to do this. Mostly, it comes from experience and getting to know the scroll saw and blade.

Try plucking the blade like a guitar string. It should make a pinging sound. If you over tension the blade it will be fragile and prone to snapping, whereas under tensioned blades will buckle under the strain.

Take Note

Larger blades can withstand a greater amount of tension.

6. Power Up

Plug the saw into the wall socket and turn on the saw and light. If your scroll saw doesn’t have a light, get a small lamp and position it to illuminate the work area. Also, switch on the sawdust blower.

7. Test Your Saw

Grab a scrap piece of wood the same thickness as your workpiece and test the saw. This should tell you if the blade is tensioned correctly and whether the lighting is right.

8. Set the Speed

Set the speed on low to start with. You can always adjust as you go. Denser material is easier to cut at a slower rate. It’s also a good idea to start cutting slowly if you are a beginner.

Top Tip

If you are cutting softwood, choose a faster speed. Check out how each type of wood performs with the saw to get an idea on the right speed settings.

9. Guide the Workpiece

Guide your design towards the blade using your forefinger and thumb to push it when you need to change direction. Keep the wood flat and apply gentle pressure. Don’t try and force it. Keep both hands on the wood at all times and keep an eye on your fingers. Never break concentration.

10. Making Turns

When making 90 degree turns, remove the workpiece from the saw. Draw the wood towards you and then slide the blade along the line already cut. Now turn the wood, so it faces the new line and proceed with the cut.

Quick Note

If you are using a spiral blade, you don’t need to worry about removing the wood. These blades are multidirectional and can cut in any direction.

11. Power Off

When you have finished your design, remove the stock, and switch off the machine. Unplug the power cable from the wall socket. Now you can take off your personal protective equipment and examine the fruits of your labor.

Once you are happy, remove the blade for safekeeping and store it away.

Scroll Saw Top Tips

Every experienced scroll saw operator has their favorite hints and tips to make life easier and get the best results. Here are some of our top tips.

  • Tie back long hair to avoid it becoming tangled in the blade.
  • Remove jewelry and wear short sleeves. Again, the last thing you want is for something to snag in the blade and cause injury.
  • Use dry wood as it binds less and passes through the blade with less tension.
  • If you are starting in the middle of the board, drill a pilot hole and insert the blade before you attach it to the scroll saw.
  • Use clear packing tape on the surface of your design to prevent burning. It also helps to lubricate the wood as it passes through the saw.
  • For beginners, it is best to stand when operating the scroll saw. It gives you better control of the stock and allows you to make swift adjustments.
  • Maintain balance by spreading your weight evenly.
  • Always use sharp blades. Dull blades bind and cause the stock to jump. It could be the difference between a smooth result and a disaster.
  • Print out your designs and patterns and then glue them to the surface of the wood. It saves time drawing them out by hand directly on to the project.
  • Use the drop foot or hold-down to prevent the wood from lifting or jumping.
  • Choose the right wood. Baltic birch plywood is a great material to work with.
  • Use a magnifier light to get better clarity and up close to the detail.

The Devil Is in the Detail

Such intricate working requires patience and a keen eye. It also requires a delicate touch to get the best results. Scroll saws are incredibly satisfying, and the amount of things you can produce is incredible.

As with all projects, both big and small, the more preparation work you do, the better the outcome. Always plan, check, and double-check before you make the first cut if you want the best possible result.

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About the Author

Mark Weir

Mark spent 24 years working in real estate, so he knows his way around a home. He also worked with contractors and experts, advising them on issues of planning, investments, and renovations. Mark is no stranger to hands-on experience, having renovated his own home and many properties for resale. He likes nothing better than seeing a project through to completion.