How to Use a Scroll Saw
If you are a keen woodworker and are looking for a machine to allow you to cut intricate shapes from thin wood, then a scroll saw is likely to be exactly what you need. In this article, you will learn some fundamentals about scroll saws, how to use a scroll saw and how to find the best scroll saw for your needs.
Introduction to Scroll Saws
The Dewalt DW788: a scroll saw for (semi)professional use.
Compare scroll saws on Amazon now.
What Does a Scroll Saw Do?
Scroll saws are precise machines that are designed for particular types of cuts on thin work pieces. They are popular for woodworking but also used to saw metal and other materials.
Typically, a scroll saw has an upper and a lower arm and a blade is spanned between them. On top of the lower arm sits a table which serves as support for the workpiece during the cutting.
What Is a Scroll Saw Used for?
Scroll saws have very thin blades that make them ideal for carving lines and small curves. They are mainly used for making the delicate types of cuts on wood, metal or other materials. Scroll saws are ideal tools to create patterns, decorative elements and inlays (examples) but there are countless other application areas as well.
The basics of working with a scroll saw are comparatively easy to learn. Therefore, it is a popular first tool for woodworking newbies.
How to Use a Scroll Saw: Step-by-Step Guidance
> 2 hours.
Scroll saw work can be fun and tremendously satisfying if done correctly. However, you should always remember that even though the blade is small, it is still a saw and as such, can be dangerous if not used with care.
You should always be mindful as to where your fingers are at all times and always keep them well away from the moving blade.
Follow these 10 steps to create your first decorative object:
- Choose a piece of wood
Select the piece of wood you want to use to make your pattern. You can cut softwood up to 2 inches thick with a scroll saw but this is about the maximum depth of cut.
Preferably, use wood thinner than about 3/4 of an inch as it is easier
For beginners or for intricate work use piece that is less than 1/2 inch thick.
- Design and draft
You can draw on the wood using a pencil or you can print a design on a sheet of paper and stick it to the wood (example). You need to ensure the paper is fully stuck down and the glue has dried before starting any cutting.
- Prepare your scroll saw
Select your working area somewhere where you won’t be disturbed by people walking by. Make sure your scroll saw is secured onto a flat work surface.
Check your scroll saw instructions as to how to clamp it down onto the work surface to ensure it is safe during use.
- Select your blade
There are many different types of scroll saw blade available for woods, sheet metals and other materials such as plastics. They have different tooth sizes and number of teeth per inch depending on their use.
However, for cutting wood board, two sizes are the most commonly used:
1) Scroll saw blade #2 or #3. This type is suitable for wood about 1/8 inch thick.
2) Scroll saw blade #5 or #7. This type is suitable for wood about 3/4 inch thick.
Blades with low numbers are suitable for thinner pieces of wood and the higher numbered blades are for the thicker pieces.
Read more about scroll saw blades in the subsequent section.
You can find blades on Amazon, for instance.
- Adjust the blade tension
Once you have fitted your selected blade, you need to adjust its tension. The correct tension is tight enough so it doesn’t cave when gently pulled but not so tight that it snaps.
You can “pluck” the blade like a guitar string and if it is set to the correct tension, it will make a sharp pinging noise.
- Wear goggles and other safety equipment
Put on your safety goggles before turning your saw on. If you prefer, you can also wear a dust mask.
If you have long hair, be sure to tie it back safely first. Wear clothing that isn’t baggy or hangs down. Take off any jewelry that may hang down or interfere with the saw.
Familiarize yourself with the ground rules of woodworking safety.
- Start cutting
Use a scrap piece of wood the same as your project to test the scroll saw first. You should adjust the saw’s speed, slower for thinner woods and a faster speed for thicker woods.
Using both hands, present the wood to the saw blade, do not force the wood into the blade, rather let the blade do all the work. If you can see the blade is bending, you are applying too much pressure and you will need to go slower to allow the blade more time to cut. Your design may end up crooked if you rush and force the blade as it will no longer be cutting vertically, rather at a slight angle.
- Saw shapes and angles
When cutting shapes, always use two hands and always be careful to keep your fingers well away from the moving blade. Keep pressure on your design at all times otherwise the saw may make it jump. This can be dangerous, ruin your project or break the blade.
When cutting sharp angles with standard blades, remove your project from the saw when making the sharp turn. However, if you are using a spiral blade, you can continue cutting in any direction as this type of blade has 360-degree teeth.
- Cutting out holes
Some pieces of your project may involve cutting holes. To do this, a drill will need to be used to make a small hole.
Unplug your saw for safety before removing the blade and feeding it through the small hole. The hole in your project can then be cut out before unplugging and removing the blade again.
- Put the pieces together and apply wood finish
If your project consists of several work pieces, set them together.
Apply a wood finish to protect the wooden object and enhance its appearance. If you like to give it a color, you might paint or stain it. In case you prefer to retain the natural look of the wood, use an oil as wood finish.
Characteristics of Scroll Saws
If a scroll saw is the right type of saw for you, it can be difficult to work out which model would be the best saw for your needs as there is a wide range of machines at different prices available on the market. Before buying a scroll saw, you want to know which aspects you need to consider to find the best fitting model for your needs.
First of all, determine how you want to use your scroll saws:
- Are you focusing on woodworking only?
- Do you also want to cut plastic or metal?
- Are you only sawing small work pieces or do you use your saw for larger chunks as well?
The heavier, sturdier machines are necessary if you want to work on thicker chunks or hardwood. They also tend to perform the most accurate cuts.
However, the lighter, more portable, tools are powerful enough if for thinner workpieces. Taking their lower price into consideration, a lighter scroll saw is probably the best choice for beginners.
Whichever requirements you have – the following points will help you to make an informed choice.
Most up-to-date scroll Saws are equipped with several variable speed options, usually between 400 SFM and 1,800 SFM (SFM = surface feet per minute). As different material and blades require different speed, a variable speed is a “must have” feature for good scroll saws if you want to use it for more than one application area.
Throat Size and Depth
Throat size and depth both refer to the same thing: the distance between the blade and the throat (support arm) of the scroll saw. This an important aspect when choosing a saw as it may limit the size of the pieces that you can work on.
How to Find Out Which Throat Size You Need
Try to anticipate which type of work you are going to perform with the saw. If you are working with larger pieces, say up to 40 inches, you want to go at least for a 20-inch depth. As a rule of thumb, you can saw a chunk that has a size of two times the depth of your scroll saw if you change direction in the middle of your work piece. While scroll saws are available from 12 up to 30 inches (sorce) , most DIYer buy products in a range of 16 to 20 inches.
As saws with a larger throat size tend to come with a bigger price tag, you may be tempted to buy the smallest and cheapest saw that is fit for purpose. However, don’t forget to consider requirements of future projects as well: you might want to saw a larger chunk in a few months.
Work table sizes vary among the different options, so make sure you buy a worktable size that allows you to work conveniently with the kinds of pieces that you use for your projects. Ideally, the work piece should be lying completely on the table and leave you some space for moving it while sawing. Depending on the work you are planning, you might want to require a Tilting worktable.
How to Find the Best Scroll Saw: Our Expert Reviews
There are numerous options for scroll saws in the market, and it can be confusing to pick the right one. Read our expert reviews and find best scroll saw for your needs.
- Throat size: 16 inches (maximum cutting width)
- Work light, dust port and blower
- 60 Hz motor providing 550-1700 SPM
- Table tilt mechanism
- Uses pin-end or plain saw blades
- Price: $$
(check current price on Amazon)
This scroll saw from Shop Fox comes with all the features you need to accurately cut. It is made out of cast iron, which makes it feel very sturdy and reduces the amount of vibration.
The power of this machine comes from a 1/8 Horsepower, 110-volt, 60Hz motor that can drive the blades to no load speeds of between 550-1700 SPM (strokes per minute). The ability to adjust the speed allows you to optimize the output as your project requires. It works with pin-end or plain saw blades, and includes adaptors that make changing blades an easy process.
To highlight the area you are working on, there is an inbuilt gooseneck work light that can be moved to focus on whatever area you want. It also includes an inbuilt dust port and dust blower, which are essential to clear up the dust that is inevitably created when using the saw.
The other great thing about this saw is that the table tilts up to 45 degrees to give you an even more precise level of control over your work. It will cut most woods of up to 2-inch thickness and with a maximum width of 16 inches.
The majority of customer reviews for this product are positive, with people noting how well the saw deals with tough woods while still giving a great amount of control and precision with the cut being made.
If you are in search for a reliable scroll saw without spending a fortune, then this is worth considering. It is built in a very sturdy way, and at 40 pounds, prevents vibrations from becoming an issue. It seems to be well constructed, but comes with a 2 year warranty just in case anything goes wrong.
Shop Fox W1713 Variable Speed Scroll Saw
- Throat size: 20 inches
- Tool free blade clamps
- Variable speed
- Flexible dust blower
- Unique arm design
- Vibration and noise reducing
- Price: $$$ (check current price on Amazon)
This scroll saw from Dewalt is by far the most expensive in this guide, but comes with meticulous construction and features to justify the price. The first thing to note is that you will need a stand to attach this to, it is available in packages with frames if you don’t already have one.
The unique thing about this saw is the way the double parallel-link arm has been designed. It pivots from the back of the saw to the front, which has the effect of shortening the distance the arm moves, and results in reduced sound and vibrations and has therefore a much better precision with your cuts. The arm is also designed to keep the blade perpendicular to the piece you’re working on, and this reduces your chances of making an over cut or an under cut.
The 1.3 amp motor provides power to turn the blade between 400 to 1750 SPM, with controls positioned nicely within reach. This means you can easily adjust the speed to the level required for whatever you are working on with the electronic variable speed control. This model also has a quick blade change feature, which makes the whole process a lot easier than you find with other machines.
It is sturdy and heavy, with a cast iron table that can be moved 45° to the left and 45° to the right to give you more range. Also included in the box are a set of blades, a hex wrench, and a three-year warranty.
From scroll saw reviews of this product it is clear that there are many happy customers who have found this one to be powerful, sturdy, and reliable. Yes, it comes at a much higher cost than any of the others, so it depends on your budget as to whether this will be an option for you.
Dewalt DW788 Variable Speed Scroll Saw
- Quick setup
- Compact and portable
- Tool free blade changes
- Vacuum port
- 5-piece starter blade set
- Price: $ (check current price on Amazon)
Not everyone has a workshop to keep their expensive tools in, and if that sounds like a problem you face then perhaps this tool from Rockwell is the best scroll saw for you. Made from plastic, it is much smaller and lighter than most other models, and has an inbuilt handle that can be used to carry it. This also means it is easily storable in small spaces.
Of course this portability means that the machine is a lot smaller and less sturdy. Unless you mount this saw on something tough, the vibrations might seriously compromise the precision of any cut you try to make, so this must be taken into account. It is built with rubber feet and a stabilizer bracket so firmly placing it on something is simple enough to do.
The saw is designed to cut wood, metal, ceramic tile, aluminum, and plastic by using standard t-shank blades that are easily interchangeable. The package includes 5 blades that are each specialized for a particular one of those materials, and also comes with a miter gauge and a rip fence. There’s also a built in vacuum port so you can keep the area tidy, and a compartment for storing the spare blades.
Customer reviews have been mixed for this product, but mainly reflect the compromises that have been made for it to be a lower-priced and portable tool. It doesn’t have the power to work on heavy-duty tasks, nor will it perform the cut as quickly and accurately as the more sturdy models.
If you are new to scroll saws and like the idea of a portable and storable model that comes at a low price, this one could be a good choice for you. If you’re looking for something with more power and precision, however, you probably should look at one of the more heavily constructed machines.
Rockwell BladeRunner Portable Tabletop Saw
- Throat size: 18 inches
- Aluminum tilting table
- Toolless blade holder
- Adjustable LED lamp
- Variable speeds of between 500 and 1000 SFM
- Die cast frame of aluminum
- Price: around $$ (check current price on Amazon)
This is a sturdy, well-constructed scroll saw that reduces vibrations and provides the control you need to make precise cuts. You get everything you need in the package, with the scroll saw, a stand, a 5-inch pinned saw blade, and a hex key.
This model has a large 20”x 12-5/8” aluminum work table that tilts between 45° right and 15° left to give you a wide range of motion, with an inbuilt bevel scale on the table top so you can accurately measure the angles at a glance. With convenience in mind for the design, all of the controls for power, speed, the dust blower, and light are located in easy to reach positions on the front and top of the saw.
The machine can provide speeds between 500 and 1000 SFM which allows you optimize the saw for the material you are working on, whether it be plastic, aluminum, or hard and soft woods. The saw dust blower makes sure that the work area is kept clear, and the LED work light keeps the work surface highlighted.
It is easy to use, with a simple blade mechanism to allow quick changes and the steel stand keeps the machine firmly in place. With a number of positive reviews from customers on Amazon, this saw is a durable and well-constructed tool that will perform all the tasks that are asked of it. It’s definitely a great option for you if you are looking for an entry model, but not the right choice for you if you are a more advanced user who is looking for more advanced features and controls.
Porter Cable PCB375SS Variable Speed Scroll Saw
- Dust port adapter
- Quick change blade mechanism
- Can be used as a handheld tool
- Variable speed control
- Fast clamp base
- Price: around $ (check current price on Amazon)
This scroll saw is a completely different type of design to the others in this guide, and focuses on portability and convenience. It can even be detached and used as a handheld tool so you can work on your project wherever it is, rather than bringing it to the tool.
The saw does not come with a stand, but has a clamp base so it can be attached to any surface. This risks vibrations, but shouldn’t be too much of an issue if you securely attach it to a sturdy bench.
Within the package are four wood and plastic blades, four fine wood blades, and a metal blade. These are a great addition and mean that you can use the saw to cut through a variety of different materials. Accessories and blades can be quickly changed by using the “auto tensioning quick change” feature.
The best thing about this saw is its portability. Not only can it be detached and used as a handheld device, but even with the base it is only 4.7 pounds. This makes it easily transportable and storable, and a great option if you don’t have space in a workshop to store a larger machine. This is not a tool that’s going to perform the most complex of tasks, but if you’re a beginner or have light uses you will find it to be more than capable.
There are mixed feelings about this saw from customer reviews, with some people mentioning high levels of vibration and that it is not always powerful enough to make precise cuts. The majority of reviewers have been happy, though, and find it to be perfectly good, especially as it takes up so little space and is so portable.
Dremel MS20-01 Compact Scroll Saw Kit
Which One is the Best Scroll Saw – The Verdict
Our choice for the best scroll saw is the Dewalt DW788. It is the most expensive by far, but also the sturdiest, best constructed, and gives you the most control over the precision of your cuts. If you find a good deal or have the budget to spare, this tool is definitely worth your consideration.
If you are not willing to invest that much, the Shop Fox W1713 will be a good alternative – it does not perform as well as the Dewalt but is a few hundred bucks cheaper and should be good enough for most DIY scroll saw projects.
The Highlights: Parallel-link arms, many features and great durability.
|Check latest deals on Amazon|
Best budget choice:
The Highlight: Table tilt to 45°
The Highlight: Compact design and portable
|Check latest deals on Amazon||Check latest deals on Amazon|
|Porter Cable PCB375SS Variable Speed Scroll Saw||Dremel MS20-01 Compact Scroll Saw Kit|
The Highlight: Bevel scale for angle readings
The Highlight: Parallel-link arms, can be used as handheld tool
|Check latest deals on Amazon||Check latest deals on Amazon|
Which Blades You Should Use
A scroll saw is useless without blades. When buying blades, you will have to consider the order and type of their teeth but also the size of the blade: The thicker the material, the higher your blade number should be. Use a 3-blade for thin wood and a 9- or even 12-blade for very thick and hard wood, for instance.
The following types of blades are some of the most common blades in the market:
The teeth are equally sized and in a regular distance to each other. Standard blades are usually available for wood and metal.
A standard blade.
Find them on Amazon.
Skip Tooth Blades
Skip tooth blades are quite similar to standard blades but with teeth further apart – this reduces friction which is supposed to increase the lifetime of the blade.
Skip tooth blades.
Find skip tooth blades on Amazon.
These blades consist of two teeth combined followed by an empty space. Double-tooth blades ensure a clean cut of wooden or plastic work pieces.
Reverse Skip-tooth Blades
This type of blades varies from a skip-tooth blade by having reversed bottom teeth which helps prevent splintering of the material .
Other Types of Blades
There are various other types of blades (e.g. precision ground blades or spiral blades) that can be used with a scroll saw. For finding the right one, theory and manufacturer recommendations give you an idea which blade fits with your project.
Find these blades on Amazon.
However, you should try the blades first on a chunk of the same material that you are working with before you start working on your actual project. This will help you to get used to your blade and to check whether the behavior and the cut meet your needs. Find the right scroll saw blades on Amazon now.
In this long post, you have learned some fundamentals about scroll saws, 10 steps how to use a scroll saw, the differences between several types of blades as well as how to find the best saw for your needs.
Scroll saw work can be fun indeed, and we hope that you are sharing our enthusiasm for this easy and rewarding woodworking hobby! Let us know your thoughts by leaving a comment or sending us a message.
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