The Beginner’s Guide To The Scroll Saw

The Beginner’s Guide To The Scroll Saw

If there’s one power tool that’s the easiest to use and has the most specialized use for cutting wood, it’s undoubtedly the scroll saw. Although referred to as a specialty saw, these power devices are actually quite versatile in what they can achieve, but with the added bonus of being able to create intricate cuts and delicate designs.

Scroll saws have been a popular tool of choice for centuries, with some believing that the very first variation was around the 1500s.

Although these tools likely look nothing like the powerful devices we know today, the same basic logic is applied to how they work and what they’re capable of. For many woodworkers and metalworkers, there’s no better tool to use on their projects than the scroll saw.

Scroll saw.

So, what is it that makes these tools so unique and why are they favored by so many? We’re going to take a look at some of the most popular uses for scroll saws and just how versatile they can be. Not only are they great for basic woodworking projects but a whole range of DIY and home uses, too, so they’re certainly a worthy investment.

Just like any power tool, though, owning a scroll saw comes with a set of responsibilities. Although they are famously easy to use and one of the safest types of power saws around, a user should still be careful to operate it correctly and give it the ongoing maintenance it needs.

With a quality scroll saw that’s been well looked after in your workshop, you’ll be rewarded with years of service and versatility from this one magnificent power tool

What Is A Scroll Saw?

There are so many different types and styles of saws around, and just figuring out which one is which and what their best uses are can be a headache. The scroll saw is a fairly simple style of saw that’s mainly used by woodworkers, as its number one benefit is how it can get into small, tight spaces and carve intricate patterns and designs.

Scroll saws are quite small when compared to other saws, and they are operated either electrically or with a pedal. These saws are capable of making finer cuts thanks to their blade, which can be so small that they’re about the same width of a strand of hair.

For this reason, there really is no comparison if you’re looking for something to make intricate cuts and do elaborate designs.

A scroll saw works by using a pivoting table that the operator can move as they wish, with the blade staying in the same position. They were originally designed to carve scrollwork and other delicate ornaments, so they have quite a long history in these types of projects.

Scroll saw cutting wood.

By using a reciprocating blade, the scroll saw works in an up and down motion which enables it to achieve these fine cuts. One of the huge advantages these saws have is that you’re able to remove the blade and then place it through a pre-drilled hole, so you can saw from the inside of a piece of wood as well as the out, all without an entry slot.

Although you are able to get scroll saws that work with all kinds of materials like plastic and metal, the most popular format is wood. Any good woodworker will have a scroll saw in their workshop, and for many of them, it’s the only tool they rely on as it’s capable of doing so much.

Some might find the initial cost of investing a scroll saw expensive, but with a quality one that lasts years, they really are one of the only things you’ll ever need.

The Best Uses For A Scroll Saw

If you’ve never used a scroll saw before you might be surprised to learn just how versatile they are, even though they’re considered by many to be a specialty saw.

Scroll saws can be used just about anywhere you need either commercially or domestically, depending on the size of the saw and the project you’re working on. Here are the most common ways that people put their scroll saws to good use.

Arts And Crafts

If you’re someone who loves to create with your own two hands rather than waste money on poorly made home décor or gifts for people, a scroll saw is a good choice. You can make scalloped mirrors, wooden nativity scenes, door hangers, name plaques, and more with the intricate blades of the scroll saw.

Some might even like to start their own home business making arts and crafts when they see how easy it is to create something beautiful.

Hobbies

For many owners of scroll saws, they have one purely to satisfy a hobby. There are so many woodworkers out there, both amateur and professional, and all of them undoubtedly have a scroll saw in their workshop.

Using your scroll saw.

You can make furniture for the home and office, create garden pieces, and renovate some of your existing household items into something unique and intricate with a scroll saw.

DIY Work

As an added bonus to getting creative, many homeowners find that their scroll saw is the perfect tool for those odd jobs around the house. You can cut PVC pipe, create joints and curves, and fix anything that’s broken with a scroll saw. Just be sure you're using the right style of blade for the job otherwise you can do serious damage to the saw itself.

People love the scroll saw because it’s so simple to use and when compared to other styles is considered one of the safest. This means it’s ideal for beginners to woodworking and loved by those with years of experience, so either way, a quality scroll saw is going to be a worthwhile investment.

The Difference Between A Scroll Saw, Jig Saw, And Band Saw

Even those with years of experience operating a scroll saw might still find themselves confused when comparing them to other saws. If you’ve never bought a saw before you might be especially confused about how they differ and which ones are best for which projects, so we’ve done a quick comparison of the scroll saw next to the jigsaw and band saw.

Price

This is all dependent on the brand that you choose and whether you might consider refurbished or second-hand models. A good scroll saw is relatively cheap when compared to the other types with most beginners being able to get a good quality one for around $200 or less.

Functionality

The jigsaw is used to bring the tool to the work, however, a scroll saw must stay in one position. There are some products that allow you to remove the saw from the base but this effectively changes the type of saw it is. A scroll saw is a hybrid of both band saws and jigsaws so you get the best of both worlds.

Ease Of Use

The clear winner for the easiest saw is the scroll saw, and it’s also considered the safest of the three. Because they are operated with a pedal it’s easy to keep your hands clear when you need to, and there is no danger of losing control and hurting yourself like you’d find with a jigsaw.

Versatility

There’s no doubt that the band saw is considered the most versatile of all the saws, and would best suit someone looking for an all-rounder to use at home. You can get benchtop band saws that are small and portable so you can carry them around to the different jobs you’re doing.

The scroll saw is best suited for intricate designs like arts and crafts, hobbies, and DIY jobs around the house, where the jigsaw is great for larger cuts.

Scroll saw craft.

In an ideal world, every workshop would just have one of each saw and be able to enjoy them as they needed. For most people, though, their budget is restricted and so is the space in their workshop, so choosing one is important. If you use your saw for intricate cuts, woodworking, and arts and crafts, there’s no denying that the scroll saw is a clear winner.

What Types Of Blades Does A Scroll Saw Use?

Many manufacturers of scroll saws will include some blades in with the saw packaging, but if you’ve never shopped for blades before it can be a challenging topic.

If you ask a sample group of scroll saw owners what their preferred blades are it’s likely you’d get a different answer from each of them, so it can be a personal decision. Here are some of the common styles of blade and what they’re best for:

Reverse Tooth

These are the most common style of blade, featuring ¾ of the blade with teeth facing one way to cut from the top and the other ¼ facing the opposite direction and pointing upwards. The main benefit is less sanding when you’re done, which can save a whole lot of time and energy.

Skip Tooth And Double Skip Tooth

Just as the name implies, a skip tooth blade is missing a tooth on every second one. These can reduce the wood burning but also create a more aggressive cut. A double skip tooth blade is even more aggressive which makes it easier to manage for beginner woodworkers.

Non-Reverse

These blades are when every tooth faces down rather than some pointing in different directions.

Depending on what you’re making, there’s likely to be a blade that best suits the project. If you’re completely new to woodworking or using a scroll saw you might even like to test the blades out on some scrap wood, then you’ll get an idea of where it’s going to be most beneficial.

How Deep Does A Scroll Saw Cut And Why Size Matters?

If you’re wondering just how far your scroll saw can cut, it’s best to look at the manufacturer’s guidelines. Scroll saws are categorized by the size of their throat which is how far it measures from the blade to the rear frame.

If you’re after something that only needs to work with thin and small pieces of wood, you’re able to get them as small as 12 inches on the throat. Those scroll saws used in commercial settings are far more heavy duty and will measure up to 30 inches.

An average scroll saw is around 16 – 20 inches, but it all depends on the projects you work with and what type of wood you’re cutting.

Another important thing to factor in with the size is the depth capacity, as this will also need to be considered depending on the material you’re working with. Depending on the model, a scroll saw should be able to cut from 1-3/4 inches and 2-1/4 inches.

The Right Scroll Saw Speeds

In order to choose the right scroll saw, you also need to understand how the speed can affect the cut. With such a huge variance across all of the models, it’s quite difficult to give a general number of what they can achieve, so it’s best to look at what each speed is capable of.

18" variable speed scroll saw.

The slowest saws run at about 400 strokes per minute (SPM) with the fastest going to 1,800 SPM and above. A variable speed is capable of shifting through the different speeds depending on what you need and is generally recommended.

Slow

A slow scroll saw is best used for very thin materials or those that are easily broken or damaged. Things like veneers, soft plastics, and walnut are a few types which need a slower speed.

Medium

A medium speed scroll saw is the most commonly used and is ideal for average thickness types of wood or non-ferrous materials.

Fast

When working with something tougher it’s best to use fast speeds on your scroll saw. These can include leather and most styles of wood.

Top Makers Of Scroll Saws

There are so many different brands today that make power tools and scroll saws in particular, but if you ask the serious woodworkers they’ll know who the best is. Here are some of the most respected and reputed scroll saw manufacturers and what each of them can bring to the table.

DeWalt

If you look at the workshop or shed of any American, chances are you’ll find a DeWalt tool there. DeWalt scroll saws are generally more expensive, but that’s because they’re built to high standards and the preferred choice of serious woodworkers and metalworkers.

Wen

Wen is one of the more budget-friendly makers of power tools and they’re great choices for people looking for an entry level saw. Wen scroll saws are quite basic when compared to others but they’re affordable and easy to use, making them perfect for beginners.

Delta

Delta Machinery has one focus and that’s to create the best tools for woodworking. Delta scroll saws have been made with the expert knowledge that this company has, packed full of the features that are crucial to woodworking and with everything that makes for an easier and smoother operation every time.

Shop Fox

This American brand has a long history of woodworking which makes them a great choice for your next saw. Shop fox scroll saws are made with care and all the necessary features but at a fraction of the cost of what you’d expect to pay for some so well made.

Dremel

Dremel is another American brand famous for its rotary tools, and the Dremel scroll saw range is seriously impressive. This brand is well within the budget of most woodworkers so they’re perfect if you’re looking to get started with this popular hobby.

How To Replace The Blades Of You Scroll Saw

Each saw is different and will have a unique way to replace blades. However, you should always do so wearing safety equipment and following the instructions at all times.

You’ll need to loosen the screws just enough so that the blade comes loose and then pull it up and towards you to remove, with others styles requiring you to move the blade back and forward to remove it.

When putting the new blade in, you’ll again need to refer to the specific instructions that came with the saw.

Generally, you need to place the blade in with the teeth down and insert it the opposite way that you removed the old blade.

Tighten the screws back up and test out the blade before commencing on any projects.

Changing the blade on a Shop Fox scroll saw.

Some Tips For Your Scroll Saw

Every year, hospitals and emergency rooms see a lot of injuries due to the use of power saws, with miter saws being the single most dangerous of them all.

On this list, the scroll saw doesn’t even feature, which speaks volumes to how safe it is when compared to the rest. Scroll saw safety has a lot to do with ongoing maintenance and correct usage, so here are a few tips you can use.

Some people might like to purchase a magnifying glass that can be attached to the saw so you’re able to see your work more clearly. This is especially helpful for those very intricate cuts using a fine blade.

To test the tension of your blade you can pluck it as you would with a guitar string. If it makes a sound like a nice, clear ping then it’s the correct tension. If not you’ll need to adjust the screws accordingly.

If your scroll saw doesn’t come with a light attached you can easily mount one to it. Look for a gooseneck light that can be moved and adjusted as you need so that it’s never in the way of your work.

The teeth of a scroll saw can sometimes turn 180 degrees especially after tensioning. Every now and then it’s best to run your thumb up and down the blade to feel the teeth and see if any are pointing in the wrong direction.

The blades of a scroll saw won’t last as long as you might think, with about 30 minutes of heavy usage all they can take before they should be replaced. When purchasing a saw, it’s best to get yourself a lot of backup blades so they can be ready to get when you’re working on longer projects.

You should never attempt to cut wet wood with your scroll saw, so if necessary you have to air out wood first to ensure it’s dry. Wet wood is a lot harder to cut and it will easily wear out your blades and saw without you even noticing, so don’t attempt it.

Don’t use worn sandpaper on any of the cuts you’ve made otherwise it can ruin their effect. Only work with coarse and new sandpaper to ensure a smooth finish.

A Versatile Addition To Any Workshop

Ask any woodworker around and they’ll undoubtedly tell you that the scroll saw is their all-time favorite tool. Although considered a specialty saw, there’s actually quite a lot these amazing devices can do, and if you’ve never owned one before they couldn’t be easier to operate.

Using a scroll saw.

If you’ve never invested in a scroll saw before or are simply looking to upgrade, there’s quite a lot to consider before you make the big purchase. We’ve compiled a thorough buying guide that can help point you in the direction of the market’s top picks and what features you shouldn’t be without when choosing this important accessory.

Scroll saws were designed with such simple beginnings but have gradually become the woodworker’s number one tool. No other saw can create such intricate designs and lines as the scroll saw, so if you’re looking for versatility and specialty all rolled into one, you can’t go wrong with the scroll saw.

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