Tuesday, March 27, 2012

ToolBox Tuesday: The Scroll Saw

 The Scroll Saw was my very first, very own Power tool.  I totally love the Scroll Saw!!!  It is the most useful, versatile saw a crafter can own.  I have used my scroll saw to cut wood from 1/8"-2" thick, foam, Styrofoam, cardboard, dowels, pipe, and even some crazy mediums like resin and plastic.  I have cut very intricate, scrolly things, and your run-of-the-mill straight cuts.  I had someone ask me a few weeks ago about getting a "Jig Saw" that sits on a stand.  As far as I know, that is actually a scroll saw.  I think they used to call them jig saws because people used them to make those wooden jig saw puzzles, but a Jig saw and a Scroll Saw are two very different things.  

Here is a Jig Saw-useful for cutting a huge piece of wood, maybe a sheet of plywood or something you can't fit on a saw table.  I have owned a couple in my early days, and will never, EVER own one again.  Not worth the money and they give your shoulder a jiggle it will never forget.

Here is a Scroll Saw- a blade in the middle of an attached table.  The table can be tilted by measurable degrees too, by the way, making angled cuts as well as straight cuts.  

The first scroll saw I ever used was my Father-in-law's RBI. 

 RBI's are well over $1000.  The blades are held in by little chucks.  I found the chucks extremely frustrating. If you screw them together too tight, you break the blades...too loose, your blade wiggles out.  I could never get it just right.

When looking for a saw to purchase, my husband and I disagreed on the blade orientation.   He wanted a scroll saw that used straight blades.  After fighting with that dumb RBI and it's lame blade chucks, I couldn't understand why anyone would pass up a pinned blade machine if they had the chance at stress-free blade changes. 

Here are what straight blades look like- flat on the ends.

Here are what pinned blades look like-with tiny metal dowels in both ends to keep the blade in place.

***Personal Opinion Time***
If you are at all machinery challenged, and not spending $500+ on a machine, you may want to consider a pinned machine to avoid hours of frustration :0)  These machines have a well the pin sits in.  You place the blade where it goes, tighten it, then you are ready to cut.

 Since the saw was MY Mother's Day gift {and my husband had the nerve to ASK me what I wanted} I won!  I never regretted the decision to go with pinned blades.  They were so easy to install and I had absolutely no worry about how tight I tighten the blades.  If we are getting technical, I think the pinned blades are a sckooch more expensive....but you still get a dozen for less than 10 bucks.

The first saw I owned was nothing other than a handy dandy Craftsman 14" Scroll saw purchased for $109 in 2002.  I used it constantly for nearly 10 years and have nothing bad to say about it.   When the clippie money started to roll in, the first tool I purchased was the Dewalt 20" Scroll Saw for two reasons....One, I was afraid my current saw would not survive another Super Saturday workload, and two, I wanted a larger table.  Not often, but often enough to be annoying, the 14" just wasn't big enough for my projects. 

What on EARTH does the number of inches mean???
It is simply the measured inches between the blade and the back of the machine, or in other words, the number of inches you can saw a straight line before you hit the back of the machine with your wood and can't cut any more.    

One more thing ***VERY IMPoRTANT***when picking a machine-Please make sure it has a heavy cast iron table.  You want a sturdy table to keep vibrations low and to properly support your project as you cut.

Now to see the beast in action!

So here is my sweat saw.  I love it.  This Dewalt was the highest ranked scroll saw under $1000 when I was looking for a new machine.  I purchased it for $450 on Amazon and had it delivered, for free, straight to my door. You can see a few of the important parts, the heavy cast iron table, the arm for attaching the blade, the tension lever, the on/off switch, speed control, and the robotic-looking blower arm.  I should probably mention that you need a sturdy table to set your machine on.  We have never had fancy cabinets in an official, set-up garage.  The first saw just bounced around willy-nilly while I cut.  This saw was to be treated like the princess it is, so I actually PURCHASED, yep, spent even more money, to buy the three-legged stand made to fit beneath it.  Again, clippy money splurge, but so glad I did it and don't have to worry about the saw bouncing off the table anymore :0)  Ah, the reflections of a make-shift life.

All saws do not load the blades the same way.  You can actually check your instruction manual for details on your specific machine, but this machine is SUPER easy to load with new blades.  Like the Band saw, I really recommend Olsen brand blades.  I have bought other brands and have been less than pleased.  Olson has always worked.  I will drive miles out of my way just to buy their blades...even though they are sold on Amazon :0)  {I usually need them right that very minute and can't wait two days for the shipment to arrive}

Anyway, see that little wing-like knob pointed to by the red arrow???  There is one above the table, and one below.  To install a new blade, loosen both, remove any old blade pieces, then put the new blade in place.  It's top should just be visible at the top of that slit in the front of the arm, and the bottom should be inside the slit at the bottom.  Tighten the knobs enough that the blade is secured in place.
***make sure that the tension is totally off when installing a new blade.  You can do that with this machine, by pulling the tension knob lever all the way to Zero.  Once the blade is in place, secured snuggly with both wing nuts tightened, slowly move the tension lever to apply tension.  

Here is the secret for a good cut-a blade that is tight, but not too tight.  You can tell if the blade is tight enough by strumming it like a guitar.  You kind of need some musical background for this, but when you strum the blade, when it is too loose, it will have a flat sound {like when an instrument is flat}.  When it is too tight it will sound sharp.  You want the blade to be just a tiny bit sharp.  This may not make any sense to you now, but try it.  It really works :0)  You will find that spot where the blade is neither sharp nor flat, then tighten it just slightly.  

Now is probably the time to tell you about blade safety.  That would naturally be the time to tell you about getting stitches in my thumb that one summer in Minnesota when I was using my friend's saw.  Take what you want out of this.  In all my years of cutting, I have accidentally hit the saw blade a couple dozen times with my fingers.  If you are only lightly brushing the blade, you will most likely not get a scratch.  This is because the scroll saw does not have a totally tight blade.  It has a little give on most machines. If you are pushing the wood with all your might because you have used the blade past it's natural life, and then you don't watch and notice that your thumb is headed directly for the blade...you are going to need someone to drive you to the ER.  It usually only takes once to learn :0)

Make sure your fingers are nowhere near your cut lines and be aware of where they really are on your project.  Make sure to keep your blade sharp.  When it starts to resist your gentle prodding of the wood, or starts to jump off the line you are trying to follow, it is time to change the blade.  Quite often the scroll saw blades snap in half before you realize they are dull, but not always.  If a blade snaps, it is ok.  Stay calm.  You are not actually going to get hurt, but there is a lot of extra noise.  First, shut off the machine, release the blade tension, then remove all the old blade pieces from your machine.  Install a new blade, re-do the tension on the new blade, then turn the machine back on and continue with your cutting.  If you were in the middle of a cut line when the blade snapped, simply enter the cut line in the same place you entered before, retrace your steps, and start cutting when you reach the break spot again.  

I am sure I am jumping the gun again.  Let's get back to the pictures.   
So, when I am starting a project, I usually cut a pattern out of cardstock, but you can use transfer paper {also known as carbon paper} and trace your design onto the wood or whatever you are using.  When you are ready to cut your pieces, 1-turn the tension knob until the blade is making the right sound when you pluck it.  2-make sure the table is clean and ready for your project.  3- with your fingers and the wood away from the blade, turn the saw on.  You can turn the variable speed adjuster.  I am a horribly impatient person and usually leave it on the fastest speed it has.  Occasionally when I am cutting thin pieces of wood I can tell the blade is cutting too fast for me to follow the lines very well.  When that happens I turn the speed down a couple notches until I am back in control.  4- adjust the blower nozzle to blow right on where the blade cuts so it can blow off the sawdust, leaving your sight free and clear.  Now you are ready to cut. 

The fabulous thing about Scroll Saws is that you can cut just about anything.  With the bandsaw I showed you how you have to chip away the wood for curves and such.  Not so with the Scroll Saw!  You can cut inside corners, outside corners, and even truly inside pieces.

I chose a rather challenging piece to show you.  The scrolling letters in my Hippety Hop sign are a little tricky to get around.  With letters there are several inside pieces that need to come out.  I will show you two different ways to get those pieces out.  The first, I like to call the Lazy Way :0)

If you look at the red line and arrows on the bigger picture above you will see what direction I cut.  I came down from the top, scrolled around the shapes, along the bottom edge, back up and over so I ended back where I started.  When you get a solid chunk cut out like this square-like piece, you can turn the machine off and lift the scrap out of the way.  I like to do that just to make a little wiggle room, but you can just leave it in there if you want.  This is my main point with this technique, see that small line out of the square, that part where the red line runs up along where the first cuts were made?  I don't cut forward on a spot like this.  You are likely to cut away more material, resulting in a huge gap.  I stop the machine, take the scrap out, then back the blade back out that first incision.  Once I get the blade out far enough to get back on the outside line of the H, I turn the wood and keep cutting.

My sign looks something like this.  See all those inside pieces of the p's, y's, and o's?  The following is the method I like to use for those cuts.

I pre-drill a small hole in each spot that is large enough to fit the blade through.  Remember, if you are using pinned blades that your hole needs to be a little larger to fit the pin.

My project looks like this at this point.

Now, 1-release the tension, 2-loosen the top portion of the blade {you might have to loosen the whole blade if your machine requires is, but this one is ok with just one end loosed}.  3-slip the blade into a hole from underneath.  Try not to bend the blade while doing this process.  Once the blade is through the hole, re-attach and tighten the tension on the blade like in photo number 4.  5-Cut.  Before you know it, your inside hole will be cut out completely like in picture number 6.

This inside-hole business is a real pain, but my project wouldn't be nearly as cute without all those pieces cut out.

A little paint, sanding and embellishments...

And I have a super cute Springtime decoration :0)

You can get a decent $100-$150 scroll saw from Home Depot, Lowes, Craftsman, etc. My general observation is that you do not want the MOST cheep tool, but the low end on scroll saws worked fabulously for me.  Please let me know if you have any questions or if you notice some valuable tid-bit of information that I forgot to include in this post.   My email is vanessa.cam5@gmail.com or you can leave a comment and I will respond as quickly as I can.

Happy Sawing!!!


  1. YIPPY!! I am SOOOO gonna have my husband read this! I have been waiting for weeks {o.k. so not really... it just seems that way :) } for this post!!
    I officially want a scroll saw! I will save up all of my birthday, mother's day, anniversary, and christmas presents all rolled in one to get this as a gift! Hehe! I am already giddy with anticipation with all of the crafty stuff I want to do with it. Thank you Vanessa for posting this! I can't wait till the next installment of 'Toolbox Tuesday'!

  2. Okay, that is the cutest sign and birds I have ever seen! Your projects make me so happy! You can really do a number with that scroll saw!!

  3. Thanks for another great post, I love the drill press one as well:) You're projects are so cute!

  4. Love this...so cute. Can you share what font you used to make the template?

    1. I had to search a bit. I used Rickles. You can download it here for free:


      Thanks for stopping by!

    2. Thanks you so much! I just bought a scroll saw recently so I will have to try this out. Love it!

  5. Thank you so much. My wonderful husband got me my first scroll saw today at Lowes, same as yours! I will be following you from now on. I do crafts and baking as well. Love the title of your blog.

  6. Ty so much I have had my scroll saw for 2 Christmas's now lol, I think I'm ready to try it out


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