Your home woodworking shop undoubtedly has a power saw or two or three, whether a table, circular, or band saw. If you are a new woodworker, though, your power tools list is probably short. But, if you are an experienced woodworker, and your projects are more ambitious and advanced, there’s another saw your shop probably includes – a scroll saw.
Imagine a mini-band saw, only instead of a band blade, it has a smaller, finer blade connected top and bottom that reciprocates up and down as the materials being cut are moved through the blade.
Scroll saws are used to make intricate designs, patterns, and curves in wood or metal. Their fine blades make more delicate cuts than other power saws and make them easier than fine-bladed hand saws.
How Does A Scroll Saw Work?
As we said, scroll saw blades are connected top and bottom, rather than banded, that move on a loop. The blades move up and down, cutting through the material being cut as it is pushed, turned, and twisted through the blades.
The teeth on a scroll saw blade differs from other power saw blades in an important way: the teeth on the top half of the blade point down, and the teeth on the bottom half of the blade point up. As you can now imagine, this means the blade cuts on both the upward and the downward stroke, allowing an especially accurate and fine cut on your material.
What To Look For In A Scroll Saw
As we have so often said, “the right tool for the right job.” When considering the purchase of a scroll saw, first consider the projects you will pursue. An advanced woodworker will have projects in mind and know what abilities and features a scroll saw needs to have for them. There are also price considerations, and budget determines purchase, too.
Prices for scroll saws can run from around $80 to more than $2,000, with $400 being about the average. For the casual, weekend woodworker, a scroll saw at $180 might suit the needs; for the more advanced woodworker with more advanced needs and who intends to be producing pieces for retail sale, something in the range of $400 – $1,000 is more realistic. The highest quality, high production volume woodworker is looking at more than $2,000 for a suitable choice.
When you are about to purchase a car, you always take it out for a test drive. With scroll saws, this is also a good practice (if possible). Test a few saws, if you can; look for woodworker clubs or seminars and seek advice from other scrollers; go online and look for woodworking bulletin boards or discussion sites and ask for advice.
- Blade-changing. Use a floor model to learn how blades are changed, and if possible, ask for a demonstration. If it looks easy, ask to try it yourself. Make sure you are comfortable swapping blades. Tool-free is best.
- Types of Blades. There are two kinds – pin-end and flat-end. Remember that you will get a better cut, sharp, delicate interior cuts from a plain or flat-end blade. Again, the right tool for the right job.
- What are you most likely to be cutting? How thick? Make sure the scroll saw can handle your most likely material thickness.
- Length of the throat. Throat, you ask? The distance between the blade and the back of the saw. Most projects will need between 16 inches and 20 inches, although throats can also extend for up to 30 inches. Again, the size of the materials you are most likely to cut will determine this need. Unless you work with large pieces, you won’t need the extra distance. Save the money.
- Blade speed. Scroll saw speed is measured by strokes per minute. Variable speed and two-speed are the common options, and it depends on the materials you intend to be cutting. Plastics should be cut at a slower speed to avoid heat build-up. Choose at least a two-speed model, although variable speed offers you more options.
- Weight and size. There are options, and if your scroll saw will have a permanent, stationary spot in your shop, the weight will be less important; if you want ease of movement as your tool inventory grows, weight becomes more important.
There are lesser important aspects, but these are the essentials to make a good choice for both your needs and your shop.
Scroll Saw Blades
Blades come in a variety of sizes and teeth configurations. You will want to have a variety of blades for your scroll saw to suit different materials being cut and different thicknesses of those materials. Blades are often identified by a number. The higher the number, the larger the blade.
- Generally, higher numbered blades (larger) are used for thicker or denser materials.
- Larger blades (#9 and up) will be more durable, last longer, and cut faster.
- Smaller blades (#3 and lower) are used for thinner woods.
- What is the cut? Larger blades would not be suitable for more intricate cuts, tight corners, or fit into small frets. The general rule of thumb is to choose the smallest blade size most suitable for the thickness of the wood.
Among the different blade sizes are also different tooth configurations. Some blades have specialty names, while most are rated by their teeth-per-inch (TPI). Let’s break this down a little for you:
- Teeth evenly spaced along the blade; where one tooth ends, the next begins.
- Skipping teeth. Exactly what the name suggests. Instead of beginning the next tooth where the previous tooth ends, a tooth is skipped. The plusses – cuts faster, clears sawdust; the minus – a slightly rougher cut. This is the most common type today.
- Double-tooth. Similar to the skip-tooth in that the pattern is two teeth, one skip. You’ll get a smoother cut, but it won’t cut as fast.
- Reverse-tooth. Again, exactly what the name suggests. Teeth are pointing in the opposite direction and cutting in the upward movement of the blade. You’ll get a cleaner bottom cut but more sawdust.
- Two-way teeth. You guessed it – what the name implies. One tooth down, one tooth up. Cleaner, smoother cut, but cuts much slower.
- Spiral blades. Yes, flat blades twisted into a spiral. Difficult to control because they cut all sides, as you’d expect (front and back). Won’t cut straight lines, as you’d expect. Use for fretwork – maybe drilling a hole in the piece, fitting the blade through it, and cutting frets for cool designs.
Scroll saw blades can run from around $12 for an 18-piece set up to $50 and more. Again, which blades you choose will be based on the materials you will likely be cutting and their thickness.
What Materials Can a Scroll Saw Cut?
Your scroll saw will be able to cut a wide variety of materials, including all woods, metal, plastic (as mentioned earlier), brass, copper, leather, and bone.
If you will be cutting more than just wood, be sure to select the correct blade size and tooth count and set the speed of your saw appropriate to the material.
How Thick a Piece Can a Scroll Saw Cut?
Scroll saws can cut up to ¾” for wood. Beyond that thickness, you should consider a band saw, although you won’t get the intricacy of pattern or curve that a scroll saw can offer.
Can a Scroll Saw Cut Plywood?
Sure, and again up to ¾” thickness for the best results.
Can a Scroll Saw Cut a 2 x 4?
While a band saw might be the better choice, the answer is yes. Choose a large blade, set your scroll saw to the lowest speed you can, and push the piece very slowly.
We found some very helpful videos to expand a bit on this scroll saw story we have told, with some good options.
It’s not Shark Week (one of our favorites), but using a scroll saw to cut a shark out of wood.
Here’s one with 10 tips for beginners.
The scroll saw is a cool tool, and you can have a lot of fun with them producing very advanced woodworking projects. Make a good choice, stock a variety of blades, and get to it.