Are you interested in learning to scroll saw? If so, then you’ve came to the right place!
From finding the best scroll saw, to choosing the best scroll blades, best scroll saw pattern books, or finding free patterns – this ultimate getting started scroll saw guide is for you
So buckle up – we’ve got a lot of information to cover!
- Double parallel link arm design dramatically reduces vibration and noise for extremely accurate cuts
- Exclusive tool free blade clamps allow blade changes in seconds. Depth of Cut (inches): 2 inch
- On off switch, electronic variable speed, flexible dust blower, and blade tensioning lever all located on front upper arm
- Arm design pivots from back of the saw to front, shortening the arm movement for smoother, quieter operation
- Arm lifts so blade can be easily threaded through the material for inside cuts
Scroll Saw 101: What is a Scroll Saw?
A scroll saw is a stationary tool used to cut delicate or intricate designs out of thin pieces of wood. It uses a tiny blade, mounted vertically, to both the top and bottom of the saw.
When you turn it on, the scroll saw blade starts to move up and down. In addition, most scroll saws come with an adjustable speed dial to quickly change how fast or slow you want the reciprocating blade to move.
To use a scroll saw, simply glue a pattern to a thin piece of wood and slide move the board across the table towards the blade.
Once the wood hits the blade, follow the outline of the pattern until your design is cut out.
What Can You Use a Scroll Saw For?
Scroll saws can be used for all sorts of wooden projects!
Take a look at the image below.
Believe it or not, every piece of that image was hand cut on a scroll saw.
Scroll saws can also be used for:
- Intricate wood projects
- Circles, zig zags, or 90-degree cuts
- Mitered edges
- Dovetail joints
- Awkward angles
- Intarsia projects (interior cuts)
- Household projects (wooden letters, puzzles, toys, wall art, holiday decorations.)
They really are an underappreciated tool that really makes a neat addition to your workshop. The tiny blades are extremely versatile and can simplify just about any woodworking project.
They are easy to learn but difficult to master, which makes them perfect for people of all ages!
Why Should You Purchase A Scroll Saw?
Besides being a ton of fun, learning to scroll saw is great way to spend your time! It allows you to make works of art that will last a lifetime.
As far as hobbies go, it’s also relatively inexpensive to get started – especially cheaper than my other hobby – finding the best smarthome gear for my house. . You can purchase a beginner scroll saw for less than $200, and replacement blades last a long time and are dirt cheap. As far as wood goes, most scroll saws can cut wood up to 2″ thick. It’s a great way to use old scrap of plywood.
Scroll saws are also very quiet. You can work on a project late at night and not wake the kids up or even have a conversation with your wife while scrolling.
Unlike other woodworking projects, you can start and finish a small project in one night if you really wanted. They produce very little sawdust, and the results of your work are almost immediate which makes it a very gratifying hobby.
Parts of A Scroll Saw
Before we go too in-depth about scroll saws, it’s important to understand the different parts of a scroll saw and what they do. (I will referring to these by name over the course of this guide.)
Depending on the make and model you purchase, certain parts (like the tension knob) may be located in different spots, but all scroll saws contain the same basic parts.
They also come pre-assembled from the manufacturer, so you can get started as soon as you take it out of the box.
- Power Button
- Tilt Lock
- Variable Speed knob
- Blade Tension Knob
- Dust Blower
- Blade Guard
Some of these are self-explanatory, so I’m only gong to explain the parts you may have questions about.
- The table is surface you’ll be sliding your thin wooden boards on.
- The tilt lock knob (not labeled), is a knob that lets you adjust the table. This allows you to make miter cuts using very small pieces of wood.
- The blade guard guards your fingers from the blade.
- The variable speed dial lets you adjust how fast or slow the blade reciprocates.
- The blade tension knob lets you adjust the tension on your blade. Everytime you replace a blade, you will need to tighten the blade tension.
- The dust blower blows dust away from your work surface. This comes in handy when sawdust begins to build up on your pattern.
- The blade clamps are used to lock the blade in place. You will find two clamps – one on the top of the table connected to the arm, and one on the bottom.
- The throat (not labeled) refers to the distance between the blade and back of the scroll saw.
Choosing The Best Scroll Saw
Now that you’ve decided to get started learning to scroll saw, what specs should you look for?
First, I want to start out by saying that there is no “best” scroll saw. If you ask 5 scroll sawers which one is best – you’ll probably get five different answers.
But, there are certain things you can look out for when researching which scroll saw is best for you.
In A Hurry? Here are our Top Scroll Saws for Beginners
Most modern scroll saws come with variable speed dials.This allows you to scroll at a comfortable speed and adjust the speed depending on the thickness of your wood or what type of project you are working on. The target speed you should be looking for is between 400-1600rpm, although in my experience, RPM isn’t necessarily a factor. Simply having the ability to change speeds is much more important than than trying to hit a target RPM.
The reason I’m including this in the “things to look out for” section is because you will find single-speed scroll saws on Craigslist or OfferUp. If you aren’t sure, contact the seller to ask for the model number and Google it. If it’s a single-speed scroll saw, I would recommend you keep looking.
There are 3 kinds of scroll saw arms: A C-arm, a parallel arm, and a double parallel link. Each has their own distinct advantages and disadvantages.
- Parallel Arm: (Most common.) Two arms run parallel to each other with a blade attached the ends. This is the safest type of scroll saw, because if a blade breaks – the top arm will swing out of the way and stop instantly.
- C Arm Type: Looks like the letter “C”. This kind of arm has a single pivot point at the end of the arm. It’s often said to have a more aggresive cut. If the blade breaks with a C arm type, the top will continue to reciprocate up and down until you kill the power.
- Double Parallel Link Arm: This is the latest development among scroll saw arm types. It sports two parallel arms that convert motion at the tips instead of the entire unit, resulting in less vibration. You’ll often find the mid-range or higher expensive scroll saws with the type of arm.
While price is important, it shouldn’t be the deciding factor in choosing which scroll saw to buy. For beginners, plan on setting aside a $150-$200 budget. This will get you a decent scroll saw, a stand, and a pack of blades.
You don’t want the cheapest scroll saw (even if it has the most Amazon reviews) because you may get frustrated with it’s limitations, but you don’t want the most expensive one either (just in case you decide that scroll sawing isn’t for you.)
You are much better off purchasing a middle-of-the-road model, using it for a while, and upgrading later on if you choose to stick with the hobby.
If you can’t afford that, I’ve found lots of great deals on Craigslist or marketplace apps like OfferUp.
The throat length is calculated as the distance between the blade and the back of the scroll saw.
The longer the throat, the larger projects you can work on. Most scroll saws have a 16″-20″ throat. If you can, always opt for a scroll saw with a larger throat so you have the option of working on larger projects later on.
Types of Blades Accepted
Image shown: Pin-end blades
Some manufacturers don’t explicitly say if both are supported, so be sure to read through the Amazon comments before making your final decision.
I recommend purchasing a scroll saw that supports both. (Such as the Dewalt DW788 Scroll saw)
“Pin-end” blades aren’t meant for any kind of interior cuts, so if you purchase a pin-end scroll saw, you’ll be limited to cutting on the exterior only, which could be very limiting later on. For example, you cut out the silhouette of an animal, but wouldn’t be able to cut out a snowflake.
I have hundreds of free scroll saw patterns in my shop; you are more than welcome to check those out after reading this article.
This is arguably one of the most important features to look out for: the ability to change blades quickly and easily.
Specifically, look at how the blade is mounted.
A “tooled blade” will require a tool every time you want to change out the blade or feed the piece through an interior cut. Stay away from these kinds of scroll saws.
If you plan on doing interior cuts of any kind, I recommend purchasing a scroll saw that supports both pin end and plain end blades and includes a quick-change release. Otherwise, you’ll have to use an alan wrench everytime you replace a blade, feed the blade through the piece of wood.
Here’s a closer look at a tooled blade:
These kinds of clamps are very frustrating and often found on cheaper scroll saws.
Blade Tensioning Knob
Another thing to look out for is the location of the blade tensioning knob. Ideally these will be up front and easily accessible. Unfortunately, many cheap scroll saws will put them on the very back for some reason.
Stay away from blade tensioning knobs like the one below.They are very difficult to tighten and not very easy to access.
Remember, you will be tightening the tension for just about every cut you make – so having the knob in the front is a must-have.
Other Important Features
A few other things you should look into are weight, vibration, accessories, availability of replacement parts, the ability to tilt, and whether or not it comes with a stand. Scroll saws aren’t very heavy, but having a portable scroll saw in your shop or garage definitely comes in handy.
It also allows you to move it anywhere around your garage instead of clogging up space and making your workbench all dusty.
Sidenote: You’ll want a stand. It reduces vibration, and many scrollers like to work standing up.
Best Universal Scroll Saw Stand
Choosing the Best Scroll Saw Blades
To get started with your first scroll saw project, ask yourself these 2 questions:
- What type of project am I going to make?
- Will I be using thick or thin wood?
Once you have a general idea in mind, you need to determine which blade you will use to start cutting.
Best Scroll Saw Blades 2020
A good rule of thumb to follow is the more TPI (teeth per inch) a blade has, the cleaner a cut will be.
There are all kinds of scroll saw blades on the market, each better suited for the type of wood or project you plan on making.
If you aren’t sure what you plan on making yet, don’t worry! Any blade will get you started.
Most scroll saw blades come in multi-packs online, so you test out different TPI blades on different types of wood until you find something that feels comfortable for you.
In general, there are seven types of scroll saw blades available on the market:
Styles of Scroll Saw Blades
Standard tooth blade
Basic blades with all teeth the same distance apart. These are a little noisier than other types of blades.
Skip tooth blade
Blade with every other tooth missing. Great for beginners, but cutting is a little slower.
Double tooth blade
A skip-tooth blade with a large gap between two sets of teeth. These leave a smooth cut, but are slower going.
Reverse tooth blade
Just like a skip tooth blade, except the last few teeth on the bottom face upwards. This prevents tearout on the bottom of plywood. Personally, this is my favorite type of scroll saw blade.
Precision ground tooth blade
Smaller teeth than a skip tooth that have been “ground down” instead of filed. Very unforgiving, but great for straight lines. Not recommended for beginners.
Blades with teeth on all sides. Allows you to cut in all directions while holding the wood still. These are hard to use and don’t leave very clean cuts. Recommended for special circumstances.
Crown tooth blades
Newest type of blade in which every 2nd tooth is pointed in the opposite direction. Good for cutting plastic.
Are you feeling overwhelmed yet? I hope not.
To clarify, there is no right or wrong scroll saw blade. I recommend using whichever blade you feel most comfortable with. Obviously if you are just starting out you won’t know which scroll saw blade is best for you, but over time you will start to get a feel for which one produces a higher quality cut.
To get you on the right track though, I recommend searching Amazon for Olson blades. They are very high quality, they last a really long time, & are manufactured by a respected scroll saw brand.
Quick Note: When installing blades, make sure your teeth always face downwards!
Where To Purchase Scroll Saw Blades
Most scroll saws will come with a few blades in the box. However, those blades are cheaply made and don’t last very long. They also don’t perform very clean cuts. I usually throw them away.
Stay away from big box stores like Lowes or Home Depot to purchase your blades. They have a very limited selection and the quality of blades is very subpar for the price you’ll pay.
For how cheap scroll saw blades are, just get them off Amazon. You get a much higher quality blade for the price. (To give you an idea of the cost – an 18-pack of Olson scroll saw blades will only cost you $9.)
There are two types of scroll saw blades: Plain (or flat end), and pin-end. In general, as long as your scroll saw supports it, I would always purchase pinless blades.
My personal recommendation is to use a Pinless Reverse Skip Tooth blade. They make very clean cuts on sides of the board and reduces the amount of sanding you’ll need to do after the project is complete.
- Available in more sizes than any other type of Olson scroll saw blade
- For hand or machine sawing of wood, plastic and fibrous materials
- Skip tooth blades cut fast, provide good
- Package dimension : 3.5" L x 8.5" W x 1.0" H
Types of Scroll Saw Blades
If you plan on doing any kind of interior cuts, then you’ll want to purchase a scroll saw that supports both pin end and plain end blades.
I prefer plain blades, as they are much more versatile and easier to change/feed through my wood art
Plain end blades, also called flat end or unpinned blades, are flat blades that require a clamp on the top and bottom. These are most commonly used for intricate interior cuts. You’ll often see these used on thinner pieces of wood.
These blades are much thicker than unpinned blades and produce a much rougher cut. Better suited for thick pieces of lumber.
How To Use A Scroll Saw
Now that you have a better understanding of what a scroll is, how to shop for a scroll saw, and how to find the best scroll saw – it’s time to dig into the fun part:
How to use it!
The steps below are geared towards exterior cuts. But, if you have a pattern that has interior cuts, you would just drill a small hole in the part that needs to be cut out, feed the blade through, clamp it, cut it out, and unclamp it.
I’m a bottom feeder myself. I unclamp from the top and run the blade through the bottom of the workpiece.
First, cut your board into a scroll saw usable piece. If you have a 24″ board, but only a 16″ throat, cut it down into a manageable piece. You can either use a table saw or one of your pin-end blades to rough cut it.
Cover the surface with blue painters tape. Use spray adhesive to glue the paper design onto the tape. Make sure all the edges are glued down securely and wait 2-3 minutes.
(If you don’t have painters tape, you can just use spray adhesive directly on the wood. Rub some mineral spirits on the paper afterwards and it’ll come right off!)
Check the blade tension with your fingernail. If you’re a musician, it should make a high C sound. If you aren’t musically inclined, just make sure the blade is tightly secured and won’t rattle left and right when you turn on the saw.
Square the blade to the table. You can use a simple carpenter’s square for this. If you don’t have a square, use the factory edges of a 2×4.
Turn on your scroll saw. Give it a second or two to get up to full speed. Never turn on the scroll saw with the wood touching the blade, or the board with start to jump up and down.
Place your board onto the table. Keeping both hands securely on your piece, slowly bring it towards the blade. It’s best to start cutting on an area that has a corner, rather than the middle of a straight line. If you start on a straight piece, once you make the cut all the way back around – you will see the small spot that you started and finished at.
Follow the outline of your pattern. Try not to stop or over-correct your lines. If you start to drift, just continue on and try to get back on the line. Let the scroll saw do the bulk of your work. If you press the wood into the saw, you will break your blade and
Almost instinctively, you’ll want to use both hands to turn the board left and right. Most scrollers agree than the cleanest, straightest cuts are done by pressing down firmly with one hand, and less-firmly with the other hand(letting the 2nd hand do the turning).
If you’re having a hard time staying on the line, use the adjustable knob to turn the speed way down. Generally speaking, go faster on thin wood like MDF or plywood, and slow on hardwoods like oak.
Finishing your masterpiece. Once you have your scroll saw project completed, it’s time to add the finishing touches. Peel the painters tape off and take some 320 grit sandpaper to the top and bottom to remove any burrs. You could also sand the sides, but most scroll saws do a great job and don’t require it.
Finish it with a few coats of spray laquer, sanding gently between coats, and you should be good to go!
Scroll Saw Safety
As far as woodworking goes, scroll saws are generally pretty safe, despite your fingers being very close to the blade. It’s recommended that you wear safety goggles and a dust mask to prevent dust getting into your eyes, mouth, and nostrils.
Heck, I even let me 8 year old scroll saw (with supervision, of course.) It’s a great way to introduce them to woodworking.
Best Scroll Saw Glasses
- Dust Defense: Foam Gasket Helps Limit Eye Exposure to Nuisance Dust and Other Particles While Providing Additional Cushioning
- Wrap Around Design Provides Extended Eye Protection and Unobstructed Viewing
- Anti Fog: The Anti Fog Lens Coating and Removable Foam Lined Gasket With Airflow Vents Make This Protective Eyewear Ideal for Humid Environments
- Polycarbonate Lenses Absorb 99.9 Percent UVA and UVB; Meets the Requirements of CSA Z94.3 07 and Is Impact Rated to Ansi Z87.1 2010
- Corded Ear Plug Control System: Unique Temple Design Can Keep Eye Wear and Ear Plugs Attached, Untangled, and Ready to Use; Corded Ear Plugs Can Double as a Lanyard (Ear Plugs Sold Separately)
Scroll Saw Cutting Tips and Tricks
Getting used to your new scroll will take some time. Like I said earlier, they are easy to use but difficult to master.
Here are some additional things to keep in mind when scroll sawing:
- Start out of the slowest speeds, and start your cuts on on a corner instead of a straight line.
- Purchase high quality blades. They are probably the single most important thing you can do to improve your projects.
- Press both hands firmly on the wood, but let one hand do the bulk of the moving.
- Never force the wood through the blade.
- Keep fingers to the side of the blade, never in front of.
- Scroll saw blades are made out of stamped metal. During the stamping process, it puts additional pressure on one side of the blade (the right side). This means that naturally your cuts will veer to the right. Plan accordingly and compensate by angling cuts to the left.
- Always wear your safety equipment, especially safety goggles and a dust mask.
- If a break breaks – don’t panic! That’s why many blades come in a single pack.
- Always turn the scroll saw off before replacing a blade or feeding it through your work.
- Avoid wearing long sleeved shirts, bracelets, watches, or wedding rings around power tools.
- Use the dust blower to your advantage.
- When replacing blades, always double-check that the teeth are facing downwards.
And for the last point I really want to drive home is…
HAVE FUN WITH IT!
All new hobbies have a learning curve. If you have trouble getting started, refer back this post or comment below and I can help you out.
Learning to scroll saw is a great hobby to get into. It’s not very expensive to get started, you can scroll during the day or night, and you won’t have much of a mess to clean up afterwards.
Ongoing costs of scrollsawing are also minimal. MDF and birch plywood can easily be found at your local big box retailer, or heck, you can even use leftover scrap wood from other projects.
Plus, you get to make awesome gifts for friends and family and really wow them with your newly found skills!
And lastly – practice practice practice!
Start out with simple scroll saw projects like a silhouette of an animal. Or better yet, make something that interests you. As you become more comfortable on your new saw, you’ll understand which blades you prefer and what type of project you are interested in creating.
I hope you enjoyed this scroll saw basics post, and best of luck on your scroll saw journey!