Scrolling is For (Almost) Everyone

There are numerous paths to woodworking nirvana--some scrollers seem to arrive very quickly. Requiring a good scroll saw, plenty of practice wood, and a dedicated eye, along with the ability to concentrate completely, scroll sawing is both demanding and rewarding. The cutting of intricate patterns, whether for use as a part of a design using other types of woodworking, or as a part of a scroll-sawed design, is intriguing, and helps hold interest. But, as one expert has noted, it's all about "keeping it on the line." Other than that, scroll sawing is easy, at least in comparison to many facets of other types of woodworking.

What Makes It Easy

Some people wonder why scroll saws maintain popularity over the years, but the first use of this nearly silent, and very safe, woodworking machine convinces many that it is a good alternative, within the woodworking craft, to the use of powerful, noisy and dangerous, machinery. Power tool woodworking almost without noise. Scroll saws are useful for ornate cuttings, and for tight cuts in positions where the tightness produces a particular result--the F holes in a violin or guitar serve as excellent examples. 

The Scroll Saw

Scroll saws come in either a C frame style or a parallel arm style, with the difference being that the C frame has a single pivot point, while the parallel arm has two. That difference shows up in the cut, with the C frame's single pivot point providing a slight rocking action that makes it more difficult to control in the cut, and adds a tendency to undercut the work. Usually, these two tendencies are mild. The parallel arm model is actually a pair of arms, with pivot points on each. The bottom arm is driven by the motor, and the blade travels straight up and down.

Scroll saws are the tightest cutting power saws available--that is, they cut the smallest radius curves with ease. Inside cuts are easily possible. While a scroll saw can be used for light pad cutting (cutting of multiple taped together pieces), the bandsaw cuts many more pieces of heavier stock in the same manner--but not on as tight curves.

The DeWalt DW788 is a double link parallel arm design, which helps reduce vibration for clean, accurate cuts. Tool-free blade clamps speed blade changes, a real help for the beginner who may break more blades.  

DeWalt 20” Heavy Duty Variable Speed Scroll Saw All controls are located on the upper front of the top arm for easy access, which puts electronically variable speed, a flexible dust blower, and an easily reached blade tensioning lever all within an inch or two of each other. The arm pivots at the back of the saw, to the front, which shortens the stroke for smoother operation. The upper arm lifts straight up so the blade can be easily threaded through material for inside cuts. The table tilts for a 45º bevel, left and right.

Proper blade tensioning affects cutting tremendously. Some experts say to tension until a plucked blade sounds a high "C." Others, who may be tone deaf, rely on experience to tell them that the feeling of the plucked blade is just right.

With proper set-up and a good blade, scroll saw cuts need no sanding.

Work Done

The type of work a scroll saw does--cutting intricate curves in one or more thicknesses of thin material--demands concentration, and the better a scroller's eye-hand coordination is, the easier the work is to do, but people with poor coordination and sight can do well, too, with appropriate training and equipment modifications. The cut piece of wood may be the finished project, or it may be a part of a far more elaborate project consisting of many, many scroll sawed sections. Scroll saws are also exceptional tools when doing inlay, marquetry and intarsia work.

Without special blades the saw cuts only on the down stroke. An attempt has been made to standardize saw blade sizing. Universal generic numbering (UGN) shows thickness of the blade and width, then blade teeth per inch, thus, 2/0-12 and similar sizes. The thinner the material, the more teeth per inch the blade should have, but the scroll saw user also needs to use the largest blade size that produces good results.

The safety, quietness and general ease of use of the scroll saw make it an ideal tool for those who don't want to exert a lot of strength in the pursuit of their hobby--and for those who are unable to do so. It's also great for apartment dwellers who want do woodwork. Basically, scroll sawing requires the tool, some wood, and an ability to stay on the line, an ability that comes quickly and easily to almost everyone who uses a good scroll saw. Excellent, bright non-glare lighting is important, so an accessory light might need to be included in the equipment package.

Anyone having trouble learning to control the saw, having a hard time staying on the line, might want to select some hardwood scraps thicker than usual, and use those for practice until control becomes easier. The thicker, harder wood makes the saw work harder, thus making it a little easier to control. 

Saw tune-up usually consists of tensioning the blade, and then cleaning and waxing the table. Make sure blade holders are aligned--align if they're not. Adjust the stand and stool and light (if any) for the user's comfort. If the stand allows it, tip the saw slightly to the operator for greatest comfort. Set up the dust blower or set up a dust collector. 

Points To Check On A Scroll Saw

  1. Check throat size: if you are going to be doing a lot of work that requires deep cuts, don't buy a 15" or 16" throat saw, but, instead, check first 20" saws.
  2. Check motor power: scroll saws are not high amperage or horsepower tools, but they do need enough power to cut through moderately thick, or padded (stacked) stock. Look for at least 1.25 amperes.
  3. Check for variable speed. Being able to vary the speed makes many cuts easier to control. Generally, ranges can run from 450 to 1600 or so RPMs.
  4. Check for table size and construction. The table needs to be large enough to support the work the throat will accept. This varies widely, but generally the larger table the better. The table should be machined flat.
  5. Check for dust blower and dust collection hook-ups. At the least, a dust blower is needed.
  6. Check for table tilt. The table needs to tilt 45º to one side, and doing so to both sides is better.
  7. Check for ease of blade changes. Tool free is best. A lift-away top arm, as with the DeWalt DW788, is a big help, too, in work where it is necessary to pierce the work often.
  8. Check for control location. Up-front is best. You don't want to have to wiggle a hand under the table to change speeds or shut the machine down.
  9. Check for vibration. Less is much better.
  10. Check for noise. Again, less is better.

Those ten points will give you a scroll saw that does what you want it to do when you want it done.

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