We recommend scroll saws that use pinless blades. Pin blades are thicker, wider and not good for intricate, inside cutting because they won’t fit through a small-drilled hole.
There are many features to consider when choosing a scroll saw that you might not think about before you know the hobby. Once you DO know the ins and outs you may quickly wish you had thought of these things prior to your purchase:
Blade Suspension -- The blade suspension mechanism you choose will determine how you operate the machine, what projects you can do, and blade availability. Read more about Pin-End and Plain-End blades below, as this is the main differentiation with regards to blade suspension systems—they accept one of these two types of blades.
It is a common theme in the world of scroll sawing that the Plain-End (that is, pinless) blades are the best way to go. Quick-release blade clamps and a forward-mounted tension adjustment mechanism make it much easier to both change blade types and to thread blades through the stock for making inside cuts—something you'll be doing quite often.
- All scroll saw blades are thin. Really thin. Some look like pieces of human hair!
- All blades have numerous teeth—cutting surfaces—just like any cutting tool must have.
- The number of Teeth Per Inch (or TPI) depends on the purpose of the blade. A general rule of thumb to go by is the more TPI, the smoother and more accurate the cut, but also the slower and more fragile the blade.
Seeing is Believing -- Never buy a tool without seeing it run first. A well-balanced tool of any variety will not vibrate very much, if at all. Your scroll saw should run smoothly and quietly. If there is a blade installed, it should appear as a crisp, thin black line as it goes up and down—if it is blurred, something is out of whack (maybe it is easy to fix...maybe it is a permanent flaw).
Variable Speed or Not -- Some people swear that you must have a variable speed control on any worthy scroll saw. As we've said before with regards to blades, you should consider and make your own mind up. Some projects may require a slower cutting speed than others. A high speed (1,200 - 1,800 Strokes Per Minute [SPM]) may be needed to cut a very hard wood or to get a fine cut. A low speed (400 - 800 SPM) may be used to cut a softer wood.
Some saws have one speed, others have two and still others are totally adjustable to most any SPM. In our opinion, a two-speed scroll saw—slow and fast—is the best choice for the beginner concerned about cost, as it will allow you some flexibility without really paying for it.
Throat Capacity -- This is the amount of space between the cutting edge of the blade and the front of the reciprocating arm swivel or mounting point. The throat capacity determines how large of a workpiece the saw can handle. As you begin to push the workpiece into the cutting blade, it starts to move toward the back of the saw where the arm swivels. At some point, unlike on a table saw, the wood will not be able to go any farther. This is inherent in the design of ALL scroll saws. A great throat capacity is about 18". Unless you are a true professional with unique needs, a saw with 18" will seldom cause a problem. It should be noted that the scroll saw is a specialized tool and not made for every job, rather a specific one.
Stand-Alone or Table-Mounted -- Both usually have the same throat capacity and features. The advantage of stand-alone models is their (usually) built-in dampening effect. Vibration is usually reduced due to the design of the stand. Table-mounted saws may vibrate more, depending on what they are mounted to so keep this in mind.
You can go hog-wild buying all sorts of extras for your rig. As you might imagine, some things are more useful than others. Some are gimmicks and some have actual value.
Blade Releases / Quick Clamps -- In the past, most scroll saws required a hex key or special wrench to operate the blade clamps. Today, more toolmakers are offering models already equipped with blade clamps you can release or tighten with your fingers. If your saw isn't already fitted with these, you can probably update your saw as many aftermarket parts are available. Highly recommended!
Blowers -- Just like it sounds, these devices are air hoses that can be positioned where the blade contacts the wood stock, blowing away the sawdust that builds up. Not really necessary, but expect a workout for your lungs and if you don't have one. Regardless of whether you use a blower, we always recommend a mask to keep from inhaling sawdust.
Magnifiers / Lights -- A magnifier and lamp are often combined, and both are very useful as you get into more ambitious projects. This accessory magnifies the pattern lines making them easier to follow and cut. Head-mounted units are also available. Lights are more important than the magnifying aspect. Good lighting is essential!
Foot-Activated Power Switches -- These devices, as their name so aptly describes, sit on the floor and allow the operator to shut the machine down by simply tapping the toe. Tap it again to start back up. Super convenient.