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.
For more information see Choosing a Scroll Saw.
First, let's talk about the numbers used for identifying blades. Numbers 3/0, 2/0, 1, 3, and up to 12 indicate blade size.
The most common blades are the skip tooth and the double teeth. Both are available with or without reverse teeth—an “R” after the number means reverse teeth.
On reverse teeth blades, a small portion of teeth point upward. Remember that most of the teeth have to point downwards when sawing, with the reverse teeth pointing up. Don’t feel bad if you have it wrong or with the teeth in the back, we all have done that. If your eyes aren’t good enough to see which way the teeth face, slide the blade gently across a finger and you’ll be able to tell.
Our website lists blade dimensions, TPI (teeth per inch) and reverse teeth amount if applicable. We also list the smallest size of drill bit recommended; however, use a larger bit when possible for ease.
Our skip tooth blades are a little more aggressive than most other blades. The double teeth blades do not cut as aggressively and some people like that. They feel that they have better control over the blade because they cut slower.
Some people are more comfortable using blades without the reverse teeth. They feel it keeps the wood from jumping. However, with a little pressure you will have no problem with a blade that has reverse teeth. The blades with reverse teeth will leave almost no fuzz on the bottom, eliminating the need for sanding.
Our recommendation would be to start with a # 5 double teeth, like the PSR and also the SR #5 and #7.
If you ask a few scrollers what blades they like to use, most likely they all use a different blade. The best thing for a beginner is to buy a few different sizes and makes. Experiment and find what you like best.
Hardwood is the nicest and most attractive wood to use. Oak in 1/4, 1/2 and 3/4” thickness is usually available from large hardware stores or catalog companies like Heritage Building Specialties. Many people like to use walnut and mahogany for special projects. Purple heart and other exotic woods are used mainly for trim.
Inexpensive plywood like luan and fir are not good for most projects. However, high quality Baltic birch is often used for plaques and jigsaw puzzles. Some use it for making clocks and boxes. Two reasons to use Baltic birch are that it is less expensive and it is much less likely to break.
The big disadvantage of using plywood is that the edges aren’t very attractive but that isn’t a problem for plaques and puzzles. Be aware that the glue layers in plywood will dull your blade faster than sawing the same thickness in solid wood.
When painting, we recommend plywood, it saves a lot of money over using hardwood.
This will happen more in thin (1/4”) than thicker wood (3/4”). The cause is moisture. One side dries more than the other side.
You can keep turning it every few days or you could try to use a hair dryer or heat gun to dry one side. Put the thin wood under some heavier wood with spacers between the thin wood, for air drying.
Regardless, you will have some cupping left when you are ready to scroll saw. When stack cutting we put the pieces together opposite from each other. When cutting out inside pieces, it will release the stretch in the wood.
Don’t start with a spiral blade. They are very hard to control, leave a lot of fuzz and leave a very wide cut.
The spiral blade is a regular blade with no reverse teeth that has been twisted around with teeth in all directions. This makes the blade go in any direction.
When cutting hardwood, a spiral blade wants to follow the grain and go to the soft spots in the wood—making it very hard to control and stay on the line of the pattern. Most spiral blades are used for cutting plywood since plywood has no soft spots.
Spiral blades are good to cut faces of people into wood and for free hand cutting, like cutting wild life. One more place people like to use them is for making a veining line wider. Veining is just a line—like the “veins” in leaves. First cut the line with a regular blade to give the spiral blade a “path” to follow and then widen it with a spiral blade.
The best way to start is to take some scrap pieces of wood and draw lines, steps, sharp angles and curving lines. Try to stay on the line. If you get off, don’t try to rush back. Take it easy and slowly merge back to the line.
On most patterns, if you get off the pattern line, nobody will notice and you are the only one that knows. However, don’t start with intricate patterns as mistakes become more noticeable the more detailed the pattern.
Tension is very important. When the blade is in the saw but not running, ping it with your finger. It should give a nice, high pitch—like a musical high C.
It is better to have too much tension than not enough. You will break more blades with not enough than with too much tension. With not enough tension, you will push too hard into the blade. This makes the blade get hot, lose its “temper” and dull faster. It is easy to put side pressure on the blade, which will also make the blade get hot and then the blade will get dull faster. Pushing sideways might also give a slight bevel cut, when stack cutting. The bottom might be different from the top. Also, with a loose blade you have less control over where the blade goes, just like with a spiral blade. With enough tension, you will not have this problem and even with very tiny blades you are in control.
Sometimes you might have trouble with the blade slipping out of the blade clamp. This happens mostly with the upper blade clamp for two reasons. The first is that the inside gets very smooth and the second is that there might be a little oil on the clamping surfaces. New blades often have oil on them to keep them from getting rusty. When this oil gets on the clamp, it will make the clamp slippery.
You can take a little piece of fine sand paper and sand the inside of the clamp, just to make it a little rough.
You can also clean the clamp with alcohol.
Most like to use blades without the reverse teeth. The best blades to use for this are the Polar blades (#3, #5, #7 and #9—depending on how thick the material is). Polar blades have no reverse teeth and some people prefer them. They feel that they have better control and don’t mind sanding. People with arthritis often have trouble holding the material down and the Polar blades help material stay on the table better.
When cutting these materials, make sure you use some 2” clear package tape. Put it on the material, top and bottom and then glue the pattern on top of that. Some people use other tape, like masking tape, but most use 2” package tape. The tape helps to keep the plastic bits from going back in the cut. When using acrylic, note that cast acrylic cuts cleanly and extruded acrylic melts back together.
When cutting acrylics and other plastics, you should slow the speed down to about 850 SPM (strokes per minute) or about half speed. Cut slowly and don’t push too hard into the blade.
Most people use 3M 77 adhesive. Spray a very small amount on the back of the pattern, wait until it is a little sticky and then put it on the wood or tape.
If the pattern comes loose while cutting, take a little piece of Scotch tape and put it right next to the blade. It will hold down the pattern long enough for you to finish the cutting.
If you have too much adhesive, it will be hard to get the pattern off the wood. There are a few different ways of removing the pattern. We use paint thinner. Some use rubbing alcohol. Don’t pour either on, just slightly moisten the pattern with paint thinner using a little ball of cotton or paper towel. You can try using a hair dryer to soften the adhesive, but if you used too much adhesive this might take a long time. You can also try sanding it off, but a lot of fine paper dust will get in the pores of the wood so we don’t recommend sanding.
By using 2" clear package tape you will eliminate most burning. Especially in wood with oil (like Purple Heart) and very hard wood. We like to first put the pattern on the wood and then put tape over the pattern. Some like to put it on the wood first. It is all up to the individual. Some might even use a different tape but most like to use the package tape.
It is almost like the tape lubricates the blade. Not quite. The tape has a chemical that is like a Silicone and releases friction. If this chemical would not be on top of the tape, you never would be able to un-roll the tape from itself.
When you need to make more than one piece, stack them together in 3/4” to 1” thick stacks.
To hold the stacks together, you can put tape around the pieces or just on the sides. Some use double stick carpet tape; however, we don’t like this because it leaves a little bit of room between the pieces and is likely to leave fuzz in the gap left by the carpet tape.
The easiest way to keep stacks together is to use an air brad nailer or to hammer brads manually into the waste areas of the stack. You can even put some in the areas that need to be cut out. You cut them out the last of all inside cuts. Then you do the outside.
To keep the points of the brads from scratching and catching on the scroll saw table, put the wood on a piece of iron and tap the brad with a hammer. We use a short piece of railroad rail, but any scrap of iron will do to flatten the point. You can also use a nail set to flatten the point.
If you have to put the brads in by hand, get a “brad starter”. If using oak or other brittle woods, you may have to frill a very small starter hole.
For thin wood (1/4 to 1/2”), you can use a hand drill. When the wood or stack is more than 1/2” thick, a drill press will help to make sure that the hole is drilled straight up and down. A Dremel with a stand works very well.
The most common drill size to use is a 1/16” bit. For veining you want to use smaller bits, which come in numbers like 64. You might need a special chuck to hold them. Most catalogs or wood working stores sell them. Craft stores that cater to model builders, like railroading, have these tiny drill bits.
It is also handy to have a sander. We like a palm finishing sander; you don’t have to go with the grain of the wood.
It is very easy to have your table tilt a little without you knowing it. You might lean on it or you might have held onto the table when moving your saw or you might have done some bevel cutting and forgot to put the table back in the right position.
The best way to square the blade to the table is to use a little square. You can make one yourself from a piece of hardwood or you can get a small protractor. The fastest and most accurate way is to make a cut of about 1/16” deep in a scrap of 3/4” wood. Then turn the wood around and bring it against the back of the blade. The blade should fit perfectly in the kerf. If not, adjust the table a little, and then do it over again.
Some say to cut a circle and if the table is square to the blade, the round piece should come out of both ends. However, this takes too much time and is not always accurate. If you use a #9 blade, the table can be off one degree and the piece still will come out. Also, when having a “C” arm scroll saw, the bottom is different from the top.
Some people just spin the wood around. This will leave a round corner. If you do spin the wood, make sure you stop cutting but keep the saw running. Then, turn the wood with pressure on the back of the blade so it won’t remove any wood while turning.
We like to do it differently. There are two lines: line “A” going into the corner and line “B” going away. Cut on line A all the way to the corner. Then, back out about a 1/4” and turn the blade with the teeth into the waste, start cutting a curve towards line B and then to the corner. A small piece will fall out. This gives you room to turn the blade, put the back of the blade in the corner and start cutting on line B.
We find magnifying glasses with lights to be very helpful. You can find them at about any office equipment store or hardware store. One with a florescent or LED bulb is best.
We find foot switches to be very helpful. If a blade breaks or you have any other emergency, you don’t have to look for the on and off switch. Some switches are not dust proof and might just quit after turning off and on many times. A foot switch will eliminate this problem.
Many catalogs sell foot switches. There is sometimes quite a difference in price. Check around. You shouldn’t have to pay more than $25 to $30.
The scroll saw is, we would say, the safest woodworking tool you will find. The scroll saw is a great tool for young woodworking students to learn. It cuts slowly, so there's less "quick-thinking" to do. If you ever get stuck, you can just shut the power off and relax.
However, do not be fooled—ALL power tools can be dangerous. Care has to be taken. You should always remain alert while working with any machine—and good lighting is essential. Always wear safety goggles and a mask and ensure your workspace has good ventilation.
Use the workpiece guard to hold down your project snugly while still allowing it to move freely. As you become more experienced, you may decide that the guard is not necessary or that it even gets in the way. As a beginner, you should always use the guard.
Keep your fingers clear of the blade and mind the reciprocating arm of the scroll saw as it can easily break a finger or even worse. Most scroll saws nowadays are equipped with a spring in the arm so that, when a blade breaks, the broken top half does not come shooting down into the project or your hand. Regardless, it’s good to know whether your saw will react this way or not.
When a blade breaks, one end can hit your finger. You don’t lose a finger, but it hurts and might get blood on some nice wood. While a blade won’t break in hundreds of pieces, wearing safety glasses is a good idea. A broken blade might hit your eye only once in a hundred years, but who wants to take a chance?
Don’t have lose cords laying around. The end might be one of your new sanders and you hate to see it fall on the floor.
Saw dust might be one of the greatest hazards in wood working. Many scroll saw companies are now changing the flow of air that blows away the dust. A good mask is the best way to not inhale the dust. We also recommend an air filtration system hanging from the ceiling. This exchanges the air about 5 to 6 times per hour.
Another safety concern is repetitive motion injury, such as carpal tunnel syndrome. Spending hour after hour holding down the wood on the table may eventually result in carpal tunnel syndrome and might require surgery. To avoid this, we recommend that you stop frequently for a minute or so and stretch/rest your hands and wrist.
One example of what we’ve done when doing a big project was to drill exactly 20 holes and then cut them out. We have our saw at one end and the little drill press on the other end in our shop. This is also a way to keep track of how many holes you have in a project. You can time yourself by how long it takes to cut the 20 holes and then multiply that by how many times you drilled 20 holes.
People always want to know how long it took to make that particular item. Make sure you add some extra time for attaching the pattern, sanding and finishing when you set your price. Cutting is only part of a final product. Don't forget overhead expenses like heating and lighting.
This is one of the hardest things to figure out. The common saying is, “If it does not sell, it might be over priced. But, if you can’t keep enough on hand, you are under priced.”
Many people make things to sell and do craft shows because it is fun. They hope to make enough to cover their cost and maybe a little more. Some, but very few, actually make a living. Enjoy yourself doing scroll sawing. Buy a new tool from time to time, and go out for a nice dinner from the money you made. But a living? Don’t believe most people who say that they make a living at scroll sawing. It might be their full time job, but making a living is something else.
When going to a craft show, it is usually assumed that you should sell at least 10 times your booth cost. So, if the cost of a booth is $50.00, you should expect to sell at least $500.00 worth of projects.