Scroll Saws

Scroll Saws
 
Scroll saws look similar to band saws but unlike band saws do not have continuous blades. They allow you to make cuts on a variety of materials, including wood, plastic, brass and copper. In addition to peripheral or external cuts, you can also use your scroll saw to perform intricate and detailed interior cuts. Simply create an entry hole in your workpiece with a drill, thread your scroll saw's blade through the hole and begin cutting. Scroll saws are relatively easy to use and very popular with experienced woodworkers as well as beginners. If you are considering purchasing a scroll saw, be sure to select one that meets the requirements of the projects and applications you most often tackle. Before you learn about all of the features available to you, it is important to have a good grasp on what you're looking for. Use the following questions to begin assessing your needs:
 
          • What sizes and types of material will you be working with?
          • Will you be doing lots of fretwork or other interior cuts?
          • Will you use your scroll saw frequently or only occasionally?
          • Is versatility particularly important to you? Convenience?
 

Capacity, Speed, Blade and Drive


There are several factors to consider when deciding which scroll saw to buy. While power is important, features that make operation simple and convenient are far more critical. Whether you're a professional or a hobbyist, it's important to have a scroll saw that's easy to use. For professionals, ease of use will increase productivity and accuracy. Hobbyists will find they enjoy their projects more and will be eager to undertake more challenging tasks with confidence. Be sure you purchase a unit that can handle the sizes and materials you work with most frequently. Other features such as a variable-speed setting or tool-less blade change may provide much needed versatility that will enhance your experience.
 
Capacity: Scroll saws are sized by their throat depth, which is the distance between the blade and the rear frame. Scroll saws with a 16" or 18" capacity are just right for most home users, though larger capacities are available to accommodate bigger workpieces. A 16" scroll saw can cut to the center of a 32" workpiece. During scrolling, you'll have to rotate your workpiece a lot to cut in different directions, so take that into consideration when you're determining what size scroll saw you need.
 
          • Depth of cut determines the thickness of material you can cut
          • Most scroll saws offer a depth of cut between 1-3/4" and 2-1/4"
 
Speed: Scroll saw speeds range from slower than 400 spm (strokes per minute) to faster than 1,800 spm. While older scroll saws may only offer one or two speeds, newer models have variable speeds that allow you to select any setting within a specified range. Different materials require different speeds, so variable-speed control with a wide range of settings makes your saw more versatile. It enables you to decrease your speed for fine detail work and increase speed for faster cutting.
 
           • A wide selection of speed settings allows you to choose the ideal speed for different materials and cuts
           • Metal and plastic require slower cutting speeds than wood to prevent the blade from heating up
       
Blade-Related Features: Look for a blade-tensioning system that's up front and offers simple fingertip control. A quick-release tension lever and tool-less blade clamps will save you lots of time and frustration during blade changes and when you need to release the top of a blade to thread it through a piercing. Almost all scroll saws accept plain-end blades, but some also accept pin-end blades. Plain-end blades are available in a much wider variety, but pin-end blades tend to be cheaper and offer tool-free blade changes regardless of the type of plain-end system.
 
           • Look for an up-front, quick-release tension lever and tool-less blade clamps for easy blade changing 
             and threading
           • Look for a saw that accepts plain-end blades for maximum blade selection
           • Saws that also accept pin-end blades offer added flexibility and fast blade changes
 
Drive Type: The two most common drive systems are parallel arm and parallel-link arm, with the majority being parallel arm. The main advantage of the parallel-link system is reduced vibration, which is very important to reduce fatigue and improve accuracy. While scroll saws with a parallel-link system produce less vibration, other features can make scroll saws with standard parallel arms function almost as smoothly.
 
           • Parallel-link arms have more moving parts than other drive systems, increasing wear and decreasing 
             tool life
           • Vibration from standard parallel arms can be dampened with other features, such as a cast-iron table 
             and base
 
Spec Check: Use the following chart to quickly check the significance of various specs and see what the most common options are:
            

Spec Name

Typical Options

Key Details

Blade End Type Plain and/or pin Plain-end blades offer the best selection, but some models also accept pin-end blades for more flexibility
Depth of Cut 1-3/4" to 2-1/4" Determines the workpiece thickness you can cut
Power 1 to 2 amps Scroll saws don't use much power so options are very limited, but thicker stock (or stacked stock) and harder materials do require slightly more power
Speed Range Low: 300 to 600 spm
High: 1,500 to 1,800 spm
Different materials and applications require different speeds; more speeds and a wider range makes your saw more versatile
Table Size Width: 10" to 16"
Length: 12" to 24"
A larger table provides more support for bigger workpieces
Throat Depth 16", 18" or 20" Determines the size workpiece you can cut; a 16" saw can cut to the center of a 32" workpiece

Features


Cast-Iron Table: Cast-iron tables are extremely durable and allow your workpiece to slide smoothly over the table. Unlike aluminum and other lightweight materials, cast-iron tables also help dampen vibrations.
 
Tilting Table: The table on most scroll saws tilts up to 45º to the left to allow bevel cuts. Some tables do tilt in both directions, so you don't have to flip your workpiece to bevel cut in the other direction. If the table does tilt to the right, it may be as little as 5º or as much as 45º. If you only do occasional beveling, a table that tilts in a single direction should be adequate.
 
Tilting Arm: If you plan to do a lot of beveling, you may want to consider a scroll saw with a tilting arm rather than a tilting table. A tilting arm accomplishes the same thing as a tilting table - bevel cuts - but it's easier to make cuts with your workpiece flat.
 
Lifting Arm: The upper arm on some scroll saws can be lifted so it's easier to thread your needle through a pilot hole or fretwork. If you make a lot of interior cuts, a lifting arm is likely to be more convenient and efficient, especially if it locks up to stay out of the way.
 
Up-Front Controls: All of your controls should be easily accessible, so you can make adjustments on the fly. For safety reasons, you must have easy access to the on/off switch.
 
Easy Adjustments: Anything from the blade tension to the hold-down foot could require a tool to adjust. Look for adjustments that don't require special tools or, preferably, any tools at all.
 
Dust Port: Sawdust not only makes for lots of cleanup, it can also be a very serious health hazard. A dust port allows you to connect a dust collection system directly to your saw, so you can remove sawdust before it has a chance to enter the air.
 
Flexible Dust Blower: A dust blower clears dust off of your workpiece, so you can see the cut lines. Flexible dust blowers can be bent to change the position and direction of airflow.