Choosing the Right Scroll Saw

Woodworkers of all skill levels can create scroll saw patterns and make intricate cuts

Choosing the Right Scroll Saw

Scroll saws allow you to make cuts on a variety of materials, including wood, plastic, brass and copper. You can also use your scroll saw to perform intricate and detailed interior cuts.

Scroll saws look similar to band saws but do not have continuous blades.

This guide walks you through the different types of scroll saws so that you can determine which will work best for your projects.

Capacity, Speed and Drive

Throat depth is the distance between the scroll saw blade and the rear frame. That’s how the saws are sized. Speeds range from slower than 400 strokes per minute (SPM) to faster than 1,800 SPM.

Tip: During scrolling, you'll have to rotate your work piece frequently to cut in different directions, so take that into consideration when you're determining what size scroll saw you need.

Capacity

  • Scroll saws with a 16- or 18-inch capacity are ideal for most home users.
  • Depth of cut determines the thickness of material you can cut.
  • Most scroll saws offer a depth of cut between 1 ¾ and 2 ¼ inches.


Speed


  • Older scroll saws may only offer one or two speeds, while 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.
  • Metal and plastic require slower cutting speeds than wood to prevent the blade from heating up.


Drive

  • 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 important to reduce hand 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 the wear on your saw, and decreasing its life.
  • Vibration from standard parallel arms can be dampened with other features, such as a cast-iron table and base.

Features

Look for a blade-tensioning system that offers simple controls for quick blade changes, and tilting tables for better cutting angles.

Blade-related features

  • Up-front, quick-release tension levers and tool-free blade changes will help with easy blade changing and threading.
  • Look for a saw that accepts plain-end blades for the most selection.
  • Almost all scroll saws accept plain-end blades, but some also accept pin-end blades.
  • Saws that accept both offer added flexibility and fast blade changes.
  • 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.


Cast-iron table: Cast-iron tables are extremely durable and allow your work piece 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 45 degrees to the left to allow bevel cuts. Some tables tilt in both directions, so you don't have to flip your work piece to bevel cut in the other direction.

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 work piece 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 than a tilting arm, 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 may need to be adjusted with a tool. Look for adjustments that don't require special tools or, even better, saws that don’t require tools at all.

Dust port: Sawdust not only makes for lots of cleanup, it can also be a 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 work piece so you can see the cut lines. Flexible dust blowers can be bent to change the position and direction of airflow.