How to Use a Scroll Saw
Time Required: Under 2 hours
Scroll saws have a thin blade that allows you to cut intricate curves and corners. For advanced users, this means inlay work, musical instruments, dovetail joints and other types of joinery. DIY craft hobbyists can also enjoy a wide range of scroll saw projects such as wooden toys and decoration, state maps and cut-out names or slogans.
This guide teaches you the parts of a scroll saw, how to use a scroll saw and gives you scroll saw tips and techniques for your DIY woodworking projects.
Table tilt adjustment: A bevel scale is located under the saw table as a convenient guide for setting the approximate saw table angle for bevel cutting. When greater precision is required, make practice cuts on scrap material and adjust the saw table as necessary.
TIP: When cutting at an angle, the drop foot should also be tilted so that it is parallel to the saw table and rests flat against the workpiece. To tilt the drop foot when making a bevel scroll saw cut, loosen the Phillips screw, tilt drop foot to the proper angle and then retighten screw.
Blade tension knob: Check tension by the sound the blade makes when plucked like a guitar string. This method of adding tension to the blade can be developed with practice and requires knowing a better understanding of your particular scroll saw.
TIP: Be careful not to adjust blade too tight. Too much tension may cause the blade to break as soon as you start cutting. Too little tension may cause the blade to bend or break before the teeth wear out.
Workpiece drop foot: The tall, front part of the drop foot acts as a blade guard to prevent accidental contact with the blade.
Workpiece foot lock: To prevent the workpiece from lifting, the drop foot should be adjusted so it just rests on the top of the workpiece. The drop foot should not be adjusted so that the workpiece drags. Always retighten the drop foot lock knob after each adjustment has been made.
Speed adjustment knob: Turning the adjustment knob increases or decreases the saw’s speed – the number of strokes per minute, or SPM. The speed to use depends on the type and thickness of the material being cut and the number of teeth on the saw blade.
For general scroll cutting, follow the pattern line by pushing and turning the workpiece at the same time. Do not try to turn the workpiece without pushing it. Without any forward movement, workpieces can bind or twist the thin scroll saw blades.
TIP: Use general purpose spray adhesive on a photocopied pattern to attach it onto your workpiece. You’ll cut through the paper and wood without having to trace a pattern or freehand your cut lines.
Interior Scroll Cutting
One scroll saw feature is that it can be used to make curved cuts on the interior of a workpiece without breaking or cutting through the edge or perimeter of the board.
To cut interior patterns in a workpiece, remove the blade as explained below and then:
- Drill a 1/4-inch hole in the workpiece.
- Place the workpiece on the saw table with the drilled hole over the access hole in the table.
- Install the blade through the hole in the workpiece.
- Adjust the drop foot and blade tension.
- When finished making the interior scroll cuts, simply remove the blade from the blade holders.
After becoming well acquainted with scroll saw basics through practice and experience, you can try stack cutting. Stack cutting may be used when scroll saw projects require multiple identical shapes to be cut.
Several pieces of wood can be stacked and secured to each other before cutting. The wood pieces may be joined together by placing double-sided tape between each piece or by wrapping masking tape around the corners or ends of the stacked wood. You must attach the stacked pieces of wood to each other so they will move on the table as a single piece of material.
Scroll saw blades wear out quickly and must be replaced frequently for best cutting results. Expect to break some blades while you learn to use and adjust the saw. Blades generally stay sharp for up to 2 hours of cutting, depending on the type of material and speed of operation.
When choosing a scroll saw blade, consider the following:
- Very fine, narrow blades should be used to scroll cut in thin material 1/4-inch thick or less.
- Most blade packages state the size or thickness and type of material that blade is intended to cut. The package should also indicate the radius or size of curve that can be cut with that blade size.
- Wider blades cannot cut scroll saw patterns with curves as tight or as small as thinner blades.
To remove a scroll saw blade:
- Turn off and unplug the saw from the power source.
- Turn the blade tension knob to loosen blade tension.
- Pushing up from under the saw table, remove the throat plate.
- Loosen both the upper and lower blade clamp screws.
- Pull up on the blade and push down on the saw arm to disengage the upper pin in the V-notch of the upper blade holder. Then push the blade downward to disengage the lower pin in the V-notch of the lower blade holder.
- Remove the blade.
To install a new blade, reverse the order of the steps. Ensure that the blade is positioned with the teeth to the front of the saw and pointing down, with the clamps tightly securing it in the lower and upper blade holder.
While any saw can be dangerous if not used properly, the scroll saw is among the safest power tools. Wear eye protection and a dust mask during operation. Keep loose clothing and jewelry away from the blade. In general, use good sense and pay close attention at all times while operating a scroll saw.