Today I thought we would learn a little something about Scroll Saws…not owning one it’s a topic I personally knew very little about until I did some research on them. We have discussed scroll saws a bit here in past blogs and I’m sure there are many carvers out there who use them. I’m hoping this information about scroll saws will open up some discussion, questions and comments about the various aspects of scroll saws and their use. For example, I would like to know more about the dust collection systems used with these saws. Perhaps someone can expand on that.
The Scroll Saw
A Scroll Saw is a small electric operated saw used to cut intricate curves in wood, metal, or other materials. The fineness of its blade allows it to cut more delicately than a power jigsaw, and more easily than a hand coping saw or fretsaw. Like those tools, a scroll saw is capable of creating curves with edges, by pivoting its table.
The scroll saw’s name derives from its traditional use in making scrollwork, sculptural ornaments which prominently featured scroll-head designs.
Advantages of using a Scroll Saw
While somewhat similar to a band saw, a scroll saw uses a reciprocating blade rather than a continuous loop type blade. Like a hand coping saw, the scroll saw’s blade can be removed and placed through a pre-drilled starting hole, allowing interior cutouts to be made without an entry slot. A band saw can’t do that. Also, the fineness in both width and tooth count of a scroll saw’s blade permits significantly more intricate curves than even the narrowest gauge band saw blade.
The majority of scroll saws offer a small light on a flexible arm to illuminate the work area and a dust blower nozzle to keep the work space clear while working. The table tilting capability enables angled cuts to be made precisely and easily. The variable speed support allows even finer control over cuts when working with delicate materials or when making intricate cuts.
Types of Scroll Saws
Scroll Saws are classified according to the size of their throat, which is the distance from the blade to the rear frame of the saw. The throat depth determines how large a piece of material can be cut. Smaller saws have a throat of as little as 12 inches (300 mm), while commercial saws can approach 30 inches (760 mm) deep.
Not surprisingly, scroll saws vary in price. The more costly saws are more accurate and easier to use, usually because they minimize vibration, though this is dependent in part upon design and frequency, with many models offering no vibrations in some frequencies, and increased vibration in others.
Scroll Saw Uses
Scroll sawing is a popular hobby for many woodworkers and hobbyists. The saw allows a substantial amount of creativity and requires comparatively little space. Additionally, many scroll saw projects require little more than the saw itself, thus reducing the investment in tools. A drill is required for interior cutouts. A drill press is handy for finely detailed work.
Scroll saws are often used to cut intricate curves and joints, a task they can complete quickly and with great accuracy. They can also be used to cut dovetail joints and are a common tool for intarsia projects. When a fine blade is used, the kerf or incision of a scroll saw is almost invisible.
Scroll saws are comparatively safe. In particular, inadvertent contact between the blade and the operator’s fingers or limbs is unlikely to result in serious injury, due to a smaller blade and relatively slower speed compared to tools such as a band saw or table saw.
Types of Scroll Saw Blades
With the exception of blades made for very light duty saws, typical scroll saw blades are 5 inches (130 mm) long. The major types of blades are:
- Skip tooth (or single skip tooth) which have a tooth, a gap, and then another tooth;
- Double skip tooth (two teeth, a gap, then two teeth);
- Crown or two-way, which have teeth facing both up and down so that the blade cuts on both the down-stroke (as with all other blades) and the up-stroke;
- Spiral blades, which are basically regular flat blades with a twist, so that teeth project on all sides;
- Metal cutting blades made of hardened steel;
- Diamond blades (wires coated with diamond fragments), for cutting glass.
- Pin end blades are generally a bit thicker and are made to use on scroll saws that require pin end blades which are generally older, less expensive or made for entry level scroll saw users. Most newer higher-end scroll saws do not accept pin end blades.
Blades come in many weights, ranging from #10/0 (for making jewelry—about the size of a coarse hair) to #12, which is similar to a small band saw blade.
Another variation is called a reverse tooth blade. On reverse tooth blades, the bottom 3/4″ (19 mm) of the teeth are reversed (point up). This arrangement helps to reduce splintering on the bottom edges of the cut. However, it does not clear sawdust out of the cut as well as a regular blade. Cutting is slower and produces more heat. This heat reduces blade life and makes scorching of the project more likely. Reverse tooth blades are especially useful when cutting softwood and plywood such as Baltic birch where splintering (“fuzzies”) of the wood is common.
The latest variation in scroll saw blades is called “ultra-reverse”. These blades are configured with 4–5 teeth down and then one up, repeated through the length of the blade. The blade clears dust very well and leaves a much cleaner back side (very few “fuzzies”). These blades’ sizes range from #1 through #9.
My research didn’t mention this but with the typical scroll saw blade being 5 inches (130 mm) long my guess is that 2″ – 2 1/2″ is the maximum thickness piece of wood you could cut. Perhaps some of you scroll saw users out there can comment on this.
I hope you all found this article as enlightening as I did. I sure learned a few thing I never knew!
Our next blog will have another book review on a terrific book by Mike Shipley.
We received several emails this week in response to our last blog containing the Woodcarving Suppliers list:
Our first email comes from Wade Harvey who writes:
Thanks for putting this list together I’ve used many of these folks and all were easy to deal with and provided a quality product.
I’m gonna save this list and do my darnedest to remember WHERE I saved it when I need it.
I have also used many of the suppliers on that list, Wade, and agree they have all been easy to deal with and provide quality products and they all stand behind their products as well. In fact, some of the suppliers on the list are members of the CCA who sell rough outs.
Our second email comes from Phyllis Stone who wrote in a nice comment and a question regarding scroll saw blades:
First of all thanks so much for the list of woodcarving suppliers, there are quite a few on the list that I have never heard of so I just might have to check them out.
Second, thank you also for the sketches of how to do a curly beard. That’s very informative.
The new Fall 2021 issue of Woodcarving Illustrated is out now and on page 16 is your great article about your first carve. I love the camel, he’s adorable.
My final thought is about Dean’s message about scroll saws. I have used mine to cut out 2″ thick wood but it takes so very long to cut out a pattern. I’m not sure what blade I’m using, I think it’s a reverse tooth, but I was wondering if there is a blade that helps the process along and make it faster? I’d appreciate any help with this matter that might save me some frustration.
Thank you for your compliment on my write up in WCI. That camel was the first carving I ever did over 50 years ago. Regarding your scroll saw blade, a 2″ block of wood is pretty thick and I believe that’s pushing the limit as far as how thick a scroll saw can cut so it would only be natural that it would cut slower. Even my band saw cuts slower though a 2″ block than it does through a 1″ block.
A different blade might make a difference, though, and perhaps a reverse tooth blade is not the right blade for the job. Hopefully, some of our readers who are scroll saw owners can help you with the an answer to that question. How about it? Can anyone help Phyllis out?
Our next email comes from Timothy Sisko in response to our Woodcarving Suppliers list:
“Bob, I feel remiss, after reading your latest blog it occurred to me that I hadn’t sent you the information on one of my favorite suppliers. Cascade Carvers Supply is located in the tri-cities area of Washington State Their web site can be found at firstname.lastname@example.org . Check them out, Ron Lunde is the owner and he has always been very helpful.”
Thanks for the addition to our list, Tim! I’ll be sure and add Cascade Carvers to it, and let’s all check them out.
The next email is from my good friend Andy Loughlin who writes:
“Bob, thanks for posting your woodcarving supply list. Some I was aware of, but you definitely had some hidden gems in there. I love the blog so far. We all appreciate the time and effort that you put into it! Keep up the great work. You have tons of knowledge and experience that I look forward to soaking up !”
Thank you for the kind words, Andy! I’m glad you found the Woodcarving Suppliers list helpful.
Our next email comes from Paul Endicott of the UK who has some nice things to say and also provides some insight to carving in the UK:
Firstly, thanks for the blog, it’s really informative, and although some of the information may not be relevant for me at the moment, it’s great to know it’s there and as a reference for the future.
I’m a novice woodcarver based in the Southwest of the UK (Devon). Whilst there is some interest in wood carving, it is mainly relief style, and not a great deal of interest in caricature carving. This is where YouTube, Instagram and your blog come in so useful.
Bass wood is difficult to find, I can get lime (with effort) which I think is pretty much the same. Tools too are a bit of a challenge, we have many fantastic chisel and gouge manufacturers, not so much for knives though. You may be interested to know that I recently purchased two OCCT knives from Chipping Away in Canada, the cost, including postage, was almost the same as buying two flex cut knives over here. Obviously buying like this means you can’t handle the knives before purchasing them, but I thought it was worth taking the chance as they have such good recommendations, not least from yourself and Doug Linker. I love them! Cindy from Chipping Away was really helpful and made it very easy.
I’ll leave it there Bob, just to say thanks once again for the blog, and to let you know that we are thinking of you and wishing both you and your wife well.
PS on occasion, the likes of you, Kevin Coates and Doug Linker have “liked” some of my carvings on Instagram. This really gives encouragement, and I’d just like to say thanks.
Thank you, Paul, for your gracious thoughts and words for me and my wife, and for the kind comments about my blog and the encouragement I give to others. I thoroughly enjoy doing both.
The OCCT knives you purchased from Chipping Away were an excellent choice. One you won’t regret. Next to Helvies, OCCT knives are my next favorite go to knives. I agree buying over the internet is always risky, especially when it comes to something as personal as a carving knife. It’s difficult to say whether you will like the knife unless you’ve actually held it in your hand which is one of the reasons why you should always purchase your carving supplies (especially knives) from a reputable supplier. Next to a recommendation from a friend or noted wood carver, working with someone like Cindy at Chipping Away is your next best bet.
Let the chips fly! Tell your wood carving friends and spread the word about Wood Chip Chatter, and don’t forget to send in your questions and comments so we can keep Wood Chip Chatter active and keep the conversations going!
And remember, we need your photos! Photos of your carvings will help to liven up the blog’s appearance and make it more interesting. Perhaps we can start a carvers photo section! Email your photos to email@example.com (let me know if you have any trouble attaching your photos).
Keep a sharp edge and keep on carvin’!