Woodworkers Club of Houston

Home    How to Articles

Scroll Saw Techniques

Everything you wanted to know about Scroll Sawing but were afraid to ask

From a Presentation by Norm Nichols and Denis Muras (Woodworkers Club of Houston) at the December 2015 meeting.

Denis Muras and Norm Nichols presented their “Everything You Wanted to Know About Scroll Sawing But Were Afraid to Ask” program to club members during the December 2015 meeting.  Norm and Denis provided numerous valuable tips for anyone interested in the fine wood working art of scroll sawing.

For affixing the pattern to the wood, Denis and Norm highly recommended placing blue painter’s masking tape on the wood first. Don’t use the smooth non-masking tape.  Spray the pattern with an adhesive such as 3m 77 and place on the blue tape.  After the cutting, the tape peels off easily and leaves no residue.  There is also some sort of a lubricant in the tape that helps to reduce wood burning from the blade.  Norm prefers to first lightly trace the outside outline of the pattern on the wood with a pencil and then only tape the area where the pattern will be.

When creating the pattern, a pattern drawn with lines in a bright color (especially red) is much easier to see where you’ve been and where you are going. Cutting with a black blade following a black line is more difficult.

For drilling the holes Norm and Denis use a variety of drill presses, for example, Dremel, Seyco and even a regular drill press.  This is a decision of convenience so they don’t have to change out bits every time they want to do something.

There was considerable discussion about what size and type of blade to use.  Each blade will have different characteristics and will cut differently but with a tendency to follow the grain. Blades will drift – they aren’t designed to cut in a straight line.   It also depends on whether you are working with hardwood or plywood.   Blades with more teeth per inch will cut smoother but slower.  You may have to experiment to find what blades work best for you.  Olson is a web site you can visit for advice on what blade may be best for you.  Follow this link for a list of blade recommendations at the Olson web site:  http://ep.yimg.com/ty/cdn/yhst-16765698503918/2015-scrollchart.pdf

How do you know when your blade is dull?  Experience, but basically when you are pushing the wood rather than guiding the wood.

There were questions about spiral blades.  Denis calls it “carving”.  Those blades are great for making numerous twists and turns.  Denis recommended a video by Jeff Zaffino, “Mastering the Art of Scroll Sawing with Jeff Zaffino”, which is available in the club video library. 

Scroll saw blades cut on the down stroke and you need to hold it down so you can control it.  The finger guard is to help you keep your fingers away from the blade.  If you lose focus and control the wood will jump. Longer strokes of the scroll saw doesn’t bring faster cutting.  Many factors are involved such as the blade itself and the speed of the saw.  If he isn’t cutting fast enough Norm will opt for a blade change.

Blade tension is very important. Without proper tension the blade will waver.  A Rule of Thumb is when the blade is installed securely it should, under finger pressure, and with power OFF, move forward and backward no more than 1/8 of an inch. If you have a “musical” ear the blade should sound off with a clear note when you ping it – then you can hum a happy tune.

For convenience and safety, a foot operated dead man switch (not a variable speed control) is recommended, especially the kind that turns on when you depress it with your foot and turns off when your foot is raised.  This is preferable to having to reach down or up to find the power switch.

What scroll saw should I buy or invest in?  Many serious scroll sawyers have started with low end machines and later ended up with high end units.  One feature to explore is the ease and speed in changing out the blade.  When you have to change out a blade dozens of times to make your cuts you don’t want to be wasting time or getting frustrated with blade change out.  Typically the low end saws cause a “blur” in the cutting and don’t cut precisely up and down which makes it harder to follow the line.

Blade change out.  Denis is a bottom feeder.  He’ll feed his blade through the hole from the bottom.  Norm is just the opposite, he is a top feeder, stating that he grew tired of standing on his head to find the right hole through which the blade will go.  Rick Hutcheson’s web site on scroll saw information has a wealth of video tips on scroll sawing.

Norm and Denis talked about “finishing” up.  To remove the fuzzy aftermath of the cuttings, they use small files, especially half round files, and even beauty salon style emery boards to clean up the holes.  Norm's opinion is that sanding blades are a waste of money – they wear out fast.

Norm told of a work of art that he submitted for judging at a show in Branson, Mo.  Norm spent hours cleaning up the fuzzies and was so proud of his work that he was expecting a ribbon award.  Instead he received Honorable Mention. He was devastated.  Norm asked the judge , who happened to be Rick Hutcheson, who told Norm that he had too many fuzzies – and after Norm asked where they were, he pointed them out leaving Norm a tad embarrassed.  Because of this experience Norm doesn’t use plywood.

Norm and Denis will be demonstrating scroll saw techniques at the WWCH booth in the Woodworking Shows scheduled for the last weekend in February at the Pasadena Convention Center, Pasadena, Texas.  Come visit us.



Go to TOP of page