How Does A Scroll Saw Work

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Scroll saws are used for fine woodworking where you want the speed and power of an electrical saw combined with the precision of a fine handheld blade or Exacto knife.  They have a very slender blade that moves up-and-down at between 400 to 1,800 strokes per minute.  Although most people think of scroll saws being used for cutting wood, can also cut thin metal, plastic, Plexiglas, and other materials.

scroll saw

Image credit: Steven Groves, Flickr

Scroll saws all have a few standard parts in common.  They have a flat table where your wood or other material is placed for sawing, an arm that extends over the table, a tip for connecting the saw blade, a hole in the table where the blade connects to the motor under the table, and a base containing the motor and legs, or bottom of the saw.  The distance from the blade to the back of the saw is called the throat.  Most scroll saws for home use will have a sixteen-inch throat, while professional scroll saws will have a throat capacity between twelve to thirty inches.

Blade Types

There are several types of blades available to use on a scroll saw.  On a standard tooth blade, the teeth are evenly spaced and are all the same size.  On a wood blade, the teeth are larger with greater space between them to clear the sawdust as you cut.  On a metal blade, the teeth are smaller and closer together.  These blades are also much noisier.

The next major type of blade is the skip-tooth blade.  As the name would suggest, there is a skip or space between the teeth.  It has half as many teeth as the standard blade.  The wider space between the teeth keeps the blade cooler and makes it an especially good blade for beginners to use.

Picture of Different Saw Blades

There are other specialty blades available but most people will be fine using these two types.

Exterior Cuts

For a standard cut, trace a pattern or line on a piece of wood then lay the material flat on the saw table.  Ensure you’ve got the blade in place with good tension on it.  Turn the saw on and bring the wood into contact with the blade.  Because these blades are thin, they have a tendency to “drift” off the line you’re trying to cut.  You’ll have to steer the wood the same way you steer a car – making moment-by-moment adjustments as you push the wood forward.

scroll saw

Image credit: Agashi5859, Wikimedia

With this saw, you can turn the wood to create wavy lines, right-angle turns, zigzag patterns, and more.  You can also make what are called interior cuts.

Interior Cuts

To make an interior cut you’ll need to drill a tiny hole in the wood, large enough for the saw blade to fit through.  Make sure you drill the hole as close to perfectly vertical as possible.  Unhook the bottom end of the blade from the motor, put it through the hole in the wood, back through the table of the saw, and reattach it to the motor.  Make sure you still have good tension on it, then proceed to out whatever pattern you’re following, a circle, a spiral design, a maze pattern, etc.

Picture of a Scroll Saw Making an Interior Cut

The table on many scroll saws can be tilted at up to 45º to achieve a bevel cut for even more intricate cuts.  With practice, there’s no end to the uses of a scroll saw.