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Scroll Saw Basics

Scroll Saw Basics

Scroll saws are one of the more commonly used tools for woodworkers. It is very useful in cutting intricate joints and curves. It can also be relied upon in quickly and accurately cutting dovetail joints.

Scroll saws aren’t just used in making precise cuts in woods. It can also be used in cutting other materials like metal and plastics. While the tool may appear intimidating at first, the truth is that it is relatively easy to use.


Before you use a scroll saw, let’s look first at arguably the most important part of this tool— the blade.

Scroll saws have very thin blades. In fact, some blades appear like pieces of human hairs. Blades are measured in teeth per inch (TPI). The rule of thumb is that the more the TPI, the more capable the blade is in making smooth and accurate cuts. However, it also means that the more TPI the blade has, the slower and more fragile it is.

scroll saw basics

There are two types of blades— Pin-End and Plain End.

The Pin-End blade has a small cross pin in each end. It is a lot easier to change Pin End blade. But the downside is that it isn’t as widely available as Plain End blades.

On the other hand, a Plain-End blade is flat and pinched in place between the jaws of small clamps. This is considered the standard for most users of scroll saw. Thus you’ll always be able to get a Plain-End blade from various sources.

Blades aren’t that pricey. Its price can range from 15 to 75 cents. It is also very easy to replace a blade—simply unlock the tension and then pull down the chuck. Pull out the blade, and then insert the replacement. Tighten the screws and then test out the new blade

scroll saw basics

Other Features

Whether you are shopping for a scroll saw or using one for the first time, you could get confused with the various features of this tool.

Let’s make a short rundown of the basic features of a scroll saw:

  • Throat size – this pertains to the distance from the back of the blade to the back throat of the saw. Throat sizes can be 16 inch or 30 inch. For beginners, a 16 inch scroll saw is recommended.
  • Blade tensioning — this pertains to the tightening and loosening of the blade of the scroll saw. Some scroll saws have levers; others have knobs located at the back. In setting the tension of the blades, you’ll have to find the right fit. If you set it too tight, the blade could easily snap. But if it is too loose, the blade won’t cave in on you.
  • Hold down foot — this is a feature that novice scroll saw users would need in a unit. You’d want a hold down foot that is adjustable, so that it can hold down a piece that you are working on.
  • Work light — good lighting is very important when operating a scroll saw. Look for a unit with work light.
  • Dust blower — like the work light, this is considered to be a ‘bonus’ feature in most scroll saws. Yet for beginners, it is an important feature as it can keep the dust away from the marked lines. Simply put, you can work faster when dust is blown away from the workpiece.

How to Use a Scroll Saw

Now that you have a basic understanding of scroll saw parts, let’s discuss how you should operate it.

While most experts agree that scroll saw is a safe cutting tool, it is still important that you observe basic safety procedures first before operating the tool. For one, you should wear safety goggles to avoid eye injuries. You must also wear a dust mask and hat to hold back your hair.

Prepare the workpiece by cutting it to the required size. Then draw your design into the workpiece, or transfer the patterns you want to cut onto it. You need to ensure, though, that the marked lines are very visible.

Prepare to use the scroll saw by bolting it firmly to the working surface. The put the blade and ensure that it fits firmly onto the saw. The tension of the blade should also be correct. You can refer to your scroll saw’s instruction manual to learn how to find the right blade tension.

Switch on the scroll saw. The on/off switch is usually located on the top of the unit. You should also turn on the light of the scroll saw, if there’s one.

Check if the scroll saw is working properly by taking a scrap wood and making a short cut on it.

You can then start cutting. But first, you will have to set the speed of the tool. The speed would depend on the material you want to cut. A general rule of thumb is that a slow speed is needed for cutting hard and thin materials like hardwoods and metals.

Once you have set the speed, direct the blade toward the first marked line that needs to be cut. Guide the workpiece into the blade by using both hands. Use your forefingers and one thumb in moving the workpiece through the blade. Your other fingers, meanwhile, must be away from the cut line.

Don’t remove your fingers or one of your hand as it could lead to the workpiece jumping or even a jagged cut. Don’t rush the piece through the blade as well because it may have your fingers slipping, and getting into contact with the blade.

Once you reach a turning point and you need to make a 90 degree turn, don’t fret. Simply move the bladeback through the cut, and then remove the workpiece from the saw. Then insert it from the beginning of the adjacent line, and continue cutting through it until you’ve seen the point where both lines converge at an angle. Then move to the next line.

Once you have completed cutting out the pattern, turn off the saw, remove the blade, and unclamp the tool from the working surface.

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