How A Scroll Saw Works & How To Use One

So you’ve found yourself an amazing, detailed woodwork you’d love to make whilst surfing the internet.

You’ve had a look through your workshop and inside your kit – but all the tools you have, don’t look like they could give you what you’d like.

Enter the scroll saw.

Why would I need a scroll saw? No other model of saw can make the precision-fueled cuts a scroll saw can make. If you’re looking to make difficult shapes that zig zag, angle, curve, etc – you’re going to need a scroll saw.

If that rings bells for you – then a scroll saw is what you’ll need.

So strap yourself in and read this article – you’ll learn how a scroll saw works, and how to use one.

But, if you can’t find the time to read all the article, no sweat.

I’ve put an overview of the main points we’ve discussed at length below, and hopefully you can come back and read it all in the future.

  • A scroll saw works by a reciprocating, fine blade which is mounted from top to bottom,
  • Features of a scroll saw include the table, its’ throat size, blade type and the arm design
  • There are up to eight different blade configurations available, with the regular/standard blade perfect for beginners
  • Adjusting the blade tension is very important, you can do this via listening to its’ pitch, or using an app
  • Making the cut is simple, you’ll need to move the material like you would a steering wheel as you follow your outline

How A Scroll Saw Works

When you lay your eyes upon a scroll saw, you’ll notice it sports a very different design to other saws which are available.

This is mainly because of its’ use for making shapes and difficult designs, so the build of the saw itself must reflect this.

How-A-Scroll-Saw-Works-&-How-To-Use-One

A scroll saw derives its’ power from the motor, which is measured in amps. Typically, a scroll saw’s motor can be anywhere from 0.6 – 1.5 amps. There can be numbers beyond 1.5 amps, however these are quite rare.

A scroll saw works by a reciprocating, fine blade that is threaded through the piece you’re working on.

The blade is connected from the top of the arm (whether it’s pinned or pinless, they both are mounted the same), to the bottom of the table.

Here are the features of a scroll saw that you’ll become familiar with over time:

Features Of A Scroll Saw

Table

The scroll saw includes its’ own tabletop to work upon, and this is usually made of aluminium or iron.

The table is usually highlighted by its’ ‘throat size’.

The throat size is the term given to the amount of space from the blade to the back of the table’s surface, which gives a guide of the sizes of material you’re able to work with.

Typically, you can find throat sizes on scroll saws marked at 16” and 20”, although there are models which fit outside this range.

Another interesting point of note is the bevel, which is the angle the table can tilt either left or right. The bevel, which is usually to a 45° angle, can make for some very interesting designs, adding another dimension to your cutting game.


The table is what you’ll be using to place your materials upon, as you’re making cuts. It’s very important to keep this in a good condition, as any debris or damages can affect your quality of work, and damage this whilst doing so.

Arm

The arm is the name given to the mini-excavator like aesthetic that sits over the table, linking the blade from top to bottom.


I won’t explain to you why it’s called an arm – as I’m sure you could guess why!

Arms come in three standard types, which include a C Arm, Parallel Type, and Parallel-Linked arm.

The latter is the latest in advancement of the scroll saw.

The arm is linked to the motor, and is what holds the blade in place.

In most instances, the arm also contains various additional features on the top side of its’ design, including variable speed triggers to give you complete control over your pace of work, blade tensioning knobs to get the perfect tension for your blade, and the on/off switch.

Of course, these are just some examples of what you can find on the arm – with additional accessories including adjustable gooseneck lights, and adjustable dust blowers for clearer visibility when cutting.

Blade

As I’ve stated, the blade of a scroll saw is very fine and thin, and they are mounted from the arm to the bottom of the table.

Scroll saws accept pinned and pinless blades, with the latter being used more so on older scroll saw models.

Most modern-day scroll saws accept both version of blades.

Within the pinned and pinless categories, what makes a blade includes its’ configuration (which also involves the TPI), and the blade size.

There is no universal blade size system unfortunately, however there is ‘somewhat’ of a numbering system in place, which runs from less than 0, up to 9, in increments of 2. (This jumps to 3, and moves its’ way up by 2, if you’re a little confused)

With the configuration of the blade, there are 8 different ways (and more, too), that a blade can look like, which affects the way it makes cuts, with some being a little harsher than others.

Blades can be found that fit an array of cuts used – so it’s important to locate the perfect blade for your chosen application.

How To Use A Scroll Saw

Now that we’re across all the components which make up a scroll saw and are aware of what they do, let’s look into how exactly to use the scroll saw.

Below, we’ll run through some important information, and with that combined – you’ll be looking like an expert in no time.

Cutting-wood-with-table-top-scroll-saw

Using The Correct Blade

Sure, it’s all well and good that you can determine the different aspects of the scroll saw – but it’s no use if you use the wrong blade.

As there are up to eight different types of blades, it can be easy to be a little confused, and even overwhelmed with the array of options.

Here is a list of different blades you can come across in your scroll saw journey:

  • Regular-tooth Blades
  • Skip-tooth Blades
  • Double-tooth blades
  • Reverse-skip-tooth blades
  • Precision-ground blades
  • Crown-tooth blades
  • Spiral blades
  • Specialty cutting blades

There’s a few of them, isn’t there?
Don’t stress, though. We’ll look at the standard blade for beginners – the regular tooth blade.

Regular- tooth blades, also known as standard blades, are the most common form of blades that can be found.

These blades can be easily identified through the evenly spaced distance and teeth throughout the blade.

Spaces between the teeth are known as a ‘gullet’.

These blades are normally made of metal, however they can also be made of plastic and wood.

If you’d like to read a thorough guide on blades, have a look at our article ‘What You Should Know About Scroll Saw Blades”.

Adjusting Blade Tension

The blade tension refers to how loose/tight the blade is, when it’s mounted from top to bottom.

Depending on the model of scroll saw, it isn’t too difficult to adjust the tension of the blade.

You’ll need to find the blade’s Goldilocks’ zone – where it’s just right.

How would you do this? Well, it’s pretty straightforward.

As a rule of thumb, a scroll saw blade will made a noise with a slight pressure applied to it after tension.

If it’s high pitched, the blade’s tension has been adjusted too high.  If it’s low pitched, there isn’t enough tension on the blade.

Many scroll saws are not built with a blade tension knob/trigger, or have a keyed clamp which can be loosened and tightened for the correct tension.

You can also use many apps available throughout the internet – as well as guitar tuners, to find the correct pitch for your blade

Making The Cut

So now that you have the correct blade, and it’s at its’ perfect tension setting, you’re good to begin cutting.

Firstly, it’s a good idea to mark upon your material (we’ll use wood as an example here), the outline of your design.

Of course, you can do this freehand if you’re quite talented – but an outline is a lot easier.

Once you’ve made the outline, it’s a good idea to put on some safety equipment (gloves and safety glasses), then you’re all set to switch the scroll saw on.

Once it’s on, you can start to cut, and there are two distinct ways in which you can do so. These are exterior and interior cuts.

Exterior Cuts

Like the name suggests, exterior cuts begin from the outside of the wood, and begins once the blade is in contact with the material.

To follow your outline, you’ll have to steer the would in direction of the blade, as you would do with your car when driving.

Due to the blades’ thinness, you may find it wanders at times – which is why you’ll need to steer the piece of wood in the correct direction, following your outline.

Interior Cuts

Interior cuts are the opposite of the exterior cuts, starting from a small cut within the middle of the wood.

However, you choose to make this initial hole is up to you – there are many ways in which you can do this.

Once you’ve found your outline from the inside of the cut, you can then begin – following the same process as you would when making an exterior cut, steering it in the direction in order to achieve the highest quality in your design.

Final Thoughts

After reading through this article, you should now be equipped with the necessary information to start cutting and designing that detailed woodwork you had found.

It can be a little overwhelming when looking at all the blade types available, and the machine itself. But, by following this guide, you’ll be able to get started.

It can take a very long time to master the scroll saw, so don’t become too frustrated if you’re not getting exactly what you want when comparing designs – practice makes perfect!

The scroll saw is easy to learn, but difficult to master.

So keep practicing and experimenting on different blades and designs, and you’ll never know what you could come up with.

How did you find this article? Is there something you’d like to share with our readers, maybe some helpful tips?

Leave your comments below, I’d love to hear what you think.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long until I can start making intricate designs and shapes?

It’s difficult to place a time limit on this, as everyone learns differently, and some people have more hours under their belt than others. It’s important to stay patient and focused, and following your outlines carefully, as well as using the correct blades.

If you have the little things right and take your time, you’ll be looking back at your beginner days with a sense of pride.

What scroll saw should I be looking at if I’ve just begun?

Nearly all scroll saws available can be used if you’re a beginner. How much you’re willing to spend is also a big factor.

I would recommend looking into the WEN 3291, which is very affordable for the quality of scroll saw it is, as well as the DeWalt DW788. The DW788 is a little more pricey – however it’s probably the best scroll saw that you can buy.We have reviews on both of these models – so check them out for more information.

James Thomas

James Thomas

Tool Enthusiast

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