Chances are, if you’re reading this – you’re looking at purchasing a scroll saw for a project that other saws can’t quite itch – or perhaps you’ve purchased one, and want to look at a starting guide in order to commence your scroll saw career.
We need to clarify before we go ahead – what exactly is a scroll saw?
A scroll saw is a saw which is used for cutting intricate shapes and patterns such as curved lines and complex designs, with a focus upon its’ finesse rather than power.
As the scroll saw is geared towards a particular skill set, it’s used in projects that require these designs, rather than the focus upon power in which many other saws are built on.
Stuck for time? Not a problem. We’ve made a quick overview below for your convenience:
- Used for their precision and accuracy, scroll saws are perfect for those needing to craft intricate designs
- Scroll saws have a set of core features, table, blade & arm type, as well as additional features to enhance your work
- Scroll saw blades come in pinned and pinless forms, based on your model/design or scroll saw
- Additional features such as lights, air blowers, variable speed & blade tension knobs can be found on scroll saws
- Blades are found within 8 specific types, and can be used on a number of materials pending on their make
The Basic Features
To get started with the understanding of how a scroll saw works, we first need to look at its respective features, both foundation and additional.
Like many other power tools, a scroll saw has a set of basic features, which are universally found throughout all scroll saws.
The bare bones, the essentials – whatever you like to call them, are the features that, without – the scroll saw simply couldn’t do what it does.
For the scroll saw, these features are the table, arm type, and also the blade.
We’ll be looking at them closely below, so don’t stress if you’re not up to speed with them – we’ll do that for you.
Of course, it’s no good having a saw without being able to hold your pieces whilst working.
Luckily, the scroll saw includes its’ own tabletop to work upon, and this is usually made of aluminium or iron.
An important aspect to note is the term, ‘throat size’. This is what you can find through the aisles of your hardware store or online, and this is one of the main features which will differentiate a scroll saw from the others available on the market.
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.
Scroll saws can be found with throat sizes that range between 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.
Of course, it’s only natural that over time scratches will occur, yet a careful eye will eliminate any damages from occuring in the future.
The arm is the connection between the motor and your work, which mounts the blade and allows for cuts to be made.
Scroll Saws are available in three types of arm, which are a C Arm, Parallel Type, and Parallel-Linked arm.
C Type Arm
A C type arm type of scroll saw contains one pivot point, which allows the blade to move in an upwards and downwards position, however due to the one pivot point – it moves in a slight arc.
C-arm scroll saws are the most aggressive of the arm types available, as they provide a faster cut.
Due to this, C-arm scroll saws are usually found in experienced woodworkers’ inventories, as they require a large amount of skill to provide a high level of accuracy.
Parallel Type Arm
A parallel arm contains two arms which meet each other in the middle, that contain a pivot point in each arm.
This allows the arm to travel simultaneously, which gives the name to the ‘parallel type arm’.
With the two arms, the lower arm is linked to the motor, which it’s connected to under the table of your scroll saw.
The upper arm runs over the top of the table, containing a mount at the front of the arm for the blade to be connected.
The two arms meet at the back of the scroll saw, which allows for the blade to move in a reciprocating motion, upwards and forwards.
The parallel-linked arm is the newest version of arm type to be found in scroll saws.
The reason for their development and late entrance into the scroll saw arm variation is due to the minimal vibration the linked arms provide. With such an accurate tool, this is a game-changer.
The blade of the scroll saw is held between an upper arm, and the lower arm. These arms pivot, in reply to the reciprocating motion of the link, which allows the blade to replicate this motion within its’ cut.
The arms of a parallel-linked arm are much shorter than a C or parallel arm, which result in a front-to-back movement that is seen only in this arm type.
The parallel-linked arm can be found in many high-end scroll saws available, and like the alternative arm types – come with both its’ pros and cons.
Without a blade, you won’t be able to make any cuts. Simple, right?
It pretty much is.
A scroll saw is as good as its blade, and there are many different types available.
I’ve broken them down throughout this article, and we’ll be looking into the configurations of the blades in a deeper sense later in this article.
Firstly, however, we can start with this.
There are two types of blades, pinned and pinless blades, which we will be looking into in the section below.
Pinned blades are found in older models of scroll saws, however they are still found today in many scroll saws – as most models can accept both pinned and pinless blades.
Pinned blades, like their name suggests, uses pins to hold the blade into place.
It’s quite easy to change these blades, as they are held into place by a holding hook, connected to a cross-piece which rests within the hook.
To release these blades, it’s as simple as adjusting the tension of the blade, which will then be easily removed from the hook.
Pinless blades, like their pinned counterparts, are also quite easy to replace.
They must be threaded through the piece you’re working on, connecting into the slots which are located above and below the table.
Once you’ve completed this, they must be tightened at both ends to ensure they are connected properly.
Whichever blade type your scroll saw accepts – there are no disadvantages or advantages to either over the other.
So we’ve covered the core features, now it’s time to look into additional features and accessories which can be found on a scroll saw.
These features have their uses which enhance certain components of the skill saw and its’ output, so feel free to read below on these to see what would be best to suit you.
Variable Speed Option
This additional feature is incredibly useful for a scroll saw.
If you’re using different materials and also different thickness levels of these materials, a universal set speed won’t always do the trick.
This is where a variable speed option comes into play. They are usually found in the form of a switch on the scroll saw, or as a knob which can be adjusted to the speed you would like to reach.
With this, many variable speed options also come with a lock setting – allowing you to lock onto a certain speed for the duration of your session.
Blade Tension Knob/Lever
The blade tension refers to how loose/tight the blade is, when it’s mounted from the top of the table by the arm, to the bottom of the table.
Many experienced scroll saw users are able to adjust the tension of their blades without much hassle, due to countless hours spent on the machine, and knowing the ins and outs of their scroll saw and blades.
Manufacturers are now introducing blade tension adjustment features, in order to remove the hassle and confusion that blade tension fixing can bring.
With these, the blade tension adjustment is found in the form of a knob or a trigger. These have a keyed clamp which can be loosened and tightened for the correct tension, which is a lot easier than manually doing so, don’t you think?
A majority of scroll saws now come with an adjustable lamp, which is perfect for illuminating darkened workspaces.
Also, not only does it provide a better light for your surrounding environment, but also for your detailed cuts – giving you more visibility when working on the most difficult of shapes.
These lights can be fitted in either a LED light, or as a bulb – pending on your preference.
A majority of these lights are adjustable, with some being fixed.
Air blowers are also another important additional feature which is found on the majority of scroll saws. These are exactly as they sound, a small tube which can be adjusted (in some saws) to blow away excess dust which is created during the cutting process.
This improves your visibility when working on your piece, and also prevents you from breathing in any harmful materials or dust.
Some air blowers are also linked to dust ports, which collect the dust created during a session, which is incredibly convenient when you think of how messy a scroll saw can be at times through the dust it compiles during work.
Blades: A Closer Look
So, we spoke about blades earlier in the guide, and how there are two types of blades, pinned and pinless.
As well as being two different types of blades, they come in different sizes, materials – and configurations, which we will be looking at in further detail.
Depending on the model of scroll saw, it’s not 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.
If your scroll saw has this option, you’re able to use the blade tension knob/trigger – which can adjust the tension of the blade for you. You can also use many apps available throughout the internet – as well as guitar tuners, to find the correct pitch for your blade.
Blades come in a number of sizes, and unfortunately for us, this can get a little tricky, as there is no universal numbering system for sizes.
There is a semi-standard numbering system in place for blade sizes, which ranges from less than #0 to #12.
This can prove difficult for beginners and professionals alike, however after becoming accustomed to your blades through use, this will become easier for you.
The higher the number of a blade, the thicker the blade is – and the less teeth per inch (TPI) per blade.
Spaces between the teeth are known as a ‘gullet’.
So now, you probably are piecing together the working components of a scroll saw, as well as the blades used to cut the materials for your projects.
There are many types of blades available, however these are usually grouped into eight categories of blades.
Below, we look into these – and you’ll have a greater understanding of your blades and what to purchase – once we’ve done so.
With that being said, let’s start off with your standard blade, the regular-tooth blade.
Like their name suggest, these are also known as standard blades and 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.
These blades are made from metal, however they can also be found to be made of different materials, such as plastic and wood, and more ‘exotic’ compositions designed for specialised tasks.
These blades are fantastic choices for the scroll saw beginner.
Skip-tooth blades have a similar look to a standard blade, however there are more gullets than a standard blade, replacing a tooth on every few spaces.
As these blades have more gullets than a standard blade, they do not heat up as fast, and cut slower than a standard blade.
Double-tooth blades are similar to skip-tooth blades, however there is a gullet on every third tooth.
Due to this, these blades make a slower, and smoother cut – which is perfect for extremely detailed work projects.
Like their skip-tooth kin, these blades do not heat up as quickly, and are commonly used for long sessions due to their resistance.
Reverse-skip-tooth blades follow the same design as skip-tooth blades.
The main difference between this type of blade and skip-tooth blades, is that the bottom of the blades have the teeth flipped to the other side, facing the opposite direction.
With these blades, it’s important to have some of these opposite-facing teeth above the table.
Reverse-skip tooth blades are perfect for working with plywood, as they prevent splintering on the bottom of the cut.
Precision-ground blades also follow a similar design to that of a skip-tooth blades.
These type of blades have very small teeth, and rather than being filled, these teeth are grounded to shape.
They are extremely sharp, and because they are so, these will result in a very smooth cut.
Crown-tooth blades are quite new to the blade list, when compared to alternative blades available.
These blades are named so, due to the shape of the teeth – which are shaped like a crown.
The teeth on these blades come in pairs, with one tooth facing up, and the other facing downwards.
Because of this design, crown-tooth blades can cut in either direction, regardless of how they are mounted.
There is a small gullet between the pairs, and when a tooth becomes blunt – you can simply switch the blade into the opposite direction.
Handy, isn’t it?
Spiral blades follow a pattern where the blade itself is twisted, allowing teeth in all directions. This also means you can make cuts in these directions, as well.
Spiral blades are not accurate blades, and are more so used for beginning inside cuts, and starting a rough cut where precision may not be necessary
Due to this, they tend to be used the least – as scroll saws are used for precision cuts.
Specialty cutting blades
This is the category that blades are given, when they do not fit into the above blade types.
These type of blades are usually made for cutting through materials that these blades cannot, hence their ‘speciality’ names.
These are usually designed specifically through manufacturers that look to fill gaps in their blade market – and can be found to fit an array of applications.
Materials Which Can Be Used & Cuts That Can Be Made Using A Scroll Saw
We’ve spoken at length about the blades available, the scroll saw itself – but what about you, what will you be able to cut with a scroll saw?
Luckily, we have that covered, too!
Materials Which Can Be Used
Firstly, we’ll get the common material out of the way – wood.
Wood is what is used for most scroll saw projects, with its’ ability to easily shape your ideas into a tangible product.
Yet, the scroll saw is a machine which can cut through many materials, and these include;
- Ceramic Tiles
These are only some examples, with a list too long for this article if we were to note them all. Of course, most of these materials require a specific blade for the job – so always be sure that you have the correct blade when using a material you’re unsure about.
Cuts Which Can Be Made
Scroll saws can achieve cuts that alternative saws are unable to pull off – and they are easy to learn, however difficult to master.
Here are some examples of cuts and designs which can be made with a scroll saw:
- Curved Cuts
- Dovetail joint design
- Angled cuts
- Plunge Cuts
- Thick cuts (¾” up to 2” pending on the blade)
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 begin from a cut which is made in the middle of your piece.
There are many ways in which a small hole can be made into the piece, with the most popular being a small hole drilled into the material.
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 within your design.
After reading through this guide, you should now have a good idea of what to expect with a scroll saw, as well as being able to differentiate the variety of blade types available for your projects.
There are many, many creative designs and projects which can be made with a scroll saw, and it’s perfect for designing a homemade gift for a loved one – or even yourself.
If you’re looking to get into the scroll saw game, you won’t be disappointed, and there are a lot models available which suit a number of experience levels.
We have many reviews available – so feel free to read through these in order to increase your scroll saw mastery, or perhaps choose your first if you’re yet to buy one.
I’d also love to hear your comments – what’s your favourite thing about the scroll saw?
Or perhaps I missed something, or you would like to share some helpful tips with our readers?
Whatever they may be, leave your comments below.