Make the Right Choice the First Time
If you equate scrolling with a clunky saw from your junior high school woodshop days, you may be in for a very pleasant surprise. Today’s scroll saws are easy to use, quiet and very safe, making scrolling an activity the whole family can enjoy.
Indeed scroll sawing can be fun, relaxing and rewarding. It also can be frustrating if you do not make a wise choice when purchasing a saw. Before purchasing, give serious thought to what you’d like to do with your saw. For well under $200, you can get a saw that can make simple cutouts. But if you know already that you want to do intricate fretwork (or work that requires the wood to be pierced to make the cutout), you need a saw with some more features for which you’ll pay more. If you buy a saw that doesn’t suit your purpose, you will probably:
Often compared to the action of a sewing machine, the blade of a scroll saw moves up and down, with the teeth facing forward and down. The mechanisms that power the blade can be grouped into three major designs:
There are two other two designs: rigid arm and oscillating loop drive system. The rigid arm design was quite popular in the Delta jigsaws of the ’30s and ’40s. Most recently Powermatic saws featured this design; according to the company, they have stopped production.
The oscillating loop system is available on only one saw, the Eclipse. I won’t get into specifics here since other sections of the Buyer’s Guide cover details about this one-of-a-kind, handbuilt saw.
To make the best purchasing decision, spend some time to thoroughly think through what you want to get out of your scrolling activity. Will it be a weekend hobby or a serious, forty-hour-a-week effort? Prices for saws run from as little as $80 to over $2,000, with $400 being an average price. You can find a “lemon” or “gem” in all price ranges, so be aware and shop carefully. If you will be an occasional user, such as a hobbyist, perhaps a $180 saw will do. If you plan on going into the craft business, you should look for a saw in the $400 to $1,000 price range. For very high quality and high production you might have to spend $2,400 or more. Regardless of what your use and/or price range, purchase the absolute best saw you can afford.
Another piece of advice: try different saws before you purchase, if at all possible. Scrolling picnics are the best place to try saws, and, of course, meet other scrollers. Big woodworking shows draw major saw manufacturers and also provide excellent opportunities for hands-on use. A specialty store like Woodcraft will have them ready for testing. You may have the least luck going to a local diy center. These types of stores often don’t have models set up for “test driving.”
When you’re shopping for a saw, here are a couple of terms and features you should know:
Nothing will take away from the fun, enjoyment and relaxation of the scroll saw than a saw that requires special tools to change the blade or change the blade tension. Have the salesperson show you how the blade is changed. Then you change the blade yourself. (The salesperson has probably changed the blade hundreds of times and can make it look easy.) If the salesperson takes out a special tool, run, don’t walk, away!
Blade types: There are two major kinds of scroll saw blades: pin-end and plain or flat-end. Pin-end blades have a pin at each end of the blade in order to hold it in place. Plain end blades are simply plain and require clamps to hold the end in place. If you really want to do true scrolling, do not purchase a pin-end saw, nor one that accepts both. The pin-end blades are much too large and cannot make sharp, delicate, interior cuts; most are not very high quality saws.
Thickness of cut: This is the maximum cutting thickness you can cut with the saw. Two inches is about what most saws will cut; most cuts will not be over 3¼4" thick.
Throat length: This is the distance between the saw blade and the back of the saw. Sixteen inches is the minimum but there are some saws available with a 30'' throat. Sixteen inches to 20 inches is about as large as 95 percent of all projects require, so unless you have some very unusual needs, the extra throat length is not necessary.
Table tilt: The ability to cut on an angle might be important to some people. Some saws tilt only one way, usually to the left, up to 45 degrees. Some saws tilt both ways. Unless you plan to do some special work, that needs the tilt, this may not be particularly important to you.
Speed: With scroll saws, speed is measured by the strokes per minute. Some saws have variable speeds, some have two speeds, and others have a pulley set-up where you have to adjust the belt to get the desired speed. It is a good idea to have at least two speeds, but a variable-speed saw gives you the most options for cutting materials other than wood. To cut plastics, for example, you need a slow speed to reduce heat buildup. You can also cut paper and metals, too.
Weight: If you plan on moving your scroll saw a lot, weight could be a factor to consider.
Vibration: Try to choose a saw with as little vibration as possible. There is a big difference between saws, so check this feature out.
Accessories: There are a few accessories you should consider purchasing with your scroll saw.
Stand–Do not skimp on a stand; a lightweight stand will add extra vibration and noise. Get a good solid stand.
Foot switch–Is a very handy accessory as it frees up both hands, makes the saw even safer to use, and will actually speed up your work.
Scroll saw covers–Help keep dust off your saw while not in use. (A large plastic trash bag does the same thing and costs a lot less.)
I, too, was a “new blade” once. When I first started, I took some wrong paths. I’d like to help you avoid them so you can get to makin’ sawdust instead of getting frustrated.
Patterns & Photocopies
Scroll Saw Blades
Making the Cuts
Courtesy of Woodcraft Supply Corporation, www.woodcraft.com.