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Scroll Saw Tips!


As seen in Make Your Own Model Dinosaur by Danny A. Downs and Tom KnightThe editors at Scroll Saw Woodworking & Crafts have worked closely over the years with some of the world's leading scrollers. We're happy to share these tips with you! If you have a "tip" of your own to share, please feel free to email us any time.

Brass Scrolling "Do's" and "Don'ts"

Tip from the Editors of Scroll Saw Woodworking & Crafts

Consider Placement of Blade Entry Holes

Tip from the Editors of Scroll Saw Woodworking & Crafts

Selling Your Wares

Tip from the Editors of Scroll Saw Woodworking & Crafts

Protect your fingers while sanding—Kathy Wise

Color code your cut lines when stack-cutting a layered piece—Dave Parsons and Dave O'Brien

A visible difference: substitute blue painters tape for clear packaging tape—Sue Chrestensen and Linda Creator


Cut Only Dry Wood—Air-drying boards is the best way to go. Jerry has tried blowing air over the wood with fans, and even microwaving. Air-drying is the only way to go.

Use Grain Direction to Your Advantage—Study your pattern and consider grain patterns that would work well to convey a particular effect or highlight. Then look in your wood collection for pieces that have that general grain pattern.

Cut Each Piece Accurately and Squarely—Cut so the pattern line disappears, and check the square of the cut frequently.

Essential for Cutting Success: Footswitch and a Magnifier—“If you can’t see it, you can’t saw it,” is a favorite Jerry-ism, and he’s right. More important than the light, though, is the foot-operated on/off switch. It gives you unbelievable control.

Take Breaks When You’re Cutting—As your body fatigues, it affects your ability to keep pushing the wood directly into the front of the blade. Take frequent breaks to refresh your body and your mind.

Shape Multiple Pieces at the Same Time—To ensure smooth transitions between pieces, use sanding shims and double-side tape to keep pieces next to each other as you contour.

Avoid Finish Sanding with Worn Sandpaper—When the grit is gone, rubbing sandpaper on the wood merely burnishes it. You can still use the worn paper, however. It is perfect for sanding sharp, fragile parts.

“Lock In” When You Glue Down—Beginners often work their way from the top of piece to the bottom as they glue pieces to the backer board. A better strategy is to glue down three or four outside pieces first, then glue the remaining ones.

Oily Rags are Dangerous
Mineral spirits and similar products are hazards not to be ignored. Piles of rags soaked in volatile liquids have been known to spontaneously burst into flames. You should follow all of the manufacturer’s guidelines when using any type of hazardous materials. The most common practices would include using gloves, and eye protection in a well-ventilated area. Make sure you dispose of the rags in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.

Checking for a 90-degree Cutting Angle
When stack cutting, make sure your blade is cutting straight up and down. To test this, take a piece of scrap wood and make a short cut in it. Pull the wood back from the blade. Place the wood behind the blade, turning the piece so the cut is facing the back of the blade. Slide the wood across the table so the blade goes into the cut. If the blade fits smoothly, your blade is square to the table. If the blade doesn’t, you’ll need to adjust the table until the fit is smooth.

Enlarging or Reducing Patterns
Decide how large you want your finished pattern to be. Measure it exactly in either 10th of an inch or in millimeters. Then measure between the same points on the 100% (magazine) pattern. Divide the dimension you want by the 100% dimension to find the percentage of increase or decrease.


A) The magazine’s 100% pattern is 12.0" measured between two points. You want your new plan to be 16.0" between those two points. Divide the dimension you want (16") by the pattern as designed (12") = 1.333 = 133%. Copying the pattern from Scroll Saw Woodworking & Crafts at 133% will give you that pattern at the scale you want.

B) The 100% pattern is 252 millimeters. The size you want measures 191 millimeters between the same two points. 191 millimeters divided by 252 millimeters = 0.758 = 75.8% or 76% on your copier.

Drilling Thin Wood
If you’re using a drill press to drill thin
pieces of wood, such as 1/4" or thinner plywood or solid wood, it’s helpful to use a scrap piece to prevent splitting. Simply place the scrap piece underneath your project piece for reinforcement.

Just For Beginners
Scrolling is a great hobby. If you’re just getting into it, keep these thoughts in mind and your enjoyment of the hobby will increase. Completing a project will always take longer than you think. Relax and have fun; it’s the surest way to decrease cutting errors. And if you do make a mistake or two, don’t point it out to anyone! You’re the only one who knows how the pattern was supposed to look.

Drill Press Success
For any holes that are to go all the way through a board, do not drill the hole all the way through from one side or it may splinter the wood when it breaks through. Instead, drill down until the point of the bit just breaks through the bottom surface of the wood and then stop. Turn the wood over and finish drilling from the other side.

Be careful about exerting excessive sideways pressure on the attachments as you work. The drill press was designed to withstand up and down pressure, not pressure exerted from the side.

Flawless Finish with a Lazy Susan
A Lazy Susan nail fixture allows you to rotate the project as you spray from each direction. To make your own, drive nails through a piece of plywood spaced about 1" apart. Mount a Lazy Susan bearing between the nailed board and base. The bearing makes it easy to rotate the work instead of having to walk around the project to spray all the edges. The biggest advantage is that you are looking at the project from the same angle to the light source, making it easier to see the variations to the finish. Once you have applied the finish to one side, it can be flipped over and applied to the other side. Generally the points of the nails do not damage the finish.

An Alternative to Spray Adhesives
Sometimes using spray adhesives is a hassle. They’re a bit messy and getting the proper amount of adhesion can be a hit-or-miss affair.
An alternative is using a glue stick to attach the pattern paper to the wood. Avery makes a “Removable Glue STIC.” The pattern peels off the wood with ease after you have finished making the cuts. These glue sticks can be found at most office supply stores or contact Avery at www.avery.com.

Unique Source for Sugar Pine
Diana Thompson gets her sugar pine from Paxton’s Wood Source in New Orleans, Louisiana, but for folks living in other areas, try searching the Internet for “pattern sugar pine.” Another idea is to check with foundries in your area. They use sugar pine to make patterns, and she often gets scraps from a local foundry for free. If they don’t have scraps, maybe they would share their source for pattern sugar pine.

Don’t Discard Your Cutouts
For any detailed fretwork project that has large cutout areas, save the pieces you have cut out, and place them back in the cutout. Do not glue them; they simply hold the shape of the cutout space to give fragile pieces some support.

Router Safety
Routers are dangerous tools. You are wise to do whatever you can to make your shop area a safe place to work. Choosing the proper bit size is critical, too. When selecting a size for a round-over bit, choose a bit that’s less than half the thickness of the wood. For example, use a 3/8" bit for 3/4" wood.

Care of Your Blades
It is important to take care of your blades. When blades are stored for long periods of time they tend to rust. We recommend spraying them with a light coat of oil or with WD40 to prevent rusting. We know this trick works first-hand because we use it frequently: we buy all of our blades for the year at the same time.

If You Don’t Have a 1 3/8" Forstner Bit
All is not lost if you don’t have this particular bit which can be a little pricey at around $8 to $10. You can cut the hole for the clock on your scroll saw. Cut slightly inside of the line and sand or file gradually to fit the clock.

Easy Fretwork Finish
Pour a solvent-based stain into a shallow foil or metal tray and submerge the pieces into it. Using a lint-free cloth, rub along the grain to wipe away excess buildup from smooth surfaces and exposed edges. Compressed air is ideal for blowing out clotting that forms in tight crevices. Spray with your choice of satin or gloss finish.

Build a Drip Platform
With just a little effort, you can make a very functional drip platform. Get a piece of scrap plywood and some 3" or 4" box nails. Create a pattern for the nails, making sure you allow equal spacing between them. Apply a seal coat to both sides to prevent warping, then install the nails according to your pattern.

Prevent Your Wood from Burning
To prevent hardwood from burning while you cut it, put clear packaging tape over the top of the pattern. Press the tape down to prevent sawdust from collecting underneath it, making the pattern line difficult to see. The tape lubricates the blade and keeps the wood from burning.

The Warp Factor
Thin plywoods may warp. But it doesn’t mean you have to throw them away and buy new wood. Here are a few things you can do to prevent warping and some things you can do to help get it back to its unwarped state:
• Prevent warping by storing wood in a dry place, on a flat surface with a heavy piece of wood on top.
• If you have a warped piece of wood, dampen its surface with a rag and set it on a flat surface with a heavy weight on top for a week or so.
• Many times, if you cut out a pattern from a warped piece of wood, it will straighten out when you assemble it with other pieces into your project.

Quick Tips to Improve Your Sawing
• Make yourself comfortable before starting. Try sitting down at the saw instead of standing.
• Use a foot control, if possible. It allows you to keep both of your hands on the workpiece.
• Relax and let the blade do the work.
• Don’t forget your safety glasses.
• Don’t be afraid of making mistakes! “Mistakes” make each piece original.

Tensioning and Storing Blades
Tension is good, as long as it’s in your blade and not in your body. But too much or too little blade tension causes blades to break frequently. Apply only enough tension to hold the blade with no more than 1ž8" flex from side to side. When you pluck the blade like a guitar string, it should make a nice, clear ping.

With heavy usage, most blades last about 30 minutes before they become dull or break. Keep an extra supply of blades close at hand while scrolling. I attach a magnetic strip to my saw stand, then place the blades on the strip.

Thin Blades
Thin blades give you the ability to cut very delicate work. That’s the good news. The bad news: They can be difficult to get used to. Practice and patience, though, pay off. Keep these points in mind as you give them a try:
Make sure you check the direction of the teeth—they must be pointing down—before you start the saw. Run your thumb up the front of the blade to assure the teeth are pointed down and to the front of the saw. These small blades actually can turn 180 degrees as you tension the blade.
Tension and saw speed are two critical factors that affect any blade’s use and longevity but are especially important when it comes to fine blades. Too much tension can snap the blade before you actually begin to cut! Since the blades are not as rigid as larger blades (#5, #7 and #9, for example), too little tension allows the blade to flex much more than larger blades. In terms of saw speed, I find the best success when I run the saw between 1,200 and 1,400 strokes per minute.

Quick and Easy Pattern Removal
If you applied the pattern directly to the wood and now you’re having trouble removing it, loosen it by either heating it with a blow dryer or by using a rag saturated with mineral spirits or paint remover to moisten it while gently lifting the pattern. This also works to remove any sticky residue from the packaging tape.

Brass Scrolling “Do’s” and “Don’ts”
Always wear eye protection when drilling, cutting, or sanding brass.

The clear packing tape lubricates the blade, but make sure to tape over the entire cutting surface for greater stability.

The edges of brass are sharp and will cut your hands; wrap all edges in tape.

You can double the life of your blade by creating a higher working surface to take advantage of the blade’s unused portion.

Turn corners slowly to avoid catching the brass and lifting it off the table.

Be aware of the heat that is generated quickly when cutting and sanding brass.

Don’t try to cut brass without the backer board. As you cut, the blade is creating burrs on the backside. This not only impedes the movement of the piece as you work, but will also scratch up your table.

Buying Lumber: What's Up Stock?
When buying lumber for the first time, you may be surprised that when you buy a 1 x 12 thick block or a 2 x 4, you’ll find that the thickness and the width are not those actual measurements. The “1 x 12” or “2 x 4” are called “nominal sizes” and are only for general identification purposes. The actual measurements are usually slightly smaller than those listed.

Reduce Friction
Round over the back of your scroll saw blade. This will help eliminate some of the frictional heat caused by the square corners of the blade rubbing against the material you are cutting. Position a honing stone at a 45-degree angle to the back of the blade. With the blade moving, lightly touch the stone to the blade. Turn the saw off and repeat on the opposite back edge.

Money-saving Idea:
Buy Plywood In Sheets

High quality plywood such as Baltic Birch is generally available through mail order in 12" x 12"or 12" x 24" sheets. If you live in a moderate-sized city, you will probably be able to find it in 5' x 5' sheets at a hardwood supplier. (Note: generally, home improvement centers do not carry Baltic Birch and other specialty plywood.) Ask to have the sheet cut in half so it fits into your vehicle. Once you have it home, you’ll need to spend a little time cutting it into the size you want.

No-carbon Transfer Technique
This trick eliminates the need for messy graphite or carbon paper to make transfers. Place a photocopy of the pattern you want to transfer onto a smooth tabletop. Using an ordinary #2 lead pencil, simply trace over all of the lines on the front of the photocopy. Next, lay the pattern on the wood. With your #2 pencil, trace the same lines onto the backside of the photocopy. (You should be able to see the lines through the paper.) You’ve now transferred the first pencil lines that you traced onto the front of the photocopy directly to the back of the wood project.

Attaching Stacked Pieces With The Nail Method
Common attachment techniques include using glue or clear packing tape. Glue can be messy, and it takes some time to dry. Clear packing tape works, too. Simply tape it around your stack to hold the pieces in place. For a tidy and secure attachment, though, I prefer using nails. Here’s how: Put the stack on top of a metal plate; any scrap piece will do. When the nails are pounded through the wood to the metal, the points will mushroom out onto the bottom of the stack, securing the attachment, and, with the nail points flattened, they won’t scratch your tabletop.

Dollars And Cents
With just a few hours work and less than $10 in materials, you could probably sell your projects anywhere from $15 to $20. If you added a little more detail, say, a little woodburning, maybe you could get up to $35, if the venue was right. All prices are very dependent on the type of venue in which you’re selling and in what part of the country. A church bazaar in East Podunk and a high-end art show in New York City attract very different types of buyers.

Let The Saw Do The Work
Beginner’s tend to want to push the wood into the blade. That leads to knotted muscles in a hurry. Relax! Less pushing always makes for easier cutting.

Why A Reverse Tooth?
A reverse tooth blade means that the last three teeth at the bottom of the blade are going in the opposite direction than all others. This change in direction helps eliminate burrs on the bottom of your workpiece.

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