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Maintaining Maximum Control

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Learn the correct way to hold and maneuver a scroll saw blank

In the Summer 2011 issue of Scroll Saw Woodworking & Crafts (SSW43), long-time scroll saw author and instructor Joanne Lockwood shares a few techniques for beginners.

Joanne has always felt the best way to learn scroll saw techniques is to take a class.

Unfortunately, that’s not always an option for new scrollers. Most beginners jump right into cutting a project and are disappointed with the experience and the results.

Beginners should take the time to learn and practice basic techniques. Experienced scrollers can use the following tips when introducing friends to this rewarding hobby. 

One of the most important things to learn is how to hold and maneuver a scroll saw blank. Make a copy of the practice pattern and attach it to your blank. Then, get ready to make some sawdust. After you work through the practice pattern, you’ll be ready to tackle more challenging projects.


Book Cover

Learning to Use Your Scroll Saw

By Joanne Lockwood

A step-by-step, project-by-project manual taken from Joanne’s all-day, hands-on seminar. Includes twenty-three projects.

Available for $9.95 + S&H from Advanced Machinery, 800-727-6553, www.advmachinery.com. There is also a companion DVD available for $9.95, or purchase both for $16.95

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<b>DO NOT</b> hold the very edges of the blank. This can cause you to lose control of the cut as your turn a corner. <b>DO</b> hold the blank with your hands close to the blade. I position my pinky and thumb on the edge of the blank if possible. This grip provides the most control and prevents the blank from chattering as the action of the saw bounces it off the saw tab DO NOT try to control the majority of the blank with your non-dominant hand. It will be difficult to control the blank if your weaker, less-coordinated hand is doing most of the work. DO position the wood so your stronger, dominant hand controls the largest part of the blank. If you are right-handed, the majority of the wood should be positioned on the right side of the blade. DO NOT put your fingers in front of the blade. Demonstrators often place their finger on a moving scroll saw blade to show how safe the saws are, but if your finger is held against the wood when you touch the blade, you can get a small slice. DO keep your fingers away from the front of the blade. You can have your finger in front of the blade as long as it’s a good distance from the blade, but a better position is to have your fingers about an inch away from the side of the blade when possible DO NOT stop and start feeding the wood into the blade as you attempt to cut a circle or sweeping curve. This will produce a rough and choppy edge. DO feed the wood slowly, but steadily, into the blade as you cut the curve. The more you can keep the feed rate constant, the smoother the overall cut and shape of the curve will be. DO NOT turn off the saw when it is time to make a sharp turn. When you turn the saw back on, it will catch the blank and slam it back down onto the table, possibly breaking your work or pinching your finger. DO keep the saw running and use your finger as a pivot point. Position your finger behind the blade, apply pressure, and use the finger as a pivot point. Use the opposite hand to rotate the blank. With practice, you can turn the blank without hearing the DO NOT maintain a tight grip on your blank for long periods of time. This will cause your neck muscles and back muscles to cramp. DO stop and relax whenever you feel your muscles tighten up. It doesn’t take much effort to hold the blank down. If you feel tension in your neck muscles, stop and roll your head around a few times in both directions. Then, roll your shoulders from front DO NOT use a small blade, such as a #3 blade, to cut wood more than 3/4 DO use a large blade, such as a #9 blade, to cut thick wood. The large blade clears the sawdust better and cuts faster than a small blade without dulling, burning the wood, or breaking. DO NOT use a large blade, such as a #9 blade, to cut intricate designs in thin wood. The large blade cuts thin wood too quickly, does not fit into tight areas, and can be difficult to control.  DO use a small blade, such as a #3 blade, to cut intricate designs in thin wood. The small blade cuts slower than a large blade, fits into tight corners, and is easier to control.
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Comments (16 posted):

wood-n-things on 03/23/2011 14:56:01
Interesting article. Never hurts to have a few reminders, even for experienced scrollers.
ChuckD on 03/23/2011 23:48:39
Her book and video was the first I got when I started scrolling and I still remember her "dancing hands".
freeopinions on 04/03/2011 11:53:14
I'm not a rank beginner, I've had a scroll saw for a long time but never used it for intricate, delicate fret-type stuff until recently. So, I guess I am sort of an old-timer-beginner. In looking at the examples in this article I see I am doing some of it right and some of it wrong. For instance, she says never stop the saw as you make turns. I know that you get choppy turns when you do that, but I have a lot of trouble keeping on the line with tight turns. Is this just a matter of practice? The same applies to sharp square corners, or especially when you have to turn back on a line, as in cutting a blade of grass, e.g. (I notice there are no examples of that in the downloadable practice pattern.)
wood-n-things on 04/03/2011 12:12:17
Free, The answer to your first question is. Yes more practice and becoming comfortable with your saw and it and your capabilities. If you have waste area around a sharp exterior piece like a leaf tip, cut up one side and continue past the end of the line a short distance, turn a 180 and come back and cut down the opposite side, this will give you a perfect sharp point something a lazer could never do. edited for geometric correction....LOL
freeopinions on 04/03/2011 13:24:07
Here is where I have great difficulty. I use a spiral blade for these, but I would prefer crisper lines. Is there a technique I can practice to spin the blade for cuts like this? scroll-example by freeopinions, on Flickr
wood-n-things on 04/03/2011 13:27:06
Yes, do not use a spiral blade. They do not cut as delicately in my opinion as flat blades. You did a good job using spirals on this project. You must also remember. You know what the pattern suggests a project is supposed to look like. The recipient only sees the finished project so they would not know those are supposed to be sharp defined cuts according to the pattern.
freeopinions on 04/03/2011 15:14:13
The recipient only sees the finished project so they would not know those are supposed to be sharp defined cuts according to the pattern. I was a photo retouch artist once, and that same principle applied there. The viewer wouldn't know that you did this or that as long as you didn't tell them or do a sloppy job. Okay as long as it's not photojournalism... Thanks for your advice. TJ
stephenD on 04/03/2011 16:25:49
Mike, your instruction to do a 360 will put you back going the same direction you started. Do you mean a 180?
freeopinions on 04/03/2011 16:49:58
It's okay, I knew what he meant...:icon10:
Forester21 on 04/03/2011 16:50:06
360 degreees is right - you cut a circle and come back down the opposite way. Easier to see than explain - see my crude drawing... The green is the blade of grasss. The blue line is your cut line and direction. T
freeopinions on 04/03/2011 17:27:36
Aha! I just assumed that what was meant was just turn in the scrap space where there is no worry about being neat, and go back down. Thank you, Theresa.
wood-n-things on 04/03/2011 17:54:43
Stephen I guess you are right. Go up and come back. 180 T thanks for the pic....exactly want I meant.
Geoff3 on 04/03/2011 19:37:55
Hi Feeop, What I do when using a spiral and want a really sharp turn or a fine point is, cut up to the difficult part stop short, then when finished insert a flat blade and go back and cut the delicate part....geoff3
freeopinions on 04/03/2011 19:43:20
Hi Feeop, What I do when using a spiral and want a really sharp turn or a fine point is, cut up to the difficult part stop short, then when finished insert a flat blade and go back and cut the delicate part....geoff3 I've tried that Geoff, but I don't really like the difference in the thickness of the lines. I have done some sharp pivots, and some came out all right, but the ratio of bad to good is too high. I guess I just need practice. Thanks. TJ
gabrielpfeiffer on 08/11/2011 03:34:22
Use the back of your blade to make the turn.Do this brisk and firm,you are the boss, you will see your blade make the turn a little later.(In making the turn you pull the work onthe back of your blade) In thick material you go back a tiny bit, which takes the pressure of your blade, you then make less then half a cut to create enough space to make the brisk turn. If this doesn't work, try 'shaking' it around the corner.( In fact you do tiny bits of cutting while making your turn) Ofcourse this all depends on the type of blade , wood and machine you use. You need a high tension on your blade.
wood-n-things on 08/11/2011 11:03:09
gabriel, your technique is of course correct for an experienced scroller, who can control his saw and blade, however for some of the less experienced scrollers using the turn around method is easier to master if and when they have waste area to do it in. If there is no waste area then your technique is spot on for everyone to use.
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Joanne Lockwood
Joanne Lockwood has been teaching scroll sawing for more than 15 years. more