What Is a Scroll Saw
If you’re a dedicated DIYer — your woodworking education isn’t complete without knowing how to use a scroll saw.

These pinnacles of precision are the go-to tools for accurate home improvement detail work, carpentry, manufacture, model-making, and hobbying — delivering the ultimate in control for the finest of finishes.

This how to use scroll saw article gives you the lowdown on these mighty machines, while also delivering a step-by-step guide for safe and rewarding use.

What Is a Scroll Saw?


Considered by experts to be the intricate instrument specialists — scroll saws permit you to make ultra-accurate cuts in metals, plastics, and wood. Today, most of the machines are electric-driven — but there still remain some pedal-powered models for the (weird) traditionalists.

Its name derives from its original use for scroll cutting — the highlight decorative shaping of wood seen in early churches and cathedrals.

While individual tools may vary slightly, they are typically characterized by the following:

Tilting Table


Like a bandsaw, these machines incorporate a table onto which you place your target material. An under-mounted knob and scale permit you to adjust the tilt of this surface — permitting the creation of bevel cuts.

Blade Arm


An elongated arm supports the blade above your cutting medium — its length, known as the ‘throat,’ determines the size of material you can place onto the table.

Blade


The slim, vertically-mounted toothed blade offers a reciprocating action — which distinguishes it from the band saw that utilizes a continuous loop system.

Blade Tension Knob


You can adjust the tautness of the blade via an arm-mounted tension knob — in a similar manner to which you alter the tightness of a guitar string. This permits you to calibrate the blade to ideally suit the thickness and density of your target material.

Drop Foot


Basically, a transparent cage for your blade. Adjustable to cope with materials of varying thicknesses, the foot prevents wayward fingers from entering the cutting area and thus increasing safety.

Speed Adjustment Dial


The majority of scroll saws incorporate a speed adjustment feature, allowing you to set the cutting rapidity to suit your target medium. Measured in SPM (strokes per minute), you should utilize low velocities for dense materials, and higher speeds for softer mediums.

Scroll Saw Uses


It’s unlikely that you will be using the scroll saw for its original application in church carpentry. However, for the avid DIYer, this machine offers unrivaled accuracy — unmatched by band or jigsaws.

So, what are scroll saws used for today? While not an exhaustive list, common home applications for these tools include:

  • Creating curves in wood.
  • Forming joints.
  • Shaping dovetails.
  • Intarsia projects.
  • Intricate carvings.
  • Creating marquetry.
  • Making toys.
  • Fine furniture finishing.
  • Model building.
  • Cabinetry.
  • Molding architraves, baseboards, and dado and picture rails.
Scroll Saw Work

Angelsharum, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Blades for Scroll Saw Work


The business end of these tools.

The narrow, delicate, and fine design of scroll saw blades permit you to create the most precise cuts — but this build is also their downfall. They have a notoriously short operational life — wearing rapidly and requiring frequent replacement to ensure smooth and accurate shearing.

What’s more, novice scroll saw users often find that due to incorrect tensioning, these cutters disintegrate and break on initial use. Hence, always refer to the manufacturer’s instructions on blade tautness.

The majority of issues can be avoided, and cutting life extended, by using the correct blade size for your target material thickness.

Here’s my handy guide to the ideal blade dimensions for your base medium:

 Universal Blade Size
#2/0#0#1#2#3#4#5#6#7#8#9#10#11#12
Material Thickness
(inches)
120.370.50.751-1.5
Additionally, one of the most basic scroll saw usage errors — that is, negligent and careless removal and replacement of the blades — can dramatically reduce cutting edge lifespan.

To exchange your blade, follow these steps:

  1. Switch off the scroll saw and disconnect from the mains.
  2. Rotate the tension knob to release blade tautness.
  3. Remove the cutting table (the throat plate).
  4. Loosen the overhead and underneath blade clamping screws or nuts.
  5. Wearing gloves, pull the blade up while simultaneously pressing down on the arm — dislodging the securing top pin.
  6. Push down the blade to remove it from the bottom pin.
  7. Take out the blade.
  8. To install a new blade, reverse the above steps — ensuring the teeth point forwards.
  9. Adjust the tension — the blade should move no more than 0.12-inches in any direction and should make a pleasing ‘twang’ sound when plucked.

Using a Scroll Saw — The Equipment You Need


Ok, you’re eager to crack on with your scroll saw cutting — but first, prepare!

Ensuring you have all your equipment and tools readily available increases safety, prevents downtime, and avoids unnecessary interruptions.

Although particular needs will vary depending on your project type, typically, you will require the following:

  • Scroll saw.
  • Suitable blade.
  • Power source.
  • Protective equipment.
  • Carpenter’s pencil.
  • Stencil.
  • Spray adhesive.
  • Straight edge.
  • Circuit breaker.
  • Secondary illumination on your target material — if your machine lacks a lamp.
  • A cold beer to celebrate the end of your project.
Scroll Saw How to Use

Scroll Saw How to Use Instructions


Time for the action! Let’s get down to business and discover how to scroll saw cut like a pro!

Step 1 – Preparing to Scroll Cut


1. Before following my guide — refer to the manufacturer’s instructions!

2. Ensure that the scroll saw casing is securely clamped, bolted, or attached by other means to your table or workbench.

3. Fit a suitable blade and then tension to the required tautness, as described above.

4. Check your working area is sufficiently illuminated — there’s little point in using the most accurate of saws if you can’t see what you’re doing!

5. Outline your pattern, shape, or design onto your material surface using a carpenter’s pencil in conjunction with a stencil or straight edge. A quick Google search will bring up hundreds of designs if you wish to use an existing template.

6. Alternatively, you can attach a photocopied pattern onto your material using spray adhesive instead of drawing pencil lines.

7. Don your protective gear! At the very least, these should include safety gloves, dust mask, and eye shields. Also, ensure that you’re not wearing any loose or baggy clothing, and that your hair is tied back if you have a lengthy mane.

8. Plug in the scroll saw using a power breaker for additional safety.

9. If incorporated into your machine, activate the in-built LED lamp and dust extractor.

10. With no material placed on the throat plate, turn on the blade to ensure that your scrolls saw works correctly.

11. Once you’ve seen your scroll saw working, disable the blade action to allow you to position your material.

How Does a Scroll Saw Work

Step 2 — Cutting With Your Scroll Saw


  1. Get hold of a scrap piece of material that’s the same thickness and density as your chosen medium.
  2. Activate the blade and make some test cuts in the material — checking that it cuts effortlessly without resistance. If required, adjust the blade type and tension and the cutting velocity until you’re satisfied with the results.
  3. Place your cutting material onto the throat blade, ensure that the drop foot surrounds the shearing edge, and introduce the medium to the blade face — guiding with both hands.
  4. Ensure you utilize a gentle-to-medium downward push onto the material to prevent any kickback as it meets the saw teeth.
  5. Follow your pattern outline, maneuvering the material by making slow adjustments with your thumb and fingers.
  6. Let the blade do the work — don’t try to rapidly push the medium through the cutting edge. Otherwise, this will lead to a rough edge and a damaged blade.
  7. If you’re creating 90-degree cuts — address one side of the angle first, remove it from the throat plate, and then reposition for the right angle cut. That said, if you’re using a spiral as opposed to a front-tooth blade, you can keep your medium on the plate as they can cut from any direction.
  8. Once completed, turn off the scroll saw.
  9. Carefully remove and clean the blade. Then, store safely in a waterproof container to prevent oxidation.
  10. Crack open your beer and admire your handiwork!

Alternative Step 2 – Cutting Interior Sections


If your design includes negative space areas that are inaccessible from the sides, you need to follow a slightly different technique:

  1. Using a standard drill, bore a 0.25-inch hole in the center of the negative space.
  2. Position the material onto the throat plate, ensuring the drilled hole is directly above the blade reciprocating hole.
  3. through both the pilot hole and reciprocating access aperture.
  4. Secure the blade in place.
  5. Position the drop foot to prevent accidents.
  6. Switch on the machine and guide the material, as explained earlier.
  7. When finished, deactivate the scroll saw, unplug, and remove the blade. You can then take your project off the table plate.

Scroll Saw Safety


When used correctly, scroll saws are extremely safe — even for the novice DIYer.

That said, you are dealing with an electrically powered blade — so some precautions are necessary to prevent nasty accidents.

Here are my top tips for the safe operation of your scroll saw:

  • Always use eye, hand, and respiratory protection — donning ear defenders if necessary.
  • Avoid wearing loose clothing, watches, and jewelry that could be caught in the blade.
  • Never use the saw without the drop foot/blade guard in place.
  • Use the correct blade for your material type, thickness, and density.
  • Only cut wood with an even bottom.
  • At all times when guiding, your fingers should be to the side of the blade, never in front.
  • Keep your digits at least two inches from the cutting edge.
  • Always unplug the machine before adjusting, removing, or replacing the blade.
  • Use a brush to clear debris and dust from the cutting area, never your fingers.
  • If the blade breaks or loosens, step away from the scroll saw immediately.

Conclusion


Offering the ultimate in cutting precision — a scroll saw is a crucial tool for the dedicated DIYer, woodworker, hobbyist, and cabinet maker.

Always ensure you utilize the correct blade and tension for your target material type, clearly mark out your cutting design before addressing, and keep your fingers away from the shearing edge!

I hope you enjoyed this scroll saw use 101. If you have a colleague, friend, or family member who you know would also gain from reading this step-by-step guide on how to use a scroll saw — please share!

Scroll Saw Use FAQs

Q: How Does a Scroll Saw Work?

The scroll saw utilizes a reciprocating thin blade that’s attached at both ends by securing pins. Material is introduced to the cutting edge along the throat plate, guided by your hands.

Q: Why Is a Scroll Saw Called a Scroll Saw?

The scroll saw definition hails from its original purpose to create scrolling designs in premium carpentry projects.

Q: What Does a Scroll Saw Do?

A scroll saw is designed to make accurate and precise cuts in woods, plastics, and thin metals through a reciprocating blade.

Q: What Is a Scroll Saw Used For?

The scroll saw excels at making precise cuts for decorative and fine finishing work. As such, it’s utilized in hobbying, cabinet making, picture rail shaping, and joint forming.

Q: What’s a Scroll Saw Drop Foot?

The drop foot is the adjustable transparent guard that surrounds the cutting blade, shielding your fingers from accidental wandering into its path.