what is a scroll saw and how to use a scroll saw

The Scroll Saw: What It Is And How To Use It

When I was reading up on the instructions for a home improvement project that I wanted to complete, I noticed the term scroll saw. Curious to find out what this strange tool was, I did some more research of my own to find out everything there is to know about it.

What is a scroll saw and how do you use it? A scroll saw is an electric power tool, usually operated by a foot pedal, that is used to cut materials like wood and metal. More specifically, these tools are used to make very detailed cuts and curves in the materials that go through them.

The blades of a scroll saw are more fine than a jigsaw, and the tool itself if much easier to use than any kind of hand saw alternative.

Whether you are a frequent DIY-er or a construction expert, you will most likely come across a scroll saw at some point. These tools are very useful for detailed projects that require precise work.

If you are just as curious about scroll saws as I was when I heard the name, you will find all of the necessary information in this article. Keep reading to find out what a scroll saw is and how it is used.

What Is a Scroll Saw?

When it comes to cutting into any kind of material, there might come a time where you need faster or cleaner results. While it is true that you can result to the basic handsaw, it can get tiring to move it back and forth with the strength of your arm for several minutes to hours at a time.

The most obvious solution for this problem is to use an automated power saw. Power saws are electrically operated and will do most of the work for you.

This is increasingly convenient when you are looking for an easy alternative to completing the task that you need done, without throwing your arm or your back out in the process.

So, what happens when you need to get a task like this done quickly and easily, but you need more of a precise cut?

Even though the traditional power saw will help you cut through almost any kind of material that you can think of in a matter of minutes, the cuts can sometimes get a little rough. On top of that, you might be after a much different result than what this type of tool can offer.

The perfect solution is the use of a scroll saw instead. Scroll saws are a little bit different from what you might be thinking about when you hear the name. In this section, we will begin by outlining what exactly a scroll saw is.

Take a look at the list down below to find a quick description of the characteristics of a scroll saw, before we get deeper into the topic.

Scroll Saw:

  • Power Tool
  • Operated by foot pedal
  • Used for carving precise curves
  • Fine blades
  • Delicate cut
  • Easier to use than manual saw tools

First and foremost, scroll saws are considered to be a power tool. They are usually plugged in to an outlet with a cord before they are able to be used, and will switch on just like a normal machine.

Some of them come with convenient built in lights at the top that will shine down on the workspace for you where you will be cutting. However, this will not be true for all types of scroll saws.

They are also usually operated by a foot pedal. Very similar to a sewing machine, you will push down your foot onto the lever on the ground when you would like the small blade to start moving. As the user, you guide the material around the blade to cut into it in specific patterns.

Likewise, not all scroll saws will be operated by a foot pedal. However, if these features are important to you, that is something that you should look for during your time of purchase. Even though the price can go up with added features, you will enjoy more convenience as you use it, especially if you plan to do so frequently.

Scroll saws are specifically used to carve very precise curves into any material. The blade is very similar to a small needle that is manipulated to cut along even the tiniest lines.

The user of a scroll saw can draw a pattern on the material that they will be cutting, and move it along the blade of the saw, creating designs with cut out lines or negative space.

The blades are extremely fine, and stand up vertically as the materials are directly underneath them on the flat surface of the saw, resting horizontally.

This type of tool can provide a very delicate cut, with some of the blade sizes being extremely miniature for added precision.

In addition to the precise cuts that scroll saws can provide to the user, they are also reported to be very easy to use. Since the blade is so small and you basically glide the materials through right underneath them, there is no need to use added strength in order to carry out the task.

Think of a traditional power saw, or even a hand saw, for example. The motions that are associated with these types of tools are a lot of back and forth arm, back, and overall body movements.

Even though these saws can be automated as well, you must direct the actual saw toward the material instead of the other way around, which can get heavy over long periods of time.

With a scroll saw, on the other hand, you can calmly move a sheet of metal or a block of wood slowly and gently across a flat surface, allowing the blade to do all of the work for you. There is no heavy lifting involved in this task whatsoever.

So, now that you have gotten a brief explanation of what a scroll saw is and what it does, you might be curious to learn how you can use one. In the next section, we will go over exactly what you need to do in order to use a scroll saw.

How To Use A Scroll Saw 

Scroll saws can be very helpful in a variety of situations. Whether you are trying it out for a one time project, or you plan to complete creative projects on a regular basis, it is important to know exactly how to use one of these tools for the best and most safe experience.

In this section, we will be going over everything you need to know about using a scroll saw properly and safely.

Here Is What You Will Need:

  • Safety goggles and other equipment
  • Pencil
  • Cutting material
  • Lamp (optional)

The materials that you will need for this task include safety goggles and any other safety equipment, first and foremost. You will always need to protect your eyes while you are using any kind of power tool.

This is due to the fact that there are so many flying objects and harmful dust particles that can get into your eyes and block your vision. In order to avoid this, you should come equipped with the proper eye protection before you even start operating the tool.

The other safety equipment is optional, because the glasses will really be all that you need. However, you want to be dressed appropriately with your arms and legs protected, and a pair of sturdy, close-toed shoes.

You will also need the material that you will be cutting, a pencil to draw your guidelines, and some kind of bright lamp if your machine does not come with one built in already.

Steps For Using a Scroll Saw:

  1. Set up your station
  2. Put on your safety goggles and other equipment
  3. Draw your pattern/design onto the material that you will be cutting using a pencil
  4. Make sure the scroll saw is secured on your clean and flat working surface (bolt or clamp it on following manufacturer instructions)
  5. Choose the correct blade and insert
  6. Set the correct tension on the blade
  7. Plug in your saw and turn it on (along with the light)
  8. Test the scroll saw with a scrap piece of wood or metal (whatever you are using for the project)
  9. Set the correct speed
  10. Use both hands to guide the materials through the blade accordingly (keeping your fingers away from the blade)
  11. Turn the saw off and remove the blade completely when you are done, store it away if necessary

To begin using your scroll saw, you will need to start by setting up your station. Make sure that everything around you is clean, with nothing to step on or trip over. The surface should be flat with no obstructions.

Put your safety goggles on, and begin to draw your pattern or design onto the cutting material, using the pencil that you brought with you.

Next, make sure that the scroll saw is secured on your clean and flat working surface. This means that nothing should be underneath it, causing it to be wobbly or lopsided. In addition, you should find out how to bolt or clamp it down onto the surface.

These instructions can be found directly from the manufacturer, and will help you to secure your tool and prevent any accidents during use.

When all of this is properly set up, you will need to choose the correct blade and insert. There will be more details on this topic throughout the further sections. Make sure that you set the correct tension on the blade, and you are ready to go.

Plug in your saw and turn it on, along with the light if you have one. If not, set up and turn on your lamp over your work station.

Test the scrolls aw with a scrap piece of wood or metal, whatever you are using for the project. Set the correct speed as necessary, and start to cut your actual material.

To do this, use both hands to guide the materials through the blade carefully, making sure to keep your fingers far away from the blade. They should be on the very edge of the material.

Continue to do this, and push the lines of your pattern along the direct path of where the blade is cutting. When you are done, turn off your saw and unplug it before you leave it, storing it away if necessary.

The Correct Speed For Scroll Saws

As mentioned in the previous section, there are different speed levels that you must choose for a scroll saw, depending on the individual project.

How To Determine The Correct Scroll Saw Speed:

  1. Consider the material that you are using
  2. Consider the thickness of the material

When you are determining the correct scroll saw speed, you will need to consider two things: the material that you are using, and the thickness of that material.

Here are some general rules for choosing a speed for your scroll saw:

  • Thinner materials need a slower speed
  • Speed should be faster for thick materials
  • Softwoods will always require faster speeds

As a general rule, thinner materials need a slower speed than the usual. If the material that you are using is flimsy or not so thick, turn the dial toward the slow side.

On the other hand, if your material is thicker or heavier, select a faster speed setting to get the job done quicker and easier. If you set the speed to low in this circumstance, you could be there for a very long time, or even damage your blade.

Finally, keep in mind that softwood materials will always require faster speeds, due to the thickness and density of them. This is the same regardless of the thickness levels.

How To Find The Right Scroll Saw Blade

In addition to setting the correct speed for your scroll saw blade, you will need to make sure that you are using the right one for the task that you need to complete.

How To Find The Right Scroll Saw Blade:

  1. Decide what you will be using it for
  2. Think of the results that you want
  3. Consider the material you are cutting
  4. Measure the thickness of your material

To find the right scroll saw blade, you will need to first decide what you will be using it for. This is very important in making the right choice, because you need to be able to carry out the intended task with ease.

Along with the first step, you need to think of the results that you want. If you are trying to make an extremely fine line in a material, you will not choose the thickest blade that you can find. Instead, you would choose a small one.

Consider the material that you are cutting while you are making this decision. If your material has a high density or is very solid and firm, you will most likely need a thicker and stronger blade to get through it in a clean manner.

Finally, measure the thickness of the material that you will be using, and make sure that you are choosing the correct blade size. Some guidelines for this process are outlined in the list down below.

Here are the best scroll saw blade choices for different material thicknesses:

#2 or #3 blade – Up to 3.2 mm thickness

#5 or #7 blade – Up to 19 mm thickness

When it comes to choosing the best scroll saw blade for the purpose that you need, you should always keep in mind that the lower numbers are equivalent to thinner blades. In other words, a number 2 blade will be much thinner than a number 7 blade.

After you measure the thickness of your material, you will have a general idea of what category of blade that you will need. If you have a very thin material that is 3.2 mm of thickness or less, you will need to use a #2 or #3 blade.

If you have a material that is somewhere in the middle, or it is much thicker, you can use a larger #5 or #7 blade. More specifically, these particular blades can cut into materials that are up to 19 mm in thickness.

While you might be able to tell which blade you should use just by looking at it, it is helpful to have the exact measurements in order to confirm exactly what you will need to come out with the best results for your project.

How To Change A Scroll Saw Blade

Now that you have learned almost everything you need to know about scroll saw blades as far as what they are, how they are used, and how you can choose the correct equipment to go with them, there is one more item to discuss: how to change the blades.

While you are using a scroll saw blade, or any kind of electric power saw for that matter, there will always come a time where you will need to change the blade.

Any kind of saw blade will eventually get dulled over time, especially when it is used very frequently or on thicker materials, which can wear it down even faster than expected.

So, first of all, how do you even know when your scroll saw blades will need replacement? This is an important question to address, because you wouldn’t want to replace them when there is no need.

Similarly, you will not want to keep using a dull scroll saw blade for extended periods of time when it actually needs to be replaced with a newer one.

Take a look at the list below to get an idea of how you can find out whether or not your scroll saw blade needs a replacement. After assessing your blade and the performance of your machine in accordance to this criteria, you should be able to come up with a concrete plan of what you can do to fix the issue.

When scroll saw blades need replacement:

  • Blades appear to be dull or less sharp
  • Cutting is slower or more difficult
  • The cutting lines are less precise than usual

The first, and most obvious, sign of a scroll saw blade that is in need of replacement is a blade that actually looks dull. Simply examine your scroll saw blade up close to see if there are any sharp points still in existence.

If you notice where the points and edges are supposed to be, but they seem to be rounded or less shiny, they have probably been worn out. Now, a slightly worn out blade does not necessarily mean that you should jump to replacement right away.

Instead, you should check the performance of your machine. Test it with a few scrap pieces of wood or metal, or even use it for your next project. If you notice that the cutting is slower and more difficult, you will probably need to replace your blade.

A sharp and clean scroll saw blade should be able to easily glide through any material and cut through it with immaculate sharpness. As mentioned earlier on, it should also be very easy to use.

If you find yourself applying extra pressure or going over the same spot more than once, you can probably get a good idea of what is going on with your blade.

On the other hand, if the cutting lines are less clean and precise, the blade is probably also not as sharp as it used to be.

Along with gliding through the materials flawlessly, your scroll saw blades should also provide accurate line work.

In order to change a scroll saw blade, you can follow a few simple steps as outlined below.

Here are some simple steps for changing a scroll saw blade:

  1. Make sure the scroll saw is unplugged and turned off
  2. Loosen the screws and bolts on the blade
  3. Remove the old blade carefully
  4. Choose the new blade you will be replacing it with
  5. Examine the new blade to make sure everything is intact
  6. Insert the new blade and tighten the screws once more
  7. Test the saw to make sure it works with the new blade

To begin, you must make sure that the scroll saw is unplugged and turned off. This is increasingly important, because you should never put yourself in a situation where you can accidentally turn the machine on while your fingers are handling the moving blade.

Once this is done and you have double checked, start by loosening the screws and bolts on the blade. These will be located around the area where the blade sits, and will be visible once you check around.

Unscrew these components, and remove the old blade carefully. Be cautious not to cut yourself, and only place your fingers on the dulled areas that are not sharp. It might even help to wear a thick pair of gloves while you are performing this task.

After you have removed the old blade, you will obviously need to choose a new one. Using the guidelines that were previously outlined, you will need to choose the right blade for your next project.

Along with just choosing it and preparing to install, you will need to examine the new blade to make sure that everything is satisfactory. When you get a blade out of a package, there could be some factory defects or something that is just not what you are looking for.

To avoid any mistakes like this, you should look carefully at the new blade beforehand. Is it sharp enough? Is it clean and ready to use? Make sure that you have chosen the right thickness and size one more time before you proceed.

To continue, simply insert the new blade into the area where you removed the old one. Secure it tightly into position by replacing the bolts and screws that you removed during the previous steps.

Be careful during this process not to cut your fingers, and make sure that the blade is being held into one place without moving or becoming crooked after you tighten it back into place.

When everything has been positioned and fastened into place, you should test it out to make sure that it works before you leave it or use it again.

Plug in your saw, turn it on, and run a few scrap materials through the surface under the blade in order to make sure that it works properly. If everything runs smoothly, congratulations! You just replaced your first scroll saw blade.

Now, whenever you are having issues with a dull blade or you just need to replace it with a different size for a specific project, you will have no problem doing so all by yourself.

As you can see, the scroll saw is a unique and useful tool for precision projects. With the right knowledge of what materials you need and how to properly operate it, you can use it to your advantage on a regular basis.