The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Using a Scroll Saw

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using a scroll saw

Scroll sawing is an excellent hobby to get into. You can turn plain old ordinary wood into beautiful sculptures and designs.

Now you may be tempted to think that this is a complicated and challenging task, but you would be wrong.

Scroll saws are actually very easy to use.

How do you use a scroll saw? The simple steps to using a scroll saw include:

  1. Cut your board into a size that you can use on your scroll saw.
  2. Cover the surface of your wood with blue painter’s tape.
  3. Use your fingernail to check the blade tension.
  4. Be sure that the blade is squared to the table.
  5. Turn the scroll saw on.
  6. Place your wood on the table.
  7. Follow along the outline of the pattern on your board.
  8. Finish your piece.

In our ultimate beginner’s guide to scroll sawing, we are going to answer some of the most common questions about the machine.

We’ll also give you some suggestions for purchasing a new scroll saw. But before we get to the saws, let’s discuss what they are exactly.

Let’s Start at the Beginning: What Is a Scroll Saw?

A scroll saw is a stationary power saw that is usually used for fine woodworking.

Scroll saws are very useful when you’re looking for the power and speed of an electric saw along with the precision of an Exacto knife or fine handheld blade.

Scroll saws use a very slender blade that moves in an up-and-down motion.

The blade in a scroll saw will move somewhere between 400 and 1,800 strokes per minute.

Scroll saws are safe and very easy to use, making them ideal for kids and beginners.

When most people think about them, they think about a machine that cuts wood.

But scroll saws can also cut through many other materials, including plastic, Plexiglass, and even thin metals like coins.

In a minute, we will go over some of our favorite saws sold for beginners.

You should know that there are many different scroll saws on the market. But all scroll saws have some standard parts in common.

First, they all have a flat table. The table is where you place the wood for sawing. Scroll saws also have an arm that extends above the table and a tip that connects the saw blade.

You will also find a hole in the table. This is where the blade connects to the motor located beneath the table.

Scroll saws all have bases too. The base is at the bottom of the saw, and it contains the legs and motor.

In addition to that, scroll saws also have a throat. The throat is the area of the machine that is located from the back of the saw to the blade.

Home scroll saws usually have a 16-inch throat. Professional scroll saws have a throat capacity of 12 to 30 inches.

To learn more about the basics of scroll saws, watch this short video below:

What Can You Do with a Scroll Saw?

A scroll saw can be used for many different things. But most often, it is used to make intricate cuts in wood. Other things a scroll saw can do include:

  • Cutting curves
  • Making dovetail joints
  • Creating angles
  • Think cuts
  • Creating intricate designs

Here’s a great video to show you exactly how to cut dovetail joints:

What Can a Scroll Saw Cut?

While scroll saws are usually used for cutting wood, wood is not the only thing you can cut with them.

Here are several of the materials that you can cut with a scroll saw:

  • Wood
  • Plastic
  • Ivory
  • Mother-of-Pearl
  • Bone Cork
  • Metals

It’s important to mention that if you are going to use your scroll saw for cutting metal, you have to use a very fine blade.

Your best bet is to go with a jeweler’s blade. Your regular scroll saw blades would not work for this application.

The Blades

The first thing that you need to find out about your scroll saw is what type of blade it takes.

It will either use a plain end blade or a pin-end blade. We recommend using a saw that supports both types of blades.

One of the limitations is that pin-end blades can’t make any kind of interior cuts.

That means if you buy a pin-end scroll saw, you will only be able to make exterior cuts.

You will find that blades are numbered. The smaller the number, the smaller the blade.

There are also seven different styles of blades that you should know about.

1. Standard tooth blade

These are basic scroll saw blades with all the teeth placed the same distance apart.

Standard tooth blades are a bit noisier than other styles of blades.

2. Skip tooth blade

With skip tooth blades, every other tooth is missing. These blades make cutting a little slower. That makes them excellent for beginners.

3. Double tooth blade

A double tooth blade is basically a skip tooth blade that has a wide gap between two sets of teeth.

These blades will give you a smooth cut. But they are a bit slow to use.

4. Reverse tooth blade

Reverse tooth blades are just like the skip tooth blades, but the last few teeth face upwards on the bottom.

These blades are useful for preventing tear-out. For many woodworkers, they are a favorite.

5. Precision ground tooth blade

This type of blade has smaller teeth than a skip tooth blade. And instead of being filed, the teeth have been “ground down.”

These blades are excellent for cutting straight lines. However, they are also very unforgiving. We don’t recommend these blades for beginners.

6. Spiral blades

Spiral blades have teeth on all sides. These blades allow you to cut in all directions while you hold the wood still.

They don’t give you very clean cuts, and they are quite difficult to use. For these reasons, we only recommend these blades in certain circumstances.

7. Crown tooth blades

Crown tooth are the newest type of blades. With these, every second tooth will be pointed in the opposite direction. Crown tooth blades are excellent for cutting plastic.

Related Content: How to keep scroll saw blades from breaking? Learn to take care of them!

How Do You Use a Scroll Saw?

As I mentioned earlier, scroll saws are safe and easy to use. Here are the steps:

  1. Cut your board into a size that you can use on your scroll saw. For example, if your saw has a 16-inch throat, but your board is 24 inches, you will have to cut it down.
  2. Cover the surface of your wood with blue painter’s tape. Then glue your paper design to the tape with spray adhesive.
  3. Use your fingernail to check the blade tension. You should make sure that your blade is secured tightly. You don’t want it rattling around when you turn on the saw.
  4. Be sure that the blade is squared to the table.
  5. Turn the scroll saw on. Be sure that the blade is not touching wood when you turn it on.
  6. Place your wood on the table. Keeping both of your hands on the wood, slowly bring the board to the blade.
  7. Follow along the outline of the pattern on your board. If you have any trouble staying on the line, you should use the adjustable knob to lower the speed.
  8. Finish your piece. When you’re finished cutting, you should remove the tape and sand down the edges. Then complete your project with a few coats of lacquer spray.

To learn more about using the scroll saw, watch this video:

Scroll Saw Safety

scroll saw safety

As we’ve been discussing, scroll saws are one of the safest tools that you can use.

They are safe for beginners and even for kids. However, it’s still crucial that you understand the safety protocol to avoid any accidents.

Safety rules for the scroll saw

  • Be sure that your scroll saw is secured firmly to your tabletop or workbench.
  • The power should be off and the cord unplugged when you make any adjustments, perform maintenance or change the blade.
  • Use the exact type of blade for the cuts you are planning.
  • Be sure that the blade teeth are pointed forward and down toward the table.
  • Use the proper blade tension.
  • Never turn the saw on before clearing the table.
  • Do not start the machine unless all of the handles are locked.
  • Never reach under the table while the saw is running.

Be sure that you have a safe work area

A good rule of thumb is to keep a two-foot perimeter around the scroll saw that is free from people and debris.

You also need to wear safety glasses while operating the machine.

Because scroll saws produce a lot of dust, you must use them in a well-ventilated area. You may also want to wear a respirator or mask.

Be careful that you don’t let loose clothing or jewelry or your hair get in the way of the saw.

Scroll saws are indeed very safe to use, but you should still give them your undivided attention and follow safety rules.

Operational safety rules

  • Carefully inspect your saw before turning it on.
  • Lower and adjust the hold down foot button so that it rests lightly on the workpiece.
  • Keep your fingers away from the blade.
  • Never place your fingers directly in the same line as the blade. You don’t want to lose a finger if you slip.
  • The blade should not be in contact with the wood when you start the saw.
  • Hold your board firmly against the table.
  • Use the proper speed for the kind of wood you’re cutting and the type of cutting that you plan to do.
  • Before cutting sharp or long curves, you should make relief cuts.
  • Before you try to remove any small scraps of wood from the table, be sure that you stop the scroll saw and wait for all of the parts to stop moving.
  • Do not try to cut wood that does not have a flat bottom.
  • Don’t back out of a bound blade from the kerf while the scroll saw is turned on. You should always be sure to turn the machine off before you back out.
  • When you’re finished, you should release the blade tension. This will reduce stress on the blade.
  • Always clean your table with a bench brush when you are finished.

Watch this short video to see more about safely using a scroll saw:

How to Choose the Best Scroll Saw

how to choose the best scroll saw

The fact is, there is no one perfect scroll saw for everyone. They all have their pros and cons.

The key is to find the scroll saw that is best for you. To help you in your search, here are several things that you should look for.

Speed

Most scroll saws today come with variable speed control. This is a great feature that allows you to adjust the speed based on the thickness of your wood.

You should look for saws capable of speeds between 400 and 1,600 RPM. However, the exact target RPM isn’t as important as having the ability to adjust speeds.

You may find some scroll saws with a single speed. You don’t want those. Instead, look for saws that come with variable speed.

The type of arm

With scroll saws, there are three different types of arms: Parallel arms, double parallel link arms, and C-arms. Each of them has definite advantages and disadvantages.

Parallel arm

This is the most common type of scroll saw arm. With these, two arms sit parallel to each other.

The blade then attaches to the arm ends. Parallel arms are the safest scroll saws.

This is because if your blade breaks, the top arm swings out of the way and stops immediately.

Double parallel link arm

More expensive scroll saws have this type of arm. It features two parallel arms, but instead of the entire unit moving, only the tips go in motion. That means a lot less vibration.

C arm

Just as the name suggests, C-arms are shaped like the letter “C.” C-arms have a single pivot point at the tip of the arm.

These arms make more aggressive cuts. One note of caution with this type is that if the blade breaks, the top will continue moving up and down until you shut down the power.

Price

Price is another factor that you should consider. If you are a scroll saw newbie, you will be able to find a good machine for somewhere between $150 and $400.

Of course, some saws cost less than that, and there are plenty of them that cost more.

But we suggest going with a middle of the road priced unit. You can always upgrade later if you really get into this hobby.

Throat length

You find the throat length by determining the distance between the back of the scroll saw and the blade.

The longer that your throat is, the more room you’ll have to work with larger pieces of wood.

The scroll saws that we recommend vary in throat lengths from 16 to 20 inches. If you have a choice on this, always opt for a longer throat.

What type of blade?

As we’ve already discussed, there are two main types of blades: pin-end and pinless.

Some scroll saws will only use one of them. But we recommend finding a machine that supports both types of blades.

Blade changing

Being able to change blades easily and quickly is one of the essential features that you should look for in a scroll saw.

Pay attention to how the blade is mounted.

If you have a tooled blade, that means that a tool is required every time you want to change your blade. We don’t recommend this type of saw.

Instead, we suggest getting a scroll saw that can work with both pin-end and plain end blades.

And look for a quick-change release that doesn’t require a tool. This is particularly important if you are planning on doing any sort of interior cutting.

Blade tensioning knob

The blade tensioning knob is another important feature to look for. It’s best if they are easily accessible and located upfront.

You’ll often find the knob in the very back of cheap scroll saws. Why they do that is anyone’s guess.

Placing the knob in the back makes it very difficult to tighten. Having the knob upfront is imperative because you will be adjusting it for just about every cut you make.

More important features

There are a few other things that you should consider too. They include vibration, weight, accessories, ability to tilt, and the availability of replacement parts. You should also find a saw with a decent warranty.

You might want a portable saw. If you do, then make sure that the machine isn’t too heavy.

A stand is another consideration. Scroll saws that use stands have less vibration. They’re also nice if you like to work standing up.

Our Top 6 Favorite Scroll Saws

We have listed our top six picks in no particular order. The best scroll saws this year include:

  1. Shop Fox W1713
  2. WEN 3921
  3. Dewalt DW788
  4. Delta Power Tools 40-694
  5. Shop Series RK7315
  6. Porter-Cable Scroll Saw

1. Shop Fox W1713 Scroll Saw

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The first scroll saw that we recommend is the Shop Fox W1713. This saw features variable speed control, a cast iron construction, and extra cutting capacity.

It comes with a gooseneck work light, dust blower, dust port, large table that tilts 45 degrees, and an easy blade change.

The Shop Fox saw has a 60Hz motor. And it has a maximum cutting width of 16 inches.

Another great thing about this saw is that it will work with both plain and pin end blades. You can use it to cut wood up to two inches thick.

This scroll saw also comes with a two-year warranty.

Pros

  • Great price
  • Comes with a gooseneck light
  • Comes with a dust port and blower
  • Two-year warranty

Cons

  • Doesn’t work that well with pinless blades
  • Saw vibrates and bounces when you use it at higher speeds

2. WEN 3921 Scroll Saw

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This saw is surprisingly affordable, considering all of the high-end features it comes with.

The WEN 3921 will give you clean and precise cuts. We believe this saw is the best for the value.

The throat length on this saw is 16 inches, but you can turn the blade sideways, which means that you’ll have limitless ripping capacity.

WEN says that this scroll saw can use both pinned and pinless blades with the tool-free blade adapter.

However, we don’t recommend using this one with pinless blades because they are very difficult to use.

This scroll saw is excellent for beginners. And it comes with a two-year warranty.

The variable speed will make precise cutting easy. You can cut wood up to two inches thick with this saw.

Another nice feature is the 45-degree tilting table. This is great for beveled cuts.

The WEN saw comes with a work light and a blower, but to be perfectly honest, these aren’t two of the best features.

Pros

  • Great value for the money
  • Comes with a two-year warranty
  • 45-degree tilting table
  • Variable speed control

Cons

  • The work light and blower aren’t very good
  • Difficult to use with pinless blades

3. Dewalt DW788 Scroll Saw

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Another contender for the best scroll saw this year is the Dewalt DW788. This saw makes incredibly intricate cuts with hardly any vibration.

The Dewalt saw is heavy and stable, and it is a quiet scroll saw.

You can easily switch out the blades without tools with this saw. And it can cut wood up to two inches thick.

The throat length on this saw is longer than most of the others, at 20 inches.

That means that you will have plenty of room to cut a wide variety of materials in different sizes.

Another nice feature is that the arm lifts up. This makes it easier thread your blade and make inside cuts.

The table on this saw will also tilt 45 degrees to either side. Considering all of the high-end features that come with this saw, it is no wonder that it costs more than the others.

Dewalt stands by their saw too with a three-year warranty.

Pros

  • Very low noise and vibration
  • Comes with a three-year warranty
  • Arm lifts for inside cuts and easy threading
  • You can change the blade in just seconds without any tools
  • Table tilts 45 degrees both ways

Cons

  • High price tag

4. Delta Power Tools 40-694 Scroll Saw

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Another of our favorite scroll saws this year is the Delta 40-694. This saw features a dual parallel-link arm, which makes it extraordinarily smooth and quiet.

If you find that your saw is making more noise or vibrating more than it should, that indicates that it needs lubrication.

You just need a bit of synthetic grease to get this saw working flawlessly.

This saw has a variable speed control. And it can cut wood up to 2-1/8 inches thick.

The Delta saw also has a long throat length of 20 inches. To cut angles, you can tilt the table 45 degrees in both directions.

One of the other features that we really liked about this saw is that it comes with an adjustable dust hose. This feature will keep your cutting area visible and clear.

The arm lifts on this saw too. That means that you can change the blades easily without tools.

Another noteworthy thing about this saw is that it comes with an incredible five-year warranty.

Pros

  • Comes with a five-year warranty
  • Variable speed control
  • Table tilts 45 degrees in each direction

Cons

  • Expensive
  • You may have to lubricate the saw

5. Shop Series RK7315 Scroll Saw

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We also really love the Shop Series RK7315. This saw is very affordable and an excellent choice for beginners and kids.

This saw works with pin-end blades. You can also use it with pinless if you purchase an adapter separately.

This saw will cut to a depth of an impressive 2.5 inches. However, we found the throat to be somewhat shallow at just 16 inches.

Like the others on our list, this saw has a variable speed control. And the table tilts 45 degrees for bevels. It’s worth noting that the table only tilts to the left.

This saw also comes with a two-year warranty.

One issue that we found with this saw is that the blade often needs to be reset because it tends to go out of the square.

Another consideration is that the insert that surrounds the blade is set pretty low for the table. It’s just a minor difference, but it’s enough to snag your board.

This saw takes some finesse, so we don’t recommend it for beginners.

Pros

  • Great price
  • 2.5-inch depth of cut
  • Variable speed
  • Very powerful motor

Cons

  • The blade surround is set very low
  • The blade tends to go out of square
  • You could snap your blade if you don’t reset

6. Porter-Cable Scroll Saw

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Our final contender for the best scroll saw this year is the Porter-Cable saw. The first thing that we love about this one is the stand.

This feature will help to keep the machine secure, and it reduces vibration. The throat length is 18 inches.

It also comes with variable speed control. However, it only goes up to 1,500 SPM.

The Porter-Cable saw has a very impressive power rating. It also allows for beveled cuts with a tilting table.

It’s worth noting that the table tilts 45 degrees to left, but it only goes 15 degrees to the right.

This scroll saw works great with both pin-end and pinless blades. It also comes with an LED work lamp and an adjustable blower.

One downside to this saw is that the blade can slip. This will cause the blades to break if you don’t reset.

This is an annoyance, but it’s only minor. On the plus side, this saw comes with a three-year warranty.

Pros

  • Very powerful 1.6-amp motor
  • Comes with a stand
  • Three-year warranty
  • Comes with LED work lamp

Cons

  • Has a lower max speed
  • The bevel can be difficult to use
  • Lots of blade slippage

The Bottom Line

You can make some really cool stuff with a scroll saw. They are safe and easy to use, even for children! 

Scroll sawing is a killer hobby to get into. It doesn’t cost a fortune, and there’s not much cleanup involved.

You can use any piece of flat-bottomed wood with a scroll saw. And you can turn that plain old wood into incredible gifts for family and friends.

Best of luck with your scroll sawing!

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