Want to take your scroll saw game to the next level by adding some metal pieces to your project – or even doing an entire project out of metal?
Your scroll saw can cut metal! You just need the right metal, the right blades, the right speed, and a lubricant like WD40. Simple, right?
Scroll saws can cut through many different types of metal: cold rolled steel, bronze, aluminum, copper, brass, and more. The ideal metal thickness is no more than 1/8″ but it can do thicker. Softer metals are easier of course, but even steel is not an impossibility with patience.
Here’s a few things to consider and implement in order to ensure that working with metal on your scroll saw is safe and productive.
Cutting Metal with a Scroll Saw: 5 factors
For blade selection, you want to keep in mind that very similar to a hacksaw that you’d use to cut metal by hand, a blade with very small teeth is ideal for cutting metal.
The larger the teeth on the blade, the more likely you are to have “chatter” where the blade catches on the work piece and actually lifts it off the saw bed and smacks it down again and again in rapid succession, which can cause you to lose grip or worse.
Skip tooth blades
Skip tooth blades tend to work well with metal cutting since the larger gap between the teeth ensures that the shavings or chips don’t gum up the blade.
To be clear, you aren’t looking for blades with large teeth since that can make it more difficult as mentioned above; simply blades with larger gaps between the teeth.
Spiral blades are pretty much like a regular blade that’s twisted around and around.
The means that there are teeth facing all directions and the idea is that you can cut in any direction.
These are not recommended for use when cutting metal on a scroll saw, since the kerf (the amount of space that is cut out by the blade) is wider with these versus using a flat blade.
Also, because there is more friction, there’s a similar risk of chatter just like if you use a blade with very large teeth.
It’s worth the extra trip to the store, or the extra wait time for delivery to get a better blade, like the one below:
These blades are especially suited for cutting metal, since they usually are similar to a Skip Tooth setup, but are also made of of especially hardened metal so there’s less wear and overall better performance.
And, if you get a model like these ones from Olson, they have some reverse teeth at the bottom to clean up the bottom edge and reduce sharp edges there.
These blades are pretty suitable for most of your metal cutting needs.
The name of the game when cutting metal with a scroll saw is PATIENCE.
Working with metal is much less forgiving than working with wood. You can cut metal with almost any type of blade really, it is just a matter of having an extremely light hand, and not being in any sort of a rush.
Put on some nice music, or a podcast to pass the time enjoyably, so you don’t feel like you have to rush on to the next thing.
In all likelihood you will have to swap blades much more often than you’re used to as well, so bear that in mind too.
Aluminum and Brass are nice light metals, and most suited to scroll saw work.
While you can also cut cold rolled steel, it is much less than ideal and should really only be considered as a last resort when nothing else is available.
And only in very small quantities; it’s not only going to wear out the blades faster, but it is just hard on the machine too.
Working with metals that are less than 3/16″ thick is ideal; any thicker than that and it will be excruciatingly slow progress, aggravating because of snapped blades, and hard on your scroll saw.
It is certainly possible to work on thicker than 3/16″, but unless you’re going to only do that as a one time thing, investing in a solid angle grinder is a much better option if steel is your metal of choice.
For the softer metals, like aluminum, an angle grinder is a good option as well but if there’s detailed work you can get away with using a band saw.
Just be aware to never try to cut steel on a band saw with a wood blade!
Cutting metal will almost certainly result in louder noises than cutting wood for the simple reason that there’s a lot more friction going on, and 2 hard surfaces moving against each other.
It will result in a kind of shrieking noise that can be greatly reduced by using a lubricant (see below for more detail) and also going very slowly.
If your setup is indoors, this is definitely something to consider!
Metal Cutting Scroll Saw Tips
The sandwich method is a popular way to combine safety and control when scroll sawing metal.
It works like this:
- Prepare 2 pieces of thin plywood the same size as your workpiece
- You can use a light adhesive spray to attach one piece of the thin plywood to your metal workpiece – one on top, one on the bottom
- Attach the pattern on top of the wood – metal – wood sandwich
- Wrap all of it up with clear packing tape to keep it from moving
In this way, you avoid the heating aspect (metal getting hot from blade friction) and it is also easier to control the workpiece and keep it tight to the saw bed.
Cutting metal on a scroll saw is definitely not as safe as cutting wood.
There’s snapping blades, metal chips flying, and potential for the work piece to catch the blade wrong and send it flying or at least vibrate violently.
The below items are a minimum requirement:
Safety glasses are a requirement any time you’re using a scroll saw, but especially when using one for cutting metal.
Metal shavings tend to work themselves into skin/eyes, rather than working themselves out like wood splinters tend to. It is NOT worth it to try without!
You might use these when cutting wood as well, but with the louder sounds created when cutting metal it is recommended to at least use ear plugs, if not ear muffs.
There’s varying schools of thought on this one, since many would recommend no gloves around power tools since they can get caught in the blade.
That said, when working with metal on a scroll saw, there’s potential for it to get quite hot so there’s real risk of surprising yourself by touching a hot piece, or otherwise burning yourself.
So, making sure you have a proper guarding system in place where you can’t get your gloves or fingers in could be a solid solution here.
I’d say that even better than this option would be to use the Sandwich option mentioned above though. This sorts out the heating up, and would allow you to work without gloves which really is the safer alternative.
When cutting aluminum, a lubricant like WD40 sprayed right onto the blade and workpiece is ideal.
Other metals tend to be fine without, but it doesn’t hurt to use one anyway if you find things are heating up. If you’re going to give steel a try, spraying the blade every minute or two with a quick dash can help.
All in all, using a lubricant will make it a bit of a messy affair but if you get that piece shaped just right, it’s worth it!
A good practice can be to stay a little further off the line than you would usually, and then take that down further by sanding or using a file.
Supplement with Handsaw
You can also save yourself a lot of grief (and blades!) by using a handsaw in tight spots instead of cutting it all with the scroll saw.