Scroll saws are versatile little tools to have around the shop. With the right blade, you can cut a wide variety of materials. Cutting wood is, of course, the primary use of a scroll saw. However, with the right blade choice, you can cut plastic, acrylic, glass, tile, leather, paper, and the list goes on.
Can you cut leather with a scroll saw? You can cut leather with a scroll saw, but you will need to set up the saw properly based on the type of leather you are cutting.
In this article, we will go over all the information you need to use your scroll saw for leather cutting.
Consider What You Are Cutting
Set up and preparation are the big keys to cutting anything with a scroll saw. Tool setup and preparation is particularly true for specialized materials like leather. There are real challenges to cutting the leather. As far as the scroll saw is concerned, it is soft and easy to cut material that should not put any particular stress on the blade or the saw.
The problem is the very pliable and bendable nature of leather. Another factor to consider before you begin cutting leather is the fibrous internal qualities of leather. The fibers that run through the internal leather structure will cause problems for some scroll saw blades.
The thicker and stiffer the leather, the easier it is to handle and manipulate around the saw blade. Thinner leather material tends to be very soft and very flexible, almost like fabric, and it can be almost impossible to keep flat and smooth on the scroll saw table and around the blade.
The best approach to cutting leather with your scroll saw is just like any other material. Follow some simple steps, and you should eliminate most of the problems that can occur.
- Prep your saw. Keep your saw clean and in good working order. Make sure it is properly lubricated and that all the factory recommended adjustments and settings are in place.
- Choose the right saw blade. Cutting other materials makes blade selection extremely important to the success of your project. The correct blade selection is probably the most important choice you will make.
- Prep your material by marking out the cut line and doing any other special preparation that may be necessary for the material you are cutting.
- Be safe. Follow all the safety guidelines in the manual that came with your scroll saw and practice good shop safety at all times.
The Right Blade is The Key
The right blade in the scroll saw is the key to any successful scroll saw project. Blade selection is especially critical when cutting material other than wood. The vast majority of saw blades made to cut wood are almost useless when your project needs cuts in a special material. Leather is no different.
Understanding how a scroll saw blade cuts gives insight int the problems that can occur when cutting leather with a scroll saw
Scroll saw blades reciprocate in an up and down fashion. Standard scroll saw blades only cut on the downstroke of the blade. On the upstroke, the backs of the teeth on the blade can work against the material. When cutting leather, this can cause the fibers in the leather to pull away and create a fuzzy edge along the cut.
Blade Types to Consider
In general, there are some basic considerations in blades for scroll saw when cutting leather.
- Use a precision ground high-quality blade. The sharper the teeth on the blade, the cleaner the cut you can make on the leather.
- Select a reverse cut scroll saw blade. This scroll saw blades design cuts on both the upstroke and the downstroke. The ability to cut in both directions eliminates tear-out and stringing of the leather fibers along the cut edge.
- The finer the teeth per inch measurement, the cleaner the cuts the saw will make in the leather. The more teeth you have in contact with the material increases the actual cutting surfaces running across the leather you are cutting. More teeth on the saw blade reduce the amount of material that is being removed at any one pass, making a cleaner cut.
- Find the thinnest blade possible with the best combination of blade set and teeth per inch. Using a thinner blade helps with friction and drag on the blade. Leather will give, stretch, and then try to return to its normal position. As the leather moves around the saw blade, increased tension and friction may result.
- Consider buying a specialty blade. Some manufacturers make specialty blades that may work well with leather. The knife-edge scroll saw blade is an example. Knife-edge blades are just what they say, a scroll saw blade with no teeth, but one edge ground to a razor-like edge that cuts just like a knife.
Handling the Leather
Leather can be thick and tough such as the leather used on the soles of shoes and boots or it can be thin, soft and pliable like the leather used in some clothing. Deciding how best to cut the kind of leather with which you are working can involve some creative thinking.
Cutting the heavier and thick leather types shouldn’t pose much of a problem. Some of this leather is as thick and stiff as some wood and should cut almost like the softer types of wood. Blade selection is important. The same type of blade you would choose for cutting a light fibrous wood will probably work equally well with these thicker types of leather.
Thinner leathers will prove more difficult. The major problem is keeping them flat on the saw table and rigid enough to be able to turn and manipulate around the saw blade without folding. Some tricks you might try are:
- Stack the Material. Stacking multiple layers of the leather and cutting them together can be an option. Just like stack cutting thin woods or veneers, the multiple layers of material add stiffness and aid in handling the material on the scroll saw. This trick also saves time if you are cutting multiples of the same pattern.
- Try sandwiching the leather between stiffer materials. This method works very well if you are cutting very thin and supple leathers. Sandwiching the leather between two pieces of thin plywood or plastic holds the leather in place. Sandwiching also protects the edges of the thin leather from stretching or tearing when being cut.
Cutting leather is not like cutting wood. Leather has a different internal structure and will react differently to the cutting process. The results will vary, but you can expect a few common problems.
Leather is, by nature, pliable and has some stretch. If you try and force the leather on the saw blade ore stretch it in any way while cutting, your pattern will be affected in some strange ways. You can distort the patter slightly during cutting, think you are cutting right on the cut line, and when the leather returns to normal, have a wavy out so shape cut.
Leather’s internal structure is the key to that pliable nature. Long fibers are interwoven within the leather give it strength and flexibility. The saw blade on your scroll saw will tend to pull and fray these fibers. You can expect the edges of your cut to have a fuzzy appearance and feel unlike cuts in leather made with a sharp knife.
Yes, Leather Can Be Cut Successfully With a Scroll Saw
How well the scroll saw cuts, the leather is as much a function type of blade you choose and the way you plan your work. Following the suggestions made above will make the chances of success better, but in the long run, the time you spend preparing and your understanding of your tool and the material you are cutting just as important.