Find yourself hanging onto scroll saw blades rather than discarding them, or snapping blades too quickly?
Like anything else, scroll saw blades have a lifetime – so let’s talk about some general guidelines for you.
Scroll Saw Blade Lifetime
So am I keeping blades I should throw out? Am I going through blades too fast? What should I expect when it comes to the lifespan of my scroll saw blades? What affects their lifespan?
Scroll saw blades tend to last for 15-45 minutes of continual use on most wood types at moderate speeds. Thick or hard wood, high operating speeds, or tension issues (too tight/too loose) all contribute to a short blade lifespan.
All of this said, there’s a lot of factors at play; some people get hours of use out of their blades – so what’s their secret?
When it comes to blade lifespans, there’s a few things to keep in mind; so read on, and let us know in the comments if you’d add anything!
The main point is don’t worry about how long a blade lasts; worry more about the performance of blade.
Using a blade that is too dull will just leave you frustrated that the project is taking too long; or, it can lead to burn marks due to high and unnecessary friction.
And, sometimes you think you’re not running the machine right, and it could simply be that you just need a new, sharp blade.
If you remember that blades are meant to be consumable, like sandpaper, and also that about 30 minutes of work time is a good average but can go drastically up or down depending on the project then you’ll do well -especially if you keep in mind some of these tips for getting the most out of each blade.
Prolonging your scroll saw blade’s life
While scroll saw blades aren’t very costly, they do still cost money and it just makes sense not to be wasteful.
These are some factors that contribute to a blade’s lifespan to a greater or lesser degree.
It’s critical to get the blade tension right just for the safety factor. But beyond that, having a blade that is too tight or too loose can result in either premature wear out or in a worst case scenario, a blade snapping.
This is something you’ll feel out over time too; but in general you want to tighten the blade so there is a slight bit of flex in it – say 1-2 mmm – but not too much.
If you really can’t move the blade side to side at all, there’s a good chance that it’s too tight.
Over time you will get a feel for how tight the blade should be for various types of wood as well. In general, with harder wood you want the blade to be slightly tighter.
Typically when we think of lubricant, we think of a liquid/spray solution; however when it comes to scroll saw blades, there’s two types of material that are neither liquids nor sprays but are suitable for extending blade life:
Many folks like to use clear packing tape as a form of lubrication for the blade. The great part about this option is you see through it if it is on top of your pattern, and it works quite well.
Another option if you’re finding you get too much glare on the work piece b/c of the clear tape is to put the clear tape on the work piece, and then apply the pattern on top.
Just be aware that clear packing tape might leave a residue if applied directly to the wood you’re working on.
Some folks will then do it like this:
- Blue/Green Painter’s Tape to the wood to ensure easy removal
- Clear Packing Tape on top of the Painter’s Tape
- Pattern on top
At the end of the day you need to consider which one is easier: applying the tape, or double tape, or swapping blades more often.
While it is a lot more work, some people like to get all the taping done at the beginning and then just sit and cut with no interruptions – although on large projects you just can’t avoid a blade swap.
Lubricant Stick Stone
I personally like this option the best for most projects. It’s basically similar to a stick of wax, and you run the saw blade over it to coat the teeth (best not to get the sides of the blade).
Then, if you see you’re coming up to a knot or some other defect, simply touch up the blade with a bit of lubricant to help in those spots.
I find that there’s usually enough inside cuts where I’m lifting the blade out anyway, so swapping a blade mid project isn’t the worst thing.
It comes down to preference!
NOTE: If you’re cutting metal with your scroll saw, you definitely want to use a lubricant with some metals.
Blade life will also depend on the type of material you’re cutting.
With really hard woods, you can expect to be in the range of 5-15 minutes; softer woods can be 30 min or even more. In some cases, with soft wood and easy cuts, you can get to 1 hour or more.
Sometimes resin content (such as in plywood) can shorten blade life because it gets gummed up on the blade, creating unnecessary extra friction, which in turn heats the blade and makes it more prone to wear out quicker or even snap.
Higher speeds will wear the blade out sooner; this sort of stands to reason, but it is one of the contributing factors. The faster the blade is moving, theoretically the harder it is working and the more material it is removing.
All of this said, simply running your saw at a slower speed is not the answer; running the saw too slowly might just mean you’re taking too long on the project and can lead to frustration while you’re waiting for the saw.
Or, it can encourage you to rush; which leads to:
Pushing on the workpiece too hard is a sure way to reduce a blade’s longevity, since in some cases it can lead to snapping the blade.
Even if you avoid a snap, it just puts pressure and extra friction on the blade, which causes more heat; heat always makes things break down sooner than intended.
Let the Saw do the Work
Just like when using a knife, you let the knife do the work, when you use a saw, let the saw do the work!
It takes a bit of practice, but over time you will develop a good sense of this.
If you’re finding that you’re getting really sore forearms, or that you’re unconsciously pushing the piece through the blade too hard, just ease up a bit until you can feel that the blade is doing the work.
Feeling out of control of the work piece, or sudden jerky movements instead of a smooth feel are both indications that your feed rate is too fast and you’re not letting the saw do the work.
If your blades have been sitting around for a while and you can see a bit of rust on them, this is a good indication that the blade’s quality has been compromised at least a little bit and is more likely to need replacing sooner than it would otherwise.
So, good practice in blade storage is to spray the blades with a light oil or WD40 or similar, and ideally keep them in a temperature controlled location.
This is also one reason some folks choose to setup indoors for scroll saw work.
Second Saw Bed
This is a bit of an out of the box way of getting more out of saw blade: use a higher work space part way through the project.
For example, most scroll saws can work with a material depth of 2″ or more; if you’re working on a project that uses 1/2″ material, use another piece of wood/metal that is in the same shape as your saw bed (with a hole for the blade) to give yourself a new work surface.
This will enable you to use the top of blade after the other portion is used, so you use up a whole other section of the blade.
If you’re doing a project with identical pieces, or simply making 2 of the same project, stack them and cut both at the same time!
So, while you’re not exactly getting more run time, you’re cutting two pieces at the same time – both using a different section of the blade.
A solid way to implement this is to use double sided tape to fasten the two pieces firmly together.
If you’re concerned about tape residue, you can do the same trick mentioned above: use painter’s tape on the actual workpieces, and then stick the double sided tape on top of the painter’s tape so you get easy removal combined with a strong bond.
Relax – Enjoy Yourself
Scrolling projects always take longer than you think. This can be especially frustrating with intricate pieces if you don’t mentally prepare yourself.
Just because a piece is small, doesn’t mean that it will go quick. It depends mostly on the intricacy of a piece more so than size so some extent.
There’s blade changes, setting up for a new inside cut, etc. to consider.
If you enjoy the act of doing the cutting just as much as seeing a finished product, you will be less likely to rush things and inadvertently break or prematurely wear out a blade.
Turn on some good music, or a podcast, or audiobook, and relax as you create that next masterpiece!
How to know when it’s time to replace your scroll saw blade
When you feel resistance, like you feel that you’re having to push too hard to get through the piece of wood you’re working with, it’s time for a new blade.
Or, if you’re seeing that blade is burning the wood, it can also be a good sign that it’s time for a new blade.
Why do my scroll saw blades keep breaking?
The main culprits for breaking blades are:
- material that’s too hard
- blade is too dull
- you’re pushing too hard, not letting the saw do the work
- blade tension is too loose
- blade tension is too tight
How often should I change my scroll saw blade?
In general, you can expect to change your scroll saw blade after about 30 minutes of work time.