That brand-new scroll saw is sitting proudly on the bench in your shop and a stack of material is ready.
You have one, maybe two blades, that came with your new saw. You have read the user’s manual and suddenly realize that you have no idea about scroll saw blades.
You don’t know what you need to know.
What you need is Scroll Saw Blade 101. Scroll Saw Blade 101 is a primer on the scroll saw blades and how to choose the right one to do your job and finish your project.
Here you can find everything you need to know to understand the types of scroll saw blades, the terminology that describes scroll saw blades, and how to choose the correct scroll saw blade for the material you are using in your project.
What do you need to know about scroll saw blades? Before beginning to use your scroll saw, you need to understand several things about the blades that fit your saw. Choosing the proper blade is the key to success with your scroll saw.
You should understand:
- Scroll saw blade manufacturing processes and the materials used in scroll saw blades
- Scroll saw blade sizes and tooth configurations
- How to match the tooth pattern and teeth per inch to the material you will be cutting
All of this may sound a bit daunting to the new scroll saw the owner. Take heart.
Armed with the information in this article, you will be selecting blades for your scroll saw like an expert in no time at all.
Are All Scroll Saw Blades the Same?
In a word, no! Like almost anything else, scroll saw blades come in a wide variety of styles, sizes, material, and in the quality of the manufacturing.
All these things can affect how the blade performs when it is in your scroll saw.
First, we need to understand the scroll saw blade. It is a simple-looking little thing, but at its heart, it is a precisely manufactured tool.
If you consider how the scroll saw was made and the complex configuration that makes it cut efficiently, you will come to understand how best to select a scroll saw.
Bringing a Scroll Saw Blade to Life
Scroll saw blades start life as a piece of blank metal material, and through a series of steps is transformed into the blade you find at your local hardware store.
The quality of the finished product depends on several factors, such as:
- The quality of the metal used to make the blade.
- The tolerances in the manufacturing process
- The type of process used in making the blade
The material used in making the scroll saw blade is as important as the method used in making it.
Some manufacturers start with cheaper grades of steel because they are less expensive.
Some chose milder steels because this grade of metal is easier to mill.
The better the material at the start, the better the blade at the end.
Typically, the manufacturing of scroll saw blades happen one of two ways.
The scroll saw blades are either precision ground from hardened steel or milled from milder steel and then heat tempered for hardness.
Better blade manufacturers employ tighter tolerances during the manufacturing process and tighter quality control procedures to ensure that the end product meets certain levels of quality.
Tight tolerances and high-quality control standards increase costs which explains why better blades are more expensive
Ground Hardened Steel Blades
Blades ground from hardened steel tend to cut straighter and smoother than other types.
Overall, precision ground scroll saw blades made of hardened steel last three to four times longer than other types of blades.
The finest scroll saw blades are not just ground from hardened steel. They are stone ground, giving them a much sharper cutting edge, which can produce cuts so smooth and chip-free that little or no sanding is required.
Milled Scroll Saw Blades
Milled scroll saw blades are close in cutting ability to ground blades.
The process of milling the softer metal and then hardening it by heating and tempering the metal can cause what is known as metal flow.
Metal flow can increase the tendency of milled scroll saw blades to wander when they cut.
The difference in how well-milled blades perform in comparison to ground blades is often a matter of the manufacturer’s quality control.
The best manufacturers milled blades will perform so well that most average woodworkers will never know the difference.
The key here is to know the manufacturer and their reputation and purchase your scroll saw blades accordingly.
The best blade from an unreliable source will never cut as well as the cheapest blade in a well-known and reputable manufacturers line.
Navigating the World of Scroll Saw Blade Types
Standing in front of the display of scroll saw blades in the hardware store can be intimidating.
Examining the packages reveals a vast array of different types, sizes, tooth per inch counts.
Then you notice that among all those choices is one other selection. Scroll saw blades come in two styles, pin end, and plain end.
You should know from reading your user manual which style of scroll saw blade your saw requires.
If your saw is older, it may use pin-end blades. Most newer saws use plain end blades.
Some models will accept both, but it is a compromise situation.
Always use the style of blade specified by the manufacturer of your saw. If the saw accepts either style, opt for the plain end blade style.
Scroll Saw Blade Types
Scroll saw blades come in seven distinct types.
You need to understand how these types of scroll saw blades differ and how that difference affects the way they cut in different materials.
The seven types of scroll saw blades are:
- Standard Tooth Blades
- Skip-Tooth Blades
- Double-Tooth Blades
- Reverse Skip-Tooth Blades
- Precision Ground Blades
- Crown Tooth Blades
There is one other type that doesn’t quite fit into the list.
These are the specialty blades used to cut non-wood materials such as plastic and metal. There are even blades that will cut glass.
You should be aware of the availability of these specialty blades in case you ever need them.
Before we talk much more about scroll saw blades, there are some definitions we need to understand.
As we progress in Scroll Saw Blades 101, familiarity with common acronyms and terminology will make things much easier.
- Blade Size – While there is no real official standard measurement of scroll saw blades, the industry has settled on a system of numbering blades to indicate the physical size of the blade and the tooth count, measures in TPI. Scroll saw blades sizes typically range from #12 to #2/0 or #3/0. The higher the number, the thicker and wider the blade and the fewer teeth per inch on the blade.
- TPI or Teeth Per Inch – This is exactly what it says. TPI is the number of teeth per inch on the scroll saw blade. We will deal with TPI and its importance to blade selection a bit later.
Standard Tooth Blades
Looking at a standard tooth blade for your scroll saw and you will see that the teeth are all the same size and the same distance apart.
They all face the same direction. The teeth are spaced equally along the blade.
The space between the teeth allows the sawdust to escape as the blade cuts the material.
Standard tooth blades come made in two kinds. One cuts wood and cuts metal.
If you compare the two kinds of blades, you will notice that the metal blades have much smaller teeth, and the teeth are much closer together.
The metal blades tend to be noisy and to vibrate more. They also tend to break faster.
The blades that came with your scroll saw from the manufacturer are probably standard tooth blades in a #2 or #3 size.
These blades are good for most general saw work in softer material of thickness up to 3/4 of an inch.
They clear sawdust efficiently from the workspace but can leave a cut edge that needs further sanding after the cut is complete.
Like a standard tooth blade, the teeth of the skip-tooth blade all face the same direction.
The noticeable difference is the space between the teeth. The most common configuration is a full tooth space between each tooth, hence the name “skip-tooth blade.”
This much wider space between the teeth facilitates the movement of sawdust from the cutting and is much more efficient than a standard tooth blade.
There is a price to pay for this efficiency in sawdust removal. The lack of teeth along the saw blade makes the cutting action much less precise and tends to induce blade to wander or chatter on the workpiece while it is cutting.
Skip-tooth blades often find their way onto beginner or novice scroll saws.
The ease of use and fast cutting ability of skip-tooth blades make then an excellent choice for learning to use your scroll saw or for roughing out designs.
Whoever came up with the standard names for scroll saw blades had a knack for the obvious.
Double-tooth blades are a variant of the standard-tooth blade. As the name suggests, there is a skipped tooth after ever pair of teeth on the blade. The gap between the two teeth is also slightly wider than normal.
This blade configuration cuts smoother than the previous blade settings. However, the abnormal spacing of the teeth makes this type of blade much harder to control while cutting.
The double-tooth blade also cuts much slower than either the standard tooth blade or the skip-tooth blade.
On the upside, the double-tooth blade leaves a very smooth cut that often needs little more than a touch up with sandpaper.
Beware though. The blades tend to suddenly wonder if you don’t carefully control the speed of the cut.
Too much speed or pressure, and the blade will veer offline or break.
Reverse Skip-Tooth Blades
This tooth pattern is a little harder to describe, but once you get the idea, you can easily understand that reason that the reverse skip-tooth blade would be a handy addition to your scroll saw accessory kit.
Typically, scroll saw blades cut on the downstroke. Only cutting on the downstroke means that the back of the teeth on the blade may drag on the upstroke, creating rough edges.
A reverse skip-tooth blade has the same spacing of the teeth as a regular skip-tooth blade, but half the teeth face the opposite direction.
Usually, the teeth on the top half of the blade face down, and the teeth on the bottom half of the blade face up.
This tooth arrangement on the blade allows the saw to cut on both the up and downstroke.
Reverse skip-tooth blades are an excellent choice when cutting thin materials or veneered materials like plywood.
The cutting action of the reverse skip-tooth blade helps eliminate tear out of the thin veneers along the edges.
Precision Ground Blades
Precision ground blades use tooth patterns, much like the others we have discussed.
However, if you look at the profile of the blade, you notice that a precision ground blade is a much thinner front to back than a standard blade.
This thinner profile allows much more precise work on the saw. Precision ground blades cut finer and tighter curves allowing intricate details in scrollwork.
This thinner profile does require a higher level of skill when operating your scroll saw.
If you perform intricate detailed inner cuts or work with expensive thin materials, a precision ground blade is a must in your scroll saw accessory kit.
The time it takes you to master the use of a precision ground blade will be well worth your time.
Imagine you took a standard blade with smaller teeth, and before you put it into your saw, you twisted it along the axis of the blade a few turns.
That is exactly how a spiral scroll saw blade looks. The concept is that by twisting the blade, any direction you feed your material will find a cutting edge.
Spiral scroll saw blades work in this fashion. Using a spiral blade in your scroll saw allows you to push and pull your material in any direction to cut without having to turn or spin your work on the saw table to find the cutting edge.
It sounds like a great idea! Not so much in reality. Spiral blades will cut in any direction you feed material against them.
They also leave wide ragged kerfs in your material and tend to wander as you cut. They are not at all precise and good only for rough work.
Look at a crown-tooth blade, and you immediately understand the name. Each tooth has two points that face in opposite directions.
The result is a crown shape on each tooth on the blade. Crown-tooth blades are relatively new to the market.
Theoretically, a crown-tooth blade cuts on both the upstroke and the downstroke.
In practice, crown-tooth blades tend to clog with sawdust easily. Most woodworkers shy away from using crown-tooth blades in their scroll saws.
However, if you need to cut plexiglass, a crown-tooth blade may be just what you need.
Experience shows that crown-tooth blades perform well-cutting plastic materials, provided you control the speed of the cut.
Trying to cut too fast will cause the blade to overheat and melt the plastic instead of cutting.
**Want to start your tool collection? Check out our best scroll saw guide for beginners!**
What does TPI mean on scroll saw blades?
TPI or teeth per inch is exactly what it says, the number of teeth per inch along the cutting edge of the scroll saw blade. It is an important number to know and to understand.
When selecting the proper scroll saw blade, there are several factors to consider, and TPI is one of them.
When taken with these other items of consideration, choosing the proper scroll saw blade becomes much less confusing.
What size scroll saw blade to use?
And that brings us to the real story. How do you choose what size scroll saw blade to use?
The project material determines most of the factors that will influence your choice and your skill level with your scroll saw.
Always keep these things in mind as you select the blade for your project.
- The thicker or harder the wood, the larger the blade you should use. As a rule, a #5 or #7 blade is good for ¾ inches moderately dense wood such as cherry or walnut. The greater your skill, the smaller the blade you can choose. Rarely is a blade bigger than a #9 required when cutting up to 1 inch in thickness.
- The bigger the blade, the longer it will last. Thicker blades last longer. They don’t break as often, and the lower TPI means they tend to stay sharper through more cuts. If you are working with especially thick material and exceptionally hard material, opt for a larger blade. Blades sizes from #9 to #12 are good choices for these cutting situations.
- Smaller blades work better in thin materials or softwoods. Cutting unstacked thin material of 1/8 inch or less requires a much smaller blade. Often a blade as small as a #2/0 is required to cut thin wood, especially veneers, to avoid splintering and ragged edges. Smaller blades are also necessary if you are making tight turns. Puzzle makers depend on these small blades for the intricate turns required in puzzle pieces. Just remember that small blades with high TPI counts cut more slowly and require more patience.
- Measure the stack, not the individual pieces. Stack cutting can be a real time saver. Remember to base your scroll saw blade selection on the total thickness of the material, not the thickness of the individual pieces in the stack. A stack of 1/8 inch thick individual pieces that is 1” thick in total requires a #5 or #7 blade.
- Look at your pattern. How intricate are the designs you plan to cut? Larger sized blades will not cut very small radius curves and don’t fit well into tight spaces. A good rule of thumb is “Chose the smallest blade possible that will cut the material.” A very intricate design in very hardwood requires a very small blade. Under these circumstances, you must accept that you are going to break a lot of blades.
- Keep a good selection of blades handy in your shop. Sometimes when you are having difficulty making cuts with the blade that you first thought was the proper choice, it helps to stop and try and different size blades. Some materials react differently to blades, and what you thought was the right blade may not be the proper choice.
- Add a little oil. Scroll saw blades get hot. The saw blade moves fast and is in contact with the material you are cutting over a relatively small area of metal. Overheating of the blade leads quickly to a broken blade. Adding just a touch of mineral oil or coconut oil to the blade can ease the overheating problem.
One accessory every scroll saw woodworker should have at hand is a good scroll saw blade chart.
Most of the better blade manufacturers offer blade selection charts free.
It is a good idea to get a copy of the blade selection guide from your favorite blade manufacturer and keep it in the drawer with your extra blades.
Most manufacturers now offer their blade selection guides as downloads from the internet. A few of the more popular are:
Experience is the Key
With all this information now at your fingertips and in your head, you should be able to easily decide which scroll saw blade is the best for your project.
Right? Still a little puzzled? Don’t worry. The more you saw, the better you get at choosing scroll saw blades.
All the advice and charts in the world will never replace what you learn from doing.
The accumulated knowledge from working with your saw and the materials you use in your projects is the best basis on which to choose your scroll saw blades.
Every saw cuts just a bit differently. Learn your saw. Every woodworker has differing techniques that affect how blades react to different materials.
The more you cut, the more you learn. You will make mistakes, and you will break blades. That is normal, and each time you learn a bit more.
To make good decisions about scroll saw blades requires some knowledge and some experience. Knowledge is easy to gain.
The experience takes time. Keep in mind a few simple tips that should help you, no matter where you are in the experience field.
- Choose quality blades. In the grand scheme of things, the best scroll saw blades you can buy are still cheap. You can find scroll saw blades that are very cheap. You will get what you pay for. Keeping the best blade you can buy in your saw will lower your frustration levels, make your saw perform at its peak, and produce better work.
- Buy in Bulk. Scroll saw blades are, by definition, a disposable item. They break, and they get dull. In practice, the best scroll saw blade you can buy will last only 15 to 20 minutes when cutting moderately dense wood. Be prepared to change blades often. Buying in bulk is usually cheaper than buying blister packs of blades.
- Keep a variety of blades on hand. Don’t think you need to keep a dozen of every style and size of the blade for your scroll saw. However, in time, you will know what blades type and size of blade you use most. Keep a few sizes larger and a few different types of handy as well. Sometimes trying something different when a problem arises is a perfect solution.
- Change blades often. A dull blade is worse than a cheap blade. Dull blades overheat quicker and want to wander and vibrate, leading to sloppy cuts that stray from your cut line.
- Make sure your saw is in top working order. Follow your scroll saw manufacturer’s instructions to maintain your scroll saw in top working order. A poorly maintained saw won’t work as well, no matter how good the blade.
- Be Safe. Practice good shop safety. Wear your eye protection and hearing protection. Keep all the guards and other safety equipment properly installed on your tools. Stay focused and eliminate distractions in your shop. Better to be cautious than to lose a finger or worse.
Almost every scroll saw, and blade manufacturers have reference material and tutorials on their websites.
These are great places to further your knowledge and understanding of how to get the most from your scroll saw.
Woodworking is an ongoing learning experience. Every project teaches you something new and leaves you a better artisan than when you started.
The more time you put in at the saw, the deeper your understanding of how it works and the possibilities it holds.