For almost a decade, we have wondered if the laser cutter is pushing the scroll saw out of existence. Some would like to believe that classics never die, while others are rejoicing in the advance in technology.
Is there a place for both in the world or is it time for us to make a choice between the two?
Scroll saw vs. laser cutter: Is the scroll saw dead? Laser cutters are convenient, accurate, and fast. They eliminate the need for the hands-on work and concentration required of a scroll saw. However, laser cutters also have their limitations and are costly.
The advances in technology may have inadvertently begun to diminish the necessity for classic tools as the scroll saw.
With laser cutters, the process of creation is easier and quicker, as you’re just programming the details of the project into a computer, which automatically does the work for you.
Let’s see if there is more to it than that.
Is the Scroll Saw Dead and Buried?
You could say that we’ll never look back, but until the price point gets a little more realistic, we will not be finding laser cutters in every workshop.
The truth is that not everyone can afford a laser cutter, and until they can, the scroll saw will not be dead.
Prices for a laser cutter can vary widely because the jobs that they perform also vary widely. To purchase a laser cutter that can do the same jobs as a scroll saw can set you back thousands.
Products that are marketed as home laser cutter models or beginner models can be very limited in what they are capable of.
It is as if laser cutters and scroll saws are not even in the same ballpark. Sure, they can do some of the same jobs. But programmable machines are in a league of their own.
Some would even believe that it takes more skill and creativity to use a scroll saw vs. a laser cutter.
A better comparison might be a band saw vs. scroll saw or CNC machine vs. laser cutter since they are more closely related.
But then we are still left in the dark about whether classic machinery or new technology is the winner in the popularity contest. Who would win the tool showdown?
Does High-Tech Belong in the Woodshop?
Is the scroll saw dead? That depends on who you ask. Not everyone wants to use tools that have a brain. They might feel more comfortable with their trusty old scroll saw that they know inside and out.
They are familiar with it and can repair it with their eyes closed (although that’s obviously not recommended.)
What is it about the scroll saw that some prefer over the more modern laser cutter? It could be the hands-on feeling you get when you manually operate the machine.
Using a tool like a laser cutter can make us feel somewhat disconnected from our work. The laser cutter may be one of those tools that appear to take the “craft” out of woodcraft
Is Laser-Precision Necessary in the Woodshop?
When you sit down to work on a project you may have creativity flowing, but are you in the mood to be hands-on, or are you in the mood to put a bit more mentally challenging effort forth?
Having both machines in your shop means that you can jump back and forth between your scroll saw and your laser cutter. Depending on your mood, and the details of your project.
How did we create woodworking masterpieces before the scroll saw was invented?
By hand. We carved each intricate groove, line, and curve with our bare hands (and maybe a chisel or file.) And the results were gorgeous.
Sure, they may not have looked like they were made by a computer or machine. But does everything have to be flawless?
Imperfections sometimes make the piece so special. So, when you start to think that a certain art form or machine is outdated or dead, stop to consider how powerful and precious manual labor can be.
Scroll Saw Basics
Since it was invented in 1829, we have been using the scroll saw for all of our fine and detailed cutting needs. (or, most of them, anyway.)
Almost 200 years ago, this was a huge deal. It is no wonder that the scroll saw quickly became quite popular amongst artists and craftsmen.
Given its ability to create intricate designs and with virtually any medium of material from wood to metal to glass, creation possibilities felt limitless for the time period.
Its reciprocating blade helps to cut fine detail in joints and curves, making it especially popular amongst woodworkers.
Scroll saws are well known for making gorgeous carvings, jewelry, toys, and so much more.
It can also be used to cut the dovetail joints that are so important for furniture construction.
Even though it is still entirely possible to injure yourself while using a scroll saw, it is considered to be relatively safe, compared to say, a table saw.
The difference is the scroll saw has a slower moving reciprocating blade vs. a quick continuously spinning blade that your find in band saws and table saws.
The throat (length from rear frame to the saw blade) of a scroll saw can vary in size from 10” up to 36”, giving it a workspace large enough to fit most projects. Typically, the deeper the throat, the higher the price.
Prices for purchasing a scroll saw start around $100 for a small base model and can reach up to $2,500 for a heavy-duty, high-quality model.
The better-quality models buy you superior stability, agility, and better results in your work.
Since the scroll saw is not new to the market, there’s a lively second-hand market for them.
Perhaps you will be able to find a good used one for an affordable price.
Related Content: Scroll Saw Tips and Tricks, learn how to cut small pieces!
Laser Cutter Basics
In the year 1964, in New Jersey, the very first ever laser cutter was invented.
Over a hundred years after the invention of the scroll saw. Technology has obviously advanced in leaps and bounds in that time.
Much like the scroll saw, the laser cutter is prized for its ability to make intricate cuts. But its trademark is precision.
It can be used to exactly cut objects out of flat sheets of material. It works wood as well as metal, plastic, and many other materials.
Note: To use a laser cutter, you’ll need to have some computer skills in order to understand what it can do and how to get it done.
Here’s a how-to video on creating your designs.
While hands are not exposed to the saw blade, as with traditional saws, there are risks associated with using a laser cutter.
The laser can cause damage to eyes and skin and the high heat of the laser has the risk of combustion and fire.
More thorough precautionary advice is offered here, on the MIT Environmental Health and Safety website.
Laser cutters range from compact models to industrial machines, with cutting areas ranging anywhere from 12” x 8” for a desktop to 55” x 35” for an industrial, stand-alone machine.
The size one buys varies on what type of projects expected, materials used and volume of output the woodworker is looking for. Here, too, the size will directly affect pricing.
How much is a laser cutter going to set you back? Base price starting at $100. Don’t get excited, just yet. You get what you pay for with advanced technology like this.
A base model at this price can be deceiving to an untrained eye because the range is very limited on what you can do with a cheap model, as will the quality of the work.
Most shoppers are happy with their mid-range laser cutter purchase, but the cost is not within everyone’s budget, coming in around $5,000.
For a lot of hobbyists, this is not realistic, so you won’t find many high-end machines in home workshops.
For a commercial laser cutter, a company can expect to spend upwards of $25,000 for an industrial-strength machine.
Of course, the durability, product quality, and project quality will be far better than a low end or mid-range model.
Oh, and don’t forget the higher energy bills associated with such a highly-powered piece of equipment.
Pros and Cons of Scroll Saws and Laser Cutters
Before you write the scroll saw off as outdated technology, let us take the time to compare the laser cutter and scroll saw side by side. Something for everyone, right?
|Safe-good for beginners||Hands-on, requires skill|
|Cuts fine/intricate detail in many materials||Not suitable for use with plastic|
|Quality machine||Seen as outdated|
|Perfect for carving, curves, and joints||Requires a steady hand.|
|Safe-good for beginners||Not everyone enjoys working with computer-driven machinery.|
|Engraves/cuts||Not suitable for use with leather or PVC|
|Modern and forward-thinking||Can be a challenge to use|
|Etches and cuts pre-programmed projects||Requires ability to use a computer|
A Time And Place for Tradition and Tech
Since we know that you must use the right tool for the job, we should also realize that there are a time and place for modern vs. traditional equipment and tools.
Though you may be able to make fine cuts with a scroll saw, it certainly is not capable of the ultra-fine detailing like a laser cutter’s work.
Simply being able to program your vision into the laser cutter computer allows the machine to get into places in ways that you cannot always do manually.
Scroll saws are often used in home shops and in workplaces. They are the perfect tool for intricate handcrafted woodworking projects.
Operating a scroll saw demands concentration and a steady hand, as well as a creative vision.
Enthusiasts enjoy the satisfaction that they get from taking raw materials and turning them into breathtaking masterpieces.
Laser cutters can be used in a wide variety of places, from artists’ homes and workplaces to your local shopping mall. Using a laser cutter to engrave personalized gifts is all the rage.
Giving big beer steins with your friend’s names engraved or personalized picture frames for holidays or special occasions is a great way to make them feel special.
Can You Cut It?
You can pretty much, cut anything with the right tool. Both of our subjects are very versatile as far as the variety of materials that they can work with.
For best results with a scroll saw, experts suggest using a hard material will typically yield the piece you envisioned.
Choosing the best mediums to work with may depend on you, your style, and the end result you are hoping for.
Thinner/lighter materials will give you less control over the job, while thicker/heavier/harder materials can cause vibrations to occur.
One major cause for concern with a scroll saw is the possibility of burning or chipping your piece of art, should you have the incorrect thickness of material:
Best materials on a scroll saw:
Workable on a scroll saw, with a water drip system:
Note: Scroll saws can be used to cut plastic, but the risk of making a melty mess is often high. Not a suitable practice material for beginners.
Best materials for use on a laser cutter.
Note: Laser cutters are powerful and versatile, but it is not recommended to use leather (genuine or synthetic) or PVC as a medium to work with.
Related Content: Can You Cut Metal with a Scroll Saw? Find out the type of metal you can cut!
Consider the Goals of Your Project
What are you trying to do with your saw? You probably have a main goal for the piece, as well as a budget you’d like to stick to. Also, consider:
- Will this be for personal use or business?
- What mediums are you planning to work with?
- Are you an experienced machine operator, or are you just getting started?
- Would you consider your strengths to lie more in the hands-on, creative side, or the computer design side?
- Are you comfortable with the idea of using a scroll saw?
- Are you more at ease with traditional tools?
All of these questions can and will apply to your decision making, and new saw purchasing quest.
Consider the difference between a scroll saw and a laser cutter, as well as the similarities. Refer to the chart above.
If your goal is to take your creativity in a new direction and have been inspired by the possibilities that a new piece of machinery can provide, all that is left to do is choose which is best for you.
If there is no limit to your budget, you don’t have to make a choice. Just buy both of them. Fun times are up ahead!
Safety First When Using Any Saw
Last but not least…let’s talk a bit about saw safety.
Obviously, taking the proper precautions is of the utmost importance when dealing with such a powerful tool.
Before you even hit the switch, there are a few things to check off the list.
Protect your eyes by wearing safety glasses at all times.
Sawing produces small particles that can be inhaled through your mouth or nose if you do not wear a face mask.
Prevent splinters, cuts, and getting your hands dirty by wearing work gloves.
Secure loose clothing/jewelry
Baggy clothing and jewelry can easily become a safety hazard, if not secured before working.
Donning the proper foot attire while you’re working is important to not only protect your feet but will also help prevent you from slipping or tripping.
Non-slip, closed-toe shoes are advised, and steel toe boots are the best choice. If you happen to drop something heavy, you aren’t at risk of breaking any toes.
Cords and wires
Keep your power cords and extension cords out of the way of your workspace.
Do not allow your workspace to become a hazard area. A neat and tidy workbench sets you up for success.
Unless you are working out in the blaring sunlight, you should be aware of the amount of lighting in your work area.
When you have a poorly lit workbench, it makes it much harder to see what you are doing, which can be a safety hazard when working with machinery.
Whether you have put thought into this consciously, or not, it can definitely help in many aspects.
Before you flip the power switch, having a vision and a plan will give you a mental guide on how the project will go.
This can help prevent some accidents from happening, especially good for beginners to apply to work with machinery.
You may think that this should not have to be said, but it most certainly does. It is absolutely critical to stay focused every second.
There is a moving blade in action and a loose piece of material that you are pressing into it.
Of course, you are going to be alert at all times because you don’t want to get your hand close to the blade. But you could also lose control of the piece or make the wrong move and ruin your project.
Keep focused at all times in the workshop.
Know Your Equipment
In addition to this safety check-list, familiarity with the machine is at the top of the safety list. Educate yourself before you hurt yourself (or break the machine.)
Read the owner/operator manual or watch some tutorial videos until you feel comfortable enough with the equipment.
Here’s an example of a great video for each type of saw:
Scroll Saw Basics
Laser Cutter Basics
If you are still unsure, phone a friend to give you some hands-on pointers and guidance. There is no shame in asking for help, especially when it comes to using power tools.
The advantage of using a laser cutter vs. a scroll saw in the case of safety is that the laser cutter presents far less of a safety hazard
It doesn’t matter whether you are operating a scroll saw or a laser cutter, safety first!
In the interest of stepping into the current age and growing the possibilities of what we can achieve with tools, some have completely graduated from their scroll saw to a laser cutter.
They have ditched their first love for something far more advanced.
There has also been a surge in the popularity of craftsmanship since the rise in laser cutters have hit the scene. Crafts we might have seen die out, had it not been for the advances in the modernization of the art.
Not everyone feels comfortable working with an open saw blade, however small it may be.
Tradition and technology don’t always have to be at war; in woodworking, there is a time and a place for both.