Who knows what a scroll saw is?
February 22, 2005 3:44 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking at getting into making kids' wooden toys and decorations (picture frames, bookends, that sort of thing) as a hobby/pocket-money earner and a few people have told me that the best tool for the job is a scroll saw. I know sod-all about them and even the hardware salespeople aren't very informed - when I called a bunch of places about hiring one for a weekend, I had to explain what a scroll saw was. Does anyone here know anything about scroll saws?

I have a couple of options for reasonably-priced scroll saws: one has an attached worklight and single-speed with a decent-sized table for $150. Another has variable speed and a worklight for about $200, but I haven't actually seen this one so don't know what the workspace is like. My main question is whether the extra cost for variable speed is worthwhile, or whether that's just an extra feature that I can live without. I plan on doing a lot of fiddly things like letters and small shapes, as well as larger shapes for backing, but would that be a case of changing blades as opposed to speed? Are there other features I should be looking for?
posted by tracicle to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (14 answers total)
They are indeed very nice tools. You'll be able to do all kinds of interesting designs. Just be sure to get one that fits the kind of things you'd want to make... meaning, that the height and width are accomidating enough.

If you're doing any amount of this kind of work, you'll be glad you purchased the saw. In my experience, the blade choice only matters if you're working with extremely hard wood.
posted by odinsdream at 3:55 PM on February 22, 2005

tracicle - in my limited experience with any saw, I've always appreciated the variable speed options. It makes working with an unfamiliar variety of wood much less daunting.
posted by FlamingBore at 4:01 PM on February 22, 2005

Grizzly makes a nice scroll saw for a great price.
posted by BrodieShadeTree at 4:48 PM on February 22, 2005

This is a good overview to get you started. Scroll saws are indeed very handy for all sorts of crafty work. They don't take long to get familiar with - they were the staple power tool when I took shop many years ago in high school - so you'll want a machine that can support the level of ambition to which you aspire.
posted by Sangre Azul at 5:01 PM on February 22, 2005

Scroll saws are wonderful. If I had the space for a proper shop that would be the first thing I'd get. I would say spend the extra $50 for the variable speed model - after all, you get what you pay for. Plus, this gives you the option to test out other materials like plastics and composites before you start buzzing away.

Other things to keep an eye on are the bed size (make sure there is plenty of flat space to rest a larger piece of work on) and the arm height (again, make sure you can fit a larger piece between the arm and the bed).
posted by id girl at 5:07 PM on February 22, 2005

Don't buy a Dremel. I own a Dremel scroll saw, the most popular brand in the states, and have been very dissatisfied with the product quality and support. That said, scrolling is fun, puzzles are another easy project. Anyone know any interesting books/websites for patterns? All the pattern books I have seen are terribly unimaginative.
posted by LarryC at 5:33 PM on February 22, 2005

I'm based in New Zealand, so my options (without buying a heavy tool online) are limited. The two I mentioned in the main post are a ToolLine and a Ryobi and prices are in $NZ. I don't think I can even get Dremel or Grizzly here. :)

As far as bed size, they're both 16" I think and both 120 watts. It sounds like the variable speed is the way to go, though, just for the sake of having the option. I've never used one before and my plan of hiring one to try out isn't panning out, as I mentioned. I'm a little afraid to spend the money unless I know it's a machine that I, an unskilled female, would be comfortable and competent with.

(And LarryC, my mother-in-law just sent me a bunch of patterns for kids' fabric projects that would easily transfer to wood. Maybe you could look at sewing-type stores/websites for ideas?)
posted by tracicle at 6:05 PM on February 22, 2005

It's very easy to use, and it isn't at all like a table saw or other machinery that would rip the wood from your hands without proper precautions. It mostly just sits there and cuts what you push into it. If you stop moving the wood... well, it stops cutting. Very simple.
posted by odinsdream at 6:17 PM on February 22, 2005

Well, that's most of my reservations met. :)

Thanks, all.
posted by tracicle at 6:23 PM on February 22, 2005

If at all possible, buy a tiny band-saw. Scroll saws work by moving the blade rapidly up and down. When working with small or thin pieces of wood, this motion can tear the wood. Scroll saws are much more predictable and smooth in operation.

The kind of sawing you need a scroll saw for can often be done just as quickly with a good bench clamp and a thin hand scroll saw.

All cutting tools, power or not, require careful attention to safety procedure. A bandsaw will cut your finger off, but so will a good stroke of a backsaw.
posted by b1tr0t at 7:25 PM on February 22, 2005

Also, don't underestimate the value of a good fixed power-sander.
posted by b1tr0t at 7:27 PM on February 22, 2005

If at all possible, buy a tiny band-saw.

Band-saws and scroll saws are not interchangeable. Yes, both can make curved cuts, but a band saw blade is a continuous band while a scroll saw has a thin, straight, detachable blade.
This means that you can make pierced cuts -- ones where you drill a hole, pass the blade through, then reattach it to make a cutout that is totally enclosed by unbroken wood. To do this with a band-saw you would need to split and rejoin the blade (either welded or silver soldered) each time you cut an interior shape; possible but only barely.

A scroll saw at the right speed with the right blade shouldn't be overly susceptible to tear-out.

You might find rec.woodworking helpful; yes it's a newsgroup, but it is mostly people discussing woodworking (what a concept). Here's their general FAQ, with some specific scroll saw information here.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 9:20 PM on February 22, 2005

at least here in the uk i think that's more commonly called a jig-saw (just in case that explains why people aren't understanding when you call them).
posted by andrew cooke at 4:44 AM on February 23, 2005

uk i think that's more commonly called a jig-saw

They are related tools, but not quite the same thing. A scroll saw is stationary, you move the wood. A jig-saw is hand held, the wood stays still and you move the tool.

Here are examples from an online retailer in the UK (of whose reputation I know nothing, I'm just using them for the pictures/nomenclature): jig-saw, scroll saw, and for good measure a band-saw.

The above are power tools, the hand tool that the scroll saw replaces is the fretsaw (and related piercing and coping saws), usually used with a birdsmouth, a projecting board with a v-shaped notch in the end, to support the work.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 7:40 AM on February 23, 2005

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