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Woods to use? Hardwood is the nicest and most attractive wood to use. Oak in 1/4, 1/2 and 3/4” thickness is usually available from large hardware stores or catalog companies. More experienced scroll sawyers like to use walnut and mahogany for special projects. Purple heart and other exotic woods are used mainly for trim. Inexpensive plywood like luan and fir are not good for most projects. However, high quality Baltic birch is often used for plaques and jig saw puzzles. Some use it for making clocks and boxes. Two reasons to use Baltic birch are that it is less expensive and it is much less likely to break.
The big disadvantage of using plywood is that the edges aren’t very attractive but that isn’t a problem for plaques and puzzles. Be aware that the glue layers in plywood will dull your blade faster than sawing the same thickness in solid wood. When painting, we recommend plywood, it saves a lot of money over using hard wood.
Wood is cupping or warping? This will happen more in thin (1/4”) than thicker wood (3/4”). The reason is moisture. One side dries more than the other side. You can keep turning it every few days or you could try to use a hair dryer or heat gun to dry one side. Put the thin wood under some heavier wood with spacers between the thin wood, for air drying. Still you will have some cupping left when you are ready to scroll saw. When stack cutting I put the pieces together opposite from each other. When cutting out inside pieces, it will release the stretch in the wood.
Spiral Blades? Don’t start with a spiral blade. They are very hard to control. They leave a lot of fuzz and leave a very wide kerf. The spiral blade is a regular blade with no reverse teeth that has been twisted around with teeth in all directions. This makes the blade go in any direction. When cutting hardwood it wants to follow the grain and go to the soft spots in the wood making it very hard to control and stay on the line of the pattern. Most spiral blades are used for cutting plywood. Plywood has no soft spots. They are good to cut faces of people and for free hand cutting, like cutting wild life. One more place people like to use them is for making a veining line wider. Veining is just a line, like the “veins” in leaves. First cut the line with a regular blade to give the spiral blade a “path” to follow and then widening it with a spiral blade.
Patterns? Don’t start with intricate patterns. The best way to start is to take some scrap pieces of wood and draw some lines, steps, sharp angels and curving lines. Try to stay on the line. If you get off, don’t try to rush back. Take it easy and slowly merge back to the line. On most patterns, if you get off the pattern line, nobody will notice and you are the only one that knows. Most scroll saw blades will not cut a straight line, like you do on a band saw. The blade wants to veer off to the right you will notice that you have to push your wood to the left to stay on the line. This is due to a little burr on the right side of the blade, when in the saw. Most people think that the blades are stamped. This is not true. They are milled. However, there is still a burr, sometimes more or less. A brand new cutter will leave less of a burr than one that is wearing out.
Tension? Tension is very important. When the blade is in the saw, ping it with your finger, (saw not running) it should give a nice high pitch, like a high “C”. It is better to have too much tension than not enough. You will break more blades with not enough than too much tension. With not enough tension, you will push too hard into the blade. This makes the blade get hot, lose its “temper” and dull faster. It is easy to put side pressure on the blade, which will also make the blade get hot and then the blade will get dull faster. Pushing sideways might also give a slight bevel cut, when stack cutting. The bottom might be different from the top. Also, with a loose blade you have less control over were the blade goes, just like with a spiral blade. With enough tension you will not have this problem and even with very tiny blades you are in control.
Clamps? Sometimes you might have trouble with the blade slipping out of the blade clamp. This happens mostly with the upper blade clamp. You can take a little piece of fine sand paper and sand the inside of the clamp, just to make it a little rough. Also you can clean the clamp with alcohol. There are two reasons the clamp will not hold the blade. One is that the inside gets very smooth and the other is that there might be a little oil on the clamping surfaces. New blades often have oil on them to eliminate getting rusty. When this oil gets on the clamp it will make the clamp slippery.
Blades for Corian® and Plexiglas? Most like to use blades without the reverse teeth. The best blades to use for this are the Corian blades, numbers 3, 5, 7 and 9, depending on how thick the material is. Most use Plexiglas 1/8” to 1/4” and Corian mainly ½” to 3/4”. When cutting these materials, make sure you use the 2” clear package tape. Put it on the material, top and bottom and then glue the pattern on top of that. Some people use other tape, like masking tape, but most use the 2” package tape.
The tape helps to keep the plastic bits from going back in the kerf and melting behind the blade. When cutting acrylics and other plastics, you should slow the speed down to about 850 SPM ( strokes per minute) or about half speed. Cut slowly and don’t push too hard into the blade. Corian blades have no reverse teeth and some people prefer them. They feel that they have better control and don’t mind the sanding. People with arthritis have trouble holding the wood down and the Corian blades stay on the table better.
What adhesive or glue to use for attaching the pattern? We recommend the 3M 77 adhesive. Spray only the back of the pattern, very little. Wait till it is a little sticky and put it on the wood or tape. If the pattern comes loose while cutting, take a little piece of Scotch Tape and put it right next to the blade. It will hold down the pattern long enough for you to finish the cutting. If you have too much adhesive, it will be hard to get the pattern off the wood. When using tape this is not a problem. There are different ways of removing the pattern. You can sand it off but a lot of fine paper dust will get in the pores of the wood. I would not recommend sanding. I use paint thinner. Some use rubbing alcohol. Don’t pour it on, just slightly moisten the pattern with paint thinner using a little ball of cotton or paper towel. You can try using a hair dryer to soften the adhesive, but if you used too much adhesive this might take a long time.
How to eliminate burning. By using the 2" clear package tape you will eliminate most of the burning. Wood with oil such as Purple Heart is a very hard wood. We like to first put the pattern on the wood and than putting the tape over the pattern. Some like to put it on the wood first. It is all up to the individual. Some might even use a different tape but most like to use the package tape. It is almost like the tape lubricates the blade. Not quite. The tape has a chemical that is like a Silicone and releases friction. If this chemical would not be on top of the tape, you never would be able to un-roll the tape from it self.
Stack cutting? Every time you have to make more then one piece, stack them together 3/4” to one inch thick total. This can be done by putting tape around the pieces, or just on the sides. Some use double stick carpet tape. I don’t like this because it leaves a little bit of room between the pieces and is likely to leave fuzz in the gap left by the carpet tape. The easiest way is to use an air brad nailer but hammering brads will also work. You put the brads in the waste areas. You can even put some in the areas that have to be cut out. You cut them out the last of all inside cuts. Then you do the outside. To keep the points of the brads from scratching and catching on the scroll saw table, put the wood on a piece of iron and tap the brad with a hammer. We use a short piece of railroad rail, but any scrap of iron will do to flatten the point. You can also use a nail set to flatten the point. If you have to put the brads in by hand, get a “brad starter”. If using oak or other brittle woods, you may have to frill a very small starter hole.
Drilling holes for your blade to go through? For thin wood (1/4 to 1/2”) you can use a hand drill. When the wood or stack is more than 1/2” thick, a drill press will help to make sure that the drill bit doesn’t wander to the side. A Dremel with a stand works very well. Some have a little free-standing drill press close by the saw. I like it away from the saw, this gives me time to get away from the saw, to rest my back and walk. The most common drill size to use is a 1/16” bit. For veining you want to use smaller bits, they come in numbers like 64 etc. You might need a special chuck to hold them. Most catalogs or wood working stores sell them. It is also handy to have a sander. We like a palm finishing sander because you don’t have to go with the grain of the wood.
Squaring Blade to Table? One very important item is, having the blade square to the table. It is very easy to have the table tilt a little without knowing it. You might lean on it or you might have held onto the table when moving your saw or you might have done some bevel cutting and forgot to put the table back in the right position. The best way is to use a little square. You can make one yourself from a piece of hardwood or you can get a small protractor. The fastest and most accurate way is to make a cut of about 1/16” deep in a scrap of 3/4” wood. Then turn the wood around and bring it against the back of the blade. The blade should fit perfectly in the kerf. If not, adjust the table a little, and then do it over again. Some say to cut a circle and if the table is square to the blade, the round piece should come out of both ends. This takes too much time and is not always accurate. If you use a # 9 blade, the table can be off one degree and the piece still will come out. Also, when having a “C” arm scroll saw, the bottom is different from the top.
How about cutting corners? Some people just spin the blade a round. This will leave a round corner. If you do spin the wood, make sure you stop cutting, but keep the saw running. Then, turn the wood with pressure on the back of the blade so it won’t remove any wood while turning. WeI like to do it different. There are two lines: line “A” going into the corner, and line “B” going away. Cut on line A all the way to the corner. Then, back out about a 1/4” and turn the blade with the teeth into the waste, start cutting a curve towards line B and then to the corner. A small piece will fall out. This gives you room to turn the blade, put the back of the blade in the corner and start cutting on line B. Try to have the open space to the left of the blade. The right side of the blade has this little burr and will grab faster into the wood. Be careful that it does not get off the line. With some experience you can even utilize this burr to do some sanding if you have a little bump. Some people like to round the back of the blade. This is done by running the saw while holding a wet-stone against the back of the blade.
A magnifying glass with light? These can be very helpful. For a magnifier light, you can find them at about any office equipment store or a big box store. One with a florescent bulb is best.
Foot Switch? This is also a very helpful accessory. When a blade breaks you don’t have to look for the on and off switch. Some switches are not dust proof and might just quit after turning off and on many times. A foot switch will eliminate this problem You shouldn’t have to pay more than $25 to $30.
Finding patterns? Patterns are easy to find by searching the internet. You have many companies who have catalogs with patterns for sale. There are many books with patterns, go to a book or woodworking store and look through them. If you find one you like, buy it.
Counting and Timing? One example of what we did when doing a big project, was to drill exactly 20 holes and then cut them out. The saw is at one end and the little drill press on the other end of the work bench. This is also a way to keep track of how many holes you have in a project. You can time yourself by how long it takes to cut the 20 holes and then multiply that by how many times you drilled 20 holes. People always want to know how long it took to make that particular item. Make sure you add some extra time for attaching the pattern, sanding and finishing when you set your price. Cutting is only part of a final product.
Quality Work? Some folks ask you if your project was done with a laser? Feel very proud of that. It means that you have done a very good job of cutting your project. You can usually identify work made with a laser. The edges are normally brown because a laser works by burning.
Pricing your work? This is one of the hardest things to figure out. The common saying is, “If it does not sell it might be over priced. But, if you can’t keep enough on hand, you are under priced”. Don’t believe most people who say that they make a living at scroll sawing. It might be their full time job, but making a living is something else. When going to a craft show, it is usually assumed that you should do at least 10 times your booth cost. So, if the cost of a booth is $50.00, you should expect to sell at least $500.00 worth of projects. You might have made some nice money, not counting your hours. If you stay over night, consider a motel room, meals, travel etc. Do you pay your spouse for helping you? We have discovered that most folks make things to sell and do craft shows because it is fun. They hope to make enough to cover their cost and maybe a little more. Some, but very few, actually make a living.
Whatever you decide we hope you enjoy doing scroll sawing.
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