Tips From a Scroll Saw Pro

Put a piece of wood in Patrick Spielman’s hands and magic happens. First he’ll handle the piece, then he’ll evaluate how it can best be used. For Spielman, an expert woodworker, that can mean transforming the wood by hand carving, routing, turning or scroll sawing. Or, if it’s large enough, he may decide to use it to craft furniture, cabinetry or a sign.

Spielman has a life-long love affair with wood. Since the third grade he’s been experimenting with wood projects and fine-tuning his craft. Now, many decades later, Spielman has written more than 60 woodworking books, taught thousands of students the art of woodworking and serves as an expert on a variety of woodworking topics, including scroll sawing. His book, The New Scroll Saw Handbook, includes more than 350 pages and 500 photos, offering every conceivable piece of scroll-sawing advice. The book explains how to master tough inside openings, saw small pieces and thin stock, tackle joint bevel and compound sawing, along with offering tricks for inlay and relief.

“I’ve always found that scroll sawing is good for your mental health; it’s a confidence builder and ideal for an entry-level woodworking activity,” says Spielman. “Scroll sawing has universal appeal. It’s ideal for all ages and both sexes, and can be extremely rewarding. More important, it’s a safe, relatively inexpensive hobby that brings tremendous self-satisfaction and a true feeling of accomplishment.”

Spielman offers an abundance of professional woodworking tips in his various books. For those looking for fast insights into scroll sawing, he lists his top tips as follows:

*Use your office copy machine to prepare paper patterns. Then, glue them onto the stock to obtain the most accurate cutting lines.

*If sawing difficult-to-cut materials (such as cherry and some plastics), cover the cutting lines with clear packaging tape. This will reduce burning or charring of difficult woods and reduce frictional heat when cutting plastics.

*Always concern yourself with safety. Know the dangers of what can happen when a blade breaks on your specific brand of machinery. Use a foot switch for added control and safety when scroll sawing. Avoid breathing in dust particles. And, beginners should use a work hold-down for added safety.

*If you are new to scroll sawing, find a mentor. Get personal help from someone who has been sawing for some time and can work with you to share his or her knowledge.

*Find scroll-saw demonstrations and teachers in your area. Contact your local Woodcraft store or visit for a full selection of educational opportunities available to you.

Woods and Tools

In addition to general tips on scroll sawing, Spielman offers a variety of insights related specifically to wood and tool selection, including:

*Forget about bargain scroll saws priced under $150 that promise the world, but don¹t deliver. Invest in a good saw, such as a 16-inch Delta variable speed with quick-change blades or a DeWalt 20-inch variable speed floor-type package. This investment will make your life easier and your projects more rewarding.

*Beginners should use a hold-down, a slow saw-blade reciprocating speed, and the widest blade that will allow cutting the detail dictated by the pattern.

*Gear your wood selection to the project at hand. Select less-expensive domestic woods for painted “utility type” projects.

*Make careful wood decisions. Highly detailed fretwork should be done on good domestic woods. Save the exotic woods for truly unique projects.

Using good wood is most important to Spielman. “I don’t buy into the idea that the more cut outs or inside openings in a piece, the better,” says Spielman. “I’ve seen where highly fretted work can overpower the piece of wood, and that¹s a sin. Scroll sawing should enhance a piece of wood, not destroy the beauty of it.”


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