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We’re not going to lie to you, a scroll saw isn’t going to eat right through your 7-inch stock with the same speed and precision as some other tools out there. In fact, its not really ideal for joint-quality crosscutting either. On a more positive note, it does have certain characteristics that allow it to excel in other tasks that no other power tool can even come close to. When used with the properly sized blade, mortises can be cut, you can clean out the waste side in a plethora of hand cut dovetails (make sure to warm up first), or simply just saw right through those thin pieces of wood with remarkably low amounts of effort.
It excels when it comes to cutting curves and its ability to draft completely enclosed internal cuts in the wood. Take a few moments to change the blade, and now you’re focused on fretwork, designing patterns right into a thin panel of wood. The scroll saw has many talents, and for many individuals, it functions as a bedrock piece of equipment that they just couldn’t do without in their home workshop.
Similarly to your portable sabre saw, an up-down reciprocating movement is used for the scroll saw. Many of them are benchtop saws and intended to be bolted down to a work stand or sturdy bench. You’ll get the most use out of your saw if you do this as the vibration can be lessened by the sheer weight of a heavy support system.
The Best Saw Blade for Your Project
Not only do you need to consider the type of saw blade that is ideal for specific project (which we will cover further, in more detail below) but you should also consider the blade functionality of the saw itself. Blade controls are all different from one scroll saw to the next. Look for a saw that is equipped with fast-release features, which ensures a quick and easy change of the blade. Tension adjustment controls should be ergonomically located for easy adjustment and allow for finger-operation, generally we find the front of the unit to be the best location.
The standard scroll saw blade is designed to clear away sawdust as you are cutting. These blades come in both small and large teeth depending on if you’ll be cutting wood or metal. Regardless of size, the teeth should have teeth that are spaced apart from each in equal measurement.
A skip tooth scroll saw blade is more commonly used as it does not require a great deal of skill and tends to be one of the go-to blades for beginners. The skip tooth name comes from the fact that there is a single gap between the teeth. This blade is ideal when work consists of plastic, fibrous material, and a variety of kinds of wood. The double skip tooth is similar in design, but instead has a single gap between every two teeth on the blade, allowing for smoother cuts (ideal for dense wood and plastic materials).
A spiral scroll saw blade gets its name from being a twisted flat blade (the teeth are located 360° and results in sawing in all directions, simultaneously. Work does not have to be turned to make cuts, allowing for sharp inside corners to be made.
A crown scroll saw blade (also know as a two-way blade) is meant to cut specialty materials like plastic, Corian, acrylic, or Plexiglas. These blades cut on both the up and down strokes as the teeth are facing in both directions.
Other specialty blades like the reverse tooth scroll saw blade, ultra scroll saw blade, metal cutting scroll saw blade, or the diamond scroll saw blade (designed for cutting glass) are also out there. These are less commonly used and intended for the advanced saw users out there.
Most scroll saws utilize parallel arm drive designs, in which the motor is mounted on the rear of the equipment while the arms remain parallel regardless of how it is being used. Parallel link can also be found on some top-rated equipment, in which short and adjustable pieces that securely hold the saw blade can be pushed with rods that are placed in the upper and lower arms. Parallel link drive excels in its ability to reduce vibration and excessive noise levels while in use. Vibration from the standard parallel arm drive system can be dampened with the use of a cast-iron table or a heavy stand. C-arm and rigid arm drive options are also around, though they happen to be much less popular.
The capacity of a scroll saw is operationalized in terms of throat depth (total distance between the blade and the rear frame of the saw). Generally speaking, 16” or 18” capacity is a good range to go after for the typical home-user. For bigger work pieces, larger capacities are available though they often come with a heftier price tag. The depth of cut is what will determine the thickness of material that can be cut. The typical scroll saw is equipped to handle cut depth anywhere from 1 1-3/4″ to 2-1/4″.
Most modern scroll saws allow for variable speed selection, giving you the opportunity to adjust the speed to any setting that might be required as long as it falls within a specific range. Most scroll saws fall within a range of 400 strokes per minute (spm) to more than 1,800spm. Depending on the work to be completed and the material that is being cut, your desired speed will vary. Variable-speed controls with a multitude of settings allow you to get better use out of your saw. Decrease your speed for intricate, precision-oriented work, or increase the speed for a faster cut.
6 Features to Look For in a Scroll Saw
1. Cast-Iron Table – These tables are highly durable and ensure a smooth transition of your workpiece across the cast-iron. Compared with aluminum and other lightweight, low-mass materials, a cast-iron table is of great benefit by helping dampen those annoying vibrations.
2. Table Tilt – Some tables are designed to tilt in both directions, allowing you to bevel cut in the other direction without flipping the material. The table on the typical scroll saw tilts up to 45º (if only in one direction, its usually to the left). If beveling is only done occasionally, single direction table tilting is probably suitable for your needs. For those who bevel on a more frequent basis, a table that tilts in both directions should be sought.
3. Arm Tilt – Keeping beveling as the topic at hand, for those who find themselves struggling to cut on a tilted table, consider a scroll saw with a tilting arm instead. This allows for similar functionality as a tilting table, but instead allows you to make bevel cuts while your workpiece remains flat.
4. Arm Lift – If you frequently make interior cuts, a lifting arm (hopefully one that has a locking mechanisms so it stays in place) will likely result in more convenient and efficient use of your saw. A lifting arm allows the upper arm to be lifted resulting in a simpler thread of the needle through a pilot hole or while working on fretwork designs.
5. Ergonomic Adjustments – Adjustments shouldn’t be a nuisance. If you find yourself taking unusually long to make rather simple adjustments, this is going to get annoying pretty fast. All of your controls should be ergonomically located allowing for easy access and quick adjustments. Blade tension, hold-down foot, and saw speed may all require a specific tool for adjustment. The best scroll saw shouldn’t require many special tools to adjust (some don’t need any tools).
6. Dust Cleanup – Sawdust is not only distracting and gets in the way, and particularly seems to build up during those times where focus is needed, but it can be hazardous to your health. Dust ports allow for the connection of a sawdust collection system directly to the saw itself. This reduces the likelihood of inhaling the dust as it prevents it from getting into the air. Some scroll saws are equipped with a flexible dust blower, allowing you to clear dust off your workplace to ensure cut lines remain visible. Flexible dust blowers allow you to change both the position and direction of airflow. If you typically work indoors or in areas with very little ventilation, be careful with a dust blower so as not to force the dust into the air (this is especially important if you are not using a mask).
1. Delta 40-695 Review
The Delta 40-694 is a great 20-inch scroll saw, not only for the advanced woodworkers but also for those who are just getting used to working with this type of equipment – the 40-694 could easily be placed into the beginner’s category as it is easy to utilize the ergonomically located, electronically manipulated speed controls. The work light that is provided has decent illumination radius and in our tests did not have any problems with forming shadows. The adjustable air blower is also a great feature, allowing for easy dust cleanup so you can maintain those perfectly visible lines throughout your work.
The set includes the saw, a work light, dust blower, stand and an adjustable table. The table is one of the highlights to this product. The table is large and a bit heavy, but this is ideal as it dampens much of the vibration and ensures your equipment remains square in relation to the saw’s moving blade. Additionally, the table can tilt in both left and right directions, allowing you to continue cuts without flipping over your work material. The tension control is intuitive and placed in an easy to reach location. Another notable feature – the blades can be interchanged without the need for a special tool or any additional hardware (all that is needed is an adjustment with the quick-change blade camps included with the purchase). Packed with top of the line features and its intuitively positioned controls and adjustment mechanisms, the Delta 40-694 is a great addition to the workshop arsenal, for both beginner and advanced woodworkers.
2. DeWalt DW788 Review
What some might consider to be the Mercedes of the scroll saws, the DeWalt DW788 provides you with both a smooth, quiet, and efficient cutting experience. This 20-inch saw is larger than the typical 16-inch models, but for those who might need that extra few inch capacity, you should absolutely consider the DW788. Boasting a sleek parallel-link drive system, the DW788 is hard to compete with in most scenarios.
The on/off switch is adequately sized and positioned directly above the blade (this is ideal and it happens to be very easy to make contact for quick toggling). The tensioning mechanism is conveniently located right below the on/off controls and takes very little effort to adjust and properly set. The heavy cast-iron table tilts both in left and right directions. The pivoting upper-arm functionality is also an excellent feature that any woodworker should take pride in. The upper arm can be lifted once the blade clamp is set for release, making it much easier to feed the blade through a pinpoint starter hole in the work (great for starting internal cuts). The holddown position can be maintained when alternating from one internal cut to the next thanks to this upper-arm assembly.
For super-fine work, the holddown may be a bit too large and you might be better off going with one of our other top picks. Otherwise, the DW788 is a top of the line scroll saw that deserves your attention.
3. General International Excalibur Review
The Excalibur 16-inch scroll saw has a wide range of features that allow you to make precise cuts in a variety of materials. Intarsia, small toys, scrolling, refined woodwork, and fretwork, are all possible with this tool. To start, the tilting head is a great feature to have, providing you with stability regardless of the angle you are cutting at. The head tilts to a 45º angle. Remember, the difference between a tilting head and a tilting table is that with a tilting head, the work remains flat and stable. Some find this much easier to work with, especially if great accuracy is required. Greater precision is the result.
Blade clamps require no extra special tools and are essentially operated with your hands alone. Tension and speed controls are ergonomically placed allowing operation to come naturally and without much planning ahead of time. Another nifty feature – the Excalibur is equipped with blade storage into the base. The dust blower is powerful and positioning the airflow is a breeze. Lines will remain clean with very little effort as it is designed right onto the table allowing for easy and efficient use. The supplied stand should be assembled on a level floor, and has a excellent vibration dampening affect. The belt-driven mechanism allows the motor to handle many hours of use without much fuss from overheating.
4. WEN 3920 Review
The WEN 3920 is the best scroll saw under $100. With an included air pump, dust port, foot lock clamp, flexible light, and a pair of blades included with purchase, you can’t really get any better than this within this price range. The WEN 3920 is built with cast-iron which provides you with a stable base to work with precision and the least amount of vibration possible. The air pump is conveniently located above the cutting zone, and does a great job clearing away any extra saw dust. The 1.5-inch air port can be found at the front of the saw, which allows you to connect with your shop vacuum if blowing the dust into the air isn’t quite your thing.
The saw is equipped with variable speed controls, with stroke ranges coming it at 400spm to 1,600spm. This range is adequate for most cuts, though if you are a bit more advanced you may want something that can reach 1,800 strokes per minute or greater. The speed controls are positioned conveniently on the front of the saw, which ensures your body parts remain free from the sight-lines. The table can tilt to the left 45º, but unfortunately no right tilt is offered like some of the higher-end models we’ve already reviewed. A 16-inch throat depth ensures your ability to cut larger than average pieces. Also, the stroke length is great for a budget scroll saw.
The blade holder accepts pinned and pinless blades, though a special wrench is provided and required to change them. Two bolts are available for mounting, and as you know the mount is a great way to reduce vibration. Tension release can be found at the top portion of the saw and is easy to operate.