What Is a Scroll Saw?

The scroll saw is an important tool for any wood or metal worker who wants to add a personal creative touch to their DIY home projects.

scroll-sawErikWestmann/Shutterstock

A scroll saw is like a powered, benchtop coping saw and is often pedal operated, for hands-free, adjustable speed control. If you’re a casual DIY enthusiast, you’ve undoubtedly seen one, and most woodworker hobbyists have probably used one. Should you buy one? Read on for help with answering that question.

What Does a Scroll Saw Do?

The scroll saw isn’t a top-of-the-list purchase for most DIYers or woodworkers, as it’s more of a specialty tool. But when making intricate cuts in small, delicate parts, especially fully enclosed cutting, it’s indispensable. If you have a specific design in mind, take a tip from these awesome stay-in-place scroll saw patterns.

Scroll saws enable you to either drill a starting hole and make cuts inside of a piece of wood or cut from the outside and work your way inward. Unlike a band saw, the blade is short, very thin and simply reciprocates up and down. Blades are available in various sizes and tooth patterns for use with different materials. While mainly used for wood, you can cut plastic, metal and even glass with the proper blade.

Find out where to store the blades here!

Different Types of Scroll Saws

Scroll saw size is determined by its throat. Throat size is the distance from the blade to the rear of the saw where it joins the table. The longer the throat, the larger the material you can cut. The sizes range from a 12-inch beginner model that generally costs a little more than $100 to up to 30 inches. You’ll see these larger scroll saws in commercial and industrial shops. These pro models carry a price tag in the thousands.

There are also different arm styles to choose from. The most common design is the parallel arm, which is the type you typically see in your local hardware store. There is also a scroll saw style, with two separate arms at the top and bottom of the blade, reciprocating up and down to cut. The other is the C-arm saw, which is similar to the parallel arm saw, but rather than two arms joined at the back, the arms are all one solid unit in a “C” shape. Finally, there is the parallel link type, which is the most extensive scroll saw cutting system on the market and it reciprocates with a pulley system. While this is a more complex and expensive tool, there is less vibration and thus more accuracy in the cuts making the parallel link scroll saw perfect for commercial use.

One way to customize a scroll saw table that is too small is to build this auxiliary acrylic table.

Do You Need a Scroll Saw?

There aren’t that many DIY uses for a scroll saw that another tool wouldn’t do more efficiently. As mentioned, it’s a specialty tool that does just one thing better than any other tool. So, unless you’re about to start a project requiring the precision of a scroll saw, such as intarsia (wood mosaic) projects or wooden children’s toys and puzzles, you don’t need one. If you are a tool junkie or experimental woodworker, if you don’t already own one, a scroll saw is probably already on your wish list. For those who own one, learn this quick tip of how to cut without burning.

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Eric Ridenour had his first paid published story in 5th grade. He went on to start his own music fanzine in the '90s at the age of 16. His writing has appeared in countless blogs and college news publications. Eric has been managing home DIY projects for over twenty years and continues to love it.