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From Two Points of View

When it comes to scroll saw fretwork professionals, we don’t have to look far. It’s the teamwork of our own members Katie Nielsen and Jeff Dadd. Katie and Jeff are two Scrollers whose process may differ somewhat, but both find scroll sawing therapeutic. It’s relaxing and relieves their stress.


Fretwork is what most woodworkers do with a scroll saw. Others do Intarsia or segmentation, which takes a whole lot of sanding. Fretwork takes the least amount of sanding and uses the smallest size blades to cut sharp, clear, intricate designs.


The projects that Katie does are typically things that make pictures. She’ll take a photo, send it to someone like Steve Good from the Scrollsaw Workshop. He then turns them into patterns for her to cut out. She says, “Fretwork to me is just cut a hole, cut a hole, and cut a lot of them.”


Katie uses the technique of stack cutting on most of her projects. She’ll tape together two, three, or four pieces of wood (usually eighth inch or quarter inch spaulted birch plywood?) and cut them all at once. Her wood comes from Youngblood Lumber, Michael’s, or JoAnn’s Craft supplies. Since Katie is a teacher, she orders larger sizes of wood through her school.


Although Katie admits that you make a better quality product if you don’t stack cut, stack cutting works for her for several reasons: A) It takes less time, and she gets four projects for the work of one. B) The bottom of this plywood gets “little fuzzies,” so she only has to sand one rather than four pieces. C) You can cut a less expensive piece of wood without breaking too many pieces. D) If you alter one of the boards (accidently or on purpose) you end up with a very nice variety of similar projects, and no one knows the difference except you and the pattern maker.


When stack cutting, Katie uses tape to do her stacks. She tapes the pattern on with green painter’s tape, stacks the boards, and tapes the corners to get the pieces as flat as possible. If you don’t tape well, the project can become bowed in the middle, the wood can start flapping around, and pieces start to fall out.


She uses a drill press w/6” throat for drilling smaller projects, and a Dremel on a plunge router press to drill holes in the middle of a larger board. A $30 Dremel plunge router is much less costly than a Scroller’s drill.


Finally, she takes a torch to the back of the piece to burn back and wipe away the fuzzies. The results of the burning on the back made it look good enough to burn it on the front.


Jeff, on the other hand, does not stack cut. If he did, though, he would use drop-cloth tape supplied by Painters Green and available through Winfield Collection and Scroller. It is 8 ½“ wide and comes in either a 6 foot or 20 foot roll. This tape is two sided so it will hold the pieces together and you won’t have to tape the sides. It leaves no residue and no fuzzies.



Jeff uses this drop-cloth tape to put patterns on wood. Stack cutting doesn’t work for him because his projects usually have very, very thin and delicate pieces that break easily. He saves all of the pieces that he cuts out and puts them back in before sanding. After cutting and replacing the cut out pieces, Jeff peels the entire pattern off and then sands both sides of the piece without damaging it, using a variable speed sander set on its lowest speed. If there is any breakage, it is repairable and hardly noticeable.

Jeff mostly uses solid hardwood instead of plywood. He buys most of his wood from Rockler or Heritage Wood at http://www.heritagewood.com/ Recently he has been talking to a lumber supplier in Preston, MN called Root River Hardwood. They determined they could re-saw a five quarter piece of lumber to get three thinner pieces for about $2 a board foot extra. You’d get three pieces cut ¼” thick, planed and delivered to you for the cost of one retail 5” x 4’ piece of ¼” hardwood.


During the Q & A Session after the presentation, members asked about various resources such as drill bits and blades. Even for large projects, Katie uses a 1/16” drill bit whenever she can, and she uses the small wire bits for smaller pieces. To prevent a bit from walking, Jeff puts sandpaper on the bottom of the plunge router base. Jeff also suggested we look up Rick Hutcheson at:  Rick’s Saws – http://www.scrollsaws.com/, where you’ll find a drill bit chart and a blade size chart. Jeff uses .03 and .02 blades for intricate fretwork and Katie uses #3s and #5s for her pictures.


Regarding making their own designs, both Katie and Jeff have done a little bit, but they prefer letting the design specialists do that work for them. There are good tutorials on the Internet demonstrating how to use software to design patterns. There is an article in the recent issue of Scrollsaw Woodworking and Craft that gives a step-by-step explanation of “How to use Gimp” to design patterns.


They have used a variety of backing for fretwork, such as felt, plywood, black construction paper, and professional frames. You can use a piece of cardboard on the bottom of a stack to eliminate the fuzzies. Phil Lagarde has a whole bunch of doorskin (1/32” veneer African scrapwood). It is good for backing board, or you can glue it onto a piece of plywood to make it a little thicker. It finishes nicely if you want to stain it.
The NSS Scrollers are really fortunate to have members like Katie and Jeff who take the lead and share their talents with us. We extend our thanks to both of them.

Website Forums:  Scrollsaw Village and Scrollsaw Workshop.

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