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Scrollsawing 101


By John Engler & Swede Bengtson


It’s not uncommon to hear a professional coach say something like “we’ve just got to get back to the fundamentals”.  That’s why Tiger Woods has a coach for his golf swing.  That’s why Joe Mauer has a batting coach.  It’s all about the fundamentals!  The same thing goes for those of us in woodworking.  Every once in a while it’s a good idea to go back over the fundamentals of our craft.  That is exactly what our very experienced scrollers, John Engler and Swede Bengtson did for us at the April NorthStar Scrollers meeting.


John started off the presentation.


·         THROAT SIZE – the distance from the blade to the back of the saw.  A 20” throat size is more than enough for 90% of the work you’ll ever do.

·         MOTOR POWER – better saws have greater power

·         VARIABLE SPEED – this is a highly desirable feature vs. the saws that only have 1 or 2 set speeds. Speeds vary a lot by brand.

·         TABLE SIZE – you can always add a top made of Formica, etc.

·         DUST BLOWER – important to get that dust away from your cutting line, and away from your face.

·         TILT SAW – on most the table tilts.  The Excalibur has the motor tilt.

·         BLADE CHANGE METHOD – avoid those that require a key or tool to do so.

·         CONTROLS – best to have your switches and dials up front.

·         SLANT TABLE – some like the table tilted down about 4” in the front. Can put blocks on rear table legs.

·         VIBRATION – the better the saw the less vibration.  Set-up is everything in this case.  A good, solid stand and a vibration absorbing mat under your saw make a big difference.

·         WEIGHT – you want a light saw if you are hauling it all the time to shows.  But, a heavy saw vibrates less.



·         BLADES – Do NOT buy a saw that uses blades with pins.  See Mike's Workshop for our favorite blades.

o    TPI (teeth per inch) makes a huge difference in what you are cutting.  The greater the TPI the slower you cut but the nicer the results. Reverse teeth causes less fray in your work.  Skip tooth blades cut faster.  PGT blades last longer and run truer but they cost more.  These blades are NOT stamped out like all other blades.  The right side of a blade (facing it) has the burr.

·         STAND – needs to be solid and best if heavier

·         SPOT LIGHT – illuminates your work

·         MAGNIFYING GLASS – makes the line easier to see

·         DUST COLLECTION – healthier to get that dust away from your lungs

·         FAN – often a box fan with a filter attached to the front of it

·         FOOTSWITCH – so easy to turn the blade on and off.  Allows you to keep your hands on your work.

·         SQUARE – use often to keep the blade perfectly square to your table

·         SITTING – is best to line up straight to the saw – not at an angle


Swede taught us the following about the very, very important step of getting your saw ready to use.



·         Set saw on vibration absorbent material – on a good quality stand.

·         Table surface should be so flawless that the wood can basically float across it.

o    SLIPPERY - For this you can use car polish or wax without silicone in them.

o    SMOOTH – clean the table surface well with a white Scotch Brite pad.  NO sandpaper, emery cloth or steel wool!

·         Remove the wood hold down contraption that comes with your saw.  It just gets in the way.

·         Insert the blade in correctly, with the teeth facing you and pointing down.  Please note that’s Mike’s blades require you to insert them with the dot/marking at the top.

·         Do NOT put in too big a blade for the job.  It will cut too fast and vibrate too much.

·         To get the blade in extra tight, so that you hear that High C note when you pluck it, put in the top of the blade first, push down on the arm, and then tighten the bottom.

·         Blade tension is CRITICAL.  Attaining that perfect “ping” when you pluck it is your prime goal.

·         The blade MUST be perfectly perpendicular to the table.  Check with a tiny t-square after each new blade is inserted.  You can also use that “blade checking block of wood” that was discussed in the last newsletter.   Swede suggests keeping it handy as all you have to do is see if your blade slides easily into it – if not, you are out of square. 

·         Also, try to make the blade perpendicular front the side view.

·         If you sand the back edges of your blade (while the saw is running), it will round the corners for you and will allow for better corner turns when cutting.

·         All blade ends have lubricant on them and so may slip.  Swede says we can sand them while lying flat to rough them up a little.  This makes them easier for the saw to “grip”.

·         Lubricate your saw if required (check your manual).

·         TIP: you know you’re running at the perfect speed (the sweet spot) when your dust air hose stops vibrating.

·         Saw at the speed that is most comfortable for you to handle with the particular wood you are using.

·         Get that coat of wax on your saw’s table prior to the summer’s humidity that is coming up soon.


So there you have it – words of great wisdom from two great scrollers.  This once a year, “fundamentals” brush up presentation is something that we can all learn from – no matter how many years we’ve been sawing.  Thanks a million to our scroll coaches John and Swede for the wonderful reminders and tips.  I’m betting there’s not a one of us who didn’t either learn something or was reminded of something they’ve forgotten about.  Happy Scrolling!

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