what is a scroll saw used for

There are many different types of cutting tools available for home DIY usage. These include jigsaws, circular saws, mitre saws, reciprocating saws, and hand saws. However, if you want to make creative and detailed crafts from materials like wood, there is no better tool than the scroll saw.

A scroll saw is a great tool that can be used for a variety of work including fretwork, inlays, and creating beautiful wood cuttings. It is the creative person’s best friend and a versatile tool that DIY enthusiasts would benefit greatly from owning.

If this sounds interesting, we have created a detailed guide on what is a scroll saw used for and exactly what this tool is – enjoy!

Dissecting the Scroll Saw – What Is It?

First, let’s look at the scroll saw and how it works. Generally, this tool is used on a table or work surface and is a stationary object. It is not meant to be a handheld device. Its components include the main blade motor, a small material table, and a C-arm with a blade attachment.

The frame is generally heavy-duty and the arm is made from durable materials to provide a stable base to cut from. The blade is attached to the arm, and it passes through the table to a secure fixture underneath. You then run the material you wish to cut along the table and push it through the blade to create a cut.

This is great for woodworking projects that require cutting small pieces of material into detailed patterns and shapes. The table is also usually adjustable in height to give greater control over the blade and cuts. You may also find that the device comes with a range of different blades that are suitable for different types of materials.

General Types of Scroll Saws

There are generally two types of operation for this device too – pedal and button.

power on and off buttons Button-Operated

Button-operated devices have an on/off switch and you simply press the power button to start the motion of the blade. There may also be a variable speed dial that allows you to control the speed of the blade – this is important when dealing with different materials.


You can also get pedal-operated devices. These have a foot pedal that is attached to the device via a power cable. You place the foot pedal on the floor and control the speed of the blade using your foot. The more pressure you apply, the faster the blade moves. With a pedal-operated device, you usually have the main power switch that gives power to the blade first – the pedal simply starts the motor and the cutting action.

Using the Scroll Saw – What Can It Do?

Now that you understand what a scroll saw is, we can discover what you can use one for! Scroll saws are incredibly versatile devices and they can be utilised for so many projects. The main premise is that a scroll saw can be used for intricate cutting work – usually with wood.
Other saws, like circular saws, hand saws, reciprocating saws are meant for more general cutting, where precision and intricate shapes are not important. This is what sets the scroll saw apart. It is perfect for DIY hobbyists, craftspeople, and creative types who enjoy making beautiful and detailed designs, making precise cuts in resistant materials.

The following are some of the specific tasks you can do when scroll sawing, however, this is by no means an exhaustive list:

  • General material cutting
  • Cutting of wood, sheet metal, plastic, and more
  • Inlays
  • Fretwork
  • Jigsaw puzzles
  • 3D puzzles
  • Toys
  • Wood carvings
  • Intarsia
  • Joinery work

At its most basic, a scroll saw is great for making cuts in thin sheet materials. Generally, they can make cuts in materials less than two-inch-thick. However, a scroll saw can make cuts in other materials like aluminium, copper, brass, plastic, leather, and rubber. Essentially, it can cut any thin material less than two inches thick, providing you get the correct blade attachment.

If you enjoy making jigsaw puzzles, games, and toys, a scroll saw could be the perfect tool. Due to the parallel arm and excellent control of the blade, a scroll saw can cut pieces of wood in many shapes and sizes. The cutting motion has a fast speed, and you simply have to direct the pieces of wood to make patterns. This means you could easily cut out circular jigsaw joins, or make beautiful wooden toys.

A scroll saw is also perfect for general woodwork and joinery. For example, if you need to make wood joints like a dovetail joint or joints that have extra strength, a scroll saw provides the accuracy required. You can easily mark the joint and desired cut on the wood beforehand, and follow the drawn line with a smooth cut from the saw.

Pro Tip – We always advise wearing a dust mask and protective goggles. This will protect your face and eyes from any dust and debris.

Also, a scroll saw is excellent for advanced wood techniques. For example, you can make beautiful fretwork easily with it. This is possible because the tooth blade is generally removable. As a result, if you pre-drill a small hole in the wood, you can slide the tooth blade through, and make a scroll saw cut without starting from an edge. This gives excellent flexibility and allows your creativity to shine.

Aside from detailed fretwork, you can also use a scroll saw for other techniques like inlays. Wood inlays can make for beautiful floors and panelling and a scroll saw is ideal for this process. You can easily cut grooves in the main piece of wood to a high degree of accuracy. Also, you can then cut the inlay pieces to fit inside too.

Alternatively, you can try your hand at more complex inlaying techniques like intarsia. This is a type of inlaying that has been practised for hundreds of years. It usually involves the creation of more intricate and detailed patterns within larger pieces.

Advantages and Disadvantages of a Scroll Saw

Now that you understand what you can do with a scroll saw, let’s consider the specific advantages and disadvantages of this type of saw. They are not perfect by any means, and a scroll saw is also not suitable for all kinds of cutting, or any pieces of wood. It is a great tool, however as you will see from the advantages below:

Advantages of Using a Scroll Saw

Using this type of saw presents many advantages. Listed below are the reasons why people invest in these tools.

1. Scroll Saws Are Great for Cutting Complex Designs

Firstly, and most importantly, a scroll saw is excellent for cutting advanced and intricate designs like dovetail joints, curved edges, jigsaw pieces, and craftwork like nameplates and lettering. No other saw can cut a piece of wood to the degree of accuracy and control that a scroll saw can.

2. Scroll Saws Are Safe to Use

Secondly, despite their larger size, scroll saws are incredibly safe to use. Most blades will have a metal guard that gives good protection for your hands and fingers – you should not be able to get close to the spiral blades. Also, most tools will have safety power switches and built-in safety mechanisms to prevent electrical issues and overheating, etc.

2. Scroll Saws Are Easy to Use

Thirdly, this type of power tool is also easier to use than a manual jigsaw. A jigsaw is essentially a portable, handheld version of a scroll saw. Whilst jigsaws offer greater portability, they are harder to control. When scroll sawing, you can rest the material on the saw table and you have two arms available to control the movement of the material and the resulting cut. As a result, it also puts less strain on your arms and hands, and after the initial installation, there is no heavy lifting involved.

Disadvantages of Using a Scroll Saw

Although these power tools are great, they do have some drawbacks which are important to understand.

1. Scroll Saws Requires Fixed Installation

Firstly, scroll saws are immovable and not handheld objects. As a result, you need a dedicated table or work area to house one. Ideally, you need a large workshop, garage, or shed, with enough space for a sizeable workbench. Also, the room should have decent ventilation or access to a dust blower.

2. Scroll Saws Can Produce a Lot of Dust

This brings us to the next drawback. As with any type of saw blade, scroll saws make a lot of dust and debris. This can be dangerous to your health if you breathe it in. Also, it can make working with this type of tool messy and a chore to clean up afterwards.

3. Scroll Saws Are Not Designed to Cut Straight Lines

Finally, when using a scroll saw, you cannot easily cut straight lines. It is designed specifically to make intricate cuts with curves and twisting edges. If you try to cut straight lines, you will find the results ineffective – even when using a guard or guide sheet.

How to Choose a Suitable Scroll Saw

To finish, let’s look at how you can choose the right saw. There are various models available. Whilst the different models will all have certain design features and look similar, they will have many differences in their features and operation.

Before choosing a scroll saw, we advise thinking about how you intend to use it. What scroll saw projects do you want to work on? Will you use it regularly for work projects? Or do you simply want a scroll saw for your DIY hobby? This will affect what specifications, features, and price you look for.

Also, consider the space you have to keep a scroll saw. These are quite bulky devices and you need a good space in your workshop to fit and use a scroll saw comfortably. Once you have thought about using the saw, and where you will put it, consider the below factors:

Size and Weight

Firstly, as mentioned above, scroll saws are quite large tools. Also, saws will have varying dimensions and weights, depending on the type. For example, you can get smaller scroll saws that take up less space, and are suitable for lighter projects. Alternatively, you can get larger scroll saws that are more akin to bandsaws in size and are perfect for the heavy-duty projects you may be working on.

We advise deciding on a good spot for your scroll saw beforehand. Ensure it has a power outlet in close proximity, and that it has a stable, level surface. Also, we advise taking precise measurements so you know exactly what size saw you can comfortably fit.

Machine Operation

Next, consider the operation of the machine. Saws are operated in different ways. Some may have a simple on/off switch for the blades. Alternatively, the most common operation method is a pedal.

Many scroll saws have a foot pedal that you can place on the floor. You simply apply pressure to the foot pedal to start the motor and the sawing action of the blade. A foot pedal offers far greater control and also means you have both of your arms free to control the wood or other materials.

Pro Tip – If you prefer a foot pedal operation, check if the pedal merely has an on/off function, or if it is a pressure-based operation that increases the speed if you push the pedal harder.

If you opt for a pedal operation design, make sure the connecting cable is long enough to reach from the work surface to the floor. Also, keep in mind that unless you are used to foot pedal machines, this type of operation may take practice to get used to.

Cutting Blades and Flexibility

It is also important to consider the scroll saw blades and the flexibility the machine provides. How thick are the blades? What materials can they cut through? How durable are the blades and can you easily purchase replacement blades from the manufacturer? These are important questions to ask and may have a bearing on how you can use the device.

Some machines may provide a range of different blades and attachments for tasks. For example, you might get a fine blade for more intricate work, and a range of standard blades for bulk work.

Safety Features

man cutting the letter M out of wood When utilising any type of saw, safety is also highly important. Scroll saws are generally safer than other manual and handheld saws, however. This is because your full attention is concentrated on the cutting process as opposed to holding the device or pulling a trigger, etc. Below are the basic safety features to look out for:

Protective Cover

Firstly, the blades should ideally have some covering or protective guard. For example, some devices have a transparent guard that shields you from the blade but still allows you to look at the sawing process.

Slow Start/Stop

Also, check to see if the machine has any slow start/stop feature, or automatic cutout feature for extra protection if you start the sawing action by accident.

Maintenance and Blade Changes

Finally, you should need to look at the maintenance of the scroll saw. Does the tool have any dust extraction capabilities? Some tools do have a built-in dust extractor that can protect you from wood shavings. Others may have a dust blower that helps remove wood dust from your work area.

Also, how easy is the tool to clean? Is it made from materials that can be washed and wiped? Is it durable and made from protective coatings?

Blade maintenance is also vital as this will dictate how easily you can use the tool and how often you have to change the blades. Will you need to purchase manufacturer blades or can you use cheaper third-party alternatives? How easy are the blades to change? What long will the blades last and will using them to cut thicker materials have a detrimental effect?

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can a scroll saw blade cut through metal?

Yes, most scroll saws can comfortably cut through sheet metals like cold-rolled steel, aluminium, copper, and brass.

2. What is the difference between a scroll saw and a band saw?

Despite performing the same function, a good band saw has a much larger size – similar to the size of a vending machine, for example. You would typically find band saws in a joinery workshop. Due to the size, band saws are not really suitable for home-usage; this is where the smaller scroll saw is perfect.

Final Thoughts

Now you know what is a scroll saw used for you will have a better idea of whether or not this tool would be a useful addition to your workshop. You should think about what materials you work with and what types of projects you often work on.

It is also important to consider if you have the space – if you don’t have much room on your workbench then a scroll saw may not be a suitable option. Make sure you think it through before making a rash decision that may leave you with a saw you are unable to use!

What projects do you use your scroll saw for and do you have any handy tips?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *