We asked Rick Hutcheson, our scrollsawing expert for the past decade, to pass along some tips for those new to the craft.
tool advice

Scrollsawing tips

Lots of woodworkers own a scrollsaw, but Rick Hutcheson goes way beyond that. The first floor of his two-level workshop in Grimes, Iowa, displays a row of newer scrollsaws that he'll readily evaluate for you, feature by feature. And upstairs, along with tables full of finished projects, you'll find a museum's worth of old, even antique, scrollsaws. We asked Rick, our scrollsawing expert for the past decade, to pass along some tips for those new to the craft. For more information, go to his Web site, scrollsaws.com, or buy his videotape, Rick's Scrollsaw Video: Scrollsaw Basics (item number 1857 at Meisel Hardware Specialties. Call 800-441-9870, or visit meiselwoodhobby.com. Price: $19.95)

  • Cut at slow speeds when you're learning. It's less stressful and more forgiving.
  • Learn how your blades tend to cut. Most will want to drift to your right, due to a burr that's created when they're stamped.
  • When cutting a curve, keep your eyes on a point 116 " in front of the blade.
  • Strive to stay on the line, but don't worry when you veer off a bit. In most cases, it won't make enough difference to be noticeable.

Stay safe

  • Wear safety glasses to guard against flying wood chips or the pieces of a broken blade.
  • Control dust with a nearby dust filter or, better yet, take it right off the table with a collector. Some new models include attachments that accept a shop vacuum hose.
  • Don't wear loose sleeves or any jewelry that could get tangled in the blade. If you have long hair, tie it back. Stock up on these.
  • A small assortment of blades will handle any situation. Rick relies on very thin #2/0, #2, and #5 blades for most of his work, usually in a skip-tooth configuration. The skip-tooth style features a long, flat gullet between the teeth.
  • Baltic birch plywood serves as a great material for most scrollsawing projects. The edges look good, and you won't run into voids, as you do with some plywood.
  • Patterns can come from downloadable Web sites, from computer software, or simply from children's coloring books. To make a permanent pattern, cut it out in plastic laminate.
  • A magnifier light helps you follow fine details, but can be tricky to use, so try it before you buy it. Rick recommends the kind with a fluorescent ring.

Buying advice

  1. Vibration and noise. A machine that runs smoothly helps you do better work and makes it easier to work for long stretches. Test variable-speed models at the same speed.
  2. Location of the controls. You'll use the on/off switch and the tension control a lot. Are they in convenient and safe spots?
  3. Blade-changing. Different manufacturers have developed very different systems. Change the blade a couple of times to get a feel for it, and decide which system works best for youu.
  4. The blower. Does it truly get the dust out of your way? Look for a good-sized bellows and a nozzle that you can position as needed.
  5. Cutting action. You'll find three arm types: C-arm, pararllel arm, and parellel-link. Rick prefers the C-arm for its aggressive cutting action, but a casual user won't be as concerned with speed.