The First Cut: How to Use a Scroll Saw

1. Gear up. Anytime you are in a workshop, you should take the proper safety precautions. First, make sure you're not wearing clothing that is baggy or ill-fitting. Tie up your hair if possible or put it under a hat. Put on safety goggles that cover your entire eye area (glasses do not count). If…

1. Gear up. Anytime you are in a workshop, you should take the proper safety precautions. First, make sure you're not wearing clothing that is baggy or ill-fitting. Tie up your hair if possible or put it under a hat. Put on safety goggles that cover your entire eye area (glasses do not count). If you have respiratory issues, consider wearing a dust mask. If you will be using the saw continuously for more than 10 minutes, wear hearing protection.

2. Take a look. You should always inspect your scroll saw in bright light before starting it. You will want to look for loose screws, stray bits of wood and anything else that looks out of the ordinary. While you're down there, double-check that you have the right blade installed. A spiral blade, which is a twisted blade, will give you 360 degree-control in moving your project. Reverse blades reduce spinters and scroll blades are right for thicker pieces of wood.

3. Get your project. If you have not already, make sure your wood project is ready to be cut. Double-check all of the lines on the project to make sure that they are in the right place. I usually use pencil for my lines in case I need to change them. Your project should be on a much larger piece of wood than the finished product will be, especially at the beginning when you're still learning how the machine works. Place your project under the workpiece guard, ensuring that it fits snugly.

4. Switch it on. Once you're ready for your scroll saw, turn it on. If it sounds like it's working normally and the blade does not snap, you may proceed. If this is not your machine, make a test cut on another piece of wood to get the feel for it. Use a higher speed for hardwoods and a slower speed for softwoods.

5. Start cutting. Using gentle pressure and keeping your fingers as far away from the blade as possible, slowly slowly guiding your project against the blade. Working slowly and with a gentle pressure is key to your project's success and to keeping your scroll saw's blade intact. At first, you might want to make several large cuts with breaks before trying smaller cuts.

6. Turn it off. Once you're done with your project or a section of it, immediately turn off the machine. Keeping the machine on could lead to shop accidents.

7. Change the blade. Scroll saws require regular blade changes. You should cede to the manufacturer requirements of your machine while you are a beginner. The blades tend to be held in place by quick-release clamps and a tension mechanism. Do not attempt to change a blade by yourself for the first time. Ask an experienced woodworker to show you how to change the blade and ensure that it is held in place properly. Then have that person supervise you while you change a blade.

8. If you're cutting brass, not wood, use a backer board. Brass is very sharp and full of burrs when cut. If you do not use the board, your project will scratch your table.

9. Cover up mistakes. Did you make a wrong cut somewhere? You might be able to revive your project. If you can, redraw the project slightly smaller the originally intended. If you were working on a reduction block and accidentally cut something out too early, retrace your drawing onto some wood, cut out the item against and put it back on the original item so you can level it out.

10. File and filings. Do not forget to use a file or wallpaper to smooth out the edges of your project. You also should immediately clean up any leftover sawdust from your project, as it can be dangerous if it gets into the air.