What Is a Scroll Saw? – A Full Explanation

What Is a Scroll Saw? – A Full Explanation

If you do not know what a scroll saw is, I might be able to make the assumption that you are a beginning woodworker, or maybe you are a woodworker and might be looking to expand your hobby in a different way.  In particular, expanding into using the scroll saw.

What is a scroll saw?

A scroll saw is a woodworking tool that is used for artistic, detailed, and intricate wood working projects.  A scroll saw has a table, throat, scroll saw blade, blade clamps, small blower, tension adjustments, and variable speed.

The scroll saw is one of those tools that has a little more to it than just power on and off.  I have been scrolling for some time and I wanted to take some time to answer the question “What is a Scroll Saw?”, and I thought of 9 key features about the scroll saw that can help define what the tool is, and how a scroll saw works.


The Scroll Saw Table

A scroll saw has a table attached to it.  This table is essential for supporting your scroll saw project as you cut it out.

When you push the wood you are holding onto, you are pushing and holding firmly the wood to the table as you make cuts.  Keeping your project secure to the table as you cut is very important when cutting out your scroll saw projects.

Some scroll saws have larger tables and other scroll saws may have smaller tables.  If you have a larger table you will be able to support bigger pieces of wood.  Hence, create larger scroll saw projects.


Throat or Arm, Depth Can be Important

Most scroll saws have what is called a ‘throat’.  I never used the term throat until I read a few other scroll saw hobbyists using the term.  I like the the term ‘arm’ more but I suppose both words make sense.dewaltScrollSaw_Throat

The throat, or arm, is the part that starts from the back of the scroll saw and makes its way to the front of the scroll saw where the moving blade and other features of the scroll saw may be.

Typically, this arm is on a hinge so a user can lift the arm upward, after the scroll saw is turned off of course, to temporarily get the scroll saw arm out of the way for the user to possibly thread the blade through a pilot hole in their scroll saw project.f4410-marlin3

When purchasing a scroll saw one of the key points that might be mentioned about the scroll saw is the depth of the arm.  My Dewalt has a depth of 20″.  The WEN scroll saw, which came in a close second on purchasing my first scroll saw, came in at a 16″ arm depth.

The deeper the length of the arm, the larger projects you can rotate under the arm on the table.  Essentially you have more room to maneuver your scroll saw project on the table.


Scroll Saw Blades Are Not All The Same

Obviously a scroll saw will have a blade attached to it for cutting.  A scroll saw blade can be of various sizes and different styles.

Most scroll saw blades require the user to push the wood into it from one direction only.  That direction is typically pushing the wood away from you toward the back of the throat of the scroll saw.20181019_211003

This means that the scroll saw blade only cuts in one direction.  This however is not your only option.  They do have what is called spiral blades.  These blades may require a little bit more of an experienced user, or steadier hands, but they can cut in any direction.

The spiral blade has been quite useful for me when it comes to larger projects that may be difficult to rotate around on top of your scroll saw table.

If you are interested in learning more about scroll saw blades after reading this article please visit my post on Scroll Saw Blades: Choosing Your Scroll Saw Blades where I go into more detail on scroll saw blades.


Clamps to Hold Those Blades Down

To keep your scroll saw blade attached to your scroll saw, you will need to clamp the blade in.  Some scroll saws may have other means to secure the scroll saw blade to it other than clamps, but as for my Dewalt, it uses clamps.clamp

When I clamp in my blade to the scroll saw I need to be careful not to clamp it in to quickly or I will bend the pin end of the blade.  I have a little method where I start clamping it in, then I un-clamp it, then clamp again… until I can tell that my final firm clamp in will not twist the end of the blade to harshly.

When securing your blade with a clamp or other means, you will eventually get a good feel for how tight you need to secure the blade.  I know if I clamped down, or tightened the clamp, as hard as I could I would definitely cause some damage to the pin end of the blade.

However you don’t want to clamp or secure your blade to lightly or when you start scrolling it will come loose.  With some practice, one can get it down with a little experience and time.


A Blower Is An Excellent Addition

I don’t know that all scroll saws have a blower.  But I will say that if you are thinking of purchasing a scroll saw, a blower is a very nice option to have.

The blower is typically a flexible arm that comes from off the arm of your scroll saw.  It emits a small amount of air that can be focused on the blade as you cut out your scroll saw project.  clamp

Though one can just blow on their project every once and awhile if desired, the blower always keeps your lines visible when you are making  your cuts, if the blower is set correctly of course.

I usually just set the blower to blow right on the blade, but I don’t put the blower so close that it gets in the way of my cutting.


Be Careful With Tension Adjustment

After you have attached your scroll saw blade to your scroll saw, you need to put some tension on it.  If there was no tension, then you would have way too loose of a blade for adequate cutting.sawtension

My Dewalt came with a fairly strait forward tension setting arm with numbers in which I could set my tension.  Other scroll saws will likely have a similar way of setting tension on your blade.

You will eventually find a tension setting that seems to work for you if you start using a scroll saw.  On my Dewalt I use a tension setting of 1.5 to about 2.5.

If your are interested in more on the topic of tension, I describe in more detail in my article post Scroll Saw How to Use: 6 Easy Steps to Get You Started.


Variable Speed

Many scroll saws will have the feature of adjusting the speed of the scroll saw blade.  This regulates how quickly the blade oscillates back and forth.sawspeed

One might think that the faster the blade moves the faster I can cut, and in the same turn the slower the blade moves the slower it will cut.  In general this is correct.  However, there are some trade offs in setting the speed of your scroll saw blade.

These factors can include things like overheating, breaking more blades, and burning your wood when you cut.

When you set your speed on a scroll saw, typically you will end up leaving it at this speed for all your cutting.  I like to have my speed somewhere in the middle for my scroll saw.  This setting has served me well in many scroll saw projects.


Power Switch

Of course all scroll saws should have a power button or switch.  This switch can be in various different places for different scroll saws.  Typically all tools have a power switch of some sort.  I only mention this power switch as you will be using it quite often while using your scroll saw.

Some may use a special attachment of a pedal.  Pressing on this pedal will start the scroll saw running, releasing the pedal will stop the scroll saw.  This can be a very useful accessory but can also create some risk of danger if you accidentally step on it while trying to change out a blade.

I do not recommend the pedal due to if I wanted to be safe, I would have to unplug or switch off the scroll saw at a power strip or something similar before I felt comfortable switching out a blade.  And that seems like it would be very inconvenient.  With an easy to use power switch, I can shut it off and know I am not going to accidentally push the power switch when changing out a blade.


Scroll Saw Art

Part of what a scroll saw is will be a little bit of what a scroll saw does, or what it is for.  A scroll saw can be used for some simple cutting of things, but for the most part it is used for creating wood art.

This wood art can range from creating words, signs, jewelry boxes, and portraits of animals or other things out of various types and thickness of wood.

Additionally, there is something called Intarsia where you create works of art out of wood that can be in 3D or have some sort of dimension to the project.  Various different types of wood, typically based on color, can be used in Intarsia to add character.  Intarsia has definitely captivated me and my imagination.



I have gone through several points on the features of the scroll saw to help you understand what is a scroll saw and how a scroll saw works.  If you end up purchasing a scroll saw, make sure you take the time to read a bit of the manual to find out exactly all the features your scroll saw may have.

Additionally, read any warning labels to help you keep safe while operating your scroll saw.  Though a scroll saw is not as high powered as some of the bigger saws, safety with your scroll saw is important.

If you are interested in the scroll saw and doing scroll saw projects and wood art, check out my Tool Picks to see what tools and accessories I am using as well as any recommendations I might have.  And as always, thanks for reading and feel free to check out another article or two if you are interested.