Sturdy and powerful. Users like the numbered blade tension dial, and blades are very easy to change. Operates smoothly and relatively quiet. Good warranty service.
A few reports of blade alignment being significantly off center. Bevel control knob broken for some users on arrival.
Users like the price and its ease of setup and use. Takes either pin or pinless blades. LED light is bright enough for most cutting work. Hassle-free warranty replacement.
Switching blades can be a hassle. Vibrates heavily if not clamped down well to a sturdy surface. Sawdust doesn’t clear away as well as some users would like.
Cuts through hard woods easily, running smoothly with little vibration once properly bolted down. Makes precise, sharp cuts with good control.
Pinless blade adapter is clunky to use. Some reports of units not working on arrival or failing after a few uses. Air blower hose can pop off when cover is lifted. LED light isn’t bright enough for many users. Larger cuts can be problematic.
Experienced users have little problem making straight, precise cuts. Compact and relatively easy to move around if needed. Sets up quickly.
Single speed only. Has trouble with thicker wood pieces over 1 inch. Vibrates too much for some users. Some feel that it’s too flimsy for regular use.
Scroll saw and included table are easy to assemble, users note. Has good power, and cuts smoothly and quietly.
Less experienced users may go through quite a few blades getting the hang of the saw. Plastic blade surround tends to wear out after a few uses. Tends to vibrate even when firmly attached to included table.
We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.
The scroll saw is a fascinating tool, enabling you to cut intricate shapes in all manner of different materials, and create beautiful craft projects for your own pleasure, or for sale. The machine itself is very safe, and relatively straightforward. There's plenty of choice, so finding a good one shouldn't be difficult. Unusually, the problems don't arise from there being big differences between models. On the surface, they can appear quite minor. Nevertheless, those differences are vital. So BestReviews got on the case to help you learn about the details, and to provide the information you need to make the right buying decision.
Each of the tools we recommend surpasses the standards we set for performance and value. For those who'd like more detail about what makes a top scroll saw, we've assembled a buying guide to help you establish what's important.
A scroll saw is, in essence, a powered fret saw or coping saw. A short blade runs through a hole in a work table. The blade is supported at top and bottom by an arm. The arm moves up and down at high speed, creating the sawing action. The work piece is fed into the blade, guided by the operator's hands.
Early scroll saws were foot-powered, using a treadle system. They were big beasts, as much as four or five feet tall, used for commercial cutting of veneers, inlays and decorative moldings.
Modern scroll saws, with electric motors, are a much more compact tool. They all have very similar components and virtually identical layouts. The devil is in the detail.
Scroll saws are comparatively safe, but you should still wear goggles. Avoid loose sleeves or neckties. Long hair should be tied back.
So what do you need to look for? The following are key areas:
Although single speed machines were once common, variable speed motors are now the norm.
Variable speed is valuable because it allows you to work at the speed you feel comfortable, and lets you change speed to suit different materials.
The best scroll saws offer a range of approximately 400 to 1600 spm (strokes per minute). Motors show little variation in power from one manufacturer to the next, usually rated as 1.2 or 1.3 amp.
Some hardwoods can be burned by the speed of the scroll saw blade. A layer of clear packaging tape on the surface of the wood prevents this by lubricating the blade as it cuts. Peel the tape off once finished.
This is the part that controls the blade motion, up and down. There are three kinds of arm:
A C arm has a single pivot point at the rear, so this type of saw cuts in a slight arc. These scroll saws cut very aggressively, and tend to “run on” when the blade breaks. It's a commercial design, and it's unlikely you'll come across one.
Parallel arm is the most common type. Each of two arms has a pivot, forming a parallelogram and giving a near vertical cutting action. Safety is good, because when a blade breaks, the saw stops on its own.
Parallel link (or double parallel link), is a relatively recent development of the parallel arm. It's a complex linkage that converts horizontal to vertical motion, creating very little vibration in the process. Because of component cost, it's usually only found on high-quality scroll saws.
An additional feature on some scroll saws is the ability to raise the upper arm, making blade changing faster.
Vibration is the enemy of accurate scroll sawing. Although most scroll saws are light enough to be moved around without difficulty, they are best permanently mounted, either to a stand or a workbench.
Two things define the capacity of your scroll saw, throat depth and thickness of cut.
Throat depth is the distance from the blade to the frame at the rear of the saw. A few scroll saws start at 14 inches; the majority of entry-level saws are 16 inches. This is ample for many. If your saw is cutting 16 inches from the center to one edge, you actually have a practical maximum of twice that: 32 inches.
High-end saws might have 18, 20, 24 or even 30 inch throats, enabling you to cut massive pieces of wood. In truth, way beyond the needs of most – though there is an undeniable pleasure in using these excellent machines.
Maximum thickness of cut varies little, and is usually around 2 inches.
Never force the work into the blade. If it's not cutting easily, the blade needs changing. Blades cost pennies. If you want to produce accurate, quality work, you need to change them often.
Though scroll sawing often involves working with small, intricate pieces, a substantial table surface makes it easier to control large work. Our preference is for cast iron, which adds to overall stability and helps damp out vibration. Steel and aluminum tables also exist.
Most tables tilt 45 degrees in one direction, so you can make angled cuts. A few tilt left and right. On one or two it's the arm that tilts rather than the table, making control of the workpiece easier – though these are rare. A scale is usually provided so you can set angles quickly. It's nice to have a positive stop, so you know when you've returned the table to its original position.
Scroll saw blades are either pinned or pinless (also called plain-end). Pinned blades locate more positively, and are often preferred by beginners. More advanced users tend to choose pinless, which can be changed more quickly, and are often better quality. They also come in a greater range of sizes. Most good scroll saws can accommodate both types.
You change blades a lot when using a scroll saw, so you want it to be as simple as possible. On cheap scroll saws you often need a couple of additional tools, which some find frustrating. High-end models offer toolless blade changing, thus speeding up the process.
Scroll saws have a small, plastic insert around the blade, removed for blade changing. These often wear easily. You can use your scroll saw to cut your own replacements from acrylic sheet.
Your scroll saw should come with a hold-down or foot, which helps keep your workpiece firmly against the table surface as you cut. Experienced scroll sawers sometimes remove them, but you'll want to use it at first until you get comfortable with your saw.
The up and down motion of the arm is also used to operate a small bellows hidden inside the machine. This blower allows you to have a small tube that blows air across the work area, clearing dust from the cut line, so you can see it better.
Some scroll saws include a flexible work light.
A dust port is a good feature, so you can attach an extractor or workshop vac. Anything you can do to manage dust makes your environment a more pleasant and safer place to be.
If you use your scroll saw a lot, you might consider investing in a foot control. This allows you to turn the saw on and off while keeping both hands on the workpiece.
If you struggle to see fine detail, think about a magnifying lamp. Those based on the design of an anglepoise are particularly flexible.
There are two main problems that crop up frequently with cheap scroll saws:
Vibration. Excessive vibration affects accuracy, and soon makes the tool unpleasant to work with.
Blade clamp failure. Clamps break or fail to tighten properly, making the tool useless.
That doesn't mean a good scroll saw has to be expensive, but we would recommend you spend around $100 for an entry-level, 16-inch tool. You'll find a wide variety of very similar tools, from recognized brands, in the $100 to $200 range. Most are decent choices for those buying their first scroll saw.
The next step up is the semi-pro level. These are high-quality, 18- to 20-inch saws. It's likely you'll pay around $350 to $500 for one of these, but for your investment you'll get a scroll saw that should last you a lifetime, and is capable of cutting just about any project.
High-end scroll saws are only really for the full-time professional or seriously dedicated hobbyist. These range from 18-inch to massive 30-inch machines, and it's not difficult to spend $1,500 or more.
Rather than using expensive hardwoods, many scroll sawers use plywood. However, it's important to buy good quality (like Baltic Birch). Cheap plywood has voids that can ruin your project, and you won't know until you hit one.
Mastering the scroll saw takes time and patience. Start cutting slowly, speed up as you become comfortable with your machine. Many blades won't cut perfectly straight because of a burr on one side, made when the blade was stamped out. It's not a fault, but you do need to learn to compensate.
You'll spend a lot of time turning the machine on and off, changing blades, and adjusting tension. When choosing a scroll saw, make sure those controls are easy to reach.
Scroll saws create fine dust which can be both a fire and health hazard. You should always wear a mask, and use dust extraction or a shop vac to collect it for disposal later.
Q. Blade tension seems very important. Is it difficult to set?
A. No, but it takes a little practice. Don't be surprised if you break a few blades as you learn – everyone does. Tension is adjusted with a simple knob. The trick is judging the right amount. Unfortunately, every blade and saw combination is slightly different, so you'll need to get used to yours.
When you insert a new blade, add some tension, noting the number of turns. Try a test cut on a piece of scrap. If it wanders, tighten the blade a bit. Experiment until it's cutting well, making a note of the total number of turns. Bear in mind that as the blade wears it will stretch a little, so you might need to tweak the tension again. If it suddenly goes “ping,” you've overdone it!
It sounds a bit hit and miss, and initially that's true. It soon becomes second nature though, and once you've got the knack, changing blades takes moments.
Q. But why is blade tension so critical?
A. A blade that's too loose will deflect as you try to cut. It's also likely to break often. A blade that's too tight is less of a problem, but again, will likely break more often than a blade at correct tension.
Q. Can I cut sheet metal on a scroll saw?
A. If you get the right blade, absolutely. Cut rate will be much slower than for wood, but you can cut aluminum, bronze and brass. We don’t recommend cutting steel. With the correct blades, you can also cut bone, composites, leather, mother-of-pearl, plastics and rubber.
Q. Where can I get good scroll saw patterns?
A. Many woodworkers use free clip-art which, with a bit of modification, can be used to create interesting patterns. There are numerous books available, and a wide variety of scroll saw websites, many of which sell patterns you can download. Patterns vary from simple to extremely challenging, so whatever your level, you're bound to find something you like.
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