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Questions From a Novice

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  • Questions From a Novice

    I've been reading these forums for a day or so now and everyone seems so friendly that I just can't help from mentioning my difficulties!

    I just started using my Craftsman scroll saw a week or so ago. I find it extremely hard to follow the pattern lines. I've only tried simple patterns, hearts, eggs, circles...

    When I stray from the line I turn the piece to get back on track but ususally get to close and cut inside the line, turn the piece to get outside the line and stray too far away (this repeats until I have sufficently mangled my piece enough that I need a jigsaw to hack away at the extra bits of wood.) Which in turn splinters enough that I spend more time sanding than anything.

    I'm thinking that I may be pushing too hard since the back of my blade has cut grooves into the plasting thing that comes off when I need to change blades.

    Either that or my blade tension is out of wack... I was very distressed when my manual said to tighten it until it plucks like a guitar string. I'm about as tone-deaf as a snail. I've tried so loose that the blade rattles and cranked so hard on the tension knob that I broke a blade before even using it. I got the the point that I would cut a bit, turn the nob, cut a bit, turn the knob, cut a bit... you get the idea. I didn't notice much of a difference anywhere along the scale.

    I have 2 blade sizes (not it a package so I can't say what they are) one is fine toothed and the other is coarse. Either one does the same thing. I'm cutting 1/4" plywood (the cheap stuff). And I find that max speed cuts easy, but gets off track quicker.

    As I write this I'm thinking that I need to find a beginner's guide rather than ask a bunch of silly questions...

    Well, in the mean time, any advice for the "line challenged" is greatly appreciated!

  • #2
    I would first suggest John Nelson's Scroll Saw Workbook. Click on the Fox Chapel Publishing link above (that's our parent company) or check out some scrolling supply companies (most carry it).

    I'd suggest practicing, first, with some inexpensive pine. The first exercise in John's book is a bunch of straight and curved lines to practice on. He suggests 3/4" pine.

    1/4" plywood is hard to keep on a straight line on; it's too thin. That's why many scrollers stack cut with thin wood; it's easier to stay on the line!

    I'd also work to gradually get back on the line rather than cutting straight back on to it. Remember, once you remove the pattern, people would be hard pressed to see your mistakes.

    Welcome aboard, by the way!

    Bob Duncan
    Technical Editor


    • #3
      You're not encountering difficulties that other scrollers haven't experienced. Bob's suggestion of trying the John Nelson book is a good one - many scrollers have learned the basics (and a bit more beside) in that way.

      It strikes me that what you're doing now is over-compensating when you veer off line. It's very common for a beginner to do this but more practice will soon have you aiming true. It's like learning to drive: when you first start, you tend to wobble all over the road but later you start to look further ahead and drive more smoothly. In time, you won't be worried about where the blade is actually cutting - you'll be concentrating on a point an inch or so ahead of the blade.

      Correct blade tension is another skill that you'll pick up over time. All newcomers should expect to break blades when they first start. It's one of those unfortunate things. But as you gain experience, you'll find your blades last longer.

      Hang in there and persevere. There's lots of skilled scrollers here who'll offer you every encouragement; many of us know exactly how frustrating this craft can be at the outset because we've been where you are today.


      PS Welcome to the forum .
      There is no opinion, however absurd, which men will not readily embrace as soon as they can be brought to the conviction that it is readily adopted.
      (Schopenhauer, Die Kunst Recht zu Behalten)


      • #4
        I liked John's book because it forced me to practice...I naturally wanted to jump in over my head, but the book encouraged me to learn the basics first. I did that first exercise probably 20 times before I was satisfied with my work...and after that, I breezed through the rest of the book!



        • #5

          Welcome to the forum! Don't get frustrated.

          Just understand that that scroll sawing is an eye-hand thing. That means it is a skill. You have to go through a learning curve. It ain't hard to learn, and it don't take long. But, you do have to go through the learning curve. But look on the bright side, you don't have to spend your money on lots of jigs and cutting aids like other woodworkers.

          The best advise I can give you at this point in your learning is to keep your thumbs off the wood. Push the wood with your finger tips using your whole lower arms. The back of your hands should be straight. No allowing your wrists to touch the table. Did you ever see bowling gloves? Pretend both of your wrists have bowling gloves on.

          Also, watch you sideways pressure on the blade. Let the blade do the cutting. For example, do a little cutting in scrap wood, then stop moving the wood while the blade is still cutting. The blade should not cut forward or sideways when you stop moving the wood. Judging the feed rate of the wood past the blade will come with time.

          Most common error for newbies: too little tension on the blade. Don't be shy about putting the tension on. Don't 'put you back into it' or use any tools to add tension, but as I said, don't be shy.



          • #6
            If you can't hear the music, then you can try tensioning the blade so that it won't move side to side more than about 1/8" with ease. That's about OK.

            Having found a good tension that cuts OK for you, you could mark the tensioning knob with a speck of paint so you can always find that setting again. Of course different blades may want adjustment from that point but at least you know you're in the same ball park as last time.

            When I'm following a delicate, intricate cut which is a lot of the time since I like to make jigsaw puzzles, I like to have the saw speed turned down low as I find it gives me better control. That's not true for everybody but it is true for me.

            If you are cutting grooves in the plastic insert you are definitely pushing too hard! If you can't cut without pushing it into the plastic insert then the tension is too slack or the blade is exceptionally poor - or even in the wrong way round. You do have the teeth pointing downwards yes?

            If you have cut outside the line you can use the saw like a file and shave at the edge, that often does the job. It also does take a little time to get used to the right-ward bias of the blade, caused by small burrs on the teeth (deliberately there so the cut is wider than the blade and thus allows you to make turns). You could try making some straight cuts on a piece of scrap wood to get a feel for the bias if you haven't already, and try sitting with your body on that line rather than full on. Might help.

            It also sounds like you'd do better with some good blades. The blades that come with the saw will probably be not much good. Try Olson, Pegas or Flying Dutchman blades. The latter come from and you can get a sampler pack to try out a range of blades.

            "If you march your Winter Journeys you will have your reward, so long as all you want is a penguin's egg."

            Saws: AWSF18, Meccano Mk II


            • #7
              As you are discovering, a lot of factors conspire to keep you from being able to follow the line. One you may not have realized is that most blades have a natural tendency to drift to the right. This is due to how the blades are manufactured. Some are better than others, most scrollers compensate for it and get used to it over time.

              Let's start with blade tension. I prefer a very taut blade. There should be very little deflection, once the blade is tensioned. Next feed rate, if you are wearing grooves in the back of the throat plate, then you are pushing too hard. Scroll saw blades don't cut fast like other power saws. Take your time and let the blade do the work. Scroll saw blades will also dull quickly, so don't hesitate to replace it once you notice a drop in performance.

              Higher blade speed will help you cut faster, but will wear blades out more quickly and is less forgiving when trying to follow a line. Slow your blade speed down a bit to get more control.

              Material - thinner material is easier to cut, but that also makes it harder to control. Thin material offers less resistance to the blade, so you will drift off the line much more readily.

              Take some time to peruse Mike Moorlach's (Flying Dutchman) and Rick Hutcheson's websites (links provided from this website - see Other Great Sites over to the left of this page) to learn about blades and their proper application. Using an aggressive blade in thin material will make it more difficult to control the cut.

              Above all, practice, practice, practice. Starting with a less aggressive blade (generally the higher the TPI, the less aggressive the cut) and thicker material, slow the blade speed and feed rate down and you will find it easier to follow the lines. If you drift off, don't try to correct it all at once. Gradually work your way back to the line and the error may not even me noticable in the finished piece. Good luck and have fun making sawdust!
              Homer : "Oh, and how is education supposed to make me feel smarter. Besides, every time I learn something new, it pushes some old stuff out of my brain."


              • #8
                that's when sanders and files comes in handy...

                it's hard to get a nice straight cut...
                you can get a cheap belt and disk sander combo for about a $100 and that will clean up those cuts real nicely...

                Hawk G-4 Jetcraft
                Fish are food, not friends!


                • #9
                  wow, thanks a ton for all the great replies and advice!

                  I tried a few of the ones mentioned and am already having a lot better success. I switched to cut some 3/4" cedar scrap I had laying around and it really forced me to slow down... I couldn't go mach 12 so I ended up putting less pressure on the blade.

                  I'm sure I'll get better with time (as much as my 11 month old will allow) but I'm happy with a one day improvement. (No jigsaw, just a bit of sandpaper on the letters I cut out tonight.)

                  The ideas on hand positioning and balde tension helped too, that is once I realized there were two knobs and read about them in the instruction book (instructions... who needs instructions?!?!)

                  I also think I'll get one of the books with practice patterns. I tend to jump in the deep end, only to realize I haven't learned how to swim... But with all the awesome examples on this site I'm looking forward to making some cool stuff.

                  As a side note, this must be one of the most encouraging forums I've ever read or posted on, many many thanks to all! One day I hope to be able to help others as you are helping me!


                  • #10
                    Hey welcome to the club! You are cutting the worst wood I can think of for following lines. Too many gaps in the plys. Also with your tension remember too tight is better than not tight enough. Practice & then practice some more. Search the Net for freewoodpuzzles & get some 3/4" pine & cut away.


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