Practicing using a scroll saw

I never imagined I’d own a scroll saw, much less find myself watching videos about “scrolling” and practicing with a scroll saw.  But that’s what I’ve been up to today.


Original Thorsen Plant Stand

Original Thorsen Plant Stand

Yeah, the next step on the little Thorsen table is to cut out these abstract designs in the skirts.  I don’t know how the Halls did it, but my thought was to use the scroll saw I got when I was making the Gamble Inglenook sconce.  I learned that sawing accurately on a scroll saw isn’t as easy as I’d hoped.  On the sconces it was mostly straight lines, I sawed as best I could then spent a lot of time cleaning up the piercings with sandpaper stuck to a piece of sheet metal to make a thin file (of sorts).

Piercing for the Inglenook Sconce

Piercing (pattern) for the Inglenook Sconce

My concern of course is that any little screw up in the piercing is going to show up like a nose wart on a beauty queen.  If I can cut them accurately the sawn edge won’t need much attention to be “finished”.  If it’s wavy and over cut, all of the sanding in the world won’t help.

I found a close up view of the piercing in the “taboret” from the Thorsen house, which has the same design.  Take a look at how nice those shapes are.

Taboret detail from the Thorsen house.  A little wider and 3.75" shorter than the "plant stand".

Taboret detail from the Thorsen house. A little wider and 3.75″ shorter than the “plant stand”.

So, what else could I do but spend some time practicing.  I’ll give away the surprise ending: I still need more practice.

I started by watching a couple of YouTube videos on scroll saw techniques.  This one seemed to have most of ht basics:

I downloaded the practice  pattern and headed out to the shop where I glued it to a scrap of 1/4″ pine, fit a blade in the saw and proceeded to embarrass myself.

Practice pattern glued to some pine

Practice pattern glued to some pine

The straight lines aren’t too bad.  That is to say, I didn’t totally screw those up.  The right angle turns are going to take some more practice, although I can do “ok” on those.  Curves, those are going to take a lot more work before I’m comfortable with them.  I did all of the practice elements, then decided I was tired of practicing and wanted to do the real project.  Luckily I didn’t give in to that impulse.

Practice circle

Practice circle

Instead I decided to practice on the same type of wood (Sapele) in the same thickness (3/4″) as the skirts.  I glued a pattern to the wood and drilled access holes for the blade.

Sample pattern

Sample pattern

I fitted a fresh “Flying Dutchman Ultra Reverse #5” blade, set the tension, slowed the speed way down, and went to town.  The results?  Not horrible, but no where near good enough for the table.  The long arcs are OK, the tight turns on the ends are tricky, you have to rotate the piece a lot factor than you would imagine.  The moon lander shaped arc on the end detail came out pretty sloppy in particular.

One word: MEH.  Almost, but no cigar.

One word: MEH. Almost, but no cigar.

The finish from the cut is very nice, if the cut is fair then it probably won’t need any sanding.  I tried some scroll saw sanding files to try to smooth out some of the undulations.  It helps, but the files are kind of a joke.  Using light pressure it would take several files to get the job done, and they really only work well on gradual curves.  They are marginal on tight turns, and useless on tight areas.  A spindle sander with a tiny drum might work in some areas, but I don’t have one of those.

I want to get this figured out though, I can see being able to cut accurately with this saw being a real asset for some of the furniture that I want to make.  Eventually I want to try doing “Greene & Greene style inlay” or Bolection Inlay.  More practice tomorrow.

Some detail sanding done, but this is certainly not going to fly (except into the kindling pile)

Some detail sanding done, but this is certainly not going to fly (except into the kindling pile)

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One thought on “Practicing using a scroll saw

  1. Good post Joe. I have the same problems with my scroll saw x 3. I put the practice cutout on my list of things to do.

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