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Scroll Saws for Model-Builders

January 01, 2014



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Airfield Models (http://www.airfieldmodels.com)Scroll Saws for Model Building

A scroll saw allows inside cuts, such as in formers.  These cuts can not be accomplished with a band saw.  The first time you need to cut the middle from a plywood former and all you have is an X-Acto knife, you'll understand why a scroll saw is a nice thing to have.

Also see

 
 

Scroll Saw Features

Fancy Craftsman Scroll SawFeatures are listed in order of what I consider to be most important to least important.

  • Plain End (Pinless) blades

    There is a far greater variety of pinless blades than pinned blades.  Pinless blades also allow a smaller hole to be drilled so that finer cut-outs can be made.  That hasn't really been much of an issue with model aircraft, but for other types of work it is very important.

  • Tilt Table

  • Sawdust blower

    If your saw doesn't have one, you can make one easily using an aquarium pump and some fuel tubing.

  • Variable Speed

    It's a nice feature, but I got along for years without it.  Saws that don't have a variable speed feature allow you to make mistakes faster.  Being able to slow the blade down is very helpful for cuts that have to be very precise.

  • Work Lamp

    Another nice feature that you can get along without.  A fluorescent shop lamp (about $10) can be mounted on the ceiling over the saw.

  • Vacuum attachment

    My Craftsman saw has this feature, but I almost never use it because for whatever reason, my vacuum is never near my saw when I'm using it.  I just vacuum the table and inside the saw when I'm finished.

I currently own two scroll saws.  My older scroll saw is a Delta clone (I don't remember the manufacturer and the label is worn off).  The table is cast iron.  I added an aquarium pump with tubing as a sawdust blower so I can see the line I'm cutting to.  This saw does not have a variable speed feature but it would be more useful if it did.  It is worth the extra cost for this feature.  It served me well for nearly 20 years but is now a backup.

My newest scroll saw is a 20" Craftsman model.  It has all the bells and whistles (work lamp, sawdust blower, 2-direction tilt table, variable speed and vacuum attachment).  The saw has some significant problems, unfortunately.  I wouldn't buy it again.

The blade change setup is the most tedious of any saw I've ever seen.  It is easy to drop the hex key or blade down in the saw from where they are difficult to retrieve.  I permanently removed the left side panel which resolved that problem.

Inserts can be made for a variety of tasks to provide better support and reduce tear-outThe second problem is the red plastic insert.  It isn't flat or flush with the table.  It is also too flexible and the cut-out in it is too large.  These things caused a myriad of problems such as work catching on the cut-out for the insert in the table, poor support of small pieces, etc.

I made a new insert from aircraft plywood finished with lacquer.  I saved the plastic insert for when I have to cut metal so that the shavings won't tear up the plywood insert.

The blade can not be put in the saw sideways which seems really stupid.  The upper blade holder will rotate in 90 increments, but the bottom holder can not be rotated.  If the bottom holder was modified so that it could rotate, then unlimited length cuts could be made.

Lastly, the table rusts instantly.  I'm not kidding about that.  I was using the saw one day and dripped sweat on the table.  I could see the table beginning to rust within seconds.  So far no amount of wax on the table has resolved the problem.  I finally resorted to one of the most expensive waxes available and it has helped, but not entirely prevented rusting.  The wax I use now is 3M Ultra-Performance wax for boats.

My first scroll saw was an older Dremel model that I hope is discontinued.  It was the worst excuse for a tool I've come across barring cheap K-Mart screwdrivers.  The Dremel saw had a stamped sheet metal table that could pivot 45 in either direction.  On the front was a protractor-like piece that was secured by a wing nut to lock the table.  There was a notch that was supposed to be at 0 but was actually off a couple degrees.

Because of the way the notch was stamped, it was impossible to get the table level.  It either had to be in the notch or either side of it and 0 just happened to be right between the two.  I'm wondering if the Dremel factory is built on a slope or something because one the main problems I've had with their tools is misalignment.  The other problem is cheap bearings.  See my Dremel Tirade on the Moto Tools page.

High End Scroll Saws

These are the cream of the crop when it comes to scroll saws.  They are much too expensive for me and overkill for the kind of work I do.  While these saws are very high quality, they are intended for craftsman who's work centers around a scroll saw.

 
 

Scroll Saw Blades

In past years I had a heck of a time finding good blades for my scroll saws.  Most blades are too coarse or cheaply made from stamped sheet metal.  I've purchased just about every blade available from Sears, Lowes and Home Depot as well as various hardware stores.

None of these sources carry blades that can cut soft balsa smoothly, although I did find a blade that could cut plywood with no splintering.  Unfortunately, I don't remember where I got the blades and I ran out of them years ago.

Scroll saw blades stay sharp for only about 30 minutes to an hour.  They dull even faster when cutting plywood or metal.  Additionally, very fine blades that can cut balsa smoothly also break very easily.  A handful of blades won't last very long.  Once you find the blades you like, buy a lot of them.

I've found an excellent source of high quality scroll saw blades German made, Flying Dutchman brand.  These blades are milled, not stamped.  Assuming you select the correct blades, any material that we use can be cut with a very smooth edge.

Flying Dutchman blades are available from Mike's Workshop.  Mike also has good information on his site regarding using your scroll saw.

Send Mike an e-mail and he'll send you a couple free samples to try out.  Ask for the Superior Puzzle blade.  I've found it works very well on soft balsa.  For plywood, get a fine reverse tooth blade.  The reverse teeth will help prevent tear-out and splintering on the underside of the plywood.
Scroll Saw Blades attached to a magnetic strip on the side of the saw stand.

This seemed like a good idea at the time, but it had a couple drawbacks.

I attached a magnetic strip to the scroll saw stand to hold frequently used blades and the hex key used to change blades.

Unfortunately, every time I walked anywhere near the saw or use the shop vac in the vicinity I knock all the blades on the floor.  I also had no idea what type blade I was using and didn't know how much use the blades had.

I've found a better way...

Cut 1/2" PVC pipe and label it to store your scroll saw blades. I borrowed ideas from everyone here.  I used to have the problem of getting my blades mixed up.  When I stopped doing that I still couldn't remember which blade I currently had in the saw.

Mike (Mike's Workshop) suggested storing my blades in small PVC tubing.  I cut some 1/2" diameter tubing to 5-3/8" and used the labels Mike provides on the packages to label the tubes.  The tubes store neatly in a wood cigar box.

My buddy Mike (a different Mike) flies mostly electric models.  He puts a rubber band around charged packs so he knows which ones are ready and which ones need to be charged.

I put a rubber band around the tube of the blade I'm using.

Normally I don't put used blades back in the tube unless it's almost brand new.  However, it's nice to know what blade I used if it does a particularly good or poor job on whatever I'm cutting so I know what to use or not to use next time.

 
 

Band Saws

A lot of people love Band Saws.  I have limited experience with them, but when I did use a band saw, I didn't feel any pressing need to own one.  They are simply too big and coarse for the type of work I do.

However, I would have had to use a box cutter for the airboat I built, Marsh Hawk, had I not found access to a band saw and that would have really been unpleasant.

A band saw can cut thicker/harder materials than most scroll saws and are more accurate for straight cuts.

The more I read about band saws the more I realize that setting one up properly is an art unto itself.  Again, my experience with this tool is very limited so I'm not the person to ask about them.

 

 
 

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