top of page

Live Scroll Saw Demo with Lesley De Abaitua

Lesley with Oak&Feather Decor


A scroll saw is used to create detailed, intricate cuts in a variety of materials. Unlike the bandsaw which operates with a blade in a continuous loop, a scroll saw uses a reciprocating blade that you can remove to thread through drilled pilot holes to allow small interior cuts. 

Scroll saws are classified in size by the length of the throat, which is the distance from the blade to the back of the saw. The Dewalt scroll saw that I use has a 20” throat. There are a wide variety of saws on the market, some smaller and some larger but I can tell you that the size of the saw does not limit the size of the projects you can make. The DeWALT is on the more affordable end of the spectrum in terms of cost, retailing around $700 CAD. 

The majority of newer scroll saws all take 5” plain end, or pinless blades, where 5” is the distance between the chuck heads on your saw. 

Some older saws take pin end blades. These saws are less popular because the size of the pin end on the blade limits the size of the interior cuts you can make because it requires your pilot hole to be drilled quite large. This style saw is typically the most affordable in terms of pricing. 


I have my scroll saw set up on my workbench because it allows me to stand while cutting, which is my preference. The DeWALT does have a stand you can use to adjust the height that allows you to sit. 

I have my scroll saw set up to use a foot pedal. I find it much easier to use with the deadman switch because it allows for a quick stop and start when doing a lot of detailed cutting. 


There are a lot of different blades you can use, and mostly everything related to the scroll saw is personal preference and experience. I personally use modified geometry or reverse tooth blades on all my projects and here is one I use quite often. But I’ll take you through a bunch of different kinds to show you the differences. 

When you look for scroll saw blades, you will find that they are numbered. The higher the number, the wider and thicker the blade and the less teeth per inch (or TPI). The lower the number, the thinner the blade and the higher the TPI. 

When selecting your blades, you need to know what material you are planning to cut. When you’re starting out, it’s a pretty safe bet to go with a mid-range blade, which would be a #5 blade - this blade will leave a small trace when cutting, meaning it takes only a mm or 2 of material out as you cut and depending on the material you use, it can cut anywhere 1/8” to 1” thick. 

Let’s go over different types of blades:

Regular - this type of blade has all the teeth pointing down and are closely spaced together. This is typically what will come standard in the box when you get a scroll saw. Although good for simple cuts, this style of blade isn’t designed for those intricate detailed cuts. 

Skip - this blade is similar to the regular tooth in that all the teeth point down. However, as its name implies, there is a skip, or a larger space, between each tooth. This prevents the blade from heating up too quickly due to trapped dust between the teeth and also allows for faster cutting. These are typically used on harder woods. 

Reverse Tooth - A reverse tooth blade has teeth that point down, and then at the bottom there will be several teeth that point up, which allows it to cut from the top and bottom which prevents tear out in your work. 

Double Reverse Tooth - This is the same as the reverse tooth blade but with double the teeth, making it a fast cutting blade. However, because the spaces are smaller between blades these can heat up faster if you are cutting hard wood or for a long time. 

MGT - Modified Geometry blades combine the technology of the skip tooth and reverse tooth blades, with larger spacing between the teeth making it a versatile blade that doesn’t heat up with extended use or using hard materials. 

Spiral - Spiral blades have teeth that circle the blade, allowing it to cut in any direction. These blades have a very high TPI due to the amount of teeth so it can be a very fast cutting blade and takes some practice. 

Pin End - Designed for pinned scroll saws, they have the same designs but have these pins that need to be slotted in which as I said requires a larger interior cut. 

To insert the blade, you loosen the blade clamps at the top and the bottom. Insert your blade and tighten those clamps. Once the blade is snug, you will add tension to your blade. You do this by using the tension lever at the top of your saw. On the deWALT, the knob looks like this. You want to add tension to the point that the blade has very little wiggle room. 


So now that we’ve reviewed different blades, we can get into different materials. 

Scroll saws can cut basically anything from softwood to hardwood, from metal to acrylic, as long as you get the right blades. MDF is a really popular material from scroll saw artists because it is relatively inexpensive, it’s very easy to cut and finishes beautifully. It comes in 1/8”, 1/4”, 1/2” and 3/4” thickness and is great for indoor use. It is important to always have your PPE on when using MDF as the dust is very fine and shouldn’t be breathed in. 

A product that looks very similar to MDF but is not is called Extira and it is a product specifically designed for outdoor use. It is much harder than MDF, so would require a skip tooth style blade or a #9 or higher to cut and it comes in 1/2” or 3/4” thickness. 

Softs woods like pine and cedar are very easy to cut, whereas medium hardwoods like walnut and maple are a bit more tricky, but with the right blade are awesome materials to use. Using something like a 9 or higher, or a skip tooth blade with higher TPI makes them easier to cut. 

Plywood is very popular for scrollers because it comes in larger sheets so you aren’t limited by dimensional lumber. You can use any type of plywood but the best for scrolling is birch since it tends to have the least amount of voids and the most solid core. It comes in 1/4, 1/2 and 3/4 widths and finishes really nicely. You have to be careful of your blade selection when using plywood because tear out can be pretty bad if you are using an aggressive blade. MGT blades are awesome for plywood because they cut fast and clean. 


When you are cutting, there are several things to consider. We talked about the type of material and the blades to choose from, and when you load your blade you want to set the tension so the blade is tight. However, most scroll saws are variable speed - meaning you can adjust how fast or slow the blade is cutting. Again this is something that will be a personal preference but there are things to look out for to know if your speed isn’t correct. 

First, if you find yourself with uneven cuts, for example if your piece is more narrow at the bottom, that means you are pushing your material through the blade, causing the blade to flex and cut at an angle. If that is happening, you should increase your speed to ensure you are guiding the material through the blade and not forcing. 

If you find that your blade is breaking frequently, this can also be a result of having your speed set too low, which is causing you to push the material in the blade and snapping it. If your material is bouncing aggressively and you are having to really hold it down when cutting, this means the teeth of the blade are catching and pulling the material which again is a sign your speed is likely set too low. 

If you are getting rounded corners when you are trying to make sharp corners, or if you feel that you are out of control when cutting, your speed may be too high. This does take some time to figure out, however once you have practiced, it will become second nature to you when these problems arise. For me personally if I am cutting with a #5 blade, and doing something like a smaller interior cut, I will set my speed to around a 4 on my dewalt saw. For outside cuts, I will typically go full speed which is an 8 on the DeWALT saw.


When you are ready to start your first project, and you’ve selected your materials, you’ll want to print out your design. You can print at home, or like I do, send them to a large format printer. 

To attach your design to the material, you’ll first want to protect your material. We are going to attach the pattern using a spray adhesive. If you spray it directly onto your material you’ll face two issues. The first is that it will require a lot of sanding to remove the glued pattern once cut. If you have small or delicate pieces, this can result in a lot of breakage. Secondly, even if you manage to sand it without breaking the piece, the spray adhesive can absorb into the material, which can result in a really bad finish. 

My preference is to use painter's tape to protect the material, spray, and attach the pattern. 


Once you have your pattern attached, you will plan out your cuts. In scrolling there are interior (inside) and outside cuts. For cursive lettering, you’ll want to drill pilot holes so you can thread your blade through to complete the inside cuts. 

For the outside cuts, you can place your pilot holes where you’d like to start. You may be tempted to cut from the outside edge into your pattern, but you’ll want to use pilot holes because it keeps stability in the piece you are cutting. 



Once you’ve cut your pieces out, you’ll start sanding to get your cut outs ready for finishing whether that’s paint, stain or oil. There are so many tools out there, and theses are some of my favorites:

For sanding edges, I use a micro zip and sandpaper. 

For shaping, and adding dimension, I use a rotary tool and various sanding abrasives and carving bits. When you’re sanding you want to ensure you have a good surface for painting, which is smooth and as free from debris as possible. I achieve this by using a higher grit sandpaper. 


When you’re ready to glue your design, my preferred method is using the pattern you’ve printed and carbon paper to trace the design to the backer so you can line it up. When gluing my preference is to use a clear wood glue and a CA glue.  

That’s as far as this class will take us today but if you’d like to learn more, leave a comment or let TMCU know.  Priming and painting is another important part of this process and there are a lot of great tips and tricks for getting a nice paint job.  In the meantime, we hope this demonstration from Lesley and Klingspor’s Woodworking Shop was helpful to you in getting your scroll saw journey started!


Unknown member
Mar 08

This live was so good and so much fun! Lesley was chock full of good tips to get started in scrolling and made it feel like you were just hanging out with a friend! Definitely could have listened all night. :)


Unknown member
Feb 23

This was such a great class. I learned a ton as someone who has only tried scrolling once. It reminded me of using a sewing machine! Fantastic info. Looking forward to more from Professor Lesley!!

Unknown member
Feb 24
Replying to

Yes, Professor Lesley was great! We definitely need a 2nd part to this!

bottom of page