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Planning Your Cuts on the Scroll Saw

Planning Your Cuts on the Scroll Saw

      I am sure you have often heard the saying: "There is more than one right way to do something." Certainly scrolling is no exception to this rule. Along with many right ways, there are many "not so right" ways to do things, for lack of a better term. More than likely, you are already practicing some of the tips I will go over in this article, especially if you have been scrolling for awhile. Some you may have just picked up instinctually without really thinking about it. What I am talking about here is planning your order of cutting to avoid unnecessary complications or "painting yourself into a corner".

      If you are just starting out, certainly don't get overwhelmed with these little suggestions. No two projects are alike, and even if you tried to follow all of these tips, you will very quickly discover that you have to break one rule in order to follow another. Sometimes you just have to pick the lesser of two evils, but mostly, these tips are just to keep some of your more difficult cuts from being harder than they need to be. Since I very rarely work with spiral blades, I am not going to talk specifically about them although much of this information may apply to cutting with spiral blades as well.

      One of the most obvious examples of planning your cuts that you may already do is to cut all inside cuts before cutting the outer perimeter of a project. There are several reasons you would want to do this: First and foremost, it gives you more wood to hold on to when cutting the project. This can makes it  easier to hold down and maneuver your work piece, especially when making smaller items such as ornaments. Secondly, the extra wood around the perimeter will give your work piece some extra strength and reduce your chance of breaking something which could happen any number of ways. Also, if you are stack cutting, oftentimes your layers of wood are held together around the outside edge with tape, tacks or hot glue so you have to complete all of your inside cuts before the perimeter in order to keep all of your layers securely lined up while you cut.

      Of course there are exceptions to every rule and you don't always want to save the perimeter cut for last. One often-encountered example where you would want to cut the perimeter first would be if you plan to do any routing around the outside edge of your piece. It is far better to rout a solid piece of wood than one that has been weakened by cutting a bunch of intricate holes in it. Also, if you make a mistake with the router you could ruin a piece that you have already put several hours into and even risk bodily harm! Obviously another time you may want to cut the perimeter first is with a larger piece where any extra wood is just going to get in your way.

      Recently, while cutting a lot of small lettering for a project, I began to realize how many different ways I could go about each letter. I tried to optimize my cutting order to make the work easier while also ensuring that I would get consistently good results. I am going to use some photos from that project to illustrate what I am talking about. One of my favorites was the letter “O” which is a great choice to illustrate a handful of tips.

          Since these letters are very small, each cut winds up being a narrow slit and you often wind up having to cut alongside a nearby kerf that you just made.


          When doing cuts this close to each other in a slit like this, you want to cut the inside of the curve before the outside whenever possible because your blade will be much less likely to jump into your previous kerf this way. This a tip that I use often to keep my slits clean and even.
      Notice that I chose to cut the innermost section of the letter first. Had I started from the other end of the letter, by the time I got around to this innermost part I would have cut away most of the support from this region and the wood would be much more likely to break while cutting.
          This tip is probably the most important one to remember because a break in a delicate area could ruin a project that you have already put a lot of time into. Keep this one in mind not only within a cut, but within your project as a whole. Don't cut away support from an area before you are finished cutting inside, and also don't end cuts in areas that have no support.
          As a general rule, I find it best to do all of the smaller cuts first within a project before moving on to the larger cuts. This way your fretwork will have support for as much time as possible.
      In order to make use of the previous two tips when cutting this letter, I had to break another "rule": It is much easier to start (and end) a cut smoothly on this outside edge in a situation like this. When you try to start a cut on the inside of a turn as I had to do to get the point shown in this figure, the blade can quite easily grab further back on the inside of the curve (which is not a waste area!) and cause a big booboo. This is a big problem on a saw that has an aggressive front-to-back blade motion since this much more likely to occur when your blade is travelling in an arc. It is something I had to worry about on my previous saw, but is rarely an issue for me anymore.
      As you can see in this figure, I was at least able to finish my cut on the outside of the curve which is easy to do smoothly provided you remember to slow down as you approach the end of your cut.
      The tips above were also applied when I cut the letter "S". You will notice in the next three figures that I cut the letter in two sections. Again I did the inside edge of each curve before the outside so that my blade would not be trying to jump into the previous kerf.
      Another area to consider is this sharp point in the letter "R" shown here. In this lettering, I decided that I wanted to avoid sharp points as much as possible because it is very hard to cut consistently when you have such a tiny acute angle and it would look bad if one letter R looked different than the next one.

      In this project, I opted to round them over slightly to make it easier to be consistent. This part of the cut would have been extremely hard to do had I not done that part first which leads me to my next tip: Avoid diving into a new cut from an wide open area whenever you can, especially in an detailed area like this. It is very easy for the blade to jump to the side a little when starting your cut if support has been cut away from around the blade. You will also notice that I had to break a previous tip and save the inside curve of my slit for last because I felt that getting the point right was more difficult.
      In this project there were some more difficult letters that I just could not find an easy way to do. Take a look at the following figures and I am sure you can spot where I have broken every one of my tips on more than one occasion.
      On the "W", I cut out the wood from around the point and was left having to dive in from an open area or ending in a delicate area. I chose the first option since a break in this area would have been tragic.
      The letter "A" was one of the most difficult. I think I cut it differently every time and still did not come up with one way that was easier than any other.
      As you can see, the tips provided here are certainly not hard and fast rules, but merely suggestions for you to try out actively for yourself or just keep them in the back of your mind and you may find yourself implementing these ideas without even realizing it. I hope they will all add to your ability to cut more intricate designs and, most importantly, to have fun with your scroll saw!