Obviously enough, one of the first things many people want to know when getting started with scrolling as a hobby is what saw to buy. Whether you are looking to purchase your first scroll saw, or you are looking to upgrade to a better one, there are many things to consider. In this article I will attempt to touch on all aspects so that you are able to make an informed decision. I will also make some recommendations based on personal experience and what I feel is the general consensus of the scroll sawyers I have discussed the matter with.
Blade Changing and Blade Holders: The saw should accept standard 5″ pinless blades. A lot of scrollwork simply cannot be done with a saw that requires pinned blades. While pinned blades have some advantages, they have one very big disadvantage: You can’t cut any small inside detail cuts since you have to drill a very big hole to get the blade’s pin through.
Also, how easy is it to change a blade? Is a tool required for this? Some scroll saw projects have hundreds of holes. This means you have to remove one end of the blade from the holder and thread it through the wood and re-mount it in the holder more times than you can count. Be sure the process is comfortable and relatively easy to do. A saw in which the arm can be raised and which holds itself in this position is most desirable as it makes this process much easier as do tool-less blade holders.
Variable speed: A great many saws offer variable speed and you should not have a problem finding this feature in any price range. Sometimes you will want to slow the blade down just to cut slower, other times you must slow it down to prevent the blade from burning the edges of the wood as you cut. Some scroll saws require belt changing to change speeds. Personally, I would highly recommend a saw an electronic speed control.
Vibration: Vibration is very distracting when cutting and must be kept to a bare minimum. Some saws inherently vibrate more by design. This feature tends to be very much dependent on the cost of the particular saw. Vibration can be reduced by mounting the saw to a stand. A sturdily mounted saw and heavier saw/stand combination will reduce vibration. Many companies offer stands purpose built for their saws.
Size Specifications: Manufacturers often list the maximum cutting thickness of their saws. Since this is always more than 2″, you can ignore this as you likely will never want to cut anything thicker than that on a scroll saw.
The depth of the throat however is something you may want to consider if you think you will be cutting very large projects. A small throat will limit how big of a piece you can swing around on the table while you cut. For many this is not a very big deal since it is somewhat difficult and unpleasant to swing around a big piece of wood on a scroll saw. This limit can also be circumvented by the use of spiral blades which don’t require the work to be rotated at all.
Table size should also be considered since it is very difficult to work on a project when the majority of your wood is hanging off the side of the scroll saw’s table.
Overall Layout: The overall layout of the controls and adjustments of the saw is very important to consider. The power switch, tension lever and speed control ideally should all be located at the end of the saw’s arm within easy reach. Since with most scroll work you need to stop and feed the blade through a hole dozens or even hundreds of times, the tension lever and power switch are much more convenient if they are close to the upper blade holders. (Most but not all people undo the blade from the upper blade holder to feed the blade through a hole. Some people however, do find it easier to undo the bottom holder instead.). Also, you may occasionally want to adjust the speed control or tighten the tension while in the middle of a cut so it is good to have these controls within easy reach.
Some people find it easier to use a foot pedal switch rather than the power switch on the saw. Just be sure if do you buy one of these that it is just a simple on/off switch and not a variable speed pedal such as those used on a sewing machine as this can damage some motors.
Price: Of course nearly all of us are limited as to how much we are willing or able to spend on a scroll saw. Buying a good used saw may allow you to get more for your money than buying a new cheap saw. When buying used, however, you are taking a bigger risk and have many additional factors to consider. Is the saw still being manufactured? Will you still be able to buy parts if needed? How much has this saw been used? Is the seller’s asking price appropriate? I would generally not recommend buying used unless the saw is in very good condition and the asking price is significantly cheaper than buying the same saw new.
One thing to consider when deciding on the price is that scroll saws are generally a “get what you pay for” kind of tool. Scrolling should be an enjoyable pastime; if you have to fight with a saw that is hard to use or performs poorly, you will not be having fun.
Other considerations: Some other things to look at are the manufacturer’s support and service. Will you be able to get the saw serviced locally? How long is the warranty? What is the manufacturer’s reputation in general? Does the saw have any extras or special features that you think may be useful?
Some saws come with lamps, magnifiers, stands and most come with dust blowers. All of these features add value to the saw and the dust blower most would consider to be a necessity.
Most, if not all scroll saws come with a hold-down to hold your work down to the table. It is worth mentioning that the vast majority of people, myself included, remove these holders because they feel they are just in the way. As long as you keep downward pressure on your work at all times this is a relatively safe practice. If you do remove the hold-down however, please be aware that you do so at your own risk.
Saws worthy of notable mention
It is my opinion that in order to get a saw that you will be happy with in the long term, you are going to have to be willing to spend at least in the neighborhood of $500. I really think that if you can’t afford to spend this much you should seriously think about saving for awhile until you can afford it. That being said, I will mention one saw in the sub $500 range that has recently received some praise.
Porter Cable CB370SS I have not used this saw personally and I cannot speak for its durability however it does look good on paper. All the controls on this saw are conveniently located and it comes with a light and stand. At a retail price of $180, if you absolutely can’t spend more, this saw may be a good choice for you.
Dewalt DW788 This is the saw I use personally and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anybody. My particular saw is over 12 years old. It has seen countless hours of use and is still going strong. In that time, the only parts that ever had to be replaced were the blade holders.
In recent times, Dewalt has switched to having its tools built in Asia and quality has suffered slightly. Of course with this transition, the price of this model has come down significantly as well. Dewalt offers a light and stand for this saw but they are usually sold separately. This is a widely used saw and if you have any difficulties, there are plenty of people who are able to offer advice.
This saw doesn’t hold its upper arm in the upright position when changing or feeding blades however there is a widely used “easy lift” system which works great and currently is sold for $19.95. You can find this lift at http://www.jimdandy.com If you don’t mind shopping online, Grizzly Tools has a great price on the saw/stand/light combo which may be cheaper than you can find the comparable Delta scroll saw package. Grizzly is a reputable dealer with very good customer relations and I don’t hesitate to recommend them.
Delta 40-690 This is Delta’s latest scroll saw. This saw is functionally an exact replica of the DW-788 and comes with a light and stand. If you need the light and stand, this whole package can sometimes be found for cheaper than purchasing the three separately from Dewalt. The Delta name has recently been sold by Black and Decker so be aware that this may bring about changes.
Excalibur EX-16, EX-21, EX-30 The Excalibur series of scroll saws have always been praised by their users. The EX-16 can be had for just a few dollars more than the Dewalt/Delta saws and the EX-21 and EX-30 are approximately $200 and $350 more than the 16″ model respectively. Stands and a lamp with magnifier are available for the Excalibur line of saws. The stand can be purchased separately or as a package deal with the saw.
A most notable difference between the Excalibur and other saws is that the head of the saw tilts rather than the table. This is a nice advantage if you intend to do a lot of angled cutting. The one feature that I personally am leery about is that you only have a quick release for the tension at the front of the saw’s upper arm and the fine adjustment is at the back of the arm. This is a relatively recent change to the saw however I have not seen any negative feedback about this setup. Theoretically, once you have set the fine adjustment, you don’t have to adjust it very often and you just need the quick release when undoing/redoing the blade to feed it through your project.
These saws are manufactured by General International, which has a reputation for quality.
Other notable mentions RBI and Eclipse both offer high end saws with great performance and low vibration. You may want to check these saws out if you can afford them. Since they are out of most people’s price range, I have not heard a whole lot of feedback on them. In my opinion, many of these models do however have inconveniently located controls and/or require tools for blade changes which do give me cause for concern.
Hegner offers four different models starting at about $700 and going all the way to $2400. The lowest end model “Multimax 14-E” is only single speed which I would definitely stay away from. In my opinion there are several better choices for a comparable or cheaper price. The $2400 industrial “Polymax” model requires belt changing to change the speed which is an inconvenience. Because of this issue and the high price tag, I would only consider this model for a truly industrial purpose. This leaves us with the Mutimax 18-V and 22-V models to consider.
All Hegner saws require tools for blade changes. This fact, in addition to what I would personally consider an inconvenient control layout would make me think twice about a Hegner. That being said, most people who own Hegners are very happy with the quality and usability of their saws. Since I have not personally used one, I will leave this matter for your further consideration if you can afford a saw in this price range.
I hope this article has provided you with enough information to allow you to make the best possible investment of your money so that you can start with or upgrade to a scroll saw that will provide you years of scrolling pleasure.