Any scroll saw designer – regardless of level of skill – knows that blades are finicky. The right type can make for the perfect scroll saw project – but the wrong type can leave you with a difficult scroll art pattern that your material can't take to. Where's the compromise? Making sure you always have the right tool for the job... and that's where we at Holz Brothers come in.
My brother Hans would tell you that we provide expert information to go alongside our 'unique and fantastic' scroll saw patterns. The truth is that Hans and I began this company because we love our craft. We want everyone who is interested in scroll saw art to have as many options as we do and we want products specific to a scroll saw designer to be more widely available to all. With this in mind, we keep a blog chock-full of hints and tips about scroll saw art, saws, patterns and materials so that nobody feels like a complete amateur for long.
We thought if would be helpful to create a list of common blade issues, types, designs and more in the hope that each of you will find your next project that little bit easier. The knowledge is completely free, of course, but if you are feeling inspired afterwards you may want to browse through our Scroll Saw Patterns to carry on that momentum. In the meantime, let's delve into everything you need to know about scroll saw blades and get you well on your way to success.
Getting To Know Scroll Saw Blades
The first thing you need to know is that there are several different types of saw blade and one size does not fit all machines. Some attach a certain way, others need a tool to change them. Some scroll saw patterns require a blade with particular teeth and others need a tougher metal to cut through what you need it to. If you get the blade wrong you risk snapping it, potentially hurting yourself or causing damage to the scroll saw itself... and let me tell you, a snapped blade can hurt.
Unfortunately a blade will break if you don't adjust the tension correctly as well, so you should budget ahead and always keep a few spare blades around. You can pick them up either online or at your local hardware store in most cases.
For those who are completely knew to the craft of hobby scroll saw carving and are still wondering what a scroll saw blade is: have no fear. The blade that came with your new scroll saw is the part that you will use to cut materials with. It should be located on the end of the mechanical arm and above the 'table' part of your scroll saw. The blade is mounted between the top arm and the bottom of the saw and comes in all sorts of types... If you need a little more explanation we won't judge you – but check Wikipedia before you move on or the rest of the article won't make any sense.
But first, let's talk a little about considerations.
Scroll Saw Blades – What To Consider..?
We will get into type and size of blade in a moment, but first let's talk about the things you ought to consider when selecting the blade you need for the task at hand. Steve Good, legendary producer of the Scrollsaw Workshop, has a few suggestions on this matter. He recommends that you always evaluate these things when purchasing new blades:
- Is the proposed new blade compatible with your machine type? Some manufacturers have specific models of blade and offer no alternative, some scroll saws operate pinned blades, others do not. Check the blade will fit into your model before you buy.
- Different thicknesses and types of material will affect your ability to cut without breaking the blade... make sure the size is accurate by reading our sizing section below.
- Scroll saw pattern choice will impact which blade will work best. Smaller blades with lots of teeth are best for tricky work.
- The type of the blade itself will make a difference to the work you produce... but we will cover this in a moment.
Scroll saw blades are all either pinned or pinless. This simply refers to the ends of the blade and how they connect to the machine. It is common in modern models for home use to have pinned blades, whereas industrial strength machines tend to use otherwise – although the reverse is not unheard of, either.
Scroll Saw Blade Sizes – Which Do You Need?
There are a few different sizes of scroll saw blade which you can see at a glance by downloading the chart from well known industry supplier Olson (or that you can find by visiting this page on Pinterest). An ordinary scroll saw blade will usually follow a 'Universal Number Code'. Most scroll saw blades are only five inches long but the width of the blade will differ depending on which number it is assigned. Thicker blades are stronger and more durable but less apt to intricate work. Thinner blades are often reserved for finer details.
When trying to find the best blade for your scroll saw project you will most likely be able to choose between different sizes and types of blade. The Universal number code that the sizing is based on runs from 0-12, with some sizes of blade even running into the minus numbers. The lower the number the finer and thinner the blade will be. Likewise, a higher number will be thicker and stronger, most likely able to cut through denser materials. The lowest number of blade you will need for your scroll saw is a #3/0 because anything smaller would only be used for working in lapidary territory.
So: thicker blades = higher numbers, thinner blades = lower numbers. Each has it's pros and cons. A higher numbered saw blade might be sturdier, but it won't be able to make a nice rounded turn in a pattern the same way a lower sized blade will. On the same note; a thinner blade will break easily if used on a tough material.
Scroll saw blades will also have an assigned TPI number. TPI stands for Teeth Per Inch and this number will differ from model to model and from type to type. As a general rule, the higher the TPI the more accurate the scroll saw blade will be.
Do I Need Pin-End Blades Or Pinless Blades?
The answer to this is simply to check your machine. We recommend that you always use a machine that supports pin-end blades because these sit more steadily in you machine. They make for less vibrations up through the table and arm while you work and they do not slide around while you move them. Most pin-end blade scroll saws nowadays are tool-free in terms of changing the blades, so there really is no reason not to play it safe and stick to the pin-end blades... but the choice is ultimately yours.
If you want to read some experienced scrollers discussing the ins and outs of each type of blade you can see this thread on the Scrollsaw Woodworking forum. In the meantime we are going to move on to cover the different types of scroll saw blades that are available on the market.
The Different Types of Scroll Saw Blade
There are different categories or types of scroll saw blade that make the selection process even more confusing. For those new to the craft you may find it beneficial to practice with each blade before you commit to executing a full scroll saw pattern. Each type of blade has a specific design and function, having been specially made to cover certain types of job. We will go into detail on each type of blade in the following passages.
The Standard-Tooth Scroll Saw Blade
Standard-tooth blades are by far the most commonly sold and supplied type of scroll saw blade. The blade that your whole unit came with is probably a standard-tooth blade. They can be identified fairly easily because the teeth are all exactly the same distance apart. Only one edge of the blade will be ridged for cutting effect and it is important that you make sure this side is facing forwards when you change a blade.
There are two main sub-categories of the standard-tooth scroll saw blade; those used for wood and those used for metal. Wood standard-tooth blades will have larger teeth with bigger spaces between the blades. This allows for maximum grip and tear on the wood (as well as to clear away the sawdust as they cut). Metal, which is a denser substance, requires a lot more teeth that will all be of a smaller size (Woodcraft). When carving out or cutting a scroll saw pattern in metal you need all the help you can get.
The standard-tooth scroll saw blade can be used for almost anything. If you want to practice scrolling this is the blade we suggest you do it with as it is the one you are likely to be using the most. It is only if you require fine detailing, to cut an especially hard or soft material or when you have to turn the blade round acute corners that you may need to change to another blade.
The Skip Tooth Scroll Saw Blade
A skip tooth scroll saw blade is very similar to the standard toothed model but with one key difference... you guessed it! Every other tooth has been removed from these blades. The ridges between the teeth (or the gullet, as they call it in the industry) is wider on these blades which makes for a cooler cut that is excellent for beginners to practice with.
The benefits of this removed tooth are that the enlarged gullet allows for better clearance of wood dust and chips. This means you can better see what you are doing – which is perfect for someone who is using a scroll saw for the first time. The skip tooth scroll saw blade is particularly useful for when you are working with materials that tend to burn or smoke. The extra gaps allow for more heat to escape and give you a cleaner cut all round.
If you need a visual on what these skip tooth blades look like you can visit Axminster and have a look at this pinless skip tooth blade. The teeth are still evenly placed but they are much more spaced out along the length. This type of scrollsaw blade only has one cutting edge similarly to the standard tooth type. Again, be sure to make sure the pointed end faces forwards in your machine when you change the blade to avoid damaging anything... including yourself.
The skip-tooth scroll saw blade does not finish as well as some of the others. They are used primarily for rough cutting. It is advised that you use these blades when you need to cut larger materials down to size before you can start your scroll saw pattern of choice, rather than using it on finer details. They are used on coarser or harder materials and will have great chip clearance... always important when you don't want to damage the furniture.
The Double Skip-Tooth Scroll Saw Blade
The double toothed scroll saw blade sports sets of two teeth grouped together along the length of the blade. In a typical five inch blade you might only see six or eight teeth on each one. Again the blade must face outwards when you change it and again only one edge is sharp. Instead of having a gullet between each of the teeth on this type of saw blade, the teeth are paired with the gullet between the pairs being much longer than the gaps between individual teeth are.
According to the suppliers over at Bearwood this tooth setting allows for minimal chipping and a very smooth cut... even although I can tell you from experience that the pattern will take you longer to cut with the double-tooth than it will with a standard. The quality is what matters, and the double produces some good craftsmanship for those who have the patience.
Double skip-tooth blades are excellent in terms of presenting a good finish and the space of the guttering works to keep your material cool should you be using a material you have burned before. You can use this model of scroll saw blade on all hardwoods, plywoods, and even on materials as dense as Corian plastic. Just remember to keep the materials you are cutting to less than 2 inches thick.
The Reverse Skip Tooth Scroll Saw Blade
The reverse skip-tooth scroll saw blade is almost identical to the normal skip-tooth blade. The difference between the two is that they reversed version has the bottom few teeth inverted and pointing upwards. The reason for this is to reduce the tearing of wood or cracking and splitting of more brittle materials (like plywood) while you work. It also makes for less splintering and less chipping.
The downside of the reverse skip-tooth scroll saw blade is that it doesn't clear away the sawdust as well as some of the other scroll saw blade types. Also, and according to Wood Working Fuel, the reverse tends to have a shorter working life as the wear on the blade is greater due to the dual directions of the teeth.
When you are placing or changing a reverse skip-tooth blade you need to make sure that the clamps are holding only two or three of the teeth are showing when the machine is at rest. Some users will cut blades down to size for this purpose. The good news is that you can do this using your scroll saw!
It is also worth mentioning that there is a newly emerged sub category known as the ultra reverse skip-tooth scroll saw blades. This design was orchestrated to be just as good as the reverse but to perform better in its dust clearing abilities. The ultra reverse has two teeth facing down the way and one facing up all along the blade, and you can get a look at this new type of blade by visiting Amazon.
The Precision Ground Scroll Saw Blade
Precision ground scroll saw blades are known for extra strength and durability. Also called PGT (that's Precision Ground Tooth) blades for short, these are the best blades available and are frequently relied upon by experts and professionals. They cost a little more but they do last a good deal longer by comparison to other blade types.
According to industry saw specialists Seyco a PGT blade is the best tool to use when cutting into tough materials, or when you want to speed up the production of your scroll saw project. The reason for this is that they have been designed for minimal cracking and chipping as well as to leave a good finish. When you want to save time this is the blade you go with... a word of caution though: they are not a beginners tool and, when you do progress onto the precision ground blades, make sure you have plenty of off-cuts to practice on.
What makes a precision ground blade different from the others? It is essentially similar in style to a regular skip-tooth blade but instead of being filed or cut into shape the teeth have been ground. This allows for a sharper edge, better points and a more durable blade altogether. Unlike the skip tooth blade the precision ground blade will stay sharper for longer, will cut through more before it blunts and is a hell of a lot less likely to break on you. You can usually use these on the toughest of materials as long as you keep the size number high.
The Spiral Scroll Saw Blade Type
Unlike the other types we have covered so far, the spiral scroll saw blade operates much as its name suggests, giving it the ability to cut in any direction. All of this blade will be coiled around with sharp teeth placed throughout the length. As the spiral is turned the blades tear and cut in all directions, with teeth facing both upwards and downwards throughout.
Apart from being able to cut in all directions the spiral scroll saw blade is often favored for scroll saw projects with irregular patterns. In actuality, these blades have been made by coiling several standard blades around each other until the teeth are showing all the way around. On this one occasion you do not need to make sure that the blades are facing forward when replacing them... but you do need to watch that you don't cut yourself.
What are the issues with a spiral scroll blade type? They tend to stretch when used, albeit slowly. They also struggle with right angles or tight corners, although they do follow irregularly shaped scroll saw patterns reasonably well. We sourced this YouTube video so you could get a better feel for when to use a flat and when to use a spiral blade. As a general rule, if your work curves a spiral blade will be a more adequate tool. According to some users on the Scroll Saw forum, however, the finish might not be quite so fine.
Crown Tooth Scroll Saw Blades
The crown tooth scroll saw blade was designed (reasonably recently) to be the next big innovation in scroll saw blades. They are thus called because they feature crown shaped teeth, with blades facing straight out the way instead of either up or down. They are shaped similarly to the reverse tooth design with gaps between spaced at regular intervals.
The Crown Tooth came around because of the need to incorporate different scrolling materials into the blade types. The crown can be used to cut modern polywoods (Wise Geek) and plexiglass (Pix Art Printing), as well as harder plastics or for scroll saw projects that require a smoother finish than the norm. The crown tooth has high control no matter what speed you go at. As an added bonus you can turn them upside down when they dull and reinsert them for a sharp finish.
It is worth mentioning that you do get other types and sizes of scroll saw blade but many of these are made to fit specially designed machines or to perform the cutting or carving of a particular substance. Of all of the blade types, the crown toothed blade and the spiral blade are the two specialized blades that are used the most – and often by scrollers such as yourself!
As ever, please do bookmark our page for future reference and follow our hints and tips on how to excel at your scroll saw artworks. Don't forget that you can contact us with any queries or clarifications you need directly on our facebook group... and remember to stop by our store for any online scroll saw patterns you might need in the future.
Until next time, happy cutting! Try not to lose a finger folks, it's dangerous out there!
-- Helmut Holz