Scroll Saw Blades 101: Choosing the right blade
Walk into any well-stocked hardware store and you'll be confronted with a wide array of scroll saw blades different manufacturers, varying material, and a range of prices. The inclination, especially among beginning scrollers is to buy blades off the shelf that look good with the thought that eventually you'll use them. In reality, scrollers tend to have favorites blades that fit their projects and skill level. So bottom line, don’t go out and purchase a dozen of each blade; you just won’t use them.
Scroll saws accept two kinds of blades, plain end or pin-end types. Older saws tend to use pin-end blades and most modern saws use plain end only. Conventional wisdom is that although with certain saws they are more difficult to install and adjust, a plain-end blade is superior to the pin-end variety. That said, it is a moot point if your saw only accepts one type. If you are asking, "Why is a blade that is harder to install better?" the answer is fairly simple. Plain end blades don't require as large a starter hole in the work piece since the pin doesn't have to pass through the material. Where a pin-end blade would require a 1/16" hole, a plain-end blade can slip through a hole as small as 1/64". When doing intricate scrollwork, this can add up.
The difficulty associated with using plain-end blades has pretty much been eliminated in recent years. When saws first started using plain-end blades, the clamping action on the blade required a special wrench to set and adjust the blade. Newer saws use quick release pads and require minimal effort to change and set-up blades.
There are seven major types of blades:
- Standard Tooth Blades. The teeth are all the same size and distance apart on standard tooth blades. There are two major kinds: wood blades and metal blades. The wood blades have larger teeth and more space between the teeth. They are designed to clear the sawdust as you cut. The metal blades have much smaller teeth and less space between teeth. I find these a bit noisy.
- Skip-tooth Blades. These blades are similar to the standard tooth blades, but every other tooth is missing. The space (gullet) between teeth is much wider and keeps the blade cooler. Personally, I like these for most work. They are especially good for beginning scrollers.
- Double-tooth Blades. This blade is a skip-tooth blade with a large space between sets of two teeth. These blades cut slightly slower but leave a very smooth cut.
- Reverse Skip-tooth Blades. This blade is exactly like the regular skip- tooth blade, except the last few bottom teeth point upward. This is great for preventing tear- out or splintering on the bottom of the cut and for use with plywood. When using a reverse skip-tooth blade you must set the blade in the clamps so that only two or three teeth are pointing up above the tabletop when the saw arm is in its highest position. You may have to trim a little from the bottom of the blade to accomplish this.
- Precision-ground Blades. These blades are actually a skip-tooth blade with small teeth that have been ground to shape rather than simply filed. These blades are much sharper, cut in a straight line and leave a very smooth surface. Personally, I find they are great blades but very aggressive and unforgiving. I do not recommend them for the beginner.
- Spiral Blades. These blades are simply a group of blades twisted together so there are teeth all the way around. You can cut in all directions without turning the wood. There are a few applications for this kind of blade, but they leave a very rough, wide surface, cannot make a tight or sharp corner and have a tendency to stretch as you use them. I do not recommend these blades except for special applications.
- Crown-tooth Blades. This is a totally new design in scroll saw blades. The teeth are shaped like a crown with a space between each crown. The nice part is that the blade can be put in either way, so there is no upside down with these blades. They cut a little slower than a regular blade, but they are good for cutting plastic or Plexiglas®. Tip: When the blade dulls you can reverse ends and have a sharp blade again.
There are special blades designed to cut metal, plastic and even glass. Check them out as you advance in your scrolling. You may want to use them for special applications. Most all saw companies provide special blades.
Tips in choosing the correct blade
Consider the following criteria when choosing blades:
- Thicker materials require bigger blades.
- Harder substances require larger teeth and/or a different type of blade.
- Complex patterns require a blade with small teeth.
- Use the largest size blade that gives the desired results you want.
- If you are a beginner, buy a dozen each of #3 and #5 skip-tooth blades crown-tooth blades.