Scrolling Methods

There are many ways to approach each step in the scrolling process.  Some methods are much better than others. 

Q:What are some best ways to apply patterns?

Use Clear Strapping Tape when Applying Patterns


The blade heat can burn wood, some worse than others, especially cherry.  Packaging tape reduces burning by lubricating the blade.  The tape also makes for smoother cutting and makes the blade last longer.  Don't use 3M heavy duty tape because it is more difficult to remove from the wood after cutting. 
Most recommend using spray glue for applying the pattern to the wood.  There are spray glues which are permanent, semipermanent and some that won't hold your pattern on when you are cutting.  I like 3M Super 77 (Home Depot carries it).  It's repositionable, as a spray glue has to be.  Many woodworkers use the spray glue to fix the pattern to the wood, then they cover the pattern with the tape.


I've found it's better for me to apply the tape to the wood, then glue the pattern onto the tape instead of taping over the pattern.  And if it is a small pattern it's quicker to slap on some rubber glue than to spray. 


If you put the tape over the pattern you can have 3 problems:  The light glares on the shiny tape making it harder to see the pattern.  The tape is slippery, giving you less control of the wood being fed.  Some tape builds up static electricity, so the sawdust won't blow away cleanly.
Hint:  Keep a dispenser of Scotch Magic Tape (the usual office tape) near your saw.  No matter how you fasten the pattern an occasional corner will come loose when you're cutting.  If the blade is flapping the pattern, you can't follow it.  A quick piece of tape will fix the problem.


When you are done scrolling the project it's time to remove the pattern.  Some tapes peel easily, yet don't come loose when cutting.  Even those take quite a bit of time to remove if it is a complicated pattern with lots of tiny nooks and crannies.  And it can be a real pain if you stain or apply finish to the piece, then find there was a piece of tape left on it. 


If you want to save some of that removal time, put the scrolled piece in a shallow pan and pour Odorless Mineral Spirits (paint thinner) over it.  Let it sit for a half hour and the tape will pretty much fall off.  Unless it is 3M Scotch Packaging Tape.  That stuff is still a bearcat to remove.  Note that after the tape is gone the wood will have to sit for a day drying before doing anything more with it, but the paint thinner won't hurt the wood or its color.


Alternative method:  Use a shop towel (as a paint brush) and disposable gloves to liberally apply paint thinner on the pattern that remains on the pieces.  After it soaks the paper and tape will be loose, but it may require more than 1 application.  Take the pattern pieces off, then rub the wood with thinner-soaked rags to remove any glue residue. 
There have been reports that some have had ink bleed from a pattern into the face of the project wood.  I've never had a problem with that, so there must be differences in printer inks.  It would be smart to do a test on a scrap piece.  If it's OK you don't have to worry until you buy a new printer.


Mineral spirits will loosen spray glue that fastens the pattern directly to the wood too.  There have been times I wished I had done it that way, instead of taping the wood first.


Always use odorless thinner, but also remember that the health-damaging vapors are still there, even if they don't smell much.  And there is still  the fire danger.  Ventilate adequately.  Have you ever noticed?  The instructions say, 'Use adequate ventilation.'  There is never a definition for measuring how much is adequate.


Note that some use a hair dryer to heat the pattern and tape for removal.  I haven't tested the method so I can't give an opinion.  But I would think it would leave quite a bit of  glue residue on the wood.  If so, there will be discoloration of stain and/or finish.  Unless the glue is removed as above.


The spray glue is ideal for patterns.  It gives a few minutes time to get the pattern in place, and it can be repositioned.  The glue spray shouldn't be allowed to float around the shop, so most spray inside a cardboard box.  Some have a drawer they can close after spraying. 
For a small project you can stick it in your microwave.  Feel the surface to make sure it doesn't get too hot.  I haven't tried this because I forgot about it until I started typing it.  So I can't personally recommend it, but it seems logical.
Q:What is stack cutting?

Stack Cutting


Stack cutting is the method of scrolling several identical pieces at one time.  This is done by stacking the wood.  It must be a stack allowing no movement of pieces in the stack and locked tightly enough so sawdust won't wedge some pieces apart. 


The amount (thickness) you can put into a stack will vary, depending on the type of saw you have, the kind of wood you are cutting, what blade you have to use and your experience.  It will also depend on the intricacy of the pattern you're scrolling. 


I'm comfortable with cutting a stack up to about an inch thick because I'm very careful about keeping the saw blade square with the saw table.  Any deviation from 90° will mean portions of the bottom pieces will be significantly different from the pattern on top.


That may seem hard to believe.  I'd like to have a photo in here to demonstrate, then it would be obvious.  (More photos will be added, which will also enhance readability.)  Instead, for now, imagine cutting a pattern in 3/4" wood, which includes the drawing of the bar of a cage. 


You have cut going down the outside of the bar and fed the blade into the access hole to cut the other side.  This time you are cutting going up the inside of the bar.  If the saw blade is at 90° to the table, the bar you have cut will be 1/8" wide on the top of your 3/4" wood board, at the pattern.  And when you look at the bottom of the board, underneath, it will also be 1/8" wide. 


If your blade is at 90½°, the bar will be 1/4" (or something) wide on the under side of the board.  Or if the blade was at 89½° the bar won't even exist on the bottom.  The slanted saw blade will have wiped it out.  For more information, enter '90°' in the Search box. 
For the degrees symbol, hold down Alt and type 248 in the number keyboard.  Or just search 90!


The blade has to be kept sharp so there is no bowing, which means changing it often enough.  The feed must be directly into the blade without side pressure that bends the blade.  These requirements will vary depending on how demanding the project is that all elements in the stack are identical.  With some projects minor variations will make no difference.


Many (perhaps most) say the best way to firmly stack material is to use small nails in the waste areas.  The nails are driven onto an anvil or something similar, so the nail crimps on the bottom, giving a solid lock to your stack of wood.  Others suggest locking the wood pieces (in the waste areas) with dabs of glue from a glue gun or bottle.


These are certainly methods that work well. I find it more convenient to lock the stack up with clear strapping tape.  I pull the tape very tight as I bring it around the edges of the stack.  To use this method you have to cut the boards in the stack to fairly uniform sizes, which may turn off some people.   When I use strapping tape I can change my mind, change the stack.


Hint:  I've found it's much better not to cut in from the edge of the wood in almost all cases, so I drill access holes.  The material around the outside provides a firm handhold for feeding (the wood into the blade).  If you cut from the edge (with all methods of locking the stack) you have to be careful about cutting away all your fastening, destroying the stack.  If I'm cutting in from the edge I can just add strapping tape, but it's usually safer not to cut in from the edge in the first place.  In addition, keeping the wood around the outside gives added support to any delicate parts of the project as you're cutting.
Q:Should projects be signed by the scroller?

Signing Your Projects


It's my belief that everyone should identify their work in some way.  If someone buys something of yours, he / she bought it because they liked your work.  Or it was a relative.  


They will want to know, sometime in the future, (even the relative perhaps) who created it.  Maybe they want to buy some more in the same category.  Maybe they are only hoping someday you'll be famous, like a painter who has died, and his creations became valuable.  Then they can have their moment of fame (and profit) on Antiques Roadshow.


There are a few methods that can be used for signing.  For items of any size the best, in my opinion, is a branding iron.  Woodworking magazines often have ads where you can have your own unique signature transferred to an electric iron that will burn your name forever into the wood.  It may be your name or your company logo.  It may be your website address.


When I started woodworking I almost immediately got into making mini things, most of which were far too small to be able to brand.  So I just started putting my initials on the back in indelible ink, along with the year I made it.  Then I usually coated the ink with a sealer or finish of some kind.  Unfortunately many of the 'permanent' inks are not permanent in those conditions.  For example many inks wash right off with a coating of tung oil.


An ideal method is sort of related to branding, if you are a pyrographer.  That's a fancy name for one who burns designs in wood or leather with heated tools.  We've all seen the cheap ($15?)woodburning toys.  But trying to use one of those burners such as we were given as kids, with the fat wedge point, will produce little but frustration.  I tried, but maybe I didn't know enough about what I was doing.
Good pyrography sets, even for just a temperature controller, pen and a couple of points can cost over $100 it seems.  I don't have one. 
Another method is to go to your office supply store and have them make something self-adhesive.  They have a variety of sizes and can put almost anything on them.  For example you could have them copy your business calling card. 
Q:Which scrollsaw do I use?

My Scrollsaw


I'm using a DeWalt DW788 scrollsaw.  It's in the intermediate class in price, about $400 when I bought it a couple of years ago.  It was $450 or something like that, but came with a stand.  However the stand was for scrolling standing up, so I had to buy a tall stool to sit on.  My legs and back won't take the strain of lengthy standing any more.  


I had a choice of setting the stand up level or with a slant, as shown in the photo.  I chose the slant, not knowing if it would work for me, but it's OK.  It fits better for sitting down.  
If I had chosen not to use the good substantial stand that came with the saw, I'd have had to build a good one.  Without secure mounting to a stand or bench the vibration of any tool increases significantly.  So a good stand (or a very solid table of the right height) is required. 


Vibration means the saw is shaking, the pattern is shaking, the blade is shaking.  Then I can't see the details when doing small projects.  
Excluding the premium priced saws (the $800 to $1400 ones or however much they cost these days) the DeWalt is rated as a top saw, from what I had read before buying it.   I had a couple of problems when I first got the saw, but DeWalt stood behind their product, and local service here in Denver is excellent.
I started out scrolling with a couple of $100 saws that were satisfactory for awhile.  But they were only satisfactory because I didn't know how a good tool should work.   Vibration was a severe problem.


The best feature of the DeWalt is probbly the fact that the arm lifts.  I'd like to have a couple of photos in here explaining that, and I will have one of these days.  In the meantime, fretwork is a type of scrolling where the pattern is formed by many shaped openings.  They are cut into the wood, leaving an intricate pattern.  In each opening an access hole must be drilled into the wood.  Through each of these the blade is threaded and clamped, then the wood is cut. 
Being able to lift the whole arm simplifies fretwork immensely because it cuts the blade-changing time at least in half.  In most kinds of scrolling there are many situations where the blade is threaded through holes, not just in fretwork.  And the DeWalt is almost the only scrollsaw that allows the arm to lift.


Q:How can I more easily see the graining in a piece of wood?

Wood Grain


If you have trouble seeing or visualizing the grain in a proposed board for a project, wipe it liberally with odorless paint thinner (mineral spirits).  This will make the grains stand out as though you have finished it with low gloss varnish or oil.  But you don't have to worry about it hurting the wood.  It will dry and will be the same as before you used the thinner. 
Depending on the humidity, heat, etc. it may take from a few hours to a couple of days, but it will dry perfectly.  In the meantime you have the opportunity to evaluate the grain pattern for those projects where grain contributes a great deal, such as an intarsia project. 


Be sure to buy 'odorless' mineral spirits.  It has odor, of course, but far less strong than the original stuff.  Just be sure to remember that it is still dangerous, and flammable.  Even though it doesn't smell strong, it is there.
Q:What is Baltic Birch Plywood
Plywood: Baltic birch and Finland birch
Solid hardwood is, of course, the wood of choice for most quality projects.  For my Paleo Pets, however, 1/4" or 1/8" hardwood would be far too weak for many of the delicate cuts.  There are many other projects where hardwood is similarly unsuited.  Fretwork especially, relies on plywood.
But even if solid hardwood could be used, I've found that good plywood , with no defects or discolorations in the inner plies can be more attractive than the hardwood.  I think the plywood bias is founded (legitimately) on the inferior domestic plywood that has been for sale at our local lumber yards for years. 


The layered edges can add a trim beauty that can't be matched in hardwood.  But I'll still be downgraded by many who turn up their noses at beautiful ply.  Perhaps they haven't been educated about GOOD plywood.


There are various cores used by some manufacturers, but they still call their product plywood.  They may have only a piece of ordinary pine lumber, particleboard or fiberboard on which they have glued a very thin veneer of decorative hardwood.  Some even use a combination of cores.  But they call it plywood.  It isn't, by my definition.


The strength of the plywood will only be as good as the core.  I've tried using some solid-core 'plywood'.  I never will again.  It was weak and easily broken, as well as highly subject to warping.  And the edges were ugly.


Traditional plywood has a layered core.  That is, layers of wood with each layer placed with the grain at right angles to adjacent layers.  Thicknesses of layers may vary, as may the number of layers and type of wood.  The quality of glue will vary.  Most is only interior (non-waterproof) glue.
The traditional plywood (bought from Home Depot, etc.) does not have defect-free inner layers.  You may be cutting a complicated fret piece and suddenly the core is a crumbling knot, or just a big hole.  Project ruined.  It doesn't take many of those experiences to make anyone predjudiced against the plywood down at the local lumber yard. 
The finest quality of plywood out there (that I know of) is Finland birch, also called Finnish birch.  It's good on both sides with no plugs or patches, even on the back face.  Exterior glue is used.  Every inner layer is birch and defect free, of almost the quality of the outer birch faces.  This means that the edges are uniform in quality and color.

The next grade down is called Baltic birch, made in Russia.  Again, all plies are birch and almost void-free, which makes it very strong.  The reverse side will have occasional small football-shaped patches replacing knots.   But Baltic Birch is made in several grades, some of which are comparatively poor.  Still not as poor as most of our domestic plywoods.  But you do have to question the dealer you are buying from and determine what quality you need for that project before you spend the money

Baltic birch is divided into 4 grades, from A) bookmatched veneer pieces down to D) having a face free of open defects, but with some areas of rough grain.  The back face is also divided into 4 grades which may range from 1) free from open defects, but no color or grain matching, down to 4) reject material. 

There isn't any grading system for the inner plies.  You just about have to rely on the salesman, who may know nothing about it.  I've found I can't depend on the quality of Baltic Birch bought locally.  There are wide variations.  Apparently a retailer can order plywood of almost any grade, but still call it Baltic birch.


An online source I've come to rely on is Sloan's Woodshop:

They are competitive in price with others I've checked, but most importantly they are knowledgeable.  Of course they are more expensive than local retailers of inferior grades.  But they will answer any questions and you can rely on the quality of what you're ordering.  You have to call to order (tollfree), but I've found that isn't much of a problem because I usually have a question.  Or want them to pick out some special wood, such as a wild color pattern of canarywood.  And they will.
Just a note:  Plywoods are made as thin as 1/64" 3-ply that I know of.  That's thin!
And another note:  I suggest you cut a project from Finland birch, where every layer is beautiful white birch, and every alternate layer is laid crossgrain.  Then stain and finish it so some edges show as part of the pattern.  For example a small fretwork wall knicknack shelf.  Those layers add beauty!

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