Every time someone asks me to help them get started on the scroll saw, I
end up teaching them to create a version of one of the name plates
shown in the photo above. It's a great project for learning because you
end up with a useful item and pick up a lot of great scroll saw
techniques along the way. And, as simple as they are in concept, I never
fail to get a great response when I give a friend one of these mahogany
monikers. And if you really want to enhance the look, do a little extra
planning and select contrasting wood species to accent and offset the
To get started, pick a style of print that you like. I simply go to my
computer, choose a font, and print out the name. Now draw a straight
line underneath the name to connect the bottom edge of all the letters.
Cut the pattern along this reference line and trim away all the excess
paper. Pick out the species of wood you prefer (3/4" thickness) and run
the edge of your stock along your jointer to give it a true straight
edge. Take a moment to sand the board smooth now to reduce sanding when
you're all finished scrolling. Apply your pattern using 3M™'s Adhesive
Spray, positioning it on the board so that the reference line is about
1/8" to 3/16" above the edge of the board. This will keep the name in
one piece when you're through cutting.
Slick Tape Trick
Usually, this is the point when you drill the holes required for your
inside cutouts. Instead, here's a neat step to help you reduce burning
and stretch out the life of your blades. Before drilling, apply clear
packaging tape over the name. This tape is Teflon® based and actually
lubricates the blade as you cut, increasing blade life and reducing
burns on the tight cutouts. With the tape pressed in place, go ahead and
drill the interior access holes.
Teflon® base packing tape joins spray adhesive as typical tools of the
trade in the author's shop.
Begin the cutting process by removing the inside (enclosed) areas first.
Form the outside shape of the name starting at the edge of the board,
beginning the cut on your reference line. Do not exit the cut until
you've finished the name, exiting on the reference line as you do.
You'll need the leftover piece later, so set it aside for now. Take the
tape off of the letters and use paint thinner to remove any leftover
pattern or adhesive. Place the name on a sheet of sandpaper (to reduce
the chances of snapping a letter) and sand the surface smooth with a
Attaching the Base
Generally, I form my bases from 3/4" thick strips of wood with a classic
ogee routed into their edges. For the name to look balanced, the base
should be 1-3⁄4" wide and about 1" longer than the name. If the base is
slightly wide, run the edge on your joiner and route the edge again
until the fit is perfect. Test fit the name onto the base, trimming the
reference line strip to length. To protect the letters while gluing the
name to the base, turn to the cut-away you set aside earlier and use it
as a clamping caul.
|Using a lighted magnifying glass, the author starts at one end of the pattern and keeps on cutting until he reaches the other end... exiting on the reference line.
Once everything is glued and sanded, I apply Watco Danish Natural Oil in
a shallow tub. This is a good way to get finish into all the nooks and
crannies. Allow the oil to dry completely and spray finish with Deft®
Beyond the Basics
Now that you've got the basics covered, here are a few ideas to keep in
mind to make your time on the scroll saw more productive and enjoyable.
Laminating Species: If you decide to try a multicolored,
laminated name plate you can really enhance the look by resawing a 1/8"
piece of wood from the same species you selected for the bottom of the
name cutout. Glue this 1/8" piece on top of your base. When the base is
routed with the ogee bit, the top surface will be the same type and
color of wood that is on the bottom of the name cutout. Adjust the cut
so the shape of the ogee hides the glue joint.
Fine Details: When cutting fine details, always be aware of grain
orientation. A good example is the doctor's cutout with the staff and
serpent emblem (see photo on previous page). With the grain of the wood
running side to side, the staff would be unstable and break off easily.
To eliminate this potential disaster, I glue a section of wood (just the
size of the staff design) into place with the grain running at 90˚ to
orientation of the strip of wood selected. The pattern is then applied
to the spliced-in wood and cut as before. Also, when making something
like the teacher's cutout (the worm is made out of bubinga), be sure
both woods are the same thickness to reduce sanding once the name is cut
Keep the waste piece from the name blank on hand. It will serve you well
as a clamping caul when you're ready to attach the name to the base.
|Apply gentle and even pressure when clamping the name to the base. Check the cutout's alignment and allow the glue to cure. The squeeze-out can be cleaned up later.
The author uses a plastic tub and a lot of polymerized oil when sealing
his work with a first coat. The oil flows nicely into the scroll sawn
Planning ahead: I can't stress this enough ... always plan ahead.
The wrong gluing sequence can mean disaster. For instance, with the
"Dr. Rooker" piece, I glued the two serpents and staffs in place first
and then lightly trimmed the ends of the name until it fit perfectly in
between. Then I used my clamping caul to glue that piece in place.
Square Cuts: I'm often asked specific questions about how to make
very square cuts and which saw blade do I like the best. The short
answer to square cuts is that you have to always be sure your table is
at 90° to the saw blade, as discussed in the box on the previous page.
But you also have to stick with good blades. I have tried many different
blades and have found that the best ones for my work are the PM 09, 07
and 05 from BVDirect (for info, call 800-727-6553). These skip tooth
blades are precision-milled, and include a reverse tooth configuration.
They are very sharp and have a long life when used properly. For these
name cutouts, I used a PM 09. If you find the PM 09 cuts too fast, move
to a PM 07 and, if needed, add an extra one-half turn to the tension
knob to keep your cuts crisp.
Dull blades: As you may expect, blades will eventually become dull. One
way to detect a dull blade is when you have to start pushing harder on
the wood to get the same cut. The blade will also tend to wander toward
the softer grain, making it difficult to follow the line of the pattern.
In some cases, the blade will burn the wood in tight turns. If it seems
your blades are wearing out too quickly, check the tension of the
Tom Durden is a scroll saw expert from Memphis, Tennessee.