Scroll Saw Cutting at a (Steep) Angle

Scroll Saw Cutting at a (Steep) Angle

Whether you’re new to the scroll saw or experienced, your first cuts at 30° or 40° will most certainly feel strange. You’ll either struggle to keep the workpiece from sliding off the tilted table, or you’ll wonder how to follow a line with your blade so askew.

Using a scroll saw to make a steep angle cut
Regardless of the type of scroll saw, cutting at a steep angle can look more daunting than it actually is.

The learning curve, fortunately, is a quick one, and the reward for mastery is entry into the realm of the stacked ring bowl. Sometimes called a “bowl from a board,” it is constructed from concentric rings cut at a specific angle that allows them to stack with near-perfect alignment.

Straight Side Bowls

Marking angles for scroll saw cutting
Careful cutting at the correct angle will result in rings with good alignment when stacked. This reduces the amount of sanding needed to obtain a smooth surface.

This angle is a function of wood thickness and ring width. It can be approximated, but for precision, it should be computed using a tangent table or an app, like the Angle Calculator at

Scroll saw bowl cutting pattern
Strips glued into the blank at an angle form distinct shapes when the rings are stacked and glued.

When all cuts are made at this angle, the result is a bowl with straight sides of uniform thickness that can often be sanded with spindle and belt sanders.

Scroll sawn bowl with laid out pattern

Bowls of this type are usually cut from patterns that show all the rings, and their finished appearance runs the gamut from plain to dramatic.

Curving Side Bowls

Patterned bowl created by scroll sawing and glue up
While attractive bowls can be made from simple blanks, swirls and other effects can easily be created with more elaborate glue-ups and laminations.

As attractive as straight-sided bowls can be, the potential of the stacked ring approach is shown most clearly by bowls whose sides form graceful curves. The first cut of this type of bowl is made at the same computed angle as its straight-sided counterpart. At that point, the formulaic aspect ends and artistry begins.

Two bowls made by a scroll saw cutting at different angles
The amount of curvature of the bowl side is determined by the choice of cutting angle, and it can be gradual or dramatic.

By making subsequent cuts at progressively steeper angles, curved sides are created; the amount of curvature is dependent upon angle choice. Two different methods can be used. One results in bowls with gradually thickening sides, and the other with sides that remain uniform.

Wide open segment angled bowl made by scroll sawing and gluing
Gradually increasing the width of the bowl sides allows for both a delicate upper rim and sufficient wood for gluing the base on securely. This is important when gluing surface is limited, as with the open-segmented bowls shown above.

For greater flexibility in angle choice, curved-sided bowls are usually cut from patterns showing only the first ring. That ring becomes the template for the second; the second ring serves as a template for the third ring, and so on, until all the rings are cut. Because of their curvature, these bowls are best shaped and smoothed using small sanders chucked into a drill press.

Using Multiple Blanks

Plywood pieces clamped around an octagonal center
This bowl used three different blanks. The center ring was cut from plywood strips glued around an octagon.

With a single blank, you can make a bowl that flares outward at the top and gradually tapers down to a smaller base. To construct more elaborate projects such as vases, or bowls whose upper rings curve inward, you’ll need to use one or more additional blanks. Rings cut from these blanks are added to the original set, and the project is finished as one unit.

Bowl with scroll sawn center ring
When glued into place and sanded, interesting patterns emerged.

Projects requiring more than two blanks are often assembled and sanded as subunits, then glued together for the final shaping.

Final Steps

Flower shaped bowl cut with a scroll saw
Four blanks were used for this petal bowl.

While rings cut at a steep angle form the structure of a scrolled bowl, its ultimate appearance depends on the care taken with the procedures that follow the cuts. These steps (gluing, sanding and finishing) are often regarded as nuisances, to be dispensed with as quickly as possible. The result may be a bowl that disappoints rather than delights, with visible glue lines, irregular upper edges and a finish with drips and sags.

Sanding out inside of flower shaped scroll sawn bowl
Preliminary sanding and shaping were done in sections to allow more control of the workpiece and greater accessibility to interior portions. Finishing was completed after the final glue-up.

While many scroll saw projects are essentially complete once the cuts are made, scrolled bowls are not. They are most appropriately viewed as creative endeavors, in which careful cutting of the rings at a steep angle is only the first step in a process that can produce bowls comparable in beauty and artistry to those turned on a lathe.

Posted in: